Feminism | Definition, Waves, Types and History

Feminism | Definition, Waves, Types and History


The term feminism can be used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. Feminism involves political and sociological theories and philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference, as well as a movement that advocates gender equality for women and campaigns for women's rights and interests. Although the terms "feminism" and "feminist" did not gain widespread use until the 1970s, they were already being used in the public parlance much earlier; for instance, Katherine Hepburn speaks of the "feminist movement" in the 1942 film Woman of the Year.

Sociologists began embracing the feminist perspective only in 1970s.Although it has a long tradition in many other disciplines. The feminist view sees inequality in gender as central to all behavior and organization.

Feminism has altered predominant perspectives in a wide range of areas within Western society, ranging from culture to law. Feminist activists have campaigned for women's legal rights (rights of contract, property rights, voting rights); for women's right to bodily integrity and autonomy, for abortion rights, and for reproductive rights (including access to contraception and quality prenatal care); for protection of women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape; for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay; against misogyny; and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women.

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 Definitions of Feminism

  • Wikipedia

Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.

The belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes

  • Merriam Webster

Belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women.

The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.  

History of Feminism

The history of modern western feminist movements is divided in to three waves; each is described as dealing with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave refers to the movement of the 19th through early 20th centuries, which dealt mainly with suffrage, working conditions and educational rights for women and girls. The 2nd wave (1960s-1980s) dealt with the inequality of laws, as well as the cultural inequalities and the role of women in society. The third wave refers to a continuation of, and a reaction to the perceived failures of, second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990s.

First wave movement

The incidents that are included in the history of feminism first movements starts from  1809 married women property law in the US till 1928 the right to vote was granted to all UK women equal with men in 1928.There are exactly 69 incidents defined within the first feminism wave  movement.

Most important incidents

  • Russia:

In 1913 women observed their first international women’s Day on the last Sunday in feburary.But later this day was transferredto 8 March and this day is global date for international Womens’Day ever since.

  • England:

In 1918 Marry Stopes, who believed in equality in marriage and the importance of women’s sexual desire, published Married Love, a sex manual that was one of the 25 most influential books of the previous 50 years.

  • Germany:

In 1919 granted women the right to vote.

  • England 1919:

Nancy Astor became the first women member of the House of Commons.

  • China:

The first female student was accepted in Peking University, soon followed by universities all over China.

Second Wave Movement

The second wave movement started from 1963 in US by equal pay act, Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1985, prohibits gender discrimination with respect to recruitment, promotion, training and job assignment. There are 104 incidents in second wave movement.

Most important incidents

  • 1966: Twenty-eight women, founded the National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • 1969: The American radical organization “Redstokings”was organized.
  • 1973: The American National Black Feminist Organization was formed.
  • 1977: The Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination based on characteristics including sex and sexual orientation, and requiring “equal pay for work of equal value”
  • 1980: The second wave began in Turkey and Israel.

Third wave Movement

The third wave of Feminism starts from 1991 by publishing an article by Rebecca Walker in America following the establishment of riot girl movement in Washington and continuing till now. Latest and famousincident were the Slutwalk incident in Toronto, on 3 April 1911.There are 31 incidents in third wave.

The most important incidents

  • 1944: The Gender Equality in Education Act becomes law in USA.
  • 1994: The violence Against Women Act becomes law in USA.
  • 1995: The fourth World Conference on Women was held in China
  • 2008: Norway requires all companies to have at least 40%women on their boards.

Forms/Schools of thought of Feminism

  1. Liberal feminism
  2. Marxist feminism
  3. Radical feminism
  4. Socialist feminism

Types of Feminism

Liberal feminism

Liberal feminists find sexism to be the fundamental attitude that causes gender inequality. Sexism, the prejudice and discrimination against women, legitimate the belief in biological predetermination of women, s role. Sexist attitude disadvantage women through socialization in to submissive gender role. The roles women are forced to play that of the emotional, sexual, and household servant, to make them mindless, dependent and depressed. This oppressive situation for women is not easily changed because of women, s isolation in private households and exclusion from the public sphere.

Goals of liberal feminists

  • A society in which all individuals have opportunity to realize their potential.
  • They seek changes in the social position of women through legal and political channels. 
  • An equalization of economic opportunities for women. 
  • Vi-To bring change in family structure.
  • V-To increase  individual awareness and action against sexism 
  • Exponents of liberal feminism
  • Sylvia Hewlett and Cynthia Fuchs Epstein 

Marxist feminism

Draw their inspiration from Marxist social theory, particularly from Engels,”the origins of the family”, private property and “the state”. The status of women is not biologically determined but results from the economic system of ownership and private property. Women within the bourgeois and working classes serve indispensable functions in maintaining the capitalistic system. Bourgeois women are not propertied but are kept by propertied men possessions to perform services that perpetuate the class interests.  They produce heirs to property and provide the emotional support, the nurturing family, and the sexual gratification of men Working class women may be hired more cheaply than the males and provide recruits to the reserve army of labor. Women are producers of the work force needed to sustain production in capitalistic society. In their roles of mothers, inculcate their children with the appropriate values that sustain class relations.


  1. Only a revolutionary restructuring of property relations would eliminate these conditions and allow women to take their place as equals.
  2. To unite women of working class to use their revolutionary potential in the destruction of capitalistic property relation 

Exponents of Marxist feminism

  • Clare Burton and Nancy Hart Sock

Radical feminism

Radical feminists view social institutions as tools of male domination which support patriarchy and the oppression of women. The system of patriarchy teaches women how to subjugate themselves and teaches men how to dominate. Patriarchy is all pervasive in our culture and social institutions. Violence such as rape, and domestic abuse, and more subtle means of control, such as beauty standards and emotional harassment are symptoms of patriarchy.

Goals of radical feminists

  1. The solution to this subordination offered by radical feminists is women’s recognition of their strength and value.
  2. The unification of women regardless of differences.
  3. The empowerment of women through organized efforts within institutions where patriarchal values prevail.

Exponents of radical feminism

  • Mary Daly and Catherine Mackinnon 

Socialist feminism

Socialist feminists combine Marxism and radical feminism in an attempt at theoretical synthesis. Among the socialist feminists, there are those who focus on capitalistic patriarchy and those who wish to study domination in a wide range of context, including race, class and gender as well as forms of domination.

Goals of Socialist feminists

  1. To bring change through increased consciousness of these structures.
  2. To make impact on social and individual levels through appropriate action to achieve the goals.

Exponents of socialist feminism

  • Alison Jagger and Nancy Fraser

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