Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 6 May 1912
Charles Fourier, a Utopian Socialist and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word "féminisme" in 1837. The words "féminisme" ("feminism") and "féminist" ("feminist") first appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872, Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910, and the Oxford English Dictionary lists 1852 as the year of the first appearance of "feminist" and 1895 for "feminism". Depending on the historical moment, culture and country, feminists around the world have had different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians contend that all movements working to obtain women's rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. Other historians assert that the term should be limited to the modern feminist movement and its descendants. Those historians use the label "protofeminist" to describe earlier movements.
The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three "waves". Each wave dealt with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave comprised women's suffrage movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, promoting women's right to vote. The second wave was associated with the ideas and actions of the women's liberation movement beginning in the 1960s. The second wave campaigned for legal and social equality for women. The third wave is a continuation of, and a reaction to, the perceived failures of second-wave feminism, which began in the 1990s.
Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
After selling her home, Emmeline Pankhurst
, pictured in New York City in 1913, travelled constantly, giving speeches throughout Britain and the United States.
In the Netherlands, Wilhelmina Drucker
(1847–1925) fought successfully for the vote and equal rights for women through political and feminist organizations she founded.
(1927–2017), former French Minister of Health (1974–79). She made easier access to contraceptive pills and legalized abortion (1974–75) – which was her greatest and hardest achievement.
First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the 19th century and early twentieth century. In the UK and eventually the US, it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. By the end of the 19th century, a number of important steps had been made with the passing of legislation such as the UK Custody of Infants Act 1839 which introduced the Tender years doctrine for child custody arrangement and gave woman the right of custody of their children for the first time. Other legislation such as the Married Women's Property Act 1870 in the UK and extended in the 1882 Act, these became models for similar legislation in other British territories. For example, Victoria passed legislation in 1884, New South Wales in 1889, and the remaining Australian colonies passed similar legislation between 1890 and 1897. Therefore, with the turn of the 19th century activism had focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women's suffrage, though some feminists were active in campaigning for women's sexual, reproductive, and economic rights as well.
Women's suffrage began in Britain's Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century, with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand granting women the right to vote in 1893 and South Australia granting female suffrage (the right to vote and stand for parliamentary office) in 1895. This was followed by Australia granting female suffrage in 1902.
In Britain the Suffragettes and the Suffragists campaigned for the women's vote, and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property. In 1928 this was extended to all women over 21. Emmeline Pankhurst was the most notable activist in England, with Time naming her one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century stating: "she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back." In the U.S., notable leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women's right to vote. These women were influenced by the Quaker theology of spiritual equality, which asserts that men and women are equal under God. In the United States, first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919), granting women the right to vote in all states. The term first wave was coined retroactively to categorize these western movements after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement that focused on fighting social and cultural inequalities, as well political inequalities.
During the late Qing period and reform movements such as the Hundred Days' Reform, Chinese feminists called for women's liberation from traditional roles and Neo-Confucian gender segregation. Later, the Chinese Communist Party created projects aimed at integrating women into the workforce, and claimed that the revolution had successfully achieved women's liberation.
According to Nawar al-Hassan Golley, Arab feminism was closely connected with Arab nationalism. In 1899, Qasim Amin, considered the "father" of Arab feminism, wrote The Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women. He drew links between women's position in Egyptian society and nationalism, leading to the development of Cairo University and the National Movement. In 1923 Hoda Shaarawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union, became its president and a symbol of the Arab women's rights movement.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1905 triggered the Iranian women's movement, which aimed to achieve women's equality in education, marriage, careers, and legal rights. However, during the Iranian revolution of 1979, many of the rights that women had gained from the women's movement were systematically abolished, such as the Family Protection Law.
In France, women obtained the right to vote only with the Provisional Government of the French Republic of 21 April 1944. The Consultative Assembly of Algiers of 1944 proposed on 24 March 1944 to grant eligibility to women but following an amendment by Fernand Grenier, they were given full citizenship, including the right to vote. Grenier's proposition was adopted 51 to 16. In May 1947, following the November 1946 elections, the sociologist Robert Verdier minimized the "gender gap", stating in Le Populaire that women had not voted in a consistent way, dividing themselves, as men, according to social classes. During the baby boom period, feminism waned in importance. Wars (both World War I and World War II) had seen the provisional emancipation of some women, but post-war periods signalled the return to conservative roles.
By the mid 20th century, in some European countries, women still lacked some significant rights. Feminists in these countries continued to fight for voting rights. In Switzerland, women gained the right to vote in federal elections in 1971; but in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden women obtained the right to vote on local issues only in 1991, when the canton was forced to do so by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland. In Liechtenstein, women were given the right to vote by the women's suffrage referendum of 1984. Three prior referendums held in 1968, 1971 and 1973 had failed to secure women's right to vote.
Photograph of American women replacing men fighting in Europe, 1945
Feminists continued to campaign for the reform of family laws which gave husbands control over their wives. Although by the 20th century coverture had been abolished in the UK and the US, in many continental European countries married women still had very few rights. For instance, in France married women did not receive the right to work without their husband's permission until 1965. Feminists have also worked to abolish the "marital exemption" in rape laws which precluded the prosecution of husbands for the rape of their wives. Earlier efforts by first-wave feminists such as Voltairine de Cleyre, Victoria Woodhull and Elizabeth Clarke Wolstenholme Elmy to criminalize marital rape in the late 19th century had failed; this was only achieved a century later in most Western countries, but is still not achieved in many other parts of the world.
French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir provided a Marxist solution and an existentialist view on many of the questions of feminism with the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) in 1949. The book expressed feminists' sense of injustice. Second-wave feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the present; as such, it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism is largely concerned with issues of equality beyond suffrage, such as ending gender discrimination.
Second-wave feminists see women's cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encourage women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan "The Personal is Political", which became synonymous with the second wave.
Second- and third-wave feminism in China has been characterized by a reexamination of women's roles during the communist revolution and other reform movements, and new discussions about whether women's equality has actually been fully achieved.
In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt initiated "state feminism", which outlawed discrimination based on gender and granted women's suffrage, but also blocked political activism by feminist leaders. During Sadat's presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly advocated further women's rights, though Egyptian policy and society began to move away from women's equality with the new Islamist movement and growing conservatism. However, some activists proposed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which argues for women's equality within an Islamic framework.
In Latin America, revolutions brought changes in women's status in countries such as Nicaragua, where feminist ideology during the Sandinista Revolution aided women's quality of life but fell short of achieving a social and ideological change.
In 1963, Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique was published and helped voice the discontent that American women felt. The book is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States. The book's success also meant that Friedan could lecture her views while she was on tour in 1970. Within ten years, after Friedan's successful publishing, women made up more than half of the total percentage in the First World workforce.
Late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
Feminist, author and social activist bell hooks
Third-wave feminism is traced to the emergence of the Riot grrrl feminist punk subculture in Olympia, Washington, in the early 1990s, and to Anita Hill's televised testimony in 1991—to an all-male, all-white Senate Judiciary Committee—that Clarence Thomas, nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States, had sexually harassed her. The term third wave is credited to Rebecca Walker, who responded to Thomas's appointment to the Supreme Court with an article in Ms. magazine, "Becoming the Third Wave" (1992). She wrote:
So I write this as a plea to all women, especially women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to remind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman's experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don't prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.
Third-wave feminism also sought to challenge or avoid what it deemed the second wave's essentialist definitions of femininity, which, third-wave feminists argued, over-emphasized the experiences of upper middle-class white women. Third-wave feminists often focused on "micro-politics" and challenged the second wave's paradigm as to what was, or was not, good for women, and tended to use a post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave, such as Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other non-white feminists, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities. Third-wave feminism also contained internal debates between difference feminists, who believe that there are important psychological differences between the sexes, and those who believe that there are no inherent psychological differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning.
Standpoint theory is a feminist theoretical point of view that believes a persons' social position influences their knowledge. This perspective argues that research and theory treats women and the feminist movement as insignificant and refuses to see traditional science as unbiased. Since the 1980s, standpoint feminists have argued that the feminist movement should address global issues (such as rape, incest, and prostitution) and culturally specific issues (such as female genital mutilation in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, as well as glass ceiling practices that impede women's advancement in developed economies) in order to understand how gender inequality interacts with racism, homophobia, classism and colonization in a "matrix of domination".
Fourth-wave feminism refers to a resurgence of interest in feminism that began around 2012 and is associated with the use of social media. According to feminist scholar Prudence Chamberlain, the focus of the fourth wave is justice for women and opposition to sexual harassment and violence against women. Its essence, she writes, is "incredulity that certain attitudes can still exist".
Fourth-wave feminism is "defined by technology", according to Kira Cochrane, and is characterized particularly by the use of Facebook, , Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and blogs such as Feministing to challenge misogyny and further gender equality.
Issues that fourth-wave feminists focus on include street and workplace harassment, campus sexual assault and rape culture. Scandals involving the harassment, abuse, and murder of women and girls have galvanized the movement. These have included the 2012 Delhi gang rape, 2012 Jimmy Savile allegations, the Bill Cosby allegations, 2014 Isla Vista killings, 2016 trial of Jian Ghomeshi, 2017 Harvey Weinstein allegations and subsequent Weinstein effect, and the 2017 Westminster sexual scandals.
Examples of fourth-wave feminist campaigns include the Everyday Sexism Project, No More Page 3, Stop Bild Sexism, Mattress Performance, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, #YesAllWomen, Free the Nipple, One Billion Rising, the 2017 Women's March, the 2018 Women's March, and the #MeToo movement. In December 2017, Time magazine chose several prominent female activists involved in the #MeToo movement, dubbed "the silence breakers", as Person of the Year.
The term post-feminism is used to describe a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism since the 1980s. While not being "anti-feminist", post-feminists believe that women have achieved second wave goals while being critical of third wave feminist goals. The term was first used to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism, but it is now a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave's ideas. Other post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today's society. Amelia Jones has written that the post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity. Dorothy Chunn notes a "blaming narrative" under the post-feminist moniker, where feminists are undermined for continuing to make demands for gender equality in a "post-feminist" society, where "gender equality has (already) been achieved." According to Chunn, "many feminists have voiced disquiet about the ways in which rights and equality discourses are now used against them."