Feminism

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Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is a “person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.

Feminist theory, which emerged from these feminist movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of sex and gender. Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically-specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.

Feminist activists campaign for women’s rights – such as in contract law, property, and voting – while also promoting bodily integrity, autonomy and reproductive rights for women. Feminist campaigns have changed societies, particularly in the West, by achieving women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property. Feminists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women. Feminism is mainly focused on women’s issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men’s liberation is a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.

Depending on historical moment, culture and country, feminists around the world have had different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians assert that all movements that work 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, beginning in the 1990s.

Nineteenth and early twentieth centuriesFirst-wave feminism was a period of activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the U.K. and U.S., it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. By the end of the nineteenth century, activism 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.

 Louise Weiss along with other Parisian suffragettes in 1935. The newspaper headline reads “The Frenchwoman Must Vote.”Women’s suffrage was achieved in Britain’s Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century, with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand and South Australia granting women the right to vote in 1893 and 1895 respectively. It was followed by Australia permitting women to stand for parliamentary office and granting women the right to vote.

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 houses. In 1928 this was extended to all women over twenty-one. 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 as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as 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.

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