Ethel Smythe

History of feminism

The history of feminism is the history of feminist movements and their efforts to overturn injustices of gender inequality. Feminist scholars have divided feminism's history into three "waves". Each is described as dealing with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave refers to the feminism movement of the 19th through early 20th centuries, which dealt mainly with the Suffrage movement. The second wave (1960s-1980s) dealt with the inequality of laws, as well as cultural inequalities. The Third wave of Feminism (1990s-current), is seen as both a continuation and a response to the perceived failures of the Second-wave.

Limiting the history of Feminism to the history of the modern Feminist Movement has been criticised by some authors as ignoring women's opposition to patriarchy over the course of thousands of years. For example, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, put forth ideals now recognized as feminist, as an outgrowth of the enlightenment values espoused in the late 18th, early 19th centuries. Although some find the use of the term feminist prior to its coinage (sometime around 1880) "anachronistic", others prefer to see "feminism" as a self-conscious and systematic ideology beginning in the late eighteenth century.


The word "feminism" appeared first in France in the 1880s, Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910. The Oxford English Dictionary lists 1894 for "feminism", and 1895 for "feminist". Prior to that time "Woman's Rights" was probably the term used most commonly, hence Queen Victoria's description of this "mad, wicked folly of 'Woman's Rights' ". It was the London Daily News that coined the term, and by importing it from France, automatically branded it as dangerous. "What our Paris Correspondent describes as a 'Feminist' the..Chamber of Deputies".

Defining feminism can be challenging, but a broad understanding of it includes women and men acting, speaking and writing on women's issues and rights and identifying social injustice in the status quo. Activists who discussed or advanced women's issues prior to the existence of the "feminist" or "women's rights" movements are sometimes labelled 'protofeminist'. (see: Botting and Houser's '"Drawing the Line of Equality”', 2006) This term has been criticized because it potentially detracts from the importance of their contributions.

Marie Urbanski refers to this as erasing women from history in her account of Margaret Fuller's life. Others such as Nancy Cott stress the need to see feminism retrospectively and inclusively as "an integral tradition of protest", Where periodicity schemes have been defined by a culture, in which some voices are silent, engaging those voices creates an awkward fit with other "communities of discourse".

First-wave feminism

First-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. It focused primarily on gaining the right of women's suffrage. The term, "first-wave," was coined retrospectively 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 further political inequalities.

In Britain, the Suffragettes campaigned for the women's vote, which was eventually granted − to some women in 1918 and to all in 1928 − as much because of the part played by British women during the First World War, as of the efforts of the Suffragettes. In the United States leaders of this movement include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women's right to vote. Other important leaders include Lucy Stone, Olympia Brown, and Helen Pitts. American first-wave feminism involved a wide range of women, some belonging to conservative Christian groups (such as Frances Willard and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union), others resembling the diversity and radicalism of much of second-wave feminism (such as Stanton, Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage and the National Woman Suffrage Association, of which Stanton was president). 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.

Second wave feminism

Second-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity beginning in the early 1960s and lasting through the late 1980s. Second Wave Feminism has existed continuously since then, and continues to coexist with what some people call Third Wave Feminism. The second wave feminism saw cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked. The movement encouraged women to understand aspects of their own personal lives as deeply politicized, and reflective of a sexist structure of power. If first-wave feminism focused upon absolute rights such as suffrage, second-wave feminism was largely concerned with other issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination.

Third wave

The Third-wave of feminism began in the early 1990s. The movement arose as responses to perceived failures of the second-wave. It was also a response to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second-wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave's "essentialist" definitions of femininity, which (according to them) over-emphasized the experiences of upper middle class white women. A post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality is central to much of the third wave's ideology. Third wave feminists often focus on "micropolitics," and challenged the second wave's paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for females.

In 1991, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, an African-American man nominated to the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment that had allegedly occurred a decade earlier while Hill worked as his assistant at the U.S. Department of Education. Thomas denied the accusations and after extensive debate, the Senate voted 52-48 in favor of Thomas. In response to this case, Rebecca Walker published an article in a 1992 issue of Ms. titled "Becoming the Third Wave" in which she stated, "I am not a post-feminism feminist. I am the third wave." Hill and Thomas’ case brought attention to the ongoing presence of sexual harassment in the workplace and reinstated a sense of concern and awareness in many people who assumed that sexual harassment and other second wave issues had been resolved.

The history of Third Wave feminism predates this and begins in the mid 1980s. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave like Gloria Anzaldua, Bell Hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other feminists of color, called for a new subjectivity in feminist voice. They sought to negotiate prominent space within feminist thought for consideration of race related subjectivities. This focus on the intersection between race and gender remained prominent through the Hill-Thomas hearings, but began to shift with the Freedom Ride 1992. This drive to register voters in poor minority communities was surrounded with rhetoric that focused on rallying young feminists. For many, the rallying of the young is the emphasis that has stuck within third wave feminism.


The Renaissance

Renaissance humanists such as Vives and Agricola argued that aristocratic women at least required education; Roger Ascham educated Elizabeth I, and she not only read Latin and Greek but wrote occasional poems, such as On Monsieur’s Departure, that are still anthologized. However, women who were exceptionally accomplished were described as manly or called witches. Queen Elizabeth I was described as having talent without a woman’s weakness, industry with a man’s perseverance, and the body of a weak and feeble woman, but with the heart and stomach of a king. The only way she could be seen as a good ruler was for her to be described with manly qualities. Being a powerful and successful woman during the Renaissance, like Queen Elizabeth I meant in some ways being male, a perception that unfortunately gravely limited women’s potential as women.

Women were given the sole role and social value of reproduction. This gender role defined a woman's main identity and purpose in life. The ancient philosopher Socrates was well-known as an exemplar to the Renaissance humanists as their role model for the pursuit of wisdom in many subjects. Surprisingly, Socrates has said that the only reason he puts up with his wife, Xanthippe, was because she bore him sons, in the same way one puts up with the noise of geese because they produce eggs and chicks. This analogy from the revered philosopher only propelled the claim that a woman's sole role was to reproduce.

Marriage during the Renaissance was what defined a woman. She was who she married. When unmarried, a woman was the property of her father, and once married, she became the property of her husband. She had few rights, except for any privileges her husband or father gave her. Married women had to obey their husbands and were expected to be chaste, obedient, pleasant, gentle, submissive, and, unless sweet-spoken, silent. In the 1593 A.D. play, The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, Katherina and Bianca’s father treats his daughters like property; the man who gives the best offer gets to marry them. When Katherina is outspoken and wild, society shuns her; she is seen as a wayward woman a shrew who needs to be tamed into submission. When Petruchio tames her, she readily goes to him when he summons her, almost like a dog. Her submissiveness is applauded, and the crowds at the party accept her as a proper woman since she is now "conformable to other household Kates".

Education was an element celebrated by society. Men were pushed to go to college and become knowledgeable in many subjects, but women were discouraged from acquiring too much education and told to be obedient wives. A woman named Margherita, living during the Renaissance, learned to read and write at the age of about 30 so there would be no mediating factors between the letters of her and her husband. Although Margherita did defy gender roles, she wanted to become educated not in hopes of becoming a more enlightened person, but because she wanted to be a better wife by being able to communicate to her husband directly. When a woman did involve herself in learning, it was certainly not the norm. In a letter the humanist Leonardo Bruni sent to Lady Baptista Maletesta of Montefeltro in 1424, he wrote

"While you live in these times when learning has so far decayed that is regarded as positively miraculous to meet a learned man, let alone a woman.
The emphasis of a woman shows how it was indeed very rare for a woman to participate in the Renaissance. In general, Bruni thought that women should have an education on par with men, but with one significant exception. In the letter he writes,
"For why should the subtleties of...a thousand...rhetorical conundra consume the powers of a woman, who never sees the forum? The contests of the forum, like those of warfare and battle, are the sphere of men. Hers is not the task of learning to speak for and against witnesses, for and against torture, for and against reputation.... She will, in a word, leave the rough-and-tumble of the forum entirely to men.
The famous Renaissance salons that held intelligent debate and lectures were obviously not welcoming to women. This blatant denial would lead to problems that educated women faced and contribution to the low probability that a woman would get educated in the first place.

Marie de Gournay (1565-1645), the last love of Michel de Montaigne who published posthumously his Essays, wrote two feminist books, The Equality of Men and Women (1622) and The Ladies' Grievance (1626).

Seventeenth century: nonconformism, protectorate and restoration

The 17th century saw the development of many nonconformist sects which allowed more say to women than the established religions, especially the Quakers. Noted feminist writers on religion and spirituality included Rachel Speght, Katherine Evans, Sarah Chevers and Margaret Fell.

This increased participation of women was not without opposition, notably John Bunyan, leading to persecution, and emigration to the Netherlands and the Americas. Over this and preceding centuries women who expressed opinions on religion or preached were also in danger of being suspected of lunacy or witchcraft, and many like Anne Askew died "for their implicit or explicit challenge to the patriarchal order". In France as in England, feminist ideas were attributes of heterodoxy, such as the Waldensians and Catharists, than orthodoxy. Religious egalitarianism, such as embraced by the Levellers, carried over into gender equality, and therefore had political implications. Leveller women mounted large scale public demonstrations and petitions, although dismissed by the authorities of the day.

This century also saw more women writers emerging, such as Anne Bradstreet, Bathsua Makin, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Lady Mary Wroth, and Mary Astell, who depicted women's changing roles and made pleas for their education. However, they encountered considerable hostility, as exemplified by the experiences of Cavendish, and Wroth whose work was not published till the 20th century.

Astell is frequently described as the first feminist writer. However, this depiction fails to recognise the intellectual debt she owed to Schurman, Makin and other women who preceded her. She was certainly one of the earliest feminist writers in English, whose analyses are as relevant to day as in her own time, and moved beyond earlier writers by instituting educational institutions for women. Astell and Behn together laid the groundwork for feminist theory in the seventeenth century. No woman would speak out as strongly again, for another century. In historical accounts she is often overshadowed by her younger and more colourful friend and correspondent Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

The liberalisation of social values and secularisation of the English Restoration provided new opportunities for women in the arts, an opportunity that women used to advance their cause. However, female playwrights encountered similar hostility. These included Catherine Trotter, Mary Manley and Mary Pix. The most influential of all was Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to achieve the status of a professional writer. Critics of feminist writing included prominent men such as Alexander Pope.

In continental Europe, important feminist writers included Marguerite de Navarre, Marie de Gournay and Anne Marie van Schurmann (Anna Maria van Schurman) who mounted attacks on misogyny and promoted the education of women. In the New World the Mexican nun, Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695), was advancing the education of women particularly in her essay entitled "Reply to Sor Philotea". By the end of the seventeenth century women's voices were becoming increasingly heard, becoming almost a clamour, at least by educated women. The literature of the last decades of the century being sometimes referred to as the "Battle of the Sexes", and was often surprisingly polemic, such as Hannah Woolley's "The Gentlewoman's Companion". However women received mixed messages, for they also heard a strident backlash, and even self-deprecation by women writers in response. They were also subjected to conflicting social pressures, one of which was less opportunities for work outside the home, and education which sometimes reinforced the social order as much as inspire independent thinking.

Development of the feminist movement

Eighteenth century: the Age of Enlightenment

Wollstonecraft and A Vindication

The Age of Enlightenment was characterised by secular intellectual reasoning, and a flowering of philosophical writing. The most important feminist writer of the time was Mary Wollstonecraft, often characterised as the first feminist philosopher. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the first works that can unambiguously be called feminist, although by modern standards her comparison of women to the nobility, the elite of society, coddled, fragile, and in danger of intellectual and moral sloth, may seem dated at first, as a feminist argument. Wollstonecraft saw that it was the education and upbringing of women that created their limited expectations based on a self-image dictated by male gaze. Despite her perceived inconsistencies (Brody refers to the "Two Wollestoncrafts ) reflective of problems that had no easy answers, this book remains a foundation stone of feminist thought. Wollstonecraft believed that both sexes contributed to the inequalities and took it for granted that women had considerable power over men, but that both would require education to ensure the necessary changes in social attitudes. Her legacy remains the need for women to speak out and tell their stories. Her own achievements speak to her own determination given her humble origins and scant education. As Pope attacked Astell and Montagu, so Wollstonecraft attracted the mockery of Samuel Johnson who described her and her ilk as 'Amazons of the pen'. Given his relationship with Hester Thrale it would appear that his problem was not with intelligent educated women, but that they should encroach onto a male territory of writing. For many commentators, Wollstonecraft represents the first codification of "equality" feminism, or a refusal of the feminine, a child of the Enlightenment. Other important writers of the time included Catherine Macaulay.

In other parts of Europe, Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht was writing in Sweden, and what is thought to be the first scientific society for women was founded in Middelburg, in the south of Holland in 1785. This was the Natuurkundig Genootschap der Dames (Women's Society for Natural Knowledge). which met regularly to 1881, finally dissolving in 1887. However Deborah Crocker and Sethanne Howard point out that women have been scientists for 4,000 years. Journals for women which focused on science became popular during this period as well.

Early nineteenth century: “womanliness” and social injustice

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, although individual women, and some men, were speaking out, it is doubtful how influential they were, other than to create awareness. There was little sign of change in the political or social order, nor any evidence of a recognizable women’s movement. By the end of the century the voices of concern were beginning to coalesce into something more tangible. This paralleled the emergence of a more rigid social model and code of conduct, that Marion Reid (and later John Stuart Mill) would refer to as a ”Womanliness” that admitted to “self-extinction”. While the increasing emphasis on feminine virtue partly stirred the call for a woman’s movement, the tensions that this role duality caused for women plagued many early nineteenth century feminists with doubt and worry.

In Britain, no statement as eloquent as Wollstonecraft's ‘’Vindication’’ would appear till Reid published her ‘’A plea for women’’ in 1843 which set an agenda for the rest of the century, including voting rights for women.

Caroline Norton was a woman who became active in advocating rights for women, the absence of which, upon entering into marriage, she had become painfully aware of. The publicity that she generated, including her appeal to Queen Victoria, helped establish one of the first women’s movements, Barbara Leigh Smith’s (Barbara Bodichon) Married Women’s Property Committee, which took up her cause.

While many women, including Norton, were wary of organized movements, their actions and words often motivated and inspired such movements. Amongst these was Florence Nightingale whose conviction that women had all the potential of men but none of the opportunities drove her to a career that would make her a national figure as a scientist and administrator even if the popular image of her at the time emphasized her feminine virtues more. The paradox of the gulf between the achievements which we recognize now, and how she was portrayed underline the plight that women of talent and determination faced at the time.

Women were not always supportive of each other’s efforts, and often distanced themselves from other feminists. Harriet Martineau and many others dismissed Wollstonecraft’s contributions as dangerous, and deplored Norton’s candidness, but seized on the abolition of slavery campaign she had witnessed in the United States, as one that should logically be applied to women. Her ‘’Society in America’’ was pivotal in that for the first time it caught the imagination of women who urged her to take up their cause.

Anna Wheeler had come under the influence of the Saint Simonian socialists while working in France, advocated suffrage and attracted the attention of Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative leader, as a dangerous radical on a par with Bentham. Later she was to be the inspiration for William Thomson.

Earlier centuries had concentrated on women’s exclusion from education as the key to their being relegated to domestic roles and denied advancement. The education of women in the nineteenth century was no better, and Frances Power Cobbe was but one of many women who were calling for reform. But now many other issues were opening up as battlegrounds including marital and property rights, and domestic violence. Nevertheless women like Martineau and Cobbe in Britain, and Margaret Fuller in America, were achieving journalistic employment which placed them in a position to influence other women. If ‘feminism’ had not been invented, certainly women like Cobbe were referring to “Woman’s Rights”, not just in the abstract, but as an identifiable cause.

Feminism in fiction

Just as Jane Austen had addressed the restricted lives women faced in the early part of the century, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) depicted the limitations of a Victorian marriage and the different futures in store for brothers and sisters in the same family. In her autobiographical novel Ruth Hall (1854), American journalist Fanny Fern describes her own struggle to support her children as a newspaper columnist after her husband's untimely death. Louisa May Alcott penned a strongly feminist novel, A Long Fatal Love Chase (1866), that concerns a young woman's attempts to flee from her bigamist husband and become independent; in the process, she tries most of the respectable occupations seamstress, paid companion, nun open to women at the time.

Some male authors, too, recognised the injustice women faced; the novels of George Meredith and George Gissing and the plays of Henrik Ibsen also outlined the plight of women of the time, and Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways (1885) is an account of Caroline Norton’s life. One critic later called Ibsen's plays "feministic propaganda".

Late nineteenth century: the women's movement, reform and campaigns

The emerging women’s movement

The Feminine ideal
Part of the rationale of nineteenth century feminists was not only a reaction to the injustices they saw but the increasingly suffocating Victorian image of the proper role of women and their "sphere". This was the "Feminine Ideal" as typified in Victorian "Conduct Books", notably those of Sarah Stickney Ellis. "The Angel in the House" (1854-1862) was a long poem by Coventry Patmore, whose image of wedded love in the title soon came to be the symbol of the Victorian feminine ideal.
The ladies of Langham Place
Barbara Leigh Smith and her friends started to meet regularly during the 1850s in Langham Place in London to discuss the need for women to present a united voice to achieve reform. This earned them the name of the Ladies of Langham Place. They included Bessie Raynes Parker and Anna Jameson. Issues they took up focused on education, employment and marital law. One of the causes they vigorously pursued became the Married Women’s Property Committee of 1855. They collected thousands of signatures for petitions for legislative reform, some of which were successful. Smith had also attended the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls in America in 1848. Smith and Parker wrote many articles, both separately and together, on education and employment opportunities, and like Norton in the same year, Smith summarized the legal framework for injustice in 1854 in her “A Brief Summary of the Laws of England concerning Women”. Playing an important role in the “English Women's Journal”, she was able to reach large numbers of women, and the response of women to this journal led to their creation of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW). The Langham Ladies continued to provide inspiration, infrastructure and funding for much of the women’s movement for the remainder of the century.

Their task was not made easier by the reluctance of even those women who had themselves been outspoken, to unconditionally embrace such a radical idea, and who in their own words reveal the conflict of competing emotions. These included Evans, Gaskell and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who herself used the phrase "women’s rights" in Aurora Leigh, in addition to Caroline Norton.

Harriet Taylor published her ‘’Enfranchisement’’ in 1851, and wrote about the inequities of family law. In 1853 she married John Stuart Mill, providing him with much of the subject material for ‘’The Subjection of Women”. Taylor’s relatively low profile after her marriage has been a subject of speculation, but Mill was perhaps in a better position to translate theory into action.

Emily Davies was another woman who would encounter the Langham group, and with Elizabeth Garrett would help create branches of SPEW outside of London. While obtaining education remained largely a privilege rather than a right, the small group of women who were able to do so, were then able to campaign for women as a whole, realizing it was not just a portal to employment and financial self sufficiency but that the denial of education was tied to women’s expectations and their self image of their potential and worth.

Educational reform
The interrelated themes of barriers to education and employment continued to form the backbone of feminist thought in the nineteenth century, as described, for instance by Harriet Martineau in her 1859 article “Female Industry” in the Edinburgh Journal. The economy was changing but women’s lot was not. Martineau, however, remained a moderate, for practical reasons, and unlike Cobbe, did not support the emerging call for the vote.

Slowly the efforts of women like Davies and the Langham group started to make inroads. Queen’s College (1848) and Bedford College (1849) in London were starting to offer some education to women from 1848, and by 1862 Davies was establishing a committee to persuade the universities to allow women to sit for the recently established (1858) Local Examinations, with partial success (1865). A year later she published “The Higher Education of Women.” She and Leigh Smith founded the first higher educational institution for women, with 5 students, which became Girton College, Cambridge in 1873, followed by Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford in 1879. Bedford had started awarding degrees the previous year. Despite these measurable advances, few could take advantage of them and life for women students was very difficult.

As part of the continuing dialogue between British and American feminists, Elizabeth Blackwell, one of the first women in the US to graduate in medicine (1849), lectured in Britain with Langham support. They also supported Elizabeth Garrett’s attempts to assail the walls of British medical education against virulent opposition, eventually taking her degree in France. Garrett’s very successful campaign to run for office on the London School Board in 1870 is another example of a how a small band of very determined women were starting to reach positions of influence at the level of local government and public bodies.

Women’s campaigns

Campaigns gave women the opportunity to test their new political skills, for disparate elements to come together, and for them to join forces with other social reform groups. One such campaign had been the campaign for the Married Women’s Property Act, eventually passed in 1882. Next was the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869, which brought together women’s groups and utilitarian liberals such as John Stuart Mill. Women in general were outraged by the inherent inequity and misogyny of the legislation and for the first time women in large numbers took up the rights of prostitutes. Prominent critics included Blackwell, Nightingale, and Martineau and Elizabeth Wolstenholme. Elizabeth Garrett did not support the campaign, though her sister Millicent did. Later she admitted the campaign had done good. However, Josephine Butler, already experienced in prostitution issues, a charismatic leader and a seasoned campaigner, emerged as the natural leader of what became the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (1869). This demonstrated the potential power of an organised lobby group. The association successfully argued that the Acts not only demeaned prostitutes, but all women and men too by containing a blatant double sexual standard. Butler's activities resulted in the radicalisation of many moderate women. The Acts were repealed in 1886.

On a smaller scale was Annie Besant's campaign for the rights of match girls and against the appalling conditions under which they worked demonstrated how to raise public concern over social issues.


The fight for women's suffrage represents one of the most fundamental struggles of women, because explicitly denying them representation in the legislature gave a very clear message of second class citizenship. No campaign has embedded itself so deeply in popular imagination than that of women's suffrage over the past 250 years. However it took a long time to work its way up the list of priorities to gradually become the dominant issue. The French Revolution accelerated this, with the assertions of Condorcet and de Gouges, and it was women that marched on Versailles. This reached its climax with the founding of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women (1793) which included suffrage on its agenda, before being suppressed at the end of that year. However, this ensured that the issue was on the European political agenda. German women were involved in the Vormärz, a prelude to the 1848 revolution. In Italy Clara Maffei, Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso and Ester Martini Currica were politically active in the events leading up to the events of 1848 there. In Britain suffrage emerged in the writings of Wheeler and Thompson in the 1820s, and Reid, Taylor and Anne Knight in the 1840s.

The suffragettes
The Langham Place ladies again played a central role in women's suffrage, and set up a suffrage committee in 1866 at a meeting at Elizabeth Garrett's home, renamed the London Society for Women's Suffrage in 1867. Soon similar committees had spread across the country, raising petitions, and worked closely with JS Mill. Denied outlets by establishment periodicals, women like Lydia Becker started the Women's Suffrage Journal in 1870. Other publications included Richard Pankhurst's Englishwoman's Review (1866). Tactical disputes were the biggest problem, and the membership of various groups varied over time. One issue was whether men like Mill should be involved. As it was Mill also withdrew as the movement became more aggressive with each disappointment. The political pressure ensured debate, but year after year was defeated in parliament. Despite this the women benefited from their increasing political experience, which translated into slow progress at the level of local government and public bodies. However, the years of frustration took their toll, and many women became increasingly radicalised. Some refused to pay taxes, and the Pankhurst family emerged as the dominant influence on the movement, having also founded the Women's Franchise League in 1889.
International suffrage
The Isle of Man was the first free standing jurisdiction to grant women the vote (1881), followed by New Zealand in 1893, where Kate Sheppard had pioneered reform. Some Australian states had also granted women the vote. This included Victoria for a brief period (1863-5), South Australia (1894), and Western Australia (1899). Australian women received the vote at the Federal level in 1902, Finland in 1906, and Norway initially in 1907 (completed in 1913).

Twentieth century


Women's history in the twentieth century can be depicted as a story punctuated by conflagrations in which they both participated to an unprecedented degree, and which both profoundly altered the demographics and power relationships of the landscape they found themselves in.

Early twentieth century: the Edwardian era

Suffragettes and the prelude to war
The Edwardian era saw a loosening of Victorian rigidity and complacency; women had more employment opportunities, and were more active, leading to a relaxing of clothing restrictions.

Women's rights were dominated by the increasing clamour for political reform and votes for women. The charismatic and controversial Pankhursts took the political initiative, forming the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. As Emmline Pankhurst put it, votes for women were seen then as no longer "a right, but as a desperate necessity". At the state level, Australia and the United States had already given the vote to some women, and American feminists such as Susan B Anthony (1902) visited Britain. While the WSPU is the best known suffrage group, it was only one of many, such as the Women's Freedom League and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett. WSPU was largely a family affair, although externally financed. Christabel Pankhurst became the dominant figure and gathered friends such as Annie Kenney, Flora Drummond, Teresa Billington and Ethel Smythe around her. Veterans such as Elizabeth Garrett also joined. In 1906, the Daily Mail first labeled these women 'suffragettes' as a form of ridicule, but the term was quickly embraced to describe a more militant form of suffragist, which were becoming increasingly visible with their marches and distinctive Green, Purple and White emblems, while the Artists' Suffrage League created dramatic graphics. Even underwear in WPSU colours appeared in stores. They quickly learned new ways of exploiting the media and photography. The visual record they have left remains vivid, such as the 1914 photograph of Emmeline, shown here. As the movement became more active deep divisions appeared with older leaders of the movement parting company with the radicals. Sometimes the splits were ideological, and others tactical. Even Christabel's sister, Sylvia, was expelled.

Slowly but surely the protests became more vigorous and included heckling, banging on doors, smashing shop windows, and eventually, by 1914, arson. In 1913, one member of the group, Emily Davison, sacrificed herself on Derby Day, dying under the King's horse. These tactics produced mixed results of sympathy and alienation and many protesters were imprisoned, creating an increasingly embarrassing situation for the government. Matters progressively worsened, with hunger strikes, then risky force feeding, and eventually the notorious Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, nicknamed the Cat and Mouse Act which allowed women to be released when their illness or injury became dangerously acute, but officers were then not prevented from arresting and charging these women again once they recovered. Although it could be argued, as did Reginald McKenna, the Home Secretary, that this was relatively humane, since a number of these women appeared ready to die for their cause.

If the aims were to reveal institutional sexism in British society, they certainly created publicity, but it may have been as much the methods as the cause. They did, though, draw attention to the brutality of the legal system at the time. One can only speculate where things might have led, had not the First World War intervened in August 1914.

Mid twentieth century: interbellum

In the First World War women entered the labour market in unprecedented numbers, often in new sectors. They discovered that their work outside the home was now valued, but also left large numbers of women bereaved and with a net loss of household income. Meanwhile the large numbers of men killed and wounded created a major shift in demographic composition. War also split the feminist groups, with many opposed to the war, while other women became involved in the White Feather campaign.

Certain recent feminist scholars, such as Francoise Thebaud and Nancy Cott, also point out World War I's conservativizing effect in some countries, noting the reinforcement of traditional imagery as well as literature directed towards motherhood. These phenomena during World War I and between the two wars have been called the "nationalization of women."

In the years between the wars, women continued to fight opposition to women's rights from the establishment, media caricatures and discrimination. Examples of this can be found in Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, where she also describes the extent of the backlash and her frustration at the waste of so much talent. Important writers of the time also included Rebecca West, who had a relationship with H.G.Wells. Although the word "feminism" was now in use, the media and others had given it such a negative image, that women were afraid to embrace it. By 1938, Woolf was writing, in Three Guineas, "an old word...that has much harm in its day and is now obsolete". On another occasion she had to defend West, who had been attacked as a "feminist". Woolf also started to paint homosexuality in a positive light "women...had almost always been seen in relation to men", and to examine the constructs of gender more minutely. West has perhaps best been remembered for her comment "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute"

Electoral reform
Women's demand for the vote could no longer be ignored, and the Representation of the People Act 1918 enacted in February of that year gave men almost universal suffrage, and the vote to women over 30 years of age till the Representation of the People Act 1928 provided equal suffrage for men and women. It also shifted the socioeconomic make up of the electorate towards the working class, favouring the Labour Party who were more sympathetic to women's issues. The first election was held in December, and gave Labour the most seats in the house to date. The electoral reforms also allowed women to run for parliament. Although Christabel Pankhurst narrowly failed to win a seat in 1918, in 1919 and 1920 both Lady Astor and Margaret Wintringham won seats for the Conservatives and Liberals respectively, by succeeding to their husband's seats. Labour swept to power in 1924, including Ellen Wilkinson. Constance Markiewicz (Sinn Féin) was the first woman to be elected, in Ireland in 1918, but as an Irish nationalist, refused to take her seat. Astor's proposal to form a women's party in 1929 was unsuccessful, which some historians feel was a missed opportunity, and there were still only 12 women in parliament by 1940. Women gained considerable electoral experience over the next few years as a series of minority governments ensured almost annual elections. Close affiliation with Labour also proved to be a problem for NUSEC, which had little support in the Conservative party. However, their persistence with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was rewarded by the passage of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928.
Other jurisdictions
Women received the vote in Denmark and Iceland in 1915 (full in 1919), the USSR in 1917, Austria, Germany and Canada in 1918, and many countries including the Netherlands in 1919, and South Africa in 1930. French women did not receive the vote till 1945. Lichtenstein was one of the last countries, in 1984.
The women's movement and social reform
As with many movements, women soon discovered that political change does not necessarily translate into an immediate or noticeable change in circumstances, and with economic recession they were the most vulnerable sector of the workforce. Many had been made redundant by the end of hostilities. Some women who had held jobs prior to the war were obliged to give them up to returning soldiers. With limited franchise, the NUWSS needed to change its role. The new organisation, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC) still advocated equality in franchise but extended its scope to examine equality in the social and economic area. Legislative reform was sought for those laws that were discriminatory, including family law and prostitution. One area of division which is significant in the light of later developments was between equality and equity, which addressed accommodation to allow women to overcome barriers to fulfillment. In more recent years this has been referred to as the "equality vs. difference conundrum". Eleanor Rathbone, who became an MP in 1929, succeeded Millicent Garrett as president in 1919. She expressed the critical need for consideration of difference in gender relationships as "what women need to fulfill the potentialities of their own natures". A more formal split appeared with the 1924 Labour government's social reforms, with a splinter group of strict egalitarians forming the Open Door Council in May 1926. This eventually became an international movement, and continued till 1965. Other important social legislation of this period included the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 1919 (which opened professions to women), and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923. In 1932, NUSEC separated advocacy from education, and continued the former activities as the National Council for Equal Citizenship and education became the role of the Townswomen's Guild. The council continued until the end of the Second World War.

In 1921, Margaret Mackworth (Lady Rhondda) founded the Six Point Group which included Rebecca West. It was a political lobby group, whose six aims were political, occupational, moral, social, economic and legal equality. Thus it was ideologically allied with the Open Door Council, rather than National Council. It also lobbied at an international level, such as the League of Nations, and continued its work till 1983. In retrospect both ideological groups were influential in advancing women's rights in their own way. Despite women being admitted to the House of Commons from 1918, Mackworth, a Viscountess in her own right, spent a lifetime fighting to take her seat in the House of Lords against bitter opposition, a battle which only achieved its goal in the year of her death (1958). This revealed the weaknesses of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. Mackworth also founded Time and Tide which became the group's journal, and to which West, Virginia Woolf, Rose Macaulay and many others contributed. A number of other women's periodicals also appeared in the 1920s, including Woman and Home, and Good Housekeeping, but whose content reflect very different aspirations. In 1925 Rebecca West wrote in Time and Tide something that reflected not only the movement's need to redefine itself post suffrage, but a continual need for re-examination of goals. "When those of our army whose voices are inclined to coolly tell us that the day of sex-antagonism is over and henceforth we have only to advance hand in hand with the male, I do not believe it."

Reproductive rights
As feminism sought to redefine itself, new issues rose to the surface, one of which was reproductive rights. Even mentioning these could be hazardous. Annie Besant had been tried in 1877 for publishing Charles Knowlton's Fruits of Philosophy, a work on family planning, under the Obscene Publications Act 1857. Knowlton had previously been convicted in the United States. She and her colleague Charles Bradlaugh were convicted but acquitted on appeal, the subsequent publicity resulting in a decline in the birth rate. Not discouraged in the slightest, Besant followed this with The Law of Population.

Similarly in America, Margaret Sanger was prosecuted for her Family Limitation under the Comstock Act 1873, in 1914, and fled to Britain where she met with Marie Stopes until it was safe for her to return. Sanger continued to risk prosecution, and her work was prosecuted in Britain. Stopes was never prosecuted but was regularly denounced for her work in promoting birth control. Even more controversial was the establishment of the Abortion Law Reform Association in 1936. The penalty for Abortion had been reduced from execution to life imprisonment by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, although some exceptions were allowed in the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929. Following the prosecution of Dr. Aleck Bourne in 1938, the 1939 Birkett Committee made recommendations for reform, that like many other women's issues, were set aside at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Late twentieth century: the postwar period and the second wave

The Second World War was extraordinarily liberating and empowering for women, since most working-age men were away from their homes and jobs. Much moreso than in the previous war, large numbers of women contributed to life outside the home — especially in skills and professional expertise — as a result of the educational and employment opportunities that opened to them in the absence of the male workforce. The popular icon Rosie the Riveter became a symbol for a generation of working women.

However, at the end of the war women again found that many of their apparent gains disappeared or were taken away. This occurred across the board in the fields of industry, employment, and business. Women's forays into the military (WAC, WAAF, etc.) and sports were short-lived as well — for example, women's baseball, where women had proven they were at least as good as men, but were not wanted after the war's end. Despite the gains made over the first half of the twentieth century, the essential problems of discrimination, inequality, and limited opportunities reappeared after World War II ended and men returning from combat re-established their previous positions.

Consequently, the gradual emergence of a new feminism after World War II was referred to as second-wave feminism, to reflect the hiatus the war had created and the new directions taken following women's experiences during and after that war. Later it also became common to refer to feminism prior to World War II as first-wave feminism.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, and the rise of Women’s Liberation

In 1963, Betty Friedan published her exposé The Feminine Mystique, giving a voice to the discontent and disorientation many women felt in being shunted into homemaking positions after graduating from college. In the book, Friedan explored the roots of the change in women's roles from essential workforce during World War II to homebound housewife and mother after the war, and assessed the forces that drove this change in perception of women's roles.

Over the following decade, the phrase and concept “Women’s Liberation” began to be discussed. While people sometimes use the expression “Women’s Liberation” to refer to feminism throughout history, the term is relatively recent. “Liberation” has been associated with women’s aspirations since 1895, and appears in Simone de Beauvoir in 1953. The phrase “Women’s Liberation” was first used in 1964, and appeared in print in 1966. It was in use at the 1967 American Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) convention, which held a panel discussion on it. By 1968, although the term Women’s Liberation Front appeared in “Ramparts” it was starting to refer to the whole women’s movement. In Chicago, women disillusioned with the New Left were meeting separately in 1967, and publishing Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement by March 1968. When the Miss America Pageant was held in September, the media referred to the demonstrations as Women’s Liberation, and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union was formed in 1969. Similar groups with similar titles appeared in many parts of the United States. Bra-burning (actually a fiction) became associated with the movement, and the media coined other terms such as “libber.” Women’s Liberation, compared to various rival terms for the new feminism which co-existed for a while, captured the popular imagination and has persisted, although today the older term Women’s Movement is used just as frequently.

1960s' feminism — and its theory and activism — was informed and fueled by the social, cultural, and political climate of that decade. This was a time when there was an increasing entry of women into higher education, the establishment of academic women's studies courses and departments and feminist thinking in many other related fields such as politics, sociology, history and literature, and a time when there was increasing questioning of accepted standards and authority.

It also became increasingly evident, almost from the beginning, that the Women's Liberation movement consisted of multiple "feminisms" — due to the diverse origins from which groups had coalesced and intersected, and the complexity and contentiousness of the issues involved. Starting in the 1980s, one of the most vocal critics of the whole movement has been bell hooks, who comments on lack of voice by the most oppressed women, glossing over of race and class as inequalities, and failure to address the issues that divided women.

Feminist writing

Following the changes in women's consciousness provoked by Betty Friedan's 1963 exposé The Feminine Mystique, in the 1970s new feminist activists took on more political and sexual issues in their writings.

Feminist writing in the early 1970s ranges from Gloria Steinem (Ms. Magazine 1970), to Kate Millett's Sexual Politics. Millett's uses her bleak survey of male writers and their attitudes and biases to demonstrates her thesis that sex is politics, and politics is power imbalance in relationships. Her pessimism is reflected in her description of "the desert we inhabit". From the same period come Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex, Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Sheila Rowbotham's Women's Liberation and the New Politics and Juliet Mitchell's Woman's Estate, the following year. Firestone based her concept of revolution on Marxism, referred to the "sex war", and interestingly, in view of the debates over patriarchy, claimed that male domination dated to "back beyond recorded history to the animal kingdom itself". Co-founder of Redstockings, Firestone, considered a radical, put "feminism" back in the vocabulary.

Greer, Rowbotham and Mitchell represent an English perspective on the growing revolution, but as Mitchell argues, this should be seen as an international phenomenon, but taking on different manifestations relating to local culture. British women too, drew on left political backgrounds, and organised small local discussion groups. Much of this took Bartplace through the London Women's Liberation Workshop and its publications Shrew and the LWLW Newsletter. Although there were marches, the focus was on what Kathie Sarachild of Redstockings had called consciousness-raising. One of the functions of this was, as Mitchell describes it was that women would "find what they thought was an individual dilemma is social predicament". Women found that their own personal experiences were information that they could trust in formulating political analyses.

Meanwhile in the United States women's frustrations crystallised around the failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. Against this background appeared Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will in 1975, introducing a more explicit agenda directed against male violence, specifically male sexual violence in this treatise on rape. Perhaps her most memorable phrase was "pornography is the theory and rape the practice", creating a nexus that would cause deep fault lines to develop, largely around the concepts of objectification and commodification. Brownmiller's major contributions are this book and In our Time (2000), a history of women's liberation. Less well known is Femininity (1984) a gentler (compared to the bitterness of her earlier work) deconstruction of a concept that has had an uneasy relationship with feminism. One of the first women to develop the implications of pornography further was Susan Griffin in Pornography and Silence (1981). Moving beyond Brownmiller and Griffin's position Catherine MacKinnon, and Andrea Dworkin with whom she collaborated took up a position that is generally regarded as the extreme radical end of the spectrum, and therefore not widely supported in the movement. However, their influence in debates and activism on pornography and prostitution has been striking, in particular at the Supreme Court of Canada. Their position has been characterised as an extreme politicisation of sex, in which an individual woman's experience is generalised, so that women as a class are seen to be victims. This is a position that many feminists, civil libertarians and jurists find uncomfortable and alienating. MacKinnon, who is a lawyer, has a style considered to be frequently angry and acerbic. "To be about to be raped is to be gender female in the process of going about life as usual She has described the perception of the inferiority of women as springing from misogyny, and is unconvinced that women ever express agency in their relationships with men. Sexual harassment, she says "doesn't mean that they all want to fuck us, they just want to hurt us, dominate us, and control us, and that is fucking us. To some radical feminists, she is a female Martin Luther King, the only person to truly express the pain of being woman in an unequal society, and to portray that reality through the experiences of the battered and violated, which she claims to be the norm. A useful evolution of this approach has been to transform the research and perspective on rape from an individual experience to a social problem. Caution should also be used in sharply dichotomising feminism and assigning terms such as liberal or radical to feminist writings. For instance Denise Schaeffer argues that MacKinnon actually relies on a number of fundamental liberal tenets.

Sexual politics


One difficult issue that second wave feminism had to deal with was the increasing visibility of lesbianism within and without of feminism. Lesbians felt sidelined by both gay liberation and women's liberation, where they were referred to as the "Lavender Menace", provoking The Woman-Identified Woman from the Radicalesbians in 1970. Jill Johnston's Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution followed in 1973. Many lesbians felt that they should be central to the movement, representing a fundamental threat to male supremacy. In its extreme form this was expressed as the only appropriate choice for a woman. One of the more colourful lesbian feminist writers of this period was Rita Mae Brown. Eventually the lesbian movement was welcomed into the mainstream women's movement. The threat to male assumptions they represented turned out to be real in that their presence in the woman's movement became a target of the male backlash.

Reproductive rights

One of the main fields of interest to these women was in gaining the right to contraception and birth control, which were almost universally restricted until the 1960s. With the development of the first birth control pill feminists hoped to make it as available as soon as possible. Many hoped that this would free women from the perceived burden of mothering children they did not want; they felt that control of reproduction was necessary for full economic independence from men. Access to abortion was also widely demanded, but this was much more difficult to secure because of the deep societal divisions that existed over the issue. To this day, abortion remains controversial in many parts of the world.

Many feminists also fought to change perceptions of female sexual behaviour. Since it was often considered more acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners, many feminists encouraged women into "sexual liberation" and having sex for pleasure with multiple partners. (See: Sexual revolution)

These developments in sexual behavior have not gone without criticism by some feminists. They see the sexual revolution primarily as a tool used by men to gain easy access to sex without the obligations entailed by marriage and traditional social norms. They see the relaxation of social attitudes towards sex in general, and the increased availability of pornography without stigma, as leading towards greater sexual objectification of women by men.

International feminism

Immediately after the war a new international dimension was added by the formation of the United Nations. In 1946 the UN established a Commission on the Status of Women. Originally as the Section on the Status of Women, Human Rights Division, Department of Social Affairs, and now part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In 1948 the UN issued its Universal Declaration of Human Rights which protects "the equal rights of men and women", and addressed both the equality and equity issues. Since 1975 the UN has held a series of world conferences on women's issues, starting with the World Conference of the International Women's Year in Mexico City, heralding the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-1985). These have brought women together from all over the world and provided considerable opportunities for advancing women's rights, but also illustrated the deep divisions in attempting to apply principles universally, in successive conferences in Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985). However by 1985 some convergence was appearing. These divisions amongst feminisms included; First World vs. Third World, the relationship between gender oppression and oppression based on class, race and nationality, defining core common elements of feminism vs. specific political elements, defining feminism, homosexuality, female circumcision, birth and population control, the gulf between researchers and the grass roots, and the extent to which political issues were women's issues. Emerging from Nairobi was a realisation that feminism is not monolithic but "constitutes the political expression of the concerns and interests of women from different regions, classes, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds. There is and must be a diversity of feminisms, responsive to the different needs and concerns of women, and defined by them for themselves. This diversity builds on a common opposition to gender oppression and hierarchy which, however, is only the first step in articulating and acting upon a political agenda. The fourth conference was held in Beijing in 1995. At this conference a the Beijing Platform for Action was signed. This included a commitment to achieve "gender equality and the empowerment of women". The most important strategy to achieve this was considered to be "gender mainstreaming" which incorporates both equity and equality, that is that both women and men should "experience equal conditions for realising their full human rights, and have the opportunity to contribute and benefit from national, political, economic, social and cultural development".

Local histories of feminism


In the eighteenth century, the French Revolution focussed people's attention everywhere on the cry for "égalité", and hence by extension, but in a more limited way, inequity in the treatment of women. In 1791, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen elicited an immediate response from the writer Olympe de Gouges who amended it as the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, arguing that if women were accountable to the law they must also be given equal responsibility under the law. She also addressed marriage as a social contract between equals and attacked women's reliance on beauty and charm, as a form of slavery.

During the nineteenth century, conservative postrevolutionary France was not a favourable climate for feminist ideas, as expressed in the counter-revolutionary writings on the role of women by Joseph de Maistre and Viscount Louis de Bonald. Further advancement would have to wait for the revolution of 24 February 1848, and the proclamation of the Second Republic which introduced manhood suffrage, and hopes that similar benefits would apply to women. Although the Utopian Charles Fourier is considered a feminist writer of this period, his influence was minimal at the time.

In France, with the fall of the conservative Louis-Philippe in 1848, feminist hopes were raised, as in 1790. Several newspapers and organizations appeared. Eugénie Niboyet (1800-1883) founded La Voix des Femmes (The Women's Voice), as the first feminist daily newspaper in France 'a socialist and political journal, the organ of the interests of all women'. Niboyet was a Protestant woman who had adopted Saint-Simonianism, and La Voix des Femmes attracted other women from that movement, including the seamstress Jeanne Deroin (1805-1894) and the primary schoolteacher Pauline Roland. Unsuccessful attempts were also made to recruit George Sand. The enthusiasm was short lived; feminism which was allied with socialism was seen as a threat as it had been under the previous revolution, Deroin and Roland were both arrested, tried and imprisoned in 1849. With the emergence of a new, more conservative government in 1852, feminism would have to wait until the Third French Republic.

The Groupe Français d'Etudes Féministes were French women intellectuals at the beginning of the twentieth century who translated part of Bachofen's cannon into French, and campaigned for family law reform. In 1905 they founded L'entente which published many articles on women's history, and became the focus for the intellectual avant garde advocating higher education for women and entry into the professions. Meanwhile socialist feminists, the Parti Socialiste Féminin, adopted a Marxist version of matriarchy. Aline Vallette depicted the overthrow of matriarchy with capitalism exploitation of labour. But like the Groupe Français, they saw the struggle as being for a new age of equality, not a return to a prehistorical matriarchy. French feminism of the end of the Twentieth century is mainly associated with the psychoanalytical Feminist theory, notably with the thinking of Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous.


Perhaps the most notable figure of the women's movement during the Iranian revolution and in post-revolution Iran was Shirin Ebadi. She won the Nobel Prize for advocating democracy and human rights, especially the rights of women and children. Ebadi in collaboration with figures like Simin Behbahani, Mehrangiz Kar, Elaheh Koulaei, Shahla Sherkat, Jila Bani Yaghoob, Mahboubeh Abbas-Gholizadeh, Azam Taleghani, Shahla Lahiji, and others directed the women's movement in Iran in the late 20th century and at the turn of the new millennium.

In 1992, Shahla Sherkat founded Zanan (Women) magazine, which focused on the concerns of Iranian women and tested the political waters with its edgy coverage of reform politics, domestic abuse, and sex. It is the most important Iranian women's journal published after the Iranian revolution, systematically criticizing the Islamic legal code. It argues that gender equality is Islamic and that religious literature has been misread and misappropriated by misogynists. Mehangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji, and Shahla Sherkat, the editor of Zanan, lead the debate on women's rights and demanded reforms. On August 27, 2006, a new women's rights campaign was launched in Iran. The "One Million Signatures" campaign aims to end legal discrimination against women in Iranian laws by collecting a million signatures. The supporters of this campaign include many Iranian women's rights activists and also international activists as well as many Nobel laureates.


With the rise of feminism across the world, a new generation of Indian feminists has emerged. Women have developed themselves according to the situations and have become advanced in various fields. They have become independent in respect of their reproductive rights. Contemporary Indian feminists are fighting for and against: individual autonomy, rights, freedom, independence, tolerance, cooperation, nonviolence and diversity, domestic violence, gender, stereotypes, sexuality, discrimination, sexism, non-objectification, freedom from patriarchy, the right to an abortion, reproductive rights, control of the female body, the right to a divorce, equal pay, maternity leave, breast feeding, prostitution, and education. Medha Patkar, Madhu Kishwar, and Brinda Karat are feminist social workers and politicians who advocate women's rights in post-independent India. Writers such as Amrita Pritam, Sarojini Sahoo and Kusum Ansal advocate feminist ideas in Indian languages. Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, Leela Kasturi, Sharmila Rege, and Vidyut Bhagat are Indian feminist essayists and critics writing in English.


Japanese feminism as an organized political movement dates back to the early years of the 20th century, when Kato Shidzue pushed for birth-control availability as part of a broad spectrum of progressive reforms. Shidzue went on to serve in the National Diet following the defeat of Japan in World War II and the promulgation of the Peace Constitution by US forces. Other figures such as Hayashi Fumiko and Ariyoshi Sawako illustrate the broad socialist ideologies of Japanese feminism, that seeks to accomplish broad goals rather than celebrate the individual achievements of powerful women.


Feminism in Norway has its political origins in the movement for women's suffrage. Women's issues were first articulated in the public sphere by Camilla Collett (1813-1895), widely considered the first Norwegian feminist. Originating from a literary family, she wrote a novel and several articles on the difficulties facing women of her time, and in particular forced marriages. Amalie Skram (1846-1905) also gave voice to a woman's point of view with her naturalist writing.

The Norwegian Association for Women's Rights was founded in 1884 by Gina Krog and Hagbart Berner. The organization raised issues related to women's rights to education and economic self-determination, and above all, universal suffrage. Women's right to vote was passed by law, June 11, 1913 by the Norwegian Parliament. Norway was the second country in Europe after Finland to have full suffrage for women.


The development of feminism in Poland and Polish territories has traditionally been divided into seven successive "waves".

The 1920s saw the emergence of radical feminism in Poland. Its representatives, Irena Krzywicka and Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska, advocated women’s independence from men. Krzywicka and Tadeusz Żeleński both promoted planned parenthood, sexual education, rights to divorce and abortion, and equality of sexes. Krzywicka published a series of articles in Wiadomości Literackie in which she protested against interference by the Roman Catholic Church in the intimate lives of Poles.

After the Second World War, the Polish Communist state (established in 1948) forcefully promoted women’s emancipation at home and at work. However, during Communist rule (until 1989), feminism in general, and second-wave feminism in particular, were practically absent. Although feminist texts were produced in the 1950s and afterwards, they were usually controlled and generated by the Communist state. After the fall of Communism, the Polish government, dominated by ‘pro-Catholic’ political parties, introduced a de facto legal ban on abortions. Since then some feminists have adopted argumentative strategies borrowed from the American ‘Pro-Choice’ movement of the 1980s.

United States of America

Feminism in America took a slightly different course than in Britain, and was slightly more advanced. The antislavery campaign of the 1830s provided a perfect cause for women to take up, identify with and learn political skills from. Attempts to exclude women only fuelled their convictions further, and were instrumental in moving women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott firmly into the feminist camp, leading to the 1848 Seneca Falls (New York) women’s convention, where a declaration of independence for women ("A Declaration of Sentiments") was drafted. Barbara Leigh Smith describes her meeting with Mott there in her American Diary, one of many links between the movements on each side of the Atlantic. The Declaration of Sentiments became the focus for the organised women's rights movement in America. Sarah and Angelina Grimké were examples of other women who moved rapidly from the emancipation of slaves to the emancipation of women, while Sojourner Truth, a freed slave, pointed to the injustice of freeing slaves and then only giving the vote to black males. The most influential writer of the time was the colourful journalist Margaret Fuller whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published in 1845. Her dispatches from Europe for the New York Tribune also helped create a universality in the women's rights movement. Had she lived, she was expected to become the leader of the women's rights movement. Her involvement with prostitutes was the beginning of a long and at times difficult relationship between the women's movement and prostitution. Another notable feminist of this period is Lucy Stone.

This period saw the contributions of Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage amongst others. Stanton and Gage saw the church as a major obstacle to women's rights. They therefore welcomed the emerging literature on matriarchy, and both Gage and Stanton produced works on this topic, Stanton's "The Matriarchate or Mother-Age", and Gage's "Woman, Church and State", neatly inverting Bachofen's thesis and adding a unique epistemological perspective, the critique of objectivity and the perception of the subjective.

Stanton made an astute observation regarding assumptions of female inferiority "The worst feature of these assumptions is that women themselves believe them". However this attempt to replace "androcentric" theological tradition with a "gynecentric" view made little headway in the women's movement which was dominated by religious elements, and she and Gage were largely ignored by subsequent generations.

Stanton, Anthony and many others led a 50 year battle for women's suffrage. Their first victory was in 1869 when Wyoming Territory extended equal suffrage to women. That same year the legislature in the Utah Territory passed an act giving women in Utah the right to vote. These rights were later revoked by the US congress in the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, but restored by Utah in 1895. Gradually individual States joined them.

History of selected feminist issues

The history of feminist theory

Nancy Cott draws a distinction between modern feminism and its antecedents, particularly the struggle for suffrage. In the United States she places the turning point in the decades before and after women obtained the vote in 1920 (1910-1930). She argues that the prior woman movement was primarily about woman as a universal entity, whereas over this 20 year period it transformed itself into one primarily concerned with social differentiation, attentive to individuality and diversity. New issues dealt more with woman's condition as a social construct, gender identity, and relationships within and between genders. Politically this represented a shift from an ideological alignment comfortable with the right, to one more radically associated with the left.

In the immediate postwar period, Simone de Beauvoir stood in opposition to an image of "the woman in the home". De Beauvoir provided an existentialist dimension to feminism with the publication of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) in 1949. While more philosopher and novelist than activist, she did sign one of the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes manifestos. The resurgence of feminist activism in the late 1960s was accompanied by an emerging literature of what might be considered female associated issues, such as concerns for the earth and spirituality, and environmental activism. This in turn created an atmosphere conducive to reigniting the study of and debate on matricentricity, as a rejection of determinism, such as Adrienne Rich and Marilyn French while for socialist feminists like Evelyn Reed, patriarchy held the properties of capitalism.

Elaine Showalter describes the development of Feminist theory as having a number of phases. The first she calls "feminist critique" - where the feminist reader examines the ideologies behind literary phenomena. The second Showalter calls "Gynocritics" - where the "woman is producer of textual meaning" including "the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of a female language; the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career [and] literary history". The last phase she calls "gender theory" - where the "ideological inscription and the literary effects of the sex/gender system" are explored." This model has been criticized by Toril Moi who sees it as an essentialist and deterministic model for female subjectivity. She also criticized it for not taking account of the situation for women outside the west.

Sociology of the family debate

Ann Taylor Allen describes the striking gulf between the collective male pessimism and fin-du-siècle angst of male intellectuals such as Tönnies, Weber and Simmel, at the beginning of the twentieth century, compared to the optimism of their female counterparts, whose contributions have largely been ignored by social historians of the era. Feminists were well aware of Weber's "iron cage", it is just that they saw it as a starting point, not a finishing point.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the sociology of the family was one of the more prominent concerns of feminist theorists, who have been incorrectly typified as accepting the historical fact of primal matriarchy, whereas their interest was more in an empowering symbolism in interpreting the social issues they confronted. They used Bachofen and the rejection of an inevitable patriarchy to address family law reform and sexual morality. Feminists were sceptical about the objectivity of those who wrote about objective culture, as expressed in their perceived androcentricity. Jeanne Oddo-Deflou, leader of Groupe Français d'Etudes Féministes, went so far as to state that male rejection of Bachofen by male intellectuals was good enough reasons for females to embrace him. She rejected the emotion-rationalism dichotomy association with matriarchy and patriarchy, and with Stanton, asserted that rationality was as much an attribute of any mother-age civilisation as of patriarchy, and that it was mainly patriarchal behaviour that was logically irrational.

In English academic circles, the challenge to patriarchy started to permeate a variety of disciplines. Jane Ellen Harrison, a classicist, working from Friedrich Nietzsche's Bachofen inspired interpretation view of Greek culture argued that it was a shift in Pantheons that influenced the loss of matrilineal Greek culture with its more "primitive" pantheistic deities to a patriarchate both on Olympus and on Earth. Many other feminist theorists incorporated matriarchal approaches. These include the American Charlotte Perkins Gilman and British Frances Swiney. Gilman developed the idea of matriarchate as imaginative, pointing out how the trivial male role of fertilisation was responsible for "arresting the development of half the world and depicts how rationality and emotionality can co-exist harmoniously in her utopian novel Herland. Swiney utilised Bachofen's work and his successors, such as Mona Caird, in addressing the social concerns of suffragettes, including sexually transmitted disease, infant mortality and prostitution, and founded a group, the League of Isis that produced a number of empowering works. These women's work in turn would be popularised by the reform minded periodicals of the time (such as The Suffragette, The Vote, The Malthusian, Westminster Review). More controversial, was the way these views were used to uphold or challenge the standards of sexual morality, which were very assymmetrical. Generally British writers upheld the standards but expected them to apply to men equally, while in the Netherlands and Germany they were challenged.

While the majority of feminists supported enforcement of paternal responsibility, the minority used the more radical matriliny argument that support of mothers and children was a state responsibility, and that women should not be humiliated by pursuing fathers. In Holland this was the Vrije Vrouwen (Free Women), through their journal Evolutie, edited by Wilhelmine Drucker in the 1890s. In Germany Ruth Bré (Elisabeth Bouness) founded the Bund für Mutterschutz (League for the Protection of Mothers) in 1905, and took this further advocating a matriarchal society of single mothers, while the league attracted many prominent reformers, female and male, including Helene Stöcker, Lily Braun and Henriette Fürth, they did not support her radicalism, believing that the genders should not be separated in a more evolved social model. However all groups supported equality of rights. The inspiration for these views came largely from Ellen Key in Sweden who believed that matrilineality was closest to nature. The Bund für Mutterschutz advanced the "New Ethic" of women controlling their own sexual and reproductive needs, as a creative and life providing force. For instance Fürth believed that motherhood transcended marriage. Disproportionate to their numerical size, these sexual radicals set a new agenda for the discussion of morality in the west. Understandably, many saw these new ideas as alarming, and threatening.

The moderate majority is represented by groups such as the Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (League of German Women's Organizations) led by Marianne Weber (who was married to Max Weber), and who warned against belief in “lost paradise”. Weber repudiated Bachofen in her ‘’Wife and Mother in Legal History’’ along socialist interpretations, distinguishing between matrilineality and the status of women. Interestingly she argued for marriage to protect the status of children, without doubting the need for this in the first place. However she also rejected the inevitability of the status quo, portrayed further evolution to equality, reform of family law, and although describing monogamy as an ideal, went so far to suggest it was not for everyone, and that non-monogamous relationships were not immoral, views she shared with her husband.

In France, Madeleine Pelletier was equally sceptical about historical patriarchy, but more so some of her colleagues flowery symbolism which she suspected was actually confining. In a foreshadowing of Betty Friedan she pithily summed up the hiatus between male worship of the goddess and emancipation “Future societies may build temples to motherhood, but only to lock women into them.” She also held, what for those times were radical views on the need for women to control their reproductive rights.

In striking contrast to Freudian theory is his contemporary feminist Catherine Gascoigne Hartley, whose The Truth about Woman appeared in the same year as Totem and Taboo, based on the same material. To Hartley (also known as Mrs Walter Gallichan), Atkinson's readings were biased, and that it could easily have been the actions of women opposing patriarchy that brought about matriarchy, if only short lived. But to her patriarchy was equally unstable, and she saw the latter day women's movement as one restoring social justice. "It is the day of experiments...We are questioning where before we have accepted, and are seeking out new ways in which mankind will go...will go because it must".

However, despite all of these disagreements, there were common elements, an acceptance of some form of nonpatrilineal kinship in the past, the evolution of family kinship structures, and a belief in the evanescent nature of the status quo. Common to both male and female socialist writers were challenges to traditional views of family, this includes Gilman, Braun, Fürth and Alice Melvin. Some of the most radical ideas in American writing are found in Elsie Clews Parsons’ ”The Family” (used as a textbook), which included premarital sexual relationships, trial marriage and sexual liberation from better provision of contraception. These views attracted some negative media publicity, however discussions about kinship were now widely held. Countess Franziska zu Reventlow was a bohemiam who became a member of the mainly male Georgekreis (George circle), but parodied them, and predicted the sinister outcome of their male Dionysian view of liberated women.

Thus, most of what seemed radical ideas of the late twentieth century had already been described in the early years of the century.

Psychoanalysis and feminism

Psychoanalytic theory emerged during the debate on kinship, and kinship and gender relations form the core of the theoretical writings, and has been portrayed as one of the elements containing feminism. It origins can be found in the Romantic, and in particular Bachofen's representation. The matriarchy-patriarchy conflict is central to Sigmund Freud's work, and to the schism that followed between him and Carl Jung. Freud's theories can be seen to be centred around the triangular Oedipus complex, the patricidal relation between child and father, and incestuous desire for the mother, as a model for the development of each individual's personality. The correspondence between Freud and Jung reveals their conflicting concepts of universal patriarchy on the former's part, and the yearning for liberation and return to matriarchy of the latter. Freud disliked feminist sexual radicalism, but echoed some of it "Mother-right should not be confused with gynaecocracy". The centrality of Oedipal desire is best expressed in Totem und Tabu (1913). He based his anthropological speculation on the work of J.J. Atkinson, who in turn was influenced by Darwin. Freud proceeded to layer Greek myth onto the Darwinian ethology of the herd and the polygamous dominant male, challenged by its male offspring, a position challenged by anthropologists, but which became influential in twentieth century culture. In Freudian analysis, Bachofen's world is now seen as the story of individual psychological evolution, a psychic recasting of ontogeny mirroring phylogeny.

See also

Feminism and costume


Further reading

For a chronological list of historically important individual books see: List of notable feminist literatureGeneral

  • Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
  • Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
  • Duby, George and Perrot, Michelle (eds.) A history of women in the west. 5 vols. Harvard 1992-4
    • I. From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints
    • II. Silences of the Middle Ages
    • III. Renaissance and the Enlightenment Paradoxes
    • IV. Emerging Feminism from Revolution to World War
    • V. Toward a Cultural Identity in the Twentieth Century
  • Ezell, Margaret J M. Writing Women's Literary History. Johns Hopkins University 2006 216 pp. ISBN 0-8018-5508-X
  • Foot, Paul. The vote: How it was won and how it was lost. Viking London 2005
  • Freedman, Estelle No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Ballantine Books, 2002, ISBN B0001FZGQC
  • Fulford, Roger. Votes for women. Faber and Faber, London 1957
  • Jacob, Margaret C. The Enlightenment: A Brief History With Documents, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001, ISBN 0-312-17997-9
  • Kramarae, Cheris and Paula Treichler. A Feminist Dictionary. University of Illinois 1997 ISBN 0-252-06643-X
  • Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Feminist Consciousness From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy. Oxford University Press, 1993
  • McQuiston, Liz. Suffragettes and she-devils: Women's liberation and beyond. Phaidon London 1997
  • Mill, John Stuart. The subjection of women. Okin, Susan M (ed.) Yale, Newhaven CT 1985
  • Prince, Althea and Susan Silva-Wayne (eds.). Feminisms and Womanisms: A Women's Studies Reader. Women's Press 2004 ISBN 0-88961-411-3
  • Radical Women. The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure. Red Letter Press 2001. ISBN 0-932323-11-1
  • Rossi, Alice S. The feminist papers: from Adams to Beauvoir. Northeastern University, Boston. 1973 ISBN 1-55553-028-1
  • Rowbotham, Sheilah. A century of women. Viking, London 1997
  • Schneir, Miriam. Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. Vintage 1994 ISBN 0-679-75381-8
  • Scott, Joan Wallach Feminism and History (Oxford Readings in Feminism), Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-875169-9
  • Smith, Bonnie G. Global Feminisms: A Survey of Issues and Controversies (Rewriting Histories), Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0-415-18490-8
  • Spender, Dale (ed.) Feminist theorists: Three centuries of key women thinkers, Pantheon 1983, ISBN 0-394-53438-7International
  • Parpart, Jane L, Conelly, M Patricia, Barriteau, V. Eudine (eds.) Theoretical perspectives on gender and development. IDRC Ottawa 2000 ISBN 0-88936-910-0Europe
  • Anderson, Bonnie S. and Judith P. Zinsser A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, Oxford University Press, 1999 (revised edition), ISBN 0-19-512839-7
  • Offen, Karen M. European Feminisms, 1700–1950: A Political History. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2000Great Britain
  • Caine, Barbrara. Victorian Feminists. Oxford 1992
  • Chandrasekhar, S. "A Dirty, Filfthy Book": The Writing of Charles Knowlton and Annie Besant on Reproductive Physiology and British Control and an Account of the Bradlaugh-Besant Trial. University of California Berkeley 1981
  • Craik, Elizabeth M.(ed.) 'Women and Marriage in Victorian England', in Marriage and Property. Aberdeen University 1984
  • Forster, Margaret. Significant Sisters: The grassroots of active feminism 1839-1939. Penguin 1986
  • Fraser, Antonia. The weaker vessel. Vintage, N.Y. 1985 ISBN 0-394-73251-0
  • Manvell, Roger. The trial of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh. Elek, London 1976
  • Pankhurst, Emmeline. My own story. Virago London 1979
  • Pankhurst, Sylvia. The suffragette movement. Virago London 1977
  • Phillips, Melanie. The Ascent of Woman - A History of the Suffragette Movement and the ideas behind it, Time Warner Book Group London, 2003, ISBN 0-349-11660-1
  • Pugh, Martin. Women and the women's movement in Britain, 1914 -1999 , Basingstoke [etc.] : St. Martin's Press, 2000
  • Walters, Margaret. Feminism: A very short introduction. Oxford 2005 (ISBN 0-19-280510-X)Italy
  • Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, liberazione della donna. feminism in Italy, Wesleyan University Press 1986 India
  • Feminism in India, ed. by Maitrayee Chaudhuri, London [etc.] : Zed Books, 2005Iran
  • Edward G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909. Mage Publishers (July 1995). ISBN 0-934211-45-0
  • Farideh Farhi, Religious Intellectuals, the “Woman Question,” and the Struggle for the Creation of a Democratic Public Sphere in Iran, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No.2, Winter 2001.
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Religious Modernists and the “Woman Question”: Challenges and Complicities, Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution: Political and Social Transition in Iran since 1979, Syracuse University Press, 2002, pp 74-95.
  • Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, Random House (May 2, 2006), ISBN 1-4000-6470-8Japan
  • Vera MacKie, Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality, Paperback Edition, Cambridge University Press 2003, ISBN 0-521-52719-8Latin America
  • Nancy Sternbach, Feminism in Latin America: from Bogota to San Bernardo in: SIGNS, Winter 1992, pp.393-434 USA
  • Brownmiller, Susan. In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, Dial Books 1999
  • Cott, Nancy and Elizabeth Pleck, eds., A Heritage of Her Own; Toward a New Social History of American Women New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979
  • Echols, Alice. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975, University of Minnesota Press 1990
  • Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, Paperback Edition, Belknap Press 1996
  • Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth., "Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life": How Today's Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch With the Real Concerns of Women, Doubleday 1996
  • Keetley, Dawn (ed.) Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism.3 vls.:
    • Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1900, Madison, Wis. : Madison House, 1997
    • Vol. 2: 1900 to 1960, Lanham, Md. [etc.] : Rowman & Littlefield, 2002
    • Vol. 3: 1960 to the present, Lanham, Md. [etc.] : Rowman & Littlefield, 2002
  • Messer-Davidow, Ellen: Disciplining feminism: from social activism to academic discourse, Durham, NC [etc.] : Duke University Press, 2002
  • O'Neill, William L. Everyone was brave: A history of feminism in America. Chicago 1971
  • Roth, Benita. Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004Sexuality
  • Foucault, Michael. The History of Sexuality. Random House, New York 1978
  • Soble, Alan (ed.) The philosophy of sex: Contemporary readings. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD 2002 ISBN 0-7425-1346-7Journal articles
  • Allen, Ann Taylor. Feminism, Social Science, and the Meanings of Modernity: The Debate on the Origin of the Family in Europe and the United States, 1860–1914. The American Historical Review 1999 October 104(4)
  • Cott, Nancy F. Feminist Politics in the 1920s: The National Woman’s Party. Journal of American History 71 (June 1984): 43–68.
  • Cott, Nancy F. What’s In a Name? The Limits of ‘Social Feminism’; or, Expanding the Vocabulary of Women’s History. Journal of American History 76 (December 1989): 809–829.
  • Offen, Karen. Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach. Signs 1988 Autumn 14(1):119-57

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