Feminism is a movement that pays special attention to the rights and position of women in society, calling on equal treatment for women in all areas of life. Although there are many forms of feminism, feminism has traditionally tried to remedy pervasive discrimination and mistreatment of the female sex.
Feminists point out that for most of human history women have been treated as subordinate and inferior to men. This is evidenced in the fact that the great leaders, rulers, and philosophers throughout history have overwhelmingly been male. Plus, feminists often believe that societies and religions have perpetuated the belief that a woman’s place in society was mainly that of raising a family and helping her husband. According to some feminists, this suppression of women and women’s rights has been engrained into societies for so long that most women passively accept their subordination as part of life. That is why the feminist movement is necessary.
Modern feminism began to take shape in the eighteenth century. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) is often viewed as the founder of the modern feminist movement. In her book, A Vindication of the Right of Women, Wollstonecraft called for equal educational opportunities for women. In 1851, the feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony joined together in a fifty-year fight for equal rights for women in the social and civil realms. Feminists tasted victory in the early part of the twentieth century when women were granted the right to vote. After this triumph, the focus of the feminist movement shifted to equal social and economic positions for women. Important feminists of the twentieth century include Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem. In addition to pushing for equal rights and treatment for women in all areas, the feminist movement of today is most noted for its promotion and defense of abortion rights and lesbian rights. Many feminists today also decry what it believes to be the sexual objectification of women in the media and entertainment industries.
The word “feminism” was coined by the socialist philosopher Charles Fourier and was first used in English in the 1890s.