Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Feminist movement (also known as the Women's Movement and Women's Liberation) campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual violence. The goals of the movement vary from country to country, e.g. female circumcision in Sudan, or the glass ceiling in European countries. Some issues, such as rape, incest, and mothering are universal.
The Feminist movement is the social reform and activism component of Feminism.
The Feminist Movement has effected many changes in Western society, including women's suffrage; broad employment for women at more equitable wages ("equal pay for equal work"); the right to initiate divorce proceedings and "no fault" divorce; the right of women to control their own bodies and medical decisions, including obtaining birth control devices and safe abortions; and many others. Some feminists would argue that there is still much to be done on these fronts, while third-wave feminists would disagree and claim that the battle has basically "been won". As Western society has become increasingly accepting of feminist principles, some of these are no longer seen as specifically feminist, because they have been adopted by all or most people. Some beliefs that were radical for their time are now mainstream political thought. Almost no one in Western societies today questions the right of women to vote, choose her own marital partner if any, or to own land, concepts that seemed quite strange only 100 years ago.
Feminists are often proponents of using non-sexist language, using "Ms." to refer to both married and unmarried women, for example, or the ironic use of the term "herstory" instead of "history". Feminists are also often proponents of using gender-inclusive language, such as "humanity" instead of "mankind", or "he or she" in place of "he" where the gender is unknown. Feminists in most cases advance their desired use of language either to promote an equal and respectful treatment of women or to affect the tone of political discourse. This can be seen as a move to change language which has been viewed by some feminists as imbued with sexism - providing for example the case in the English language the word for the general pronoun is "he" or "his" (The child should have his paper and pencils), which is the same as the masculine pronoun (The boy and his truck). These feminists purport that language then directly affects perception of reality (compare Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). However, to take a postcolonial analysis of this point, many languages other than English may not have such a gendered pronoun instance and thus changing language may not be as important to some feminists as others. Yet, English is becoming more and more universal, and the issue of language may be seen to be of growing importance.
Effect on heterosexual relationships
The Feminist movement has certainly affected the nature of heterosexual relationships in Western and other societies. While these effects have generally been seen as positive, there have been some consequences that can be catalogued as negative from the traditional point of view of morals.
In some of these relationships, there has been a change in the power relationship between men and women. In these circumstances, women and men have had to adapt to relatively new situations, sometimes causing confusions about role and identity. Women can now avail themselves more to new opportunities, but some have suffered with the demands of trying to live up to the so-called "superwomen" identity, and have struggled to 'have it all', i.e. manage to happily balance a career and family. In response to the family issue, many Socialist feminists blame this on the lack of state-provided childcare facilities. Instead of the onus of childcare resting solely on the female, men have started to recognize their responsibilities to assist in managing family matters.
There have been changes also in attitudes towards sexual morality and behaviour with the onset of second wave feminism and "the Pill": women are then more in control of their body, and are able to experience sex with more freedom than was previously socially accepted for them. This sexual revolution that women were then able to experience was seen as positive (especially by sex-positive feminists) as it enabled women and men to experience sex in a free and equal manner. However, some feminists felt that the results of the sexual revolution only was beneficial to men. Whether Marriage is an institution that oppresses women and men, or not, has generated discussion. Those that do view it as oppressive sometimes opt for cohabitation or more recently to live indepently reverting to casual sex to fulfill their sexual needs.
Effect on religion
The Feminist movement has had a great effect on many aspects of religion. In liberal branches of Protestant Christianity, women are now ordained as clergy, and in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, women are now ordained as rabbis and cantors. Within these Christian and Jewish groups, women have gradually become more nearly equal to men by obtaining positions of power; their perspectives are now sought out in developing new statements of belief. These trends, however, have been resisted within Islam and Roman Catholicism. All the mainstream denominations of Islam forbid Muslim women from being recognized as religious clergy and scholars in the same way that Muslim men are accepted. Liberal movements within Islam have nonetheless persisted in trying to bring about feminist reforms in Muslim societies. Roman Catholicism has historically excluded women from entering the main Church hierarchy and does not allow women to hold any positions as clergy except as nuns.
The movement also has had an important role in embracing new forms of religion. Neopagan religions especially tend to emphasise the importance of Goddess spirtuality, and question what they regard as traditonal religion's hostility to women and the sacred feminine. In particular Dianic Wicca is a religion whose origins lie within radical feminism. Among traditional religions, the Feminist movement has led to self examination, with reclaimed positive Christian and Islamic views and ideals of Mary, Islamic views of Fatima Zahra, and especially to the Catholic belief in the Coredemptrix , as counterexamples. However, criticism of these efforts as unable to salvage corrupt church structures and philosophies continues. Some argue that Mary, with her status as mother and virgin, and as traditionally the main role model for women, sets women up to aspire to an impossible ideal and also thus has negative consequences on human sense of identity and sexuality.
There is a separate article on God and gender; it discusses how monotheistic religions reconcile their theologies with contemporary gender issues, and how modern the Feminist movement has influenced the theology of many religions.
Effect on moral education
Opponents of Feminist movement claim that women's quest for external power, as opposed to the internal power to affect other people's ethics and values, has left a vacuum in the area of moral training, where women formerly held sway. Some feminists reply that the education, including the moral education, of children has never been, and should not be, seen as the exclusive responsibility of women. Paradoxically, it is also held by others that the moral education of children at home in the form of homeschooling is itself a women's movement. Such arguments are entangled within the larger disagreements of the Culture Wars, as well as within feminist (and anti-feminist) ideas regarding custodianship of societal morals and compassion.
The Feminist Movement reaches far back before the 18th century, but the seeds of modern Feminist movement were planted during the late part of that century. The earliest works on the so-called "woman question" criticised the restrictive role of women, without necessarily claiming that women were disadvantaged or that men were to blame.
Prior to 1850
Feminist thought began during The Enlightenment with such thinkers as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Marquis de Condorcet championing women's education. The first scientific society for women was founded in Middleberg , a city in the south of the Dutch republic, in 1785. Journals for women which focused on issues like science became popular during this period as well. Mary Wollstonecraft's 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, does not sound like a feminist argument. Wollstonecraft believed that both sexes contributed to this situation and took it for granted that women had considerable power over men.
In the 19th century
The movement is generally said to have begun in the 18th century as people increasingly adopted the perception that women are oppressed in a male-centred society (see patriarchy). The Feminist movement is rooted in the West and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The organised movement is dated from the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the founders of the suffragette movement and aimed to reveal the institutional sexism in British society, forming the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Often the repeated jailing for forms of activism that broke the law, particularly property destruction, inspired members to go on hunger strikes. As a result of the resultant force-feeding that was the practice, these members became very ill, serving to draw attention to the brutality of the legal system at the time and to further their cause. In an attempt to solve this the government introduced a bill that became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, which allowed women to be released when they starved themselves to dangerous levels, then to be re-arrested later.
The Feminist movement in the Arab world saw Egyptian jurist Qasim Amin, the author of the 1899 pioneering book Women's Liberation (Tahrir al-Mar'a), as the father of the Arab Feminist Movement . In his work Amin criticized some of the practices prevalent in his society at the time, such as polygamy, the veil, or women's segregation, and condemned them as un-Islamic, and contradicting the true spirit of Islam. His work had an enormous influence on women's political movements throughout the Islamic and Arab world, and is read and cited today. Less know, however, are the women who preceded Amin in their feminist critique of their societies. The women's press in Egypt started voicing such concerns since its very first issues in 1892. Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese women and men had been reading European feminist magazines even a decade earlier, and discussed their relevance to the Middle East in the general press.
In the 20th century
Many countries began to grant women the vote in the early years of the 20th century, especially in the final years of the First World War and the first years after the war. The reasons for this varied, but included a desire to recognise the contributions of women during the war, and were also influenced by rhetoric used by both sides at the time to justify their war efforts. For example, since Wilson's Fourteen Points recognised self determination as a vital component of society, the hypocrisy of denying half the population of modern nations the vote became difficult for men to ignore. (See: Women's suffrage)
The 1920s were an important time for women, who, in addition to gaining the vote also gained legal recognition in many countries. However, in many women lost the jobs they had gained during the war. In fact, women who had held jobs prior to the war were sometimes compelled to give up their jobs to returning soldiers, partly due to a conservative backlash, and partially through societal pressure to reward the soldiers. Many women continued to work in blue collar jobs, on farms, and traditionally female occupations. Women did make strides in some fields such as nursing.
In both World Wars, manpower shortages brought women into traditionally male occupations, ranging from munitions manufacturing and mechanical work to a female baseball league. By demonstrating that women could do "men's work", and highlighting society's dependence on their labour, this shift encouraged women to strive for equality. In World War II, the popular icon Rosie the Riveter became a symbol for a generation of working women.
The rise of socialism and communism advanced the rights of women to economic parity with men in some countries. Women were often encouraged to take their place as equals in these societies, although they rarely enjoyed the same level of political power as men, and still often faced very different social expectations.
In some areas, regimes actively discouraged the Feminist movement and women's liberations. In Nazi Germany, a very hierarchical society was idealized where women maintained a position largely subordinate to men. Women's activism was very difficult there, and in other societies that deliberately set out to restrict women's, and men's, gender roles, such as Italy, and much later Afghanistan.
Early feminists are often called the first wave feminists, and feminists after about 1960 are called the second wave feminists. Second wave feminists were concerned with gaining full social and economic equality, having already gained almost full legal equality in many western nations. 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 birth control pill feminists hoped to make it as available 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. The extent to which most women in fact changed their behaviour, first of all because many women had already slept with multiple partners, and secondly because most women still remained in mainly monogamous relationships, is debatable. However, it seems clear that women becoming sexually active since the 1980s are relatively more sexually active than previous generations. (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. Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin gained notoriety in the 1980s by attempting to classify pornography as a violation of women's civil rights.
There is a so called third wave, but feminists disagree as to its necessity, its benefits, and its ideas. Often also called "Post-Feminist," it can possibly be considered to be the advancement of a female discourse in a world where the equality of women is something that can be assumed—rather than fought for.
In many areas of the world women are still paid less than men for equivalent work, hold much less political and economic power, and are often the subject of intense social pressure to conform to relatively traditional gender expectations. Feminists continue to fight these conditions. The most high profile work is done in the field of pay-equity, reproductive rights, and encouraging women to become engaged in politics, both as candidates and as voters. In some areas feminists also fight for legislation guaranteeing equitable divorce laws and protections against rape and sexual harassment. Radical feminism was a significant development in second wave feminism, viewing women's oppression as a fundamental element in human society and seeks to challenge that standard by broadly inverting perceived gender roles along with promoting lesbian and gay rights.
In the Arab and Islamic world, the Feminist movement has faced very different challenges. In Morocco and Iran, for example, it is the application of Islamic personal status laws that are the target of feminist activity. According to Islamic law, for example, a woman who remarries may lose custody over her children; divorce is an unqualified male privilege; in certain countries polygamy is still legal. While not attacking Islamic law itself, these women and men in different Islamic countries offer modern, feminist, egalitarian readings of religious texts. In Egypt feminist gynecologist Nawal al-Sa'dawi centers her critique on the still-prevalent custom of female genital mutilation. Feminist groups in other African countries have targeted the practice as well.
One problem feminists have encountered in the late 20th century is a strong backlash against perceived zealotry on their part. This backlash may be due to the visibility of some radical feminist activism that has been inaccurately perceived as representing the Feminist movement as a whole. Many women, and some men, have become reluctant to be identified as feminists for this reason. Outside of the West, the Feminist movement is often associated with Western colonialism and Western cultural influence, and is therefore often delegitimized. Feminist groups therefore often prefer to refer to themselves as "women's organizations" and refrain from labeling themselves feminists.
Historical feminists of note
For a more complete list, see: List of notable feminists
- Abigail Adams
- Susan B. Anthony
- Gloria E. Anzaldúa
- Angela Davis
- Fatima Mernissi
- Gloria Steinem
- Harriet Tubman
- Mary Wollstonecraft
- Virginia Woolf
Relationship to other movements
Most feminists take a holistic approach to politics, believing the saying of Martin Luther King Jr., "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". In that belief, some feminists usually support other movements such as the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and, more recently Fathers' rights. At the same time many black feminists such as bell hooks criticise the movement for being dominated by white women. Feminist claims about the disadvantages women face in Western society are often less relevant to the lives of black women. This idea is the key in postcolonial feminism. Many black feminist women prefer the term womanism for their views.
However, feminists are sometimes wary of the transsexual movement because they challenge the distinctions between men and women. Transsexual women are excluded from some "women-only " gatherings and events and are rejected by some feminists who say that no one born male can truly understand the oppression women face. This is criticized as transphobic by transsexual women who assert that the discrimination and various struggles (such as that for legal recognitions) that they face due to asserting their gender identity, more than makes up for any they may have "missed out on" growing up, and that discrimination against gender-variant people is another face of heterosexism and patriarchy. See transfeminism and gender studies.
For a more complete list, see: List of notable feminist literature
- The Enlightenment: A Brief History With Documents, Margaret C. Jacob, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001, ISBN 0312179979
- The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, W. W. Norton & Company, 2001 reprint, ISBN 0393322572
- Feminism and History (Oxford Readings in Feminism), Joan Wallach Scott, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0198751699
- Global Feminisms: A Survey of Issues and Controversies (Rewriting Histories), Bonnie G. Smith, Routledge, 2000, ISBN 0415184908
- A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, Bonnie S. Anderson, Judith P. Zinsser, Oxford University Press, 1999 (revised edition), ISBN 0195128397
- No Turning Back : The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Estelle Freedman, Ballantine Books, 2002, ISBN B0001FZGQC
- Judith Butler (1994). "Feminism in Any Other Name", differences 6:2-3: 44-45.
- Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975, University of Minnesota Press 1990
- Karen Kampwirth, Feminism and the Legacy of Revolution: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chiapas, Ohio UP 2004
- Gerda Lerner , The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy, Oxford University Press 1994
- Kaja Silverman, Male Subjectivity at the Margins, p.2-3. New York: Routledge 1992
- Calvin Thomas, ed., "Introduction: Identification, Appropriation, Proliferation", Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality, p.39n. University of Illinois Press (2000)
- Feminist history in the United States
- Feminist history in the United Kingdom
- Feminist history in Latin America
- List of feminism topics
- List of notable feminists
- List of notable feminist literature
- Feminist Majority
- NARAL Pro-Choice America
- National Organization for Women
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America
- Women living under muslim laws
- Committee for Asian Women
- Directory of Women's Media
- Feminist support pages (Australia)
- Don't Be Scared By Feminist Theory
- Donna Haraway - Bibliography
- "I Had an Abortion"
- Islam from Patriarchy to Feminism from LiberalIslam.net
- Judith Butler - Bibliography
- Naomi Wolf - Resources
- FemBio - Notable Women International
- Susan Faludi - Resources
- The SCUM Manifesto
- The Personal Is Political
- Why did feminism arise -- an essay
- Famous Quotes on Feminism
- LadyWiki - open site for discussion & exchange
- The Seneca Falls Convention: Teaching about the Rights of Women and the Heritage of the Declaration of Independence
- Domain of Patriarchy
- Against feminist sexism: A balanced view of male and female power
- Independent Women's Forum
- Vast collection of anti-feminist resources
- Equity feminism
- Domestic Violence Against Men
- Eagle Forum
- The Noble Lie
- The Masculist Perspective
- Ladies against Feminism - A Christian perspective
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