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File:Feminist Suffrage Parade in New York City, 1912.jpeg

Feminist suffrage parade in New York City, May 6, 1912.

The Womens liberation movement or feminist movement (also known as the Women's Movement or Women's Liberation) is a series of campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights (sometimes including abortion), domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. The goals of the movement vary from country to country, e.g. opposition to female genital cutting in Sudan, or to the glass ceiling in Western countries.


Main article: History of feminism

The history of feminist movements has been divided into three "waves" by feminist scholars.[1][2] 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.[3]

The feminist movement reaches far back before the 18th century, feminist movement were planted during the late part of that century. Christine de Pizan, a late medieval writer, was possibly the earliest feminist in the western tradition. She is believed to be the first woman to make a living out of writing. Feminist thought began to take a more substantial shape 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The period of feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States is referred to as the first wave of feminism. It was sometime in the 1920's when feminism died in the US. 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.[4]

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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

The second wave of feminist activity began in the early 1960s and lasted through the late 1980s. What helped trigger this second wave was the book written by Betty Friedan. "The key event that marked the reemergence of this movement in the postwar era was the surprise popularity of Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. Writing as a housewife and mother (though she had had a long story of political activism, as well), Friedan described the problem with no name the dissatisfaction of educated, middle class wives and mothers like herself who looking at their nice homes and families wondered guiltily if that was all there was to life was not new; the vague sense of dissatifaction plaguing housewives was a staple topic for women'smagazines in the 1950s. But Friedan, instead of blaming individual women for failing to adapt to women's proper role, blamed the role itself and the society that created it" (Norton, Mary Beth, A people A Nation pg 865. 2005 Houghton Mifflin Company New York.) During this time feminists campaigned against cultural and political inequalities. 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.[4] The feminist activist and author, Carol Hanisch coined the slogan "The Personal is Political" which became synonymous with the second wave.[5][6] Second-wave feminists saw women's cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures.

In the early 1990s, a movement arose in responses to the perceived the failures of second wave feminism, it has been termed the "third wave". It is also described as a response to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by second-wave feminism. 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.[4][7]

Women's Liberation in the USA

The phrase "Women’s Liberation" was first used in the United States in 1964[8] and first appeared in print in 1966.[9] By 1968, although the term Women’s Liberation Front appeared in the magazine Ramparts, it was starting to refer to the whole women’s movement.[10] Bra-burning also became associated with the movement.[11] One of the most vocal critics of the women's liberation movement has been the African American feminist and intellectual, Gloria Jean Watkins (who uses the pseudonym "bell hooks"), who argues that this movement glossed over race and class and thus failed to address "the issues that divided women". She highlighted the lack of minority voices in the women's movement in her book Feminist theory from margin to center (1984).[12]

The Threat of Organizational Conflict

Feminist organizations were formed as a way to bring people with similar ideals and background together. For instance, reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay for equal work and other issues that must be faced by women would be addressed by these groups. These organizations were created by women for women. The main goal of these organizations is to change attitudes about and policies for women in society in an attempt to promote equality. It is the belief of these groups that women are just as capable and intelligent as men and therefore deserve the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts. Women do not enjoy the same rights and privileges of men due to discrimination which is oftentimes based solely on their sex.[13] However ideals are not enough to bring a sufficient number of people together in a group capable of making a real difference. There are several necessary criteria that contribute to the formation of a successful organization. Having a national scope plays a vital role in an organization’s success as seen in the American women’s movements.[14] All of the American women’s movements had an extensive and comprehensive political agenda that appealed to women from all parts of the country.[15] Also integral to the success of the women’s movements was the ability of the organization to promote and sell its message to the target group. Organizations that are better able to recruit similar idealists are going to be more successful. In many cases, a woman will rise to the forefront of the movement and through media exposures become “the face” of the organization. Celebrities who affiliate themselves with organizations are generally good candidates to become this central person upon whom a lot of attention is given. pop Before an organization can change society they must have a specific frame in mind. This will require a plan of action to affect this change. Great ideas alone will not create change without impacting society. The frame serves as a purpose to bring new members aboard. Once membership is in place, the group must act as whole. Past experiences have proven marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and petitions to be effective mediums for promoting the agendas of individual organizations. These methods work only if members of the group have the same political strategies and philosophies. While effective, these protests require a tremendous amount of time, dedication and work. For these reasons, several people must step forward as the main organizers of these events. These people assume leadership roles in their movements but sometimes leaders do not have the same techniques and do not perceive situations in the same way. For example, on August 26, 1970 a group of women across all ethics, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds marched through Washington, DC in an effort to promote their agenda of equal opportunity in work and education. The march sought to advertise their plan of boycotting corporations that sold products using advertising campaigns that belittled women. However, this demonstration ultimately failed when dissension among the events organizers tore the group apart.[16] Organizational conflicts can be seen within the framework of the New Feminist Movement. There are two main contributing factors to organizational inner turmoil. The first results from member disagreement relating specifically to how the group’s central focus is expressed in their goals and actions. This is difficult because as the organization makes headway into the specific problem that they are addressing the goals must be updated frequently. Also, these goals originate from a person’s own opinions and thoughts which create a zealousness that is beneficial to the group’s agenda. However, when another group member disagrees with this individual’s opinion, it is often misinterpreted as a personal attack. The second stems from the natural frustration that comes with trying to maintain a purely principled organization. There are four main operational standards by which an idealistic group must abide.[17]

1. Self-realization – for a group to be successful, each and every member should attempt to reach his full potential in all relevant areas. (Example: Intellectually and emotionally)

a. In addition, Eva Pierrakos, in her series of lectures for the International Pathwork Foundation, says that “the three basic hindrances are pride, self-will, and fear. All faults, problems, confusions, distortions, conflicts, and misconceptions derive from pride, self-will, and fear in one form of another. The same triad constitutes the barriers to the three avenues of self-expansion.”[18] The self-expansion Pierrakos refers to is essentially the same as the principle of self-realization. Therefore, Pierrakos would believe that any conflict that would arise within an organization would stem from an individual’s pride, self-will, and fear. Hence, when disagreements occur it is an individual’s pride that is wounded. This will result in that person feeling as though they have been personally victimized.

2. Equality (antielitism) – since these women’s groups are made up of an oppressed group, no person should behave in a superior or otherwise detrimental way to any other group members. This is important because the group’s overall goal is to promote equality and therefore it would be hypocritical for there to exist inequality within the group itself.

3. Sisterhood – any group must be able and willing to work together to accomplish their common goals and thus it is vital that an atmosphere of trust, kindness, and acceptance is created within the individual members of the group.

a. It is important that one not overlook a major conflict which ultimately led to the demise of the Women’s Liberation and New Left; this is the conflict between classes.[19] During the rise of these and other women’s organizations, all women felt the effects of discrimination, but as these groups began to address some of these concerns, it became clear that class difference create a whole new inequality between women. Poor women have inherently fewer opportunities due to their socioeconomic status that would not simply be erased through these movement’s agendas. For this reason, when these demographic differences could no longer be ignored, the bond of sisterhood which had been heretofore a great strength for the movement was completely undermined by the threat of class conflict.

4. Authority of personal experience – oftentimes these groups originate as grass roots efforts of which the foundation is personal experience. This means that each individual member is capable of contributing worthwhile ideas to the group based on his own knowledge and that the testimony some outside “expert” is unnecessary. Ultimately, a group has everything it needs to succeed within its own membership.

These principles arise due to the nature of the feminists who comprise the types of groups who follow these principles. These women are generally liberal and sometimes even radical in their beliefs and goals. Therefore, these principles follow directly from the type of feminine ideals that they champion. For this reason, they have no desire to change any of the above principles.[20] Unlike feminist groups, consciousness-raising groups did not come across any of these potential conflicts. This is likely due to the main objective of these consciousness-raising groups which is simply to raise awareness about a certain social problem. Since they are not attempting to affect a policy change, there is less room for the kinds of conflicts which the active feminist groups must deal with.[21]

Social changes

The feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage; the right to initiate divorce proceedings and "no fault" divorce; and the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion); and the right to own property.[22][23]

Feminism has effected many changes in Western society, including women's suffrage, broad employment for women at more equitable wages, the right to initiate divorce proceedings and the introduction of "no fault" divorce, the right to obtain contraception and safe abortions, and access to university education.

The United Nations Human Development Report 2004 estimated that when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are accounted for, on average women work more than men. In rural areas of selected developing countries women performed an average of 20% more work than men, or an additional 102 minutes per day. In the OECD countries surveyed, on average women performed 5% more work than men, or 20 minutes per day.[24] At the UN's Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women's Association 21st International Conference in 2001 it was stated that "in the world as a whole, women comprise 51 percent of the population, do 66 percent of the work, receive 10 percent of the income and own less than one percent of the property".[25]


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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Gender-neutral language is a description of language usages which are aimed at minimizing assumptions regarding the biological sex of human referents. The advocacy of gender-neutral language reflects, at least, two different agendas: one aims to clarify the inclusion of both sexes or genders (gender-inclusive language); the other proposes that gender, as a category, is rarely worth marking in language (gender-neutral language). Gender-neutral language is sometimes described as non-sexist language by advocates and politically-correct language by opponents.[26]

Heterosexual relationships

The increased entry of women into the workplace beginning in the twentieth century has affected gender roles and the division of labor within households. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Second Shift and The Time Bind presents evidence that in two-career couples, men and women, on average, spend about equal amounts of time working, but women still spend more time on housework.[27][28] Feminist writer Cathy Young responds to Hochschild's assertions by arguing that in some cases, women may prevent the equal participation of men in housework and parenting.[29]

Feminist criticisms of men's contributions to child care and domestic labor in the Western middle class are typically centered around the idea that it is unfair for women to be expected to perform more than half of a household's domestic work and child care when both members of the relationship perform an equal share of work outside the home. Several studies provide statistical evidence that the financial income of married men does not affect their rate of attending to household duties.[30][31]

In Dubious Conceptions, Kristin Luker discusses the effect of feminism on teenage women's choices to bear children, both in and out of wedlock. She says that as childbearing out of wedlock has become more socially acceptable, young women, especially poor young women, while not bearing children at a higher rate than in the 1950s, now see less of a reason to get married before having a child. Her explanation for this is that the economic prospects for poor men are slim, hence poor women have a low chance of finding a husband who will be able to provide reliable financial support.[32]

Although research suggests that to an extent, both women and men perceive feminism to be in conflict with romance, studies of undergraduates and older adults have shown that feminism has positive impacts on relationship health for women and sexual satisfaction for men, and found no support for negative stereotypes of feminists.[33]

Effect on religion

Main article: Feminist theology

Template:Related The feminist movement has affected 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, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Feminist theology is a movement that reconsiders the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining women's place in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts.[34]

Christian feminism is a branch of feminist theology which seeks to interpret and understand Christianity in light of the equality of women and men. Because this equality has been historically ignored, Christian feminists believe their contributions are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. While there is no standard set of beliefs among Christian feminists, most agree that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics such as sex. Their major issues are the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, and claims of moral deficiency and inferiority of abilities of women compared to men. They also are concerned with the balance of parenting between mothers and fathers and the overall treatment of women in the church.[35][36]

Islamic feminism is concerned with the role of women in Islam and aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists advocate women's rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses and recognize the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement.[37] Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran, hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and sharia (law) towards the creation of a more equal and just society.[38]

Jewish feminism is a movement that seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. Feminist movements, with varying approaches and successes, have opened up within all major branches of Judaism. In its modern form, the movement can be traced to the early 1970s in the United States. According to Judith Plaskow, who has focused on feminism in Reform Judaism, the main issues for early Jewish feminists in these movements were the exclusion from the all-male prayer group or minyan, the exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot, and women's inability to function as witnesses and to initiate divorce.[39]

See also


  1. Humm, Maggie. 1995. The Dictionary of Feminist Theory. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, p. 251
  2. Walker, Rebecca, 'Becoming the Third Wave' in Ms. (January/February, 1992) pp. 39-41
  3. Krolokke, Charlotte and Anne Scott Sorensen, "From Suffragettes to Grrls" in Gender Communication Theories and Analyses:From Silence to Performance (Sage, 2005)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Freedman, Estelle B., No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women (London: Ballantine Books, 2003)
  5. Echols, Alice (1989). Daring to be bad: radical feminism in America, 1967-1975, 416, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  6. Hanisch, Carol [ Hanisch, New Intro to "The Personal is Political" - Second Wave and Beyond]. The Personal Is Political. The "Second Wave" and Beyond. URL accessed on 2008-06-08.
  7. Henry, Astrid (2004). Not my mother's sister: generational conflict and third-wave feminism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  8. Sarachild, Kathie. Consciousness-Raising: A Radical Weapon, in Sarachild, K, Hanisch, C, Levine, F, Leon, B, Price, C (eds.) Feminist Revolution. Random House N.Y. 1978 pp. 144-150.
  9. Mitchell, Juliet, 'Women: The longest revolution' in New Left Review, 1966, Nov-Dec, pp. 11-37
  10. Hinckle, Warren and Marianne Hinckle. Women Power. Ramparts 1968 February 22-31
  11. Freeman, Jo. The politics of women's liberation. David McKay N.Y. 1975
  12. Hooks, Bell (2000). Feminist theory: from margin to center, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
  13. Martin, Patricia Y. "Rethinking Feminist Organizations." June 1990. JSTOR. 10 Nov. 2008 pg 183 <>
  14. Martin, Patricia Y. "Rethinking Feminist Organizations." June 1990. JSTOR. 10 Nov. 2008 pg 183 <>
  15. Martin, Patricia Y. "Rethinking Feminist Organizations." June 1990. JSTOR. 10 Nov. 2008 pg 183 <>
  16. Valk, Anne M. Radical Sisters : Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D. C. New York: University of Illinois P, 2008. pg 1-2 <>.
  17. Carden, Maren L. The New Feminist Movement. Thousand Oaks: Russell Sage Foundation, 1974. pg 85 <>
  18. Pierrakos, Eva. "Liberation and Peace by Overcoming Fear of the Unknown." The International Pathwork Foundation. 1996. 24 Nov. 2008 <>
  19. Dixon, Marlene. "The Rise and Demise of Women's Liberation: A Class Analysis." 1977. The CWLU Herstory Website. 24 Nov. 2008 <>
  20. Carden, Maren L. The New Feminist Movement. Thousand Oaks: Russell Sage Foundation, 1974. pg 86 <>
  21. Carden, Maren L. The New Feminist Movement. Thousand Oaks: Russell Sage Foundation, 1974. pg 86 <>
  22. Messer-Davidow, Ellen, Disciplining feminism: from social activism to academic discourse (Duke University Press, 2002), ISBN 9780822328437
  23. Butler, Judith, 'Feminism in Any Other Name', differences vol. 6, numbers 2-3, pp. 44-45
  24. Section 28: Gender, Work Burden, and Time Allocation in United Nations Human Development Report 2004. (page 233)
  25. PPSEAWA International Bulletin - Pan Pacific Southeast Asia Women's Association 21st International Conference
  26. "Gender Neutral Language." University of Saskatchewan Policies, 2001. Accessed March 25, 2007.
  27. Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Second Shift (Penguin, 2003), ISBN 9780142002926
  28. Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (Owl Books U.S, 2003), ISBN 9780805066432
  29. The mama lion at the gate -
  30. Scott J. South and Glenna Spitze, "Housework in Marital and Nonmarital Households," American Sociological Review 59, no. 3 (1994):327-348
  31. Sarah Fenstermaker Berk and Anthony Shih, "Contributions to Household Labour: Comparing Wives' and Husbands' Reports,", in Berk, ed., Women and Household Labour
  32. Luker, Kristin, Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of the Teenage Pregnancy Crisis. Harvard University Press (1996)
  33. [1] Laurie A. Rudman & Julie E. Phelan, "The Interpersonal Power of Feminism: Is Feminism Good for Romantic Relationships?" Sex Roles, Vol. 57, No. 11-12, December 2007.
  34. Bundesen, Linda, The Feminine Spirit: Recapturing the Heart of Scripture (Jossey Bass Wiley, 2007), ISBN 9780787984953
  35. Haddad, Mimi, "Egalitarian Pioneers: Betty Friedan or Catherine Booth?" Priscilla Papers, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Autumn 2006)
  36. Anderson, Pamela Sue and Beverley Clack, eds., Feminist philosophy of religion: critical readings (London: Routledge, 2004)
  37. II International Congress on Islamic Feminism
  38. Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Islamic feminism: what's in a name?
  39. Plaskow, Judith. "Jewish Feminist Thought" in Frank, Daniel H. & Leaman, Oliver. History of Jewish Philosophy, Routledge, first published 1997; this edition 2003.

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