1. (noun) The idea that women and men should have equal legal and political rights, sexual autonomy, and self-determination (agency).
2. (noun) A social movement that advocates for economic, political, and social equality between women and men.
3. (noun) A theoretical perspective stating women are uniquely and systematically oppressed and that challenges ideas of gender and sex roles.
- Analytic Feminism
- Continental Feminism
- Cultural Feminism
- Liberal Feminism
- Marxist Feminism
- Psychoanalytic Feminism
- Radical Feminism
Audio Pronunciation: (fem·i·nism)
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- Plural: feminisms
- There is no single theory of feminism or a definition of feminism that is universally accepted, leading to the plurality term feminisms, which includes Cultural Feminism, Ecofeminism, Liberal Feminism, Marxist Feminism, and Radical Feminism, and many others.
- The origins of feminism are debated but often traced to the book A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) which was written in response to The Rights of Man (1971) by Thomas Paine (1737–1809). Wollstonecraft’s work was consciousness raising and inspired women to seek equal rights with men, particularly voting rights through the suffragette movement and access to education.
- Early women’s activists from the United States include:
- Waves of feminism:
- First Wave Feminism – A movement that began in the Enlightenment and gained momentum in the mid-19th century, seeking voting rights and educational access for women in response to abolitionism and the temperance movement.
- Second Wave Feminism – A radical revival of feminism in the 1960’s and associated with the civil rights movement and antiwar movement leading to the women’s liberation movement and reforms in abortion and equal pay legislation and challenging the objectification of women through pornography. Influential works include:
- The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986)
- The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1921–2006)
- Sexual Politics (1969) by Katherine “Kate” Millet (1934)
- The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970) by Shulamith Firestone (1945–2012)
- The Female Eunuch (1970) by Germaine Greer (1939)
- Sex, Gender, and Society by Ann Oakley (1944)
- Third Wave Feminism – A reaction to early feminism influenced by postmodernism and poststructuralism arising in the 1990’s, recognizing a plurality of experiences for women based on class, ethnicity, gender, location, and sexual identity. Third Wave Feminism was critical of the existing feminist scholarship that focused primarily on white, affluent, and heterosexual women. Influential works include:
- In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (1982) by Carol Gilligan (1936)
- Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) by bell hooks (1952)
- Feminist Practice and Post-Structuralist Theory (1987) by Chris Weedon (1952)
- Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989) by Nancy Chodorow (1944)
- Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (1990) by Patricia Hill Collins (1948)
- Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) by Judith Butler (1956)
- Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary Feminist Debates (1992) by Michele Barrett (?) and Anne Phillip (1950)
- Also called:
- Sense 1
- feminist perspective
- Sense 2
- feminist movement
- Sense 3
- feminist approach
- feminist methodology
- feminist paradigm
- feminist social theory
- feminist theory
- Sense 1
- “Feminism explicitly examines women’s roles and experiences in society, working to fully uncover women’s contributions to social life and the nature of the structures and processes that maintain gender inequality” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
- “Feminism is the exploration of the experiences of different women And just as feminists speak out against sexism and discrimination against women as a group, feminists speak out against bias and discrimination against particular groups of women” (Kaufman and Kimmel 2011:132).
- “Sociological feminism begins with the observation that for most of the history of sociology, women hardly appear in social theory and research. Men’s experiences have been viewed as universal and women’s activities and experiences have been hidden” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
- “The feminist perspective assumes that gender is socially created, rather than determined by one’s biological inheritance, and that change is essential in order for people to achieve their human potential without limits based on gender. It also assumes that society reinforces social expectations through social learning, which is acquired through social institutions such as education, religion, and the political and economic structure of society” (Kendall 2006:18).
- Word origin of “feminism” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- de Beauvoir, Simone.  1952. The Second Sex. New York: Vintage.
- Freedman, Estelle B. 2003. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. New York: Ballantine Books.
- Friedan, Betty. 1963. The Feminine Mystique. London: Gollancz.
- Greer, Germaine. 1970. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin.
- Kolmar, Wendy K., and Frances Bartkowski. 2013. Feminist Theory: A Reader. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
- Mill, John Stuart, and Harriet Taylor Mill.  1885. The Subjection of Women. New York: H. Holt.
- Press, Andrea, and Elizabeth Cole. 1999. Speaking of Abortion: Television and Authority in the Lives of Women. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Schneir, Miriam, ed. 1972. Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings. New York: Random House.
Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Kaufman, Michael, and Michael S. Kimmel. 2011. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Kendall, Diane. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.
Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.
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How to Cite the Definition of Feminism
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “feminism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved May 19, 2019 (http://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
feminism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from http://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “feminism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed May 19, 2019. http://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“feminism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 19 May. 2019. <http://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/>.