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Definitions of Feminism

  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.

Waves of Feminism

Types of Feminism

Feminism Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: fem·i·nism

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /fEm-uh-niz-uhm/
  • British English – /fE-mi-ni-zuhm/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈfɛməˌnɪzəm/
  • British English – /ˈfɛmᵻnɪz(ə)m/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: feminisms
  • There is no single theory of feminism or a definition of feminism that is universally accepted, leading to the plural term feminisms.
  • 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 (1771) 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:
  • Also called:
    • Definition 1:
      • feminist perspective
    • Definition 2:
      • feminist movement
    • Definition 3:
      • feminist approach
      • feminist methodology
      • feminist paradigm
      • feminist social theory
      • feminist theory

Related Quotations

  • “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).
  • “Sexual harassment is not only an indicator of the continuing dominance of men in the workplace but a form of discrimination that jeopardizes women’s chances for occupational success and impinges upon their pursuit of the American Dream” (McNamee and Miller 2013:199).
  • 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).
  • “‘The personal is political‘ is a powerful slogan that was coined during the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It means that what happens in our individual, private lives—at places such as our jobs, clubs, homes, or schools—reflects the power dynamics in broader, public society. As the twentieth-century political scientist Harold Lasswell famously said, politics is the process of who gets what, when, and how. Feminism brings that concept from the public realm into our personal worlds. It recognizes that seemingly personal issues point to larger, institutionalized practices and are therefore legitimately political issues. Another way to understand this concept is to ask questions such as who gets the goods and resources in society and who bears the burdens? Who sits in positions of power in Fortune 500 companies and who cleans the company offices? Who does the bulk of parenting and who gets paid more on the job? Who is sexually bought and who buys sexual access to bodies? Who is statistically more likely to experience domestic violence and who are the violent offenders? Who gets catcalled on the street? And while we’re at it, we can ask who risks their lives in war. Who makes the decisions to go to war in the first place?” (Tarrant 2009:8–9).
  • “There is an ordering of versions of femininity and masculinity at the level of the whole society, in some ways analogous to the patterns of face-to-face relations with institution. The possibilities of variation, of course, are vastly greater. The sheer complexity of relationships involving millions of people guarantees that ethnic differences and generational differences as well as class patterns come into play. But in key aspects the organization of gender on the very large scale must be more skeletal and simplified than the human relationships in face-to-face milieux. The forms of femininity and masculinity constituted at this level are stylized and impoverished. Their interrelation is centred on the single structural fact, the global dominance of men over women” (Connell 1987:183).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

McNamee, Stephen J., and Robert K. Miller, Jr. 2013. The Meritocracy Myth. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

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Cite the Definition of Feminism

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “feminism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved April 22, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

feminism. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “feminism.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed April 22, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“feminism.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/feminism/>.