Feminism: Origins

Feminism: Origins

The Enlightenment and Early Feminism

  • Feminism can trace its intellectual roots back to Enlightenment thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and John Locke.
  • Wollstonecraft’s seminal text ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792) is often considered the first feminist manifesto.
  • She criticised the denial of equal rights to women and argued against their relegation to ‘domestic sphere’.
  • She argued that women should have the same rights to education, work, and participation in civil society as men.

First Wave Feminism

  • Initiated in the late 19th and early 20th century, first wave feminism primarily focused on legal inequalities and campaigned for women’s suffrage.
  • Notable figures of this wave include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who negotiated for women’s voting rights.
  • The first wave feminists successfully fought for women’s right to vote, which was achieved across most western nations by the end of the First World War.

Second Wave Feminism

  • Spanning the 1960s to early 1980s, the second wave feminism shifted its focus from legal rights to cultural and social inequalities, and deconstructed societal norms around gender and sexuality.
  • Key themes in this wave included reproductive rights, sexuality, family, the workplace, and more.
  • Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ (1949) is considered a major work in this wave, critiquing the societal construct of ‘womanhood’ and arguing against women’s second class status.

Third Wave Feminism

  • This wave emerged in the mid-1990s responding to the perceived failures of the second wave, and aiming to challenge or avoid what it deemed the second wave’s essentialist definitions of femininity.
  • It focused on intersectionality, integrating race, class, and sexuality into the discussion of feminism.
  • Notable individuals in this wave include Rebecca Walker and Anita Hill.

Modern Feminism

  • Modern day feminism consists of many different strands including liberal feminism, radical feminism, materialist feminism and intersectional feminism.
  • Contemporary issues focus on sex trafficking, online harassment, workplace inequality, and achieving genuine social and political equity.