Short History of Feminism

So, what is Feminism?

What it is not, is a game that kids play at school, where one decides which group will be the feminists and which not, and then to see who wins by harassing each other and calling each other names.
It is not meant to get rid of men.
It has not been created by “ugly”, old, sexually frustrated women.
Men don’t have to be scared of feminism; it is not there to kill them.
It is a statement, a movement, a historical and social necessity, and meant to find a balance, an equilibrium, in the social structure.
Let’s not fall into the trap of denying each other’s views. Women who are attacking manhood by telling them to off and asking for men to disappear from earth altogether are not feminists, but radical activists, or fanatics, that have decided to go to war against men. Then, men who are attacking feminism for being utterly stupid and a movement of psychopaths are mistaken and don’t really understand what feminism is about, or have been lured in the wrong direction.

Feminism grew from a discontent about the situation the majority of women found themselves in society. Throughout history, women have been considered inferior to men and were excluded from political life and social representation. For some, seen from our sheltered homes, in front of the TV, or in front of the fridge, this may not seem a big problem, but just consider this:

You are

  • not allowed to possess property in your own name
  • not allowed to engage in business
  • not allowed to vote
  • not allowed to get higher education
  • not allowed to control the fate of your children or even of your own person in front of your husband or in front of the state
  • excluded from the labour force, and your work at home is not valued as  it should be … and once this issue is solved, you still don’t earn as much as a men
  • getting abused (sexually, psychologically..) and not able to raise your voice against the offender
  • in general, not recognised as socially mature and able to defend yourself for whichever crime or indignation or offence has been committed against you

This makes you come together with other like-minded individuals and create a group, a movement that becomes known as “Feminism”.

Now, a bit about the HISTORY of feminism in the West:
Surely there will have been many attempts by women or men to defend the rights, talents, and merits of women in history. Worth noticing though is Christine de Pizan’s book “The City of Ladies” (1405). In a time –and until the 17th Century– where Latin was the regular language used in books, Christine de Pizan chose to use French as spoken by the population (vernacular) to come up with a response to a book written nearly 200 years before, the “Roman de La Rose”, a satire on women and marriage, showing all the vices of women and giving advice on how to counter their deceptive behaviour. Christine de Pizan gathers in her book around 50 famous women from different countries and times to build a city and tell their stories and achievements. Through its brilliant structure, the book becomes an eloquent homage to women, demonstrates their importance in society and supports the idea of education for women.
Of some influence for a future feminist movement might also have been Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, 15th / 16th Century, who wrote about the theological and moral superiority of women, and Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi, a Venecian writer, seen as one of the pioneers of feminism, whose book ‘Il Merito Delle Donne’ (The Merits of Women) would influence much of Europe during the Renaissance.
The first politically feminist treatise was Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (1792). Here a quote: “It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion, that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness.
But it is not until the 19th Century that the word feminism officially came to describe a movement seeking equality. The word was coined by the French philosopher and social theorist Charles Fourier, who developed a theory on how to shape society in terms to achieve the best outcome for human beings. Developing a form of social contract, he involved the understanding of all our passions (5 senses, 4 passions of the soul, and 3 distributive to combine the others), and the fact that all individuals have the same rights and education. His writings are in a way a reaction to the disorder created by industrialisation. Fourier saw that “traditional” marriage could potentially hurt woman’s rights as human beings and thus never married.

The official feminist movement really dates from 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and others, in a women’s convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y., issued a declaration of independence for women, demanding full legal equality, full educational and commercial opportunity, equal compensation, the right to collect wages, and the right to vote.
From then on the movement and the idea spread to Europe and other parts of the world, triggering other groups of women to demand their rights.

Very interesting and a demonstration of the evolution in the rights of women and the democratic views is the story of Sojourner Truth and her speech in 1951.

The feminist movement continued to address the political and legal issues throughout the beginning to the middle of the 20th Century. This is often called the first wave of feminism.
The second wave of feminism was strongest between 1960s-1980s, and can be seen as continuing alongside the third wave of feminism (1990 – present day). The second wave of feminism focussed more on social issues, flowing into civil rights and student movements. It was also marked by the movement called “Woman’s Liberation“, which was about sexual and reproductive rights, as well as equal opportunity in education and the workplace. In France, the movement was represented by the writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote several novels, essays, monographs on politics, philosophy, and social issues.
In Germany, Alice Schwarzer fought vigorously against the penal code against abortion in the 1970s, and became Germany’s high profile feminist after the release of her book “Der kleine Unterschied und seine großen Folgen” (The little difference and its huge consequences), which was translated into eleven languages.
The third wave of feminism started around the 1990s, as a response to perceived failures of the second wave and also as a response to the backslash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave’s essentialist definitions of femininity, which over-emphasise the experiences of upper middle-class white women.


2 Comments on Short History of Feminism

  1. Thanks Jerome. I am enjoying your writings and look forward to your next instalment. Unfortunately the ideas behind feminism are still beyond many people. The more we can educate and bring these ideas into the public forum, the better the world will be for all.

    • Absolutely. Thanks Kylie. I think it is a bit the same with so many topics of this kind. It is in my opinion what we all have to do: learning about the history and then contributing with constructive ideas, if needed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


seven − = 2