Overview And History Of Feminism

Feminism is an ideal that has been around for centuries, but has only become widely acknowledged in the last two centuries. The term feminism is considered a somewhat controversial point of view by many people because it is associated with radicalism, and it is depicted as "man hating" in popular culture and so it carries a negative stigma. Feminism is based around the "simple premise that women are as capable and valuable as men" (Freedman 1). This point of view is the basis for defending, and promoting equality not only for men and women, but extends into defending equality of other races, sexual preferences (See Queer Theory) and anyone else that is not held up to an equal status to Caucasian heterosexual males.

The term was created in the 1880's in France, and began as féminisme; this is a combination of the term femme (woman), and -isme (social movement or political ideology). This term remained pejorative to most reformers of the time, and up until the 1960's the preferred phrase was the women movement. "Even as universal adult suffrage gradually extended to women-in England in 1928, in countries such as France, Japan, Mexico, and China by the late 1940's-few politically engaged women called themselves feminists" (Freeman 4). There was much debate among the women's movement about which term to use: feminist or humanist. In the 1960's the women's movement became a movement for women's liberation; it was during this period that feminism changed to not only include political and economic equality, but began to celebrate the differences between men and women in terms of reproduction.

It wasn't until the 1980's that feminism became embedded in Western culture, this came after the distinction was drawn between sex and gender. This distinction went on with the belief that gender differences had social influences, not just biological. Anyone, whether male or female could be defined as a feminist at this point in history if they opposed the typical gender roles and were working towards equality. The term still held a negative stigma; even women who wanted equality would refuse to identify themselves as feminist. In the past few decades this political ideology has extended to include women outside of America, and has undergone many changes to become the feminism that we hear about today. Estelle B. Freedman sums up feminism by saying: "The term feminism, in short, has never been widely popular. Yet the political goals of feminism have survived-despite continuing discomfort with the term, a hostile political climate, and heated international criticism-largely because feminism has continually redefined itself" (6).