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Oct 20, 2014




►        Introduction
►        Origins
►        Feminism in many forms
►        Relationship to other movements
►        Effects of feminism in the West
►        Worldwide statistics
►        Perspective: the nature of the modern movement
►        Criticisms of feminism
►        Famous Feminists

Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerning the experiences of women, especially in terms of their social, political, and economic situation. As a social movement, feminism largely focuses on limiting or eradicating gender inequality and promoting women's rights, interests, and issues in society.
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Within academia, some feminists focus on documenting gender inequality and changes in the social position and representation of women. Others argue that gender, and even sex, are social constructs, and research the construction of gender and sexuality, and develop alternate models for studying social relations.
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Feminist political activism commonly campaign on issues such as reproductive rights, violence within a domestic partnership, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. Themes explored in feminism include patriarchy, stereotyping, objectification, sexual objectification, and oppression.
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In the 1960s and 1970s, feminism and feminist theory largely represented, and was concerned with, problems faced by Western, white, middle-class women while at the same time claiming to represent all women. Since that time, many feminist theorists have challenged the assumption that "women" constitute a homogenous group of individuals with identical interests. Feminist activists emerged from within diverse communities, and feminist theorists began to focus on the intersection between gender and sexuality with other social identities, such as race and class. Many feminists today argue that feminism is a grass-roots movement that seeks to cross boundaries based on social class, race, culture, and religion; is culturally specific and addresses issues relevant to the women of that society: for example female circumcision in Sudan, or the glass ceiling in developed economies; and debate the extent to which certain issues, such as rape, incest, and mothering, are universal.
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As it moves further into the new millenium, feminism continues to lobby for the rights of the marginalized and is beginning to found explicitly feminist political parties.

Feminism as a philosophy and movement in the modern sense may be usefully dated to The Enlightenment with such thinkers as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Marquis de Condorcet championing women's education. The first scientific society for women was founded in Middelburg, a city in the south of the Dutch republic, in 1785. Journals for women which focused on issues like science became popular during this period as well. Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the first works that can unambiguously be called feminist.
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Feminism became an organized movement in the 19th century as people increasingly came to believe that women were being treated unfairly. The feminist movement was rooted in the progressive movement and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The utopian socialist Charles Fourier coined the word féminisme in 1837; as early as 1808, he had argued that the extension of women's rights was the general principle of all social progress. The organized movement was dated from the first women's rights convention at Seneca FallsNew York, in 1848. In 1869, John Stuart Mill published The Subjection of Women to demonstrate that "the legal subordination of one sex to the other is of the chief hindrances to human improvement."
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Many countries began to grant women the vote in the early years of the 20th century, especially in the final years of the First World War and the first years after the war. The reasons for this varied, but included a desire to recognise the contributions of women during the war, and were also influenced by rhetoric used by both sides at the time to justify their war efforts. For example, since Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Pointsrecognised self determination as a vital component of society, the hypocrisy of denying half the population of modern nations the vote became difficult for men to ignore. (See: Women's suffrage)

Feminism in many forms

Some forms of feminist theory question basic assumptions about gender, gender difference, and sexuality, including the category of "woman" itself as a holistic concept, further some are interested in questioning the male/female binary completely (offering instead a multiplicity of genders). Other forms of feminist theory take for granted the concept of "woman" and provide specific analyses and critiques of gender inequality, and most feminist social movements promote women's rights, interests, and issues. Feminism is not a single ideology. Over-time several sub-types of feminist ideology have developed. Early feminists and primary feminist movements are often called the first-wave feminists, and feminists after about 1960 the second-wave feminists. More recently, a new generation of feminists have started third-wave feminism. Whether this will be a lasting evolution remains to be seen as the second-wave has by no means ended nor has it ceded to the third-wave feminists.
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Moreover, some commentators have asserted that the silent majority of modern feminists have more in common ideologically with the first-wave feminists than the second-wave. For example, many of the ideas arising from Radical feminism and Gender feminism (prominent second-wave movements) have yet to gain traction within the broader community and outside of Gender Studies departments within the academy.
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For example, Radical feminism argues that there exists an oppressive patriarchy that is the root cause of the most serious social problems. Violence and oppression of women, because they are women, is more fundamental than oppressions related to class, ethnicity, religion, etc. Radical feminisms have been very vocal and active in influencing attitudes and state-wide school curriculum standards. Thus, it is not unusual for feminism to be equated with the ideas proposed by Radical feminism. Some find that the prioritization of oppression and the universalization of the idea of "Woman," which was part of traditional Radical feminist thinking, too generic, and that women in other countries would never experience the same experience of being "woman" than women in Western countries did.
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Some radical feminists advocate separatism—a complete separation of male and female in society and culture—while others question not only the relationship between men and women, but the very meaning of "man" and "woman" as well (see Queer theory). Some argue that gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality are themselves social constructs (see also heteronormativity). For these feminists, feminism is a primary means to human liberation (i.e., the liberation of men as well as women, and men and women from other social problems).
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Other feminists believe that there may be social problems separate from or prior to patriarchy (e.g., racism or class divisions); they see feminism as one movement of liberation among many, each affecting the others.

Relationship to other movements

Most feminists take a holistic approach to politics, believing the saying of Martin Luther King Jr., "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". In that belief, some feminists usually support other movements such as the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and, more recently fathers' rights. At the same time many black feminists such as bell hooks criticise the movement for being dominated by white women. Feminist claims about the disadvantages women face in Western society are often less relevant to the lives of black women. This idea is the key in postcolonial feminism. Many black feminist women prefer the term womanism for their views.
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However, feminists are sometimes wary of the transgender movement because it challenges the distinctions between men and women. Transgender and transsexual women are excluded from some "women-only" gatherings and events and are rejected by some feminists who say that no one born male can fully understand the oppression that women face, also citing the sexism inherent in the notion that femaleness is a default gender that one can enter after shedding externally recognizable male traits. This exclusion is criticized as transphobic by transwomen who assert that the discrimination and various struggles (such as that for legal recognitions) that they face due to asserting their gender identity is closely linked to many feminist efforts, and that discrimination against gender-variant people is another face of heterosexism and patriarchy. See transfeminism and gender studies.

Effects of feminism in the West

Some feminists would argue that there is still much to be done on these fronts, while third-wave feminists would disagree and claim that the battle has basically been won.
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Effects on civil rights

Feminism has effected many changes in Western society, including women's suffrage; broad employment for women at more equitable wages ("equal pay for equal work"); the right to initiate divorce proceedings and the introduction of "no fault" divorce; the right of women in almost all countries to exercise a degree of control over their own bodies and medical decisions, including obtaining contraception and safe abortions; and many others.
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As Western society has become increasingly accepting of feminist principles, many of these issues, perceived as radical in the 19th century, are now part of mainstream political thought, such as the right of women to vote, own land, and choose their own marital partners, or decide not to marry. Almost no one in Western societies today questions these rights.
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Effect on language

English-speaking feminists are often proponents of using non-sexist language, using "Ms." to refer to both married and unmarried women, for example, or the ironic use of the term "herstory" instead of "history". Feminists are also often proponents of using gender-inclusive language, such as "humanity" instead of "mankind", or "he or she" in place of "he" where the gender is unknown. Feminists in most cases advance their desired use of language either to promote an equal and respectful treatment of women or to affect the tone of political discourse. This can be seen as a move to change language which has been viewed by some feminists as imbued with sexism - providing for example the case in the English language the word for the general pronoun is "he" or "his" (The child should have his paper and pencils), which is the same as the masculine pronoun (The boy and his truck). These feminists purport that language then directly affects perception of reality (compare Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). However, to take a postcolonial analysis of this point, many languages other than English may not have such a gendered pronoun instance and thus changing language may not be as important to some feminists as others. Yet, English is becoming more and more universal, and the issue of language may be seen to be of growing importance.
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On the other hand, quite a different tendency can be seen in French. Gender, as a grammatical concept, is much more pervasive in French than in English, and as a result, it has been virtually impossible to create inclusive language. Instead, nouns that originally had only a masculine form have had feminine counterparts created for them. "Professeur" ("teacher"), once always masculine regardless of the teacher's sex, now has a parallel feminine form "Professeure". In cases where separate masculine and feminine forms have always existed, it was once standard practice for a group containing both men and women to be referred to using the masculine plural, but nowadays, forms such as "Toutes les Canadiennes et tous les Canadiens" ("all Canadians", or literally "all the female Canadians and all the male Canadians") are becoming more common.

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Effect on heterosexual relationships

The feminist movements have certainly affected the nature of heterosexual relationships in Western and other societies affected by feminism. While these effects have generally been seen as positive, there have been some consequences that can be catalogued as negative from the traditional point of view on morals.
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In some of these relationships, there has been a change in the power relationship between men and women. In these circumstances, women and men have had to adapt to relatively new situations, sometimes causing confusions about role and identity. Women can now avail themselves more to new opportunities, but some have suffered with the demands of trying to live up to the so-called "superwomen" identity, and have struggled to 'have it all', i.e. manage to happily balance a career and family. In response to the family issue, many socialist feminists blame this on the lack of state-provided child-care facilities. Others have advocated instead that the onus of child-care not rest solely on the female, but rather that men partake in the responsibility of managing family matters.
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There have been changes also in attitudes towards sexual morality and behaviour with the onset of second wave feminism and "the Pill": women are then more in control of their bodies, and are able to experience sex with more freedom than was previously socially accepted for them. This sexual revolution that women were then able to experience was seen as positive (especially by sex-positive feminists) as it enabled women and men to experience sex in a free and equal manner. However, some feminists felt that the results of the sexual revolution only was beneficial to men.Whether marriage is an institution that oppresses women and men, or not, has generated discussion. Those that do view it as oppressive sometimes opt for cohabitation or more recently to live independently reverting to casual sex to fulfill their sexual needs.
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Effect on religion

Feminism has had a great effect on many aspects of religion. In liberal branches of Protestant Christianity, women are now ordained as clergy, and in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, women are now ordained as rabbis and cantors. Within these Christian and Jewish groups, women have gradually become more nearly equal to men by obtaining positions of power; their perspectives are now sought out in developing new statements of belief. In Islam women have historically contributed to all aspects of Islamic life, from religious edicts to aid on the battlefield. Around half of the sayings of Muhammad are taken from his wife Aisha, whom men often consulted on religious matters. In this day you will often see many women scholars on Arabic satellite television answering Islam-related questions, asked by both genders. One matter remains debatable nowadays, which is whether or not a woman can lead men in prayers. These trends, however, have been resisted within Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism has historically excluded women from entering priesthood and other positions in clergy, allowing women to hold positions as nuns or as laypeople.
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Feminism also has had an important role in embracing new forms of religion. Neopaganreligions especially tend to emphasise the importance of Goddess spirituality, and question what they regard as traditional religion's hostility to women and the sacred feminine. In particular Dianic Wicca is a religion whose origins lie within radical feminism. Among traditional religions, feminism has led to self examination, with reclaimed positive Christian and Islamic views and ideals of Mary, Islamic views of Fatima Zahra, and especially to the Catholic belief in the Coredemptrix, as counterexamples. However, criticism of these efforts as unable to salvage corrupt church structures and philosophies continues. Some argue that Mary, with her status as mother and virgin, and as traditionally the main role model for women, sets women up to aspire to an impossible ideal and also thus has negative consequences on human sense of identity and sexuality.
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There is a separate article on God and gender; it discusses how monotheistic religions reconcile their theologies with contemporary gender issues, and how modern feminism has influenced the theology of many religions.

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Effect on moral education

Opponents of feminism claim that women's quest for external power, as opposed to the internal power to affect other people's ethics and values, has left a vacuum in the area of moral training, where women formerly held sway. Some feminists reply that the education, including the moral education, of children has never been, and should not be, seen as the exclusive responsibility of women. Paradoxically, it is also held by others that the moral education of children at home in the form of homeschooling is itself a women's movement. Such arguments are entangled within the larger disagreements of the Culture Wars, as well as within feminist (and anti-feminist) ideas regarding custodianship of societal morals and compassion.

Worldwide statistics

The following is a sampling of statistics related to the relative status of women worldwide.
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Worldwide, women work more than men, when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are accounted for, according to the United Nations Human Development Report 2004: Section 28, Gender, Work Burden, and Time Allocation. In rural areas of the developing countries surveyed, women perform an average of 20% more work than men, or an additional 98 minutes per day. In the OECD countries surveyed, on average women performed 5% more work than men, or 18 minutes per day.
Women own only 1 percent of the world's wealth, and earn 10 percent of the world's income, despite making up 51 percent of the population.
Women are underrepresented in all of the world's major legislative bodies (see Women in National Parliaments, November 2004). In 1985, Finland had the largest percentage of women in national legislature at approximately 32 percent (P. Norris, Women's Legislative Participation in Western Europe, West European Politics). Currently,Sweden has the highest number of women at 45 percent. The United States has just 14 percent. The world average is just 9 percent. In contrast, half of the members of the recently established Welsh Assembly Government are women.

Perspective: the nature of the modern movement

Most feminists believe discrimination against women still exists in North American and European nations, as well as worldwide. But there are many ideas within the movement regarding the severity of current problems, what the problems are, and how to confront them.
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Extremes on the one hand include some radical feminists such as Mary Daly who argues that the world would be better off with dramatically fewer men. There are also dissidents, such as Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia, who identify themselves as feminist but who accuse the movement of anti-male prejudices.
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On the other hand, many feminists question the use of the term feminist to groups or people who fail to recognize a fundamental equality between the sexes. Some feminists, like Katha Pollitt (see her book Reasonable Creatures) or Nadine Strossen(President of the ACLU and author of Defending Pornography ), consider feminism to be, solely, the view that "women are people." Views that separate the sexes rather than unite them are considered by these people to be sexist rather than feminist.
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There are also debates between difference feminists such as Carol Gilligan on the one hand, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes (which may or may not be inherent, but which cannot be ignored), and those who believe that there are no essential differences between the sexes, and that the roles observed in society are due to conditioning. Modern scientists sometimes disagree on whether inborn differences exist between men and women (other than physical differences such as anatomy, chromosomes, and hormones).
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In Marilyn French's seminal works analysing patriarchy and its effects on the world at large--including women, men and children--she defines patriarchy as a system that values power over life, control over pleasure, and dominance over happiness. According to French, "it is not enough either to devise a morality that will allow the human race simply to survive. Survival is an evil when it entails existing in a state of wretchedness. Intrinsic to survival and continuation is felicity, pleasure. Pleasure has been much maligned, diminished by philosophers and conquerors as a value for the timid, the small-minded, the self-indulgent. "Virtue" involves the renunciation of pleasure in the name of some higher purpose, a purpose that involves power (for men) or sacrifice (for women). Pleasure is described as shallow and frivolous in a world of high-minded, serious purpose. But pleasure does not exclude serious pursuits or intentions, indeed, it is found in them, and it is the only real reason for staying alive" Beyond Power This philosophy is what French offers as a replacement to the current structure where power has the highest value--and it is this feminism to which many (women and men) subscribe.

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