The history of feminism comprises the narratives (chronological or thematic) of the movements and ideologies which have aimed at equal rights for women. While feminists around the world have differed in causes, goals, and intentions depending on time, culture, and country, most Western feminist historians assert that all movements that work to obtain women’s rights should be considered[by whom?] feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. Some other historians limit the term “feminist” to the modern feminist movement and its progeny, and use the label “protofeminist” to describe earlier movements.
- First-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on overturning legal inequalities, particularly addressing issues of women’s suffrage
- Second-wave feminism (1960s–1980s) broadened debate to include cultural inequalities, gender norms, and the role of women in society
- Third-wave feminism (1990s–2000s) refers to diverse strains of feminist activity, seen[by whom?] both as a continuation of the second wave and as a response to its perceived failures
Although the “waves” construct has been commonly used to describe the history of feminism, the concept has also been criticized[by whom?] for ignoring and erasing the history between the “waves”, by choosing to focus solely on a few famous figures and on popular events.
People and activists who discuss or advance women’s equality prior to the existence of the feminist movement are sometimes labeled as protofeminist. Some scholars criticize this term because they believe it diminishes the importance of earlier contributions or that feminism does not have a single, linear history as implied by terms such as protofeminist or postfeminist.
Around 24 centuries ago, Plato, according to Elaine Hoffman Baruch, “[argued] for the total political and sexual equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class, … those who rule and fight”.
Italian-French writer Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430), the author of The Book of the City of Ladies and Epître au Dieu d’Amour (Epistle to the God of Love) is cited by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to denounce misogyny and write about the relation of the sexes. Other early feminist writers include Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi, who worked in the 16th century, and the 17th-century writers Hannah Woolley in England, Juana Inés de la Cruz in Mexico, Marie Le Jars de Gournay, Anne Bradstreet, and François Poullain de la Barre.
One of the most important 17th-century feminist writers in the English language was Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Her knowledge was recognized by some, such as proto-feminist Bathsua Makin, who wrote that “The present Dutchess of New-Castle, by her own Genius, rather than any timely Instruction, over-tops many grave Grown-Men,” and considered her a prime example of what women could become through education. 18th century: the Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was characterized by secular intellectual reasoning and a flowering of philosophical writing. Many Enlightenment philosophers defended the rights of women, including Jeremy Bentham (1781), Marquis de Condorcet (1790), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1792). Other important writers of the time that expressed feminist views included Abigail Adams, Catharine Macaulay, and Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht.
The English utilitarian and classical liberal philosopher Jeremy Bentham said that it was the placing of women in a legally inferior position that made him choose the career of a reformist at the age of eleven. Bentham spoke for complete equality between sexes including the rights to vote and to participate in government. He opposed the asymmetrical sexual moral standards between men and women.
In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781), Bentham strongly condemned many countries’ common practice to deny women’s rights due to allegedly inferior minds. Bentham gave many examples of able female regents read more here.