1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.



Equal Pay Demo
Evening Standard/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Definition: Historian and activist Cheris Kramarae once famously remarked that "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings." Although that's the sort of thing you see printed on t-shirts, it also happens to be an accurate and concise definition of what feminism is. Feminism, as a movement, is about women living on equal terms with men--and not pushed down, by law or by culture, into a subservient role.

Although the word "feminism" had been used during the mid-19th century as a synonym for "femininity," it was first used to describe a political movement in 1894, when a British newspaper warned of "feminists" who had begun to achieve power in the French legislature.

Feminism is generally broken down into several historical "waves":
  • First-wave feminism, which lasted from the 18th century until World War II and was centered on securing basic civil rights, such as the right to vote and to own property ;
  • Second-wave feminism, which lasted from the end of World War II until the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1980s and centered on achieving equality in the workplace, protecting reproductive choice, and attempting to pass the ERA ; and
  • Third-wave feminism, which incorporates racial justice, LGBT rights, and class oppression into the feminist worldview and seeks real, practical equality for all women.
There are also different kinds of feminism, the most common being:
  • Liberal feminism, which seeks equal rights through policy change but does not focus on cultural issues ;
  • Radical feminism, which seeks the abolition of gender as we know it ; and
  • Cultural feminism, which seeks to establish competing female power structures, traditions, and norms.
Also Known As: women's liberation
Common Misspellings: femenism, fiminism
  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Civil Liberties
  4. Issues and Causes
  5. Equal Rights
  6. Gender & Sexuality
  7. Feminism Definition - Civil LIberties

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.