Feminism: Ideas, Beliefs, and Movements

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A complex set of ideologies and theories, feminism, at its core is seeking to achieve equal social, political, and economic rights for women. Feminism refers to a diverse variety of beliefs, ideas, movements, and agendas for action. It refers to any actions, especially organized, that promote changes to society to end patterns that disadvantage for women.

Origin of the Word

While it is common to see the word "feminism" used for figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), the word was not around that early. The term first appeared in French as féminisme in the 1870s, though there is speculation it was used before then. At this time, the word referred to women's freedom or emancipation. Hubertine Auclert, a leading French feminist and a campaigner for women's suffrage, used the term féministe about herself and others working for women's freedom, as the description of individuals, in 1882. In 1892 a congress in Paris was described as "feminist." This started the more widespread adoption of the term in the 1890s, with its use seen in Great Britain and then America in about 1894.

Society

Our social structure has been built in such a way that we have cultivated a male-dominated society. Feminism focuses on the idea that since women comprise one-half of the population, social progress can never be achieved without the complete and spontaneous participation of women.

Feminist ideals and beliefs focus on what culture is like for women as compared to what the world is like for men. The assumption in feminism is that women are not treated equally to men and that women are disadvantaged in comparison to men. Feminist thought considers how culture can and should be different between genders—should different genders have different goals, ideals, and visions? There is great value placed on the importance of moving from point A to point B through a statement of commitment to behavior and action to produce that change.

Sexuality

Women have long been oppressed in the area of sexuality, which includes behavior, interactions with men, posture, and exposure of the body. Men are expected to be commanding presences, standing tall and allowing their physical presence to stand as a force to be reckoned with, while women are expected to be quieter, more submissive, not take up much space at the table, and most certainly not be a distraction to the men around them.

Feminism seeks to embrace a women's sexuality and celebrate it, as opposed to so many societies that condemn it, often creating a double standard between genders. Women are shunned for having multiple sexual partners, whereas men are celebrated for the same activity.

Women have long been subject to sexual objectification by men. Many uphold a notion that women must dress so as to not arouse men, and many societies expect women to fully cover their bodies. Other societies choose to exploit female sexuality in mass media, using scantily clad women used in advertising and full nudity in movies and television, yet many women are shamed for breastfeeding in public, offering conflicting views of female sexuality.

Workforce

There are many differences within the constellation of feminist ideals, groups, and movements related to workplace unfairness, discrimination, and oppression, and the disadvantages that women experience.

Unequal salaries are still pervasive in the workforce. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, on average, a woman earns only 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns. A women's median annual earnings are $10,086 less than that of men's, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

Sexism is also an issue in the workforce. Feminism assumes that sexism, which disadvantages and/or oppresses those identified as women, is not desirable and should be eliminated. There is a common misconception that feminists are sexist against men; unlike sexists, who oppress women, feminists are not trying to oppress men, but rather they want equal compensation, opportunities, and treatment for both genders. Feminism seeks to create non-discrimination, which is essential for creating equality to ensure that no one is denied their rights because of factors such as race, gender, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or birth.

Feminism seeks to achieve equal treatment and opportunity of women and men to achieve in similar fields of work and culture, and equal respect in different roles. Many feminists explore the concepts of which women's experiences are taken as normative—do women of different races, classes, age groups, etc. experience inequality in significantly different ways or is the common experience as women more important?