The Core Ideas and Beliefs of Feminism

The ongoing struggle to achieve gender equality

Rosie the Riveter
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Feminism is a complex set of ideologies and theories, that at its core seeks to achieve equal social, political, and economic rights for women and men. Feminism refers to a diverse variety of beliefs, ideas, movements, and agendas for action. It refers to any actions, especially organized, that promote changes in society to end patterns that have disadvantaged women.

The Origin of the Word "Feminism"

While it is common to see the word "feminist" used for figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), the terms feminist and feminism were not used in the modern sense until a century after her 1792 book "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" was published.

The term first appeared during the 1870s in France as féminisme—although there has been some speculation that it may have been used before then. At the time, the word referred to women's freedom or emancipation.

In 1882, Hubertine Auclert, a leading French feminist and a campaigner for women's suffrage, used the term féministe to describe herself and others working for women's freedom. In 1892, a congress in Paris was described as "feminist." This launched a more widespread adoption of the term in the 1890s, with its use appearing in Great Britain and then America beginning about 1894.

Feminism and Society

Almost all modern societal structures are patriarchal and are constructed in such a way that men are the dominant force in making the majority of political, economic, and cultural decisions. Feminism focuses on the idea that since women comprise one-half of the world population, true 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 feminist assumption is that women are not treated equally to men and as a result, women are disadvantaged in comparison to men.

Feminist ideology considers in which ways culture can and should be different between genders: Do different genders have different goals, ideals, and visions? There's a great deal of value placed on the importance of moving from point A (the status quo) to point B (female equality) through a statement of commitment to behavior and action to produce that change.

Feminism and Sexuality

One arena in which women have long been oppressed is with regard to sexuality, which includes behavior, interactions with men, posture, and exposure of the body. In traditional societies, men are expected to be the commanders, standing tall and allowing their physical presence to represent their role in society, while women are expected to be quieter and more subservient. Under such societal conventions, women are not supposed to take up much space at the table, and most certainly, they should not be seen as a distraction to the men around them.

Feminism seeks to embrace female sexuality and celebrate it, as opposed to so many societal conventions that condemn women who are sexually aware and empowered. The practice of elevating sexually active men while denigrating sexually women creates a double standard between the genders. Women are shunned for having multiple sexual partners, whereas men are celebrated for the same behaviors.

Women have long been subjected to sexual objectification by men. Many cultures still cling to the notion that women must dress so as to not arouse men, and in many societies, women are required to fully cover their bodies.

On the other hand, in some so-called enlightened societies, female sexuality is routinely exploited in the mass media. Scantily clad women in advertising and full nudity in movies and television are commonplace—and yet, many women are shamed for breastfeeding in public. These conflicting views on female sexuality create a confusing landscape of expectations that women and men must navigate on a daily basis.

Feminism in the Workforce

There are many differences within the constellation of feminist ideals, groups, and movements related to workplace unfairness, discrimination, and oppression that result from the real disadvantages women experience. Feminism assumes that sexism, which disadvantages and/or oppresses those identified as women, is not desirable and should be eliminated, however, it continues to be an issue in the workplace.

Unequal salaries are still pervasive in the workforce. Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, on average, a woman still earns only 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women's median annual earnings in 2017 were $14,910 less than that of their male counterparts.

What Feminism Is and What it Isn't

There is a common misconception that feminists are reverse sexists, however, unlike male sexists who oppress women, feminists do not seek to oppress men. Rather, they seek equal compensation, opportunities, and treatment for both genders.

Feminism seeks to achieve equal treatment and opportunity for women and men in order to achieve similar opportunities across different fields of work and culture and equal respect in a variety of roles. Feminists theorists often explore the concepts with regard to which of 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?

The goal of feminism is to create non-discrimination, which is essential for creating equality to ensure that no one is denied their rights due to factors such as race, gender, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political or other beliefs, nationality, social origin, class, or wealth status.

Further Study

At the end of the day, "feminism" is an umbrella term that covers a number of different beliefs. The following list provides examples of a variety of feminist and ideologies and practices.