Feminism, general term covering a range of ideologies and theories which pay special attention to women’s rights and women’s position in culture and society. The term tends to be used for the women’s movement, which began in the late 18th century and continues to campaign for complete political, social, and economic equality between women and men. This article deals specifically with the development of the ideas behind that movement and their influence and impact.
Feminists are united by the idea that women’s position in society is unequal to that of men, and that society is structured in such a way as to benefit men to the political, social, and economic detriment of women. However, feminists have used different theories to explain these inequalities and have advocated different ways of redressing inequalities, and there are marked geographic and historical variations in the nature of feminism.
Historically, feminist thought and activity can be divided into two waves. The first wave, which began in about 1800 and lasted until the 1930s, was largely concerned with gaining equal rights between women and men. The second wave, which began in the late 1960s, has continued to fight for equality but has also developed a range of theories and approaches that stress the difference between women and men and which draw attention to the specific needs of women.