For the Uninitiated: Feminism

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Feminism is the collective term for a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.  (Wikipedia) 

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Anyone supporting the advocacy of equal rights between women and men could arguably be described as a feminist, however there are many different views as to how ‘equal rights’ should be defined or achieved.

Although an extremely broad church, women and men identifying as feminist will generally support the principles of: Taking action to increase equality, sexual freedom and reproductive rights for women; end violence against women and eliminate gender stratification, segregation and stereotyping.

They will also generally believe that supporting these principles will enhance human freedom and allow both men and women to develop their full potential, even if the path they choose go against the status quo (example: If a woman wants to be a builder or a man wants to be a beautician, they should have every right and opportunity to do so).

Although most self-identifying Feminists are likely to support these central principals regarding the rights of women, feminism will also mean different things to different people at different times and can cut across the traditional spectrum of political ideology.


By way of example, Emmeline Pankhurst, renowned leader of the British suffragette movement was a member of the Conservative party. In contrast her daughter Sylvia Pankhurst (another prominent sufragette) was heavily involved in the Labour movement and broke away from her mother’s Woman’s Socialist & Political Union to establish a Suffragette Federation with a much wider socialist agenda.

Different but often overlapping feminist movements and ideologies have developed over time including: Anarchist, Libertarian, Socialist, Liberal, Conservative, Post Colonial, Black; Radical, Separatist and Post Feminism.

Although also over lapping, there is generally understood to be three (arguably four) distinct phases (or waves) of ‘modern western feminism:

First wave (1840 to 1960s aprox): Predominantly middle class women in western countries campaigned for access to higher education and the professions, for married women’s property rights, for the reform of (male) sexual conduct and, eventually, for the vote.


Second Wave (1960s to late 1980s): Pursued a much wider agenda of women’s inequality in society including employment, reproductive and family rights and breaking down gender stereotypes and patriarchal power structures.


Third Wave (1990s onwards): Broadened goals in further diverse directions and promoted a more inclusive approach in terms of race, class, transgender sexuality and sexual orientation. The concept of intersections between different forms of oppression (intersectionality) significantly informed this phase.

Unlike the determined position of second wave feminists about women in pornography, sex work, and prostitution third-wave feminists were rather ambiguous and divided about such themes. For example the early ’90s concept of power feminism encouraged women to embrace their sexuality and shifted the perspective from women as victims of patriarchy to men’s obsession with female sexuality rendering them as the weaker sex.


(So called) Fourth Wave (2005 onwards):  So called because debatably it is a development within the third wave and the increasingly diverse, intersectional and micro-politics agenda.

It is defined by activism predominately driven by social media and a more vocal ‘call-out’ culture where perceptions of sexism, patriarchy or misogyny can be ‘called out’ and challenged.

Wether ultimately considered distinct from third wave feminism, there can be no doubt that the world wide web has ushered in the era of networked feminism

Feminist websites and online campaigns such as The Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3, have generated significant support from women and men using the internet for both discussion and activism.

There is also increasing evidence of increasing social media usage in countries where women still face gross social injustices.  For example, it is estimated that 72 per cent of social media users in Turkey are women.

Click here to read more about different types of feminism.


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