History and Development of Feminism Essay

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The concept of feminism is not new, although it is often associated with the latter half of the twentieth century. However, assuming this is correct is an error. The aim of this paper is to look at the concept of feminism, first defining what it is, and then looking at how it is developed and how it may be seen today.

Feminism refers to an ideology in which the position of women is advanced with the aim of gaining equality; meaning that they are able to gain the same rights as men (Offen, 1988). The concept of equality refers to political, economic, and legal rights (Offen, 1988). The underlying concept is that women also need to have equal access to resources, such as education and health care, as well as equal opportunities in the workplace (Freedman, 2003; Offen, 1988).

While the movement and progress of the ideas may be associated with the second half of the 20th century, there are many examples of early theorists supporting the idea of equal rights. In some books these may be referred to as 'proto-feminists'(Freedman, 2003). By looking at some of the history, the long road to the current status of feminism may be appreciated.

One of the first records of calls for equal rights for women is seen in the work of Plato (Baruch, 1988). Plato argued for both sexual and political equality for women, believing they could play important roles both in rolling and fighting (Baruch, 1988). Moving forward to the 14th century, Christine de Pizan wrote specifically denouncing misogyny, and calling for equality in a book originally written in French, the title translated reads "Epistle to the God of Love" (de Beauvoir, 1988). Through the ages there have been numerous examples of individuals, both male and female, arguing for female equality.

The potential of equal rights to women became more prominent during the Enlightenment, when many philosophers examined influences on society, and the role of women in society. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and the well-known novelist Mary Wollstonecraft both expressed views that today would be classified as feminist (Freedman, 2003). Jeremy Bentham stated that his decision to become a reformist was stimulated at the age of 11 years, when he realized that women had an inferior position under the law (Williford, 1975). He argued that there should be a total equality between the genders, including the right of women to vote, as well as take part in government (Williford, 1975). Bentham also argued against dual moral standards, which were different for men and women (Williford, 1975). Furthermore, he introduced a number of arguments in his book "Principles of Morals and Legislation," published in 1781, undermining the argument that women had inferior intellect (Williford, 1975).

In the context of feminism, it maybe argued that the author Mary Wollstonecraft could be classified as the first feminist philosopher. In 1792 she published "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," which may be argued as the first clearly feminist publication (Brody, 1983). In a publication Wollstonecraft wrote about social factors that held women back and created inequality. She argued that the different treatment given to female children, including a less comprehensive education, as well as different expectations, continued to perpetuate inequality (Brody, 1983). Interestingly, she noted that the inferior position of women in society was not just the fault of men, but also the fault of women which accepted their position as inferior, and allowed the inequality to continue (Brody, 1983).

In the 19th century, despite opposition from society, and even Queen Victoria, more outspoken feminist views began to be expressed. In 1843, Marion Reid, a Scottish woman published "A Plea for Woman" which not only identified…

Sources Used in Documents:


Baruch, Elaine Hoffman, (1988), "Women in Men's Utopias" Rohrlich, Ruby, Baruch Elaine Hoffman, (eds.), Women in Search of Utopia, New York, Oxford University Press

Brody, Miriam (1983), "Mary Wollstonecraft: Sexuality and Women's Rights (1759-1797)." In Spender, Dale,(1983), Feminist Theorists: Three Centuries of Key Women Thinkers, Pantheon Books

Crawford, Elizabeth, (2006), The women's suffrage movement in Britain and Ireland: a regional survey, Taylor & Francis

de Beauvoir, Simone, English translation 1953 (1989). The Second Sex. Vintage Books

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