Feminism is the movement to end women’s oppression and to help women achieve full social, political, familial, and financial equality with men.

What is Feminism?

Because feminism is the term used to describe a broad and diverse movement, numerous definitions have been used. Both men and women are involved in feminism, and the movement has addressed a wide variety of social issues including rape, domestic violence, child abuse, gender roles, women’s education, the wage gap, sexual harassment, racial inequality, poverty, and countless other issues that affect women.

Schools of Thought in Feminism

There are numerous schools of thought in feminism. Maternalist feminism, for example, was popular in the early 20th century. These feminists argued that women’s roles as mothers and caregivers gave them unique insights that they could bring to government and politics. In contemporary society, maternalist feminism is sometimes used to characterize women who advocate natural parenting practices such as attachment parenting and homebirth. Socialist feminists advocate for an end to women’s inequality by promoting economic inequality, while liberal feminists typically advocate a reform-based approach to ending oppression.

Feminism is sometimes broken into waves:

  1. First wave feminism was the feminist movement concerned with gaining women full legal equality and in particular the right to vote.
  2. Second wave feminism, commonly associated with Betty Friedan’s landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, advocated for an end to violence against women, full social equality of women, and equality within the family.
  3. Third wave feminism is the contemporary feminist movement and is frequently associated with broader-reaching goals such as ending racism, including marginalized groups such as disabled and poor women, and undermining the concept of gender determinism.

Contributions of Feminism

The feminist movement has directly contributed to both legal and social changes for women including:

  • The legal right of women to receive equal pay for equal work; although legally women are entitled to equal pay, women still make less per hour of work than men.
  • Rape shield laws and fairer treatment of rape victims
  • Anti-domestic violence laws and the advent of domestic violence shelters
  • The rights of women to control their own finances
  • The end to coverture, a legal system in which women had no rights either to property or to their own children
  • Increasing awareness of the ways in which gender norms and roles can affect everyday life
  • Laws against female genital mutilation, bride burning, marital rape, and other forms of violence against women


  1. Dicker, R. C. (2008). A history of U.S. feminisms. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Last Updated: 08-7-2015

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