Feminism: History, Ideology, and Impact in Politics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Feminism is a political and social movement, developed in waves throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, that advocates for equality between men and women. Explore the history, ideology, and impact that feminism had on politics, and explore the different types of feminism. Updated: 10/20/2021

Feminism Defined

Francine is a politically active feminist. Feminism is a group of social theories, moral philosophies and related political movements that advocates social, political and economic equality between the sexes. Francine and other feminists want to ensure that women have all the same rights and opportunities as men, which has not been the case through much of history. In fact, women didn't get the right to vote in the United States until 1919 with the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - well over 100 years after the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights were penned.

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  • 0:03 Feminism Defined
  • 0:43 History
  • 3:30 Types
  • 5:10 Impact
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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The seeds of modern feminism were planted with the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill. Wollstonecraft wrote the Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, which argued that women should have the same rights as men, including the right to education, earnings and property. John Stuart Mill, in his 1869 book, The Subjection of Women, also argued that women should have the same legal rights as men.

We can break the historical development of feminism into three different waves. Let's take a look at each.

Historians define the first wave of feminism as being from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The feminist movement during the first wave was primarily concerned with fundamental political rights, such as the right to vote; economic rights, such as the right to own property apart from a husband; rights to education and employment; and fairer marriage laws.

The second wave of the movement began in the 1960s. The focus of the second wave was for employment and reproductive rights. Some notable laws were passed during this period, including the Equal Pay Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited gender discrimination in employment; and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education. The landmark Supreme Court decisions of Griswold v. Connecticut, involving birth control, and Roe v. Wade, regarding abortion, greatly extended female reproductive rights.

The third wave of feminism is the latest stage of the movement. The third wave is in part a reaction to a perceived overemphasis of the movement to focus on middle-class mainstream white females. The third wave movement is more pluralistic and divergent than the past waves and is diffused from a national movement to the grassroots level. Concerns include such things as globalism, technology and other forces that affect women.

Another key characteristic of third wave feminism is the recognition of the value of the feminine. For example, because of traditional feminine characteristics of nurturing and empathy, females are often superior at dispute resolution. Additionally, modern feminism is also about choice. Modern feminism believes that women should have the choice to pursue all the opportunities that are available to men but also have the right to choose 'traditional' roles as well. The key point is not what you choose to do but that you have the choice.


The new pluralism of the feminist movement has created different types of feminism. Let's take a look.

Laura is a liberal feminist. Liberal feminism is generally considered to be within the mainstream. Liberal feminism concedes that there are differences between men and women but argues that men and women should have equal social, political and economic opportunities.

Roxanne is a radical feminist. Radical feminism argues that men and the dominant patriarchal, or male dominated, society oppress women. Roxanne and her fellow radical feminists argue that the patriarchal society must be overthrown before women can gain true equality.

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