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Updated: Dec 8, 2020


Feminism is the cultural, social and literary movement and ideology which have aimed at equal rights for women. While feminists around the world have differed in causes, goals and intentions depending on time, culture, and country, most western feminist historians assert that all movements that work to obtain women’s rights should be considered as feminist movements, even when do not apply the term to themselves. The feminist literary criticism of today is the direct product of the ‘women’s movement’ of the 1960s. It questions the long-standing, dominant, male, phallocentric ideologies, patriarchal attitudes and male interpretations in literature. It challenges traditional and accepted male ideas about the nature of women and about how women feel, act and think, or are supposed to feel, act and think, and how in general they respond to life and living.

Feminist history can be divided into three waves.

The Three Waves of Feminism:

First-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on overturning legal inequalities, particularly addressing issues of women’s suffrage and securing women’s right to vote. It promoted equal contract and property rights for women, opposing ownership of married women by their husbands. American first-wave feminism ended with passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S constitution in 1919, granting women voting rights.

Second-wave feminism (1960s-1980s) broadened debate to include cultural inequalities, gender norms, and the role of women in society. The second-wave slogan, “The Personal is Political,” identified women’s cultural and political inequalities and inextricably linked and encouraged women to understand how their personal lives reflected sexist power structures.

Third-wave feminism (1990s-2000s) refers to diverse strains of feminist activity, seen by third wavers themselves both as a continuation of second wave and as a response to its perceived failures. Influenced by the postmodern movement in the academy, third-wave feminists sought to question, reclaim, and redefine the ideas that have transmitted ideas about womanhood, gender, beauty, sexuality, femininity, and masculinity, among other things.

Fourth – wave feminism:

Fourth-wave feminism is a phase of feminism that began around 2013 and is characterized by a focus on the empowerment of women and the use of internet tools. Emma Watson (British Actress) and MalalaYousafzai (Pakistani activist) are current notable feminists.

Difference between the terms- Femaleness, femininity and feminism:

Femaleness refers to the physical and biological distinctions between men and women. Such differences not only applicable to human beings, but also common to all living species.

Femininity is the social, cultural and psychological transformation of gender as distinctive category wearing social meanings. Such a construction is created through institutionalized internalization of moral and ethical values, standardization of norms, typecasting of roles, existing communal structures of patriarchy, life style, internalizing customs like widowhood, prostitution, unwed mothers, emphasis on virginity, fidelity, religious rituals, notions of purity and pollution and attitudes of preferences and prejudices for and against one gender over another.

Feminism is an ideological position, which aims at structural and cultural transformation for equality of opportunities for women and eradication of all societal forces which lead to discrimination, oppression and exploitation of women in visible forces or invisible, open or hidden, overt or covert processes and patterns. Literature reflects the social position and cultural positioning of women through any suitable genre available to feminist writers. The goal of feminism is to challenge the systematic inequalities women face on a daily basis. The concept of feminism was defined as the concern with gender equality and promotion of equal rights for men and women. They express these concerns through theory or action. Individuals should be valued for their contributions to society rather than their biological or sexual characteristics or roles.

Contrary to popular belief feminism has nothing to do with belittling men, in fact feminism does not support sexism against either gender. Feminism works towards equality, not female superiority. There isn’t just one type feminism, there are a variety of feminist groups including: Liberal Feminism, Marxist and Socialist Feminism, Wave feminism etc….What feminists want the world to know, or at least acknowledge is the difference in the way of treating men and women. Some famous feminists are Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Simone De Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Bell Hooks, etc…

Feminism in literature:

Feminist literature portrays characters or ideas that attempt to change gender norms. It tends to examine, question and argue for change against established and antiquated gender roles through the written world. Feminist literature strives to alter inequalities between genders across societal and political arenas.

Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) powerfully and cogently articulated the demands for women’s rights soon after the French revolution in 1789. Simon De Beauvoir’s most influential work Second Sex (1953), asserts that women have been held in thralldom by men through relegation to the status of being man’s “other”. In A Room of One’s own (1929), Virginia Woolf has raised objections to many common needs that were denied to women and enjoyed by the other sex alone (men). One of the most influential feminist of the late 20th century, Betty Freidan published a book entitled The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which depicted various roles of women in different fields such as industrial societies and specifically the stifling role of full-time homemaker offered to all women.

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