Here is some information on feminism and where it stems from. This will give you an understanding on a many of the past issues dealing with female rights and how they were dealt with at that time. Take a look at our other resources on sociology as you continue reading through the rest of this information.
Definitions of feminism vary, but it is most commonly defined as the belief that women deserve equality in all aspects of life and ending sexism. The areas that women fought for freedom in predominantly patriarchal societies are political, social, religious, educational, professional, and physical. Although, the feminist movement is often associated with the demands of women beginning in the sixties in the United States, those efforts took place long after some rights had already been established. Women fought for the right to file for divorce from their husbands, retain custody of their children, demand spousal and child support, own and retain property. As recently as the eighties, single women were denied mortgage loans, credit card applications and other types of credit because they were unmarried.
The struggle to be viewed as equals in churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations has been thwarted by a persistent belief that women are secondary to men, which is often supported by religious passages. Women have aspired to enter professions that require graduate training with a modicum of success until the past few decades. For instance, in 1872, the Supreme Court upheld an Illinois statute denying women membership to the state bar association against Myra Bradwell. One of the most intense debates that continue to this day is whether or not women have the right to choose to become pregnant or carry the pregnancy to term.
Societies since the beginning of time have perpetuated the subjugation of women, generally consigning women to lives of servitude in the home. In religious sects, women were considered the evil because of Eve’s role in the fall of man from God’s good graces in the Jewish and Christian religions; in Greek mythology it was a woman, Pandora, who released the evils and plagues society. In the Middle East and Asia, Hindu and Buddhist women are to this day considered unequal to males. Male children are often preferred over female children, which in China is an enormous social problem because female children are aborted, left to die on their own or dumped in orphanages due to one-child laws. In India, female children require dowries to enter into marriage, which can be substantial. In some cases, if the demands of the husband’s family for more money are not met, the wife is burned alive and while this is murder, it is rarely prosecuted.
Beginning with suffrage campaigns as early as the 1700s in France, women have worked together to claim freedom as the birthright of their humanity and not as a function of gender. In the United States, the National Women’s Rights Convention was held in 1850 in Massachusetts. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were bulwarks of the suffrage movement and formed the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 and the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Wyoming was the first state in the union to pass suffrage laws, integrating women into juries in 1869.
Because the elements were so similar, many women’s rights organizations were conjoined with the efforts of abolitionists prior to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 186 and later to suffrage for all people. The right to vote was still denied to black men until the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. In Paris, France the First International Women’s Conference was held in 1878, where leaders of women’s movements all over the world convened to discuss issues affecting women, such as suffrage, division of labor in the home, equal pay for equal work and government provisions for families. In 1903, the National Women’s Trade Union League begins to promote safer working conditions and wages for women. Suffrage finally won its war when the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was added in 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Women fighting for control over their bodies and the implications of the biological realities of pregnancy waged throughout history. The first birth control clinic is opened in 1916 by Margaret Sanger. It is shut down a week-and-a-half later. Sanger founds the American Birth Control League in 1921. Birth control pills were not approved by the FDA until 1960. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down a statute restricting the use of birth control by married couples, establishing the right of privacy. Abortion was legal in very few states when Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court, giving women the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term within the first three months after conception.
A myriad of other issues, some still combated to this day in the United States and elsewhere, require the endless vigilance of proponents of feminism. Equal pay for equal work, discrimination in the workplace for specific types of jobs, the “glass ceiling” which is where advancement stops in certain professions for women, equality in the home between spouses, the rigidity of some sexual stereotypes in many social circles, and the objectification of women in the media. Another evil that women face in this modern day is the sale of women and girls into sex slavery.
Below is a list of useful links currently pertinent to feminism today:
Notable Women of History
Landmark Case Law
Discrimination in the Workplace
Equality in Pay
Global Women’s Rights Issues