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A history of Feminism

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    Catalina Rojas

    As a result of the Gender and Peacebuilding guide, a Colombian psicologist and peace educator wrote the attached brief on the history of feminism.  The author of the piece is María Lucía Amorocho

    Many thanks María Lucía for this contribution.

    I appreciate the comments generated as a result of the gender resource guide.  Lets keep the conversation going on the intersection of gender and peace.


    If you have trouble downloading the text, please read it below:


    In the sixties of the XX century the great majority of the patriarchal world (men and women) thought feminism had died. However a topic that had influenced so much change was still very much alive, going through a transformative process.

    The history behind the movements of this part of the XX century had begun in the XVIII century with the French Revolution. It brought the ideas of equality and liberty in the labor arena for men. Women who were part of the labor support of France demanded to be included in the new rules of government, which was later called the Constitution.

    Women’s intellectual capacity was usually doubted, at that time as it is still now days by the patriarchal (men and women) system. However the position of some women at the time opened the discussion on the benefits of giving women education. The first paper on women’s rights was the “Declaration of the Rights for women”, written by Olivia des Gougues in 1791; it shows that the natural rights of women were limited by the tyranny of men.

    The pressure continued during the first part of the XIX century and philosophers- economists started to give some thought to the matter as part of the economic development of a country. Charles Fourier, 1772-1837, self-made social thinker, pointed out that the need to reform the economical state of the industrial era went through the educational reforms for women and also the transformation of the social and living customs designed to keep women at home.  John Stuart Mills in 1869 wrote an article on the submission of women where he states that there are three main obstacles for women’s development:

  • 1.      Society and the construction of gender
  • 2.      Education
  • 3.      Marriage
  • He also stated that it was a restrain for the proper development of a country to have non educated mothers raise their children since the firsts years of life of a human being were so important for the future development and growth of a country. Therefore he pressed for the following much needed reforms:

  • 1.     Equality of rights for women and men
  • 2.     Education reforms.
  • He used to say that all topics and actions that suffocated the individuality of the human being is merely despotism. He was also against the idea of women being taken as an object. This is why John Stuart Mills is considered the first feminist in the economic world. Engels in 1884 states the need to have women earning money and the need to disappear the concept of family as the unit of economic growth of a country, very much in the line of Stuart but not including a pledge for reforms. Of course, none of this would have happened if women had not expressed their dissatisfaction.

    Feminism as an organized movement takes form in the second half of the XIX century. Women associated themselves to demand the following rights:

  • 1.      The right to vote
  • This gives way to the name “the suffragist’s movement” in the United States and in Great Britain. In U.S these were women who already were associated as participants of anti-slaves movements in the north of the U.S.

    Women such as E. Cady Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Lucrecia Mott and Lucy Staton pressed the enforcement of women’s active participation in the government’s decisions by way of vote.  This request was unconceivable by the patriarchal world (men and women).

    After the Civil War, black males were granted the right of vote, however women in general were denied this right. This inequality provoked strong confrontations and hard discussions from women demanding the basic right of any legal citizen of the country, as women thought of themselves. These discussions set up the path for an amendment to the Constitution. In 1920, it was acknowledge that the right of vote could not be denied to any citizen because of differences on color or race, creed or sex.

    Meanwhile in Great Britain, these same discussions created big divisions in Parliament. Finally the anti-feminists won the position of not giving recognition to women in the British Parliament until World War I broke out, which brought the so much expected changes not only in Britain but in many European countries.

    The English government asked the suffragist group to support factory labor and to recruit as many women as possible to keep up the British economy and in 1917; the British government approved in the Parliament the project by which women were given the right to vote.


    The socialist thinkers of the time (second half of the XIX century) coincided in the idea that the vote was just one of the topics of women’s emancipation. They pinpointed that there were other topics to it such as freedom of expression, sexual freedom and social freedom.

    Back in the U.S., Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought not only for the right to vote but also for the right for birth-control, the right to divorce and all judicial laws and labor rights as well.

    Around the same years, in Spain, two women took upon themselves to promote the feminist movement. They were Emilia Pardo Bazan and Concepcion Arenal. Both were born in the second half of the XIX century and both were from La Coruña. They took part on very intense discussions about the role of women just before the Civil War, so they helped to promote women to take part in politics and government decisions.

    Margarita Nelcken, Maria Lejarraga and her husband are considered the most outspoken of the group. It is Margarita Nelcken who wrote the first important text on the situation of the Spanish woman, “The social condition of the women in Spain”, 1922.

    María Lejarraga or better known as Gregorio Martinez Sierra, contributed with her writings, poems, music librettos and other forms of support, to press for the autonomy and self-determination of women. Her books “A woman on the roads of Spain”, 1989, and “Gregorio and I, fifty years of contribution” are outstanding pieces of literature that contributed to women’s participation in politics, social work and other expressions of paid work. She took part in the antifascist women movement. She promoted the education for women in Spain.

    Simone de Beauvoir was born in 1908. At adolescence she was quite aware of the discrimination towards women. She began a search and research on how women have been not only marginalized but also taken as an object by men throughout history. She rebelled against the proper education she had received to become a house-wife, obedient and shadow of her husband. Although her best known book is “The second sex”, books such as “Memories of a formal youngster” and “The broken woman” contributed to enforce the feminist movement and give light to the unbalanced situation of women regarding men.

    Another very important feminist of the first half of the XX century was Betty Friedman. She wrote a very meaningful book “The mystic of Feminism”, 1963 where she summons all her thoughts and fights: support of abortion, equal payment, nondiscrimination of work according to sexes, job opportunities as well and equal labor ascension. Maternity leave and social security coverage were also in her pinpoint to equality.

    These women joined by many more, kept the topic of feminism alive and showed that it was more than merely the vote or the judicial issues. Today in the XXI century, it seems that the topic of feminism has open roads to study and research the theme of women from their many discriminatory situations such as violence, sex abuse, labor handicap because of sex.  It has also give ways to study discrimination in relation to gender and how the two genders can and must work together. Masculinity has become a topic of research as well as feminism has been studied and has opened new venues to co-exist and interact.

    There are still some very strong feminists in the world. One of them is Florence Thomas, a french-colombian woman who contributed enormously to open up the very patriarchal society in Colombia. She says, in an interview given in 2012, that she is a feminist because this is how she may share and be solidary with women all over the world who have endure violence such as afghan women, Nepalese, just to mention a few and not to leave out Colombians. She says she loves liberty but not libertarian, she enforces pro-options in topics as sex and abortion; she is strong in stating that she does not hate men, does not declare war on them and is not a lesbian, though if she were one what would be the problem.

    She will defend strongly as long as she cans the right of women for self-determination and freedom of choice. She is feminist because she has bet on the possibility to live in a world inhabited by men and women who have different ways of live in it.

    Many women have fought for their rights in individual bases, which makes them priceless but have not been in movements to influence a change in society. This is the main importance of feminism. The XXI century enforces laws that look for equality among gender.

    Recently the actress Emma Watson invited men to become allies to feminism. She pointed out that there is a badly needed urgency for men to understand that the patriarchal system must change. Amazingly, she received through the nets a lot of arguments against this invitation, not to mention the many epithets which usually are violent and aggressive. This invitation must also go to a great number of women who are supportive of the patriarchal system as well. The interesting phenomenon in this case is that an actress so well-known joins a movement that has been thought as de mode by the great majority of the population around the globe. The topic of patriarchal system is one of much needed awareness among the people all over the world. This must be the clue in the studies of gender as well.




    FEMINISM (in short lines)

    Starting point: the French Revolution, XVIII century

    Main goal: vote and labor equality

    Main impellers in the XVIII century: women who asked for same rights as those given by the French constitution to men, since they also worked in factories and other type of labor forms.

    Main Impellers in the XIX century: Social philosophers such as Charles Fourier stated that women needed to earn money and be considered part of the labor force of a country to bust its economy. Another social philosopher, John Stuart Mill pressed for women’s vote and a reform to the education system of the country to include women in serious learning, away from the traditional role of house wife and family breeder.

    In the same period, Olympia des Gouges writes the first “Declaration of rights for Women” 1791.She emphases how women’s rights are limited by the tyranny of men.

    In the second half of the XIX century feminism becomes an organized movement pressing mainly for the right to vote, therefore being identified as the suffragist movement in U.S. and U.K

    Women such as Elizabeth Cady Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Lucrecia Mott and Lucy Staton were the main activists who moved extensive groups of women in assemblies asking for their right to participate in local and state decisions through the vote. Cady also pressed for pro-abortion, right to divorce and equal laws for labor and judiciary system.

    Many women came from anti-slave associations in the northern part of U.S.  After the Civil War, they felt discriminated since Negro males had been given the right to vote. Women as a group were denied such right. Therefore a strong confrontation period followed the aftermath of Civil War; the difference was that this confrontation was in speeches, conferences and ideas, never with arms.

    By 1920 the U.S. Constitution was amended to include the right to vote for women. It stated that vote could not be denied for color or race or because of sex.

    A similar case was that of women in U.K. Their demands had driven a strong opposition in the British Parliament and antifeminism won the posture in the Parliament. In 1903 Emetine Pankhurst imposed methods of direct action through the Women’s Social and Political Union. This association was rapidly declared illegal by the British government.

    First World War was the key factor for the British government to give in women’s demands for equality. When called by the government, these women who were already organized were able to fill in the posts. In exchanged they were given the right to vote and participate in government decisions.

    In Spain, just before the turn of the XIX and the first half of the XX century, women such as Emilia Pardo Bazan, and Concepción Arenal were the promoters of the first feminist movements. Margarita Nelcken, considered one of the most active feminist, wrote the book “The social condition of women in Spain”, 1922.

     Maria Legarraja and her husband Gregorio Martinez Sierra were considered feminists as well because of their many written texts on the topic of rights and against fascism. 1899, 1906.

    Simone de Beauvoir contributed to a great extend in the cause of feminism not only with her book “The second Sex”, 1949; but also with “The broken woman”, Spanish 1975; “Memories of a formal youth”, 1958 and many other titles.

    Betty Friedan writes “The mystic of feminine” in 1963. She also was a strong and very influential activist.

    Now days, it seems that feminism has open paths to study the topic of women under the many discriminations and abuses.

    However there are some women who still want to be called feminists. Florence Thomas, a French-Colombian declares herself a feminist as a way to touching women all over the world in their fights for recognition and rights. She is pro-options (abortion, sex), self-determination and equal labor conditions and payment. She is feminist as long as she criticizes the patriarchal moral of exclusions and orphanages, creating wars that govern this earth through centuries. She is a feminist hoping to talk about women as subjects.

    Another declared feminist of the XXI century is the actress Emma Watson who recently invited men to really think that patriarchal systems must end.


    Encyclopedia Larousse, 1960

    De Beauvoir, Simon, 1949, 1958, 1975

    Thomas, Florence, Fasebook, 7 junio, 2012

    Camacho Iannini Sergio, “Hombres aliados del Feminismo”,Tendencias, en Carrusel, Nov. 2014, pag.24


    –       Arenal, Concepción, 1820-1893

    –       Anthony, Susan, 1820-1906

    –       Cady Stanton, Elizabeth, 1815-1902

    –       Fourier Charles, 1772-1837

    –       Friedan, Betty, 1921-2006

    –       Lejárraga, María (Martinez Sierra María), 1874-1974

    –       Mott, Lucretia, 1793-1880

    –       Nelken, Margarita, 1894-1968

    –       Pankhurst, Emmeline, 1858-1928

    –       Pardo Bazán, Emilia, 1851-1921

    –       Staton, Lucy, 1831-1910

    –       Thomas, Florence, 194-




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