Various typologies based on historical or conceptual changes


1st,  2nd, 3rd wave feminism (US largely)


First-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on overturning legal inequalities, particularly women's suffrage.


Second-wave feminism (1960s–1980s) broadened debate to include cultural inequalities, gender norms, and the role of women in society.


Third-wave feminism (1990s–2000s) refers to diverse strains of feminist activity, seen as both a continuation of the second wave and a response to its perceived failures.









18th – 19thC view



Let us bring up women, not to aspire to advantages which the Constitution denies them, but to know and appreciate those which it guarantees them . . . Men are destined to live on the stage of the world. A public education suits them: it early places before their eyes all the scenes of life: only the proportions are different. The paternal home is better for the education of women; they have less need to learn to deal with the interests of others, than to accustom themselves to a calm and secluded life. (1791)


Wollstonecraft in here famous Vindication of the Rights of Women  "my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if [woman] be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue; for truth must be common to all" (1792)


Wollstonecraft was part of an early utilitarian circle including Bentham, James Mill (father of John Stuart) and Wlm Godwin the utilitarian anarchist (a.k.a. ‘the philosophical  radicals)


Part of Wollstonecraft’s case is based on the rejection of the 18th century philosophical psychology rooted in a notion that humans were essentially creature of passion and feeling – of sensibilities. The PRs argued that the criteria of god judgment, of good sense, of a criterion for mkigh good judgments and good action and this of a virtuous life was the use of reason which a given to all thus implying that biology – nature – was not the criterion of demarcation between  men and women.



US – Cady Stanton et al Seneca Falls Women’s right conference 1848 -  rights linked to temperance, anti-slavery, property rights, voting rights. 1849 US passed married Women’s Property Act allowing women to keep rights to the property they brought into a marriage

Pankhursts formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 – suffragette movements – 1918 act gave women over 30 voting rights; 1928 full rights


Primacy of political agiation for basic citizenship rights

Wider concerns of culture and society – 2nd wave.

In 1963, Betty Friedan's exposé The Feminine Mystique became the voice for the discontent and disorientation women felt in being shunted into homemaking positions after their college graduations. In the book, Friedan explored the roots of the change in women's roles from essential workforce during World War II to homebound housewife and mother after the war, and assessed the forces that drove this change in perception of women's roles.


Empowered by The Feminine Mystique, new feminist activists of the 1970s addressed more political and sexual issues in their writing including Gloria Steinem's MS. magazine and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics. Millett's bleak survey of male writers, their attitudes and biases, to demonstrate that sex is politics, and politics is power imbalance in relationships. Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex described a revolution] based in Marxism, referenced as the "sex war". Considering the debates over patriarchy, she claimed that male domination dated to "back beyond recorded history to the animal kingdom itself".

Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Sheila Rowbotham's Women's Liberation and the New Politics, and Juliet Mitchell's Woman's Estate represent the English perspective. Mitchell argued that the movement should be seen as an international phenomenon with different manifestations based on local culture. British women drew on left-wing politics and organized small local discussion groups, partly through the London Women's Liberation Workshop and its publications, Shrew and the LWLW Newsletter. Although there were marches, the focus was on consciousness-raising, or political activism intended to bring a cause or condition to a wider audience.


3rd Wave seen as a 90s reaction  to the 70/80s 2nd wave that ignored the more micro-political issues of race/gender; ethnicities, working class women etc.


However, all this comes down perhaps to the opening up the Q of the relation between

Women and entitlements – rights depending on what sort of beings women as opposed/not opposed to  men…are


Are they essentially biological and if so does this given them rights, especially if they are biologically different from men – they have different sets of needs cos of biological make-up?


OR are they to be treated in the same way because they are for most part in society the same as men i.e. the debate is based on culture.


But if the latter then the women’s movement as an ideological struggle is reflective of the persistent as well as consistent patterns of oppression, repression, and suppression of women


And not just in the public but in the private sphere as men have attempted to control the representation of women and moreover of their right to determine the use of their minds and bodies, especially the latter.

Reproductive right; sexual rights; employment rights


All areas beyond the political yet in requiring law, they become political as people campaign for laws to assert/protect their rights.


But this is about the need for recognition and for the issues to be recognised which is v difficult if there is a culture that thinks of women’s claims as of secondary indeed trivial significance.





1)     Are women essentially biological or contingently cultural?


2)     Does nature imply rights?


3)     To what extent are women opp-, re-, sup-ressed today – which forms of oppression matter most in the struggle for women’s equality?