People Power (Social Movements)


The women’s movement.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Women's Movement - Notes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Feminism as philosophy   (extra notes)



Weeks 3 and 4: The women’s movement – Summary Handout.

(i) Introduction: definition of feminism; what is the problem?

1.1: feminism: definitions 

1.2: what do feminists want?

An end to patriarchy, a sexual revolution (Kate Millett, Sexual Politics 1969).

1.3 The problem of traditional socialisation:

Pythagoras (500 BC):

"There is a good principle which created order, light and man, and a bad principle which

created chaos, darkness and woman."

Aristotle (4th century BCE): a distinction between (mere) ‘matter’ and ‘form’ (male)

Galen (2nd century AD physician and biologist):

"The female is more imperfect than the male... just as man is the most perfect of all animals,

so also, within the human species, man is more perfect than woman.” 

Christianity: Eve, Judeo-Christian tradition: St Paul – sin and the body

Science - and witches. Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626): "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or of mischief.  Certainly the best works, and of greatest for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men." 

18th Century: Rousseau (1712 – 1778): women as more ‘feeling’ and nurturing; public life

is for men.

19th Century: Darwin, (1809 – 1882) in The Descent of Man...(early 1871):

"Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition... With

woman, the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more

strongly marked than in man, but some, at least of these faculties are characteristic of the

lower races, and therefore of a past and lower stage of civilisation.

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man attaining to

a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain – whether requiring deep

thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands".           


2. history of the women’s movement:

French Revolution:

2.1 Olympe de Gouges: Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791): “ignorance, omission or scorn for the rights of woman are the only causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments…”.

2.2 Mary Wollstonecraft: (1759 – 1797): Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787 –Enlightenment ideals demanded that women be given a decent education.

Joined a radical group along with William Godwin (anarchist), Tom Paine (socialist/liberal), Henry Fuseli (artist, influenced William Blake) and Joseph Priestley (scientist), Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

“Inheriting ... the sovereignty of beauty – [women] have, to maintain their power, resigned the natural rights which the exercise of reason might have procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than labour to obtain the sober pleasures that arise from equality.”

2.3 Anti- slavery movement: women played important roles in revolts against slavery in Caribbean; the first female anti-slavery convention in America (1837)’. Sojourner Truth in 1851.

2.4. Contribution of the Enlightenment: rationalism, humanism, science, democracy.

3. Other aspects of the ‘first wave’ of the movement:

Reform Act of 1832,

Women working in the mines.

But ambivalent attitudes to women: marriage, ‘chivalry’.

Education for women: America: Mount Holyoke, 1837; England: Queen’s College (Univ of London) 1848, Bedford 1849, Girton (Camb) 1872, Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville (Oxf) in 1979.  For school teachers…

Political aspects: July 1848, Seneca Falls Convention (based on Declaration of Independence) : control of earnings, right to own property, access to education and divorce, guardianship of children, and suffrage.

1850 Harriett Taylor (1807 – 1858) in London hears of the convention and writes of it in the Westminster Review. 1856 Campaign for Women’s Property Act.

1866 J.S. Mill (1806 – 1873) presents the first suffrage petition to parliament, and publishes Subjection of Women in 1869.

1880s Women’s Suffrage Societies

1903 WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) – Emily Pankhurst (ILP) – 1908 rally of 250,000 - 500,000

‘suffragettes’ – imprisonment, forced feeding; violence and non-violence.

1918, women over 30 got the vote.

World War II and women at work

Wages for housework


(ii) The women’s movement – phases/waves:

1. The origins and first wave/phase of the women’s movement:(1830s – 1930s/50s): to change attitudes, liberal perspective. Education, suffrage and the suffragettes, equality of work; political equality, the liberal perspective, inadequacies of Marxism, links with

other social movements.

2. The ‘second wave’ (1960s/70s - 1990s):

Radical demands: equal pay, wages for housework, control over reproduction, abortion, opposition to domestic violence; issues of ‘difference’ and ‘identity’; Simone de Beauvoir; The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan, 1963; non-hierarchical organisation; backlash.

3. Third wave feminism:

Postmodernism, deconstruction, feminist postmodernism...


4. Achievements of the women’s movement: New concepts and language derived from feminist thought:  

4.1 sex vs gender: biological vs cultural, male/female vs  masculine/feminine

4.2 sexism: different and inferior

4.3 dualisms in language (normative): angry ~ hysterical; assertive ~ bossy; talk ~ gossip; complain ~ nag; stud ~ whore/slut/slag; hard~ soft; rational ~ emotional;

4.4 the personal is the political: domestic violence,

But NB - on average, two women a week are killed by their partner or former partner in England and Wales.


5. Recent issues, and where is the women’s movement now? Discussion.

The ‘glass ceiling’, inequality in pay, #meetoo movement, FGM…