Feminism, a History

After Emma Watson’s speech this week it has become clear to me that women today are confused by what it means to be a Feminist. So many people believe that Feminists hate men and want to rise above them. Or that Feminists are victims of men. This is not the case and Watson’s speech is educating so many people as to what it really means.

As Watson stated in her speech “feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.””

I wanted to do a bit of research myself and find out where wires might have been crossed in having come to these conclusions about Feminism.

The History of Feminism at Super-Speed

(in order to get through this I have really trimmed history, for a more detailed look follow this link)

1800s to 1900

  • The first organised movement (aka First-Wave) for English feminism was the Langham Place Circle of the 1850s. The group campaigned for many women’s causes, including improved female rights in employment, and education. It also pursued women’s property rights through its Married Women’s Property Committee.
  • Applications of basic human rights to women in Australia, including the right to vote, the right to stand for parliamentary election, and protection from sexual exploitation.
  • From 1883 onwards Mary Lee, an Australian-Irish woman, was involved in the raising of the Age of Consent for girls in Australia from 13 to 16.


  • Women were eager to help when World War I broke out, but their attempts to take on many traditional male roles were mostly blocked. Their presence in the workforce did grow, but mainly in fields they already worked in, like clothing, food and printing.
  • Traditional society encouraged young women to find happiness and fulfilment through marriage and homemaking.

1920 – 1970

  • Edith Cowan, the first woman to be elected to an Australian Parliament in 1920, is depicted on the back of the Australian fifty-dollar note.
  • The second-wave of Feminism in Australia began during the 1960s with the confrontation of legal and social double standards as well as workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Equally, feminists worldwide began a push for female sexual freedom.
  • The situation was not so rosy for Indigenous women, who were not given the vote until much later, in 1962.

1970 onwards

  • The social base of the Australian feminist movement was boosted by the growing segment of women employed as juniors in the 1970s.
  • By the early 1970s the feminist movement in Australia was divided. On one side was the Women’s Liberation Movement which leaned left and believed men did not have a role in women’s liberation. The other side was represented by the Women’s Electoral Lobby which was considered more mainstream and sought to engage change within existing structures.
  • 1979 Margaret Thatcher was elected British prime minister. She was the longest serving British PM and the only woman to hold the post.

So it looks like I’ve found where the conflicting ideas have come from!  When political parties get involved there are always going to be divided beliefs. But if you believe in equal rights for everyone no matter their differences you should stand tall and encourage more people to get on board with the HeForShe campaign.

Speech by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson at a special event for the HeForShe campaign, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 20 September 2014 

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.

When at 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press.

When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.

Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?

Read more.


About Kathryn

Hello and welcome to the Brick Road Creative Studios blog! My name is Kathryn, feel free to take a look around. I hope you find some helpful and inspiring bits and pieces here.
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