What Was the Historical Role of Feminism?

Today, we take many socio-political phenomenons for granted. People in democratic countries vote for their candidates on presidential elections, freely express themselves, practice any religion they want, and enjoy many other rights and freedoms, all of which are guarded by numerous laws, bills, non-governmental organizations, and so on. However, the realities of social life were not always so fair. About a hundred years ago, white and black people treated each other with lawful distrust, women were not considered equal with men by a large extent, and many other injustices took place.

One of the most significant social movements in history is feminism. Germinated in Great Britain at the end of 18th century in the form of calls to grant women the right to vote on elections, it became a movement in 19th century, and gradually turned into a powerful political force. Feminism has set numerous goals for itself, and has affected many spheres of our everyday life, though some of its achievements can be called controversial.

Feminists can be proud of the changes they caused in the socio-political sphere; this refers to their active participation in political life, and also to the causes for equal opportunities, attitudes, and other rights. In particular, the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, claimed that a US citizen cannot be denied from the right to vote on the basis of sex; besides, the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923, claims that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex (ERA). However, the ERA still has not been introduced into the US Constitution–therefore feminists continue to struggle with this issue. In addition, even though women’s rights and equality have been guaranteed by a number of legislative documents, at the household level women are sometimes still treated with prejudice–even by women themselves.

Feminists have also made mass culture take a closer look at less obvious phenomena and problems that usually remained hidden. Thus, in the 1970s, researcher Sheila Rowbotham introduced her study Hidden From History, in which she analyzed issues concerning employment and relationships in the workplace; women trade unionism and organizations; family roles; sexuality and differences in attitude towards males and females in terms of sexual activity; and other important problems (Making History). Due to studies like this one, the modern world is aware of such issues as workplace discrimination on the basis of sex; sexual harassment (which had been hushed up for a long time) in public places or at home; an imposition of certain social roles of women; and other significant issues, which due to such attention from feminist organizations, can now be regulated and solved.

On the other hand, feminism sometimes seems to be fighting windmills, because along with objectively important problems, it tries to find complexes where there are little or none. For an ideal example, one needs to look no further than debates around the word “history”; in the 1960′s, feminists who criticized the conventional historiography claimed that the word “history” limited one’s vision of historical events only by the male perspective; this claim was made because feminists interpreted the word “history” as a contraction for “his story”–an interpretation of events told on behalf of a male individual. In fact, this word comes from the Ancient Greek language; it was pronounced as “historia,” and meaning knowledge obtained by inquiry (Etymonline.com). Surprisingly, this odd interpretation causes debates even today, along with such problems as whether compliments about appearance insults a women’s dignity; women-versus-men competitions; sexist language, and other controversial issues.

Considering all this, feminism should be seen as a movement which has a role and value for the real world that is extremely difficult to underestimate. Feminists won the voting rights for women, and stand on guard for equality and fair relationships between genders. Though not all problems in this field are solved, feminist organizations continue their work. Feminists made American society recognize and admit the existence of multiple hushed-up problems, such as workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, or sexual harassment. At the same time, feminists tend to distract on issues of minor significance, such as, for instance, the etymology of certain words and language sexism. Still, even despite such distractions, feminism plays an important role in modern American society.


“The Equal Rights Amendment.” The Equal Rights Amendment. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/>.

Hannam, June. “Women’s History, Feminist History.” Making History. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <http://www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/articles/womens_history.html>.

“Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. <http://etymonline.com/>.


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