Episode #7 of the course “Ideas that changed the world”
“Feminism” is a set of ideas that proposes that women deserve treatment equal to men. The ideas that “women are people” and that “women’s rights are human rights” were once considered radical. For most of human history and in most societies, women have been treated as the property of men, with minimal rights of their own.
Feminism promotes the equal treatment of women—that women should be autonomous and free to make their own choices about their lives. Among the many rights that were denied to women for centuries are the right to participate in their own government by voting or holding office, the right to become educated (or not) and choose a career (or not), and the right to relocate or travel inside or outside the country at their own discretion.
As roughly half of the world’s population (though often a higher proportion), women have been impacted immeasurably by the ideas of feminism. The argument has its roots in the 18th-century Enlightenment ideas of human rights, as scholars and government leaders began to question who was human and who deserved protected rights. Politically active women in the 19th and 20th centuries, like Susan B. Anthony in the US or Sylvia Pankhurst in England, suffered for the idea that women deserved not to be treated as “less than” men.
Susan B. Anthony
Feminist ideas continue to impact the world’s economy, environment, education practices, medical science, international business, and all aspects of human life. It is because of feminism that women in some countries can now choose any career—including military service, university professorship, local shopkeeper, or government official. For the first time in history, many women have access to medical treatment and education, largely because of feminism. Many women can seek legal retribution from the police, courts, and government when they are physically violated by another person; because of this, violence against women in many countries continues to decrease and is no longer widely practiced without repercussion.
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” by Jane Austen
“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” by Gloria Steinem
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” by Rebecca West
“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only mysel.f” by Simone de Beauvoir
“I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist, but I don’t like girls pretending to be stupid because it’s easier.” by Amy Winehouse
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