Feminist Activism

As the definition states, feminism is a movement, which means part of understanding feminism is knowing the challenges and successes in the fight to end patriarchy.

History of Feminism

Feminism is generally thought of in the western world as comprising of three waves (early-to-mid 1800s-1960s, 1960s-late 1980s, late 1980s-present). Often the waves are characterized by a primary activist movement (i.e.: the first wave is described as focusing on suffrage & voting rights), however there is also conflation of waves with historical time periods. For instance, many scholars describe anyone living today identifying as a feminist as being third wave, regardless of delineated beliefs.

Just as with other movements in history, the waves influenced one another and gave rise to new platforms of feminist activism. One such important carryover from the second wave is exemplified by the phrase “the personal is political”. Taken from the title of a 1970 essay, this flagship statement challenged the notion that social systems and structures don’t have an impact on personal decision-making (and vice versa). It offered ideological momentum to push forward reproductive rights and gave root to identity politics which largely inform the third wave’s activism.

None of this is to say that patriarchy didn’t exist before 1800, or that women didn’t fight against gender-based oppression outside of the global north/west. However, the use of the term “feminism” is a relatively new concept in human history, and was credited by and large to the efforts of white women in the U.S. (because oppression!).

If you’re a history buff, these resources can offer a more comprehensive lesson on feminism through the ages:

Learning About Feminism

Essential books for understanding feminism:

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks: 

An essential reading in feminist theory, for those who want to delve deeper.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks: 

A primer in feminism, with lots of enthusiasm.


The Gender Knot by Allan G. Johnson:

An introduction to patriarchy and feminism; great for history and terminology.

This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa:

An essential primer in oppression against women and women of color.

Masculinities by R.W. Connell

A groundbreaking book on traditionally masculine identities and power dynamics.

The Men and the Boys by R.W. Connell

Further insights into issues around contemporary notions of masculinity.

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks: 

an introduction to a feminist perspective on masculinity

Free online curricula and PDF versions of books to further understanding:

Other good resources that discuss history, intersectionality and feminist activism:

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