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What is Feminism?



The Cambridge Dictionary describes feminism in the following way:

“The belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.”


Given this definition, most people would describe themselves as a feminist.  There are many who feel that all that is necessary for one to be a feminist is to hold the aforementioned belief.  However, there are some who feel that there is more to being a feminist than simply believing in it.


History of the Word:


Amy Richards from describes the history of the word best on her website:


"Feminism really began as a term in France (feminism) around the end of the 1800s. However, the principals behind this actual term - i.e., the struggle for equality - have been around since the beginning of the Western world. It came to the U.S. at the beginning of the 1900s via an article about a French Suffragist named Madeline Pelltier. But it didn't come into popular usage until the 1960s or 1970s. At that time, women's liberationist was actually the preferred term, but that started to get a bad name, so it was abandoned for feminism. Now, that has a bad name. However, what this example shows, and what I believe, is that the name is in many ways irrelevant because it's what's behind the name, i.e. equality, that is frightening to people. Therefore, we should stick with the name. Read the work of Nancy Cott for more on the history of the word."

Richards also makes the argument that we should stick with the word “feminist” (despite its unfair “bad reputation”) because no matter what word we choose to use to describe the movement, it will inevitably get slandered by those afraid of its principles.  This is why The Sydney Feminists stands firm on including “feminist” in its name, even if it may scare some people away or confront others.

What do Feminists Do?


Feminists advocate for equal rights, equal respect and equal opportunities.  They can do this in their personal lives by subscribing to feminist principles, raising their children to hold feminist values or sticking by their beliefs even when family members or friends disagree with or don’t understand them.  Outside the home, some feminists become activists and try to push feminist agendas (such as equal pay or reproductive rights) in their communities, workplaces or even globally.


Some of the many issues feminists champion are:

Reproductive Rights/Justice: access to sexual health centres, contraception, legal and safe abortion, pre and postnatal care, health education


Improving the situation for women experiencing violence: emergency help lines, well-trained police, women’s refuges, domestic violence services, public awareness campaigns, self-defence training, rape crisis centres etc.


Getting Our Voices heard: advocating for more women in leadership positions, from boards of companies to politicians; more women at the helm in media and filmmaking; more female protagonists in the stories we tell in film and books etc.


Sexism in the Media: challenging sexist advertising; advocating for better and more realistic representations of girls and women in media; calling on advertises to announce when they have PhotoShopped or digitally altered women in magazines/billboards etc.


Ending Harmful Practices: putting a stop to female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage, sex trafficking etc.


…and many, many more.  Feminists advocate that women’s rights are human rights, but also acknowledge that women suffer some unique forms of oppression due to their gender and the long, established history of sexism toward that gender.

Is there One Universal feminism?


While the feminist movement generally has the same root aims and causes, there is much variety in how people choose to define and live their feminism.  Indeed, there are named “types” of feminism; some people subscribe very strictly to their category of feminism whilst others follow aspects of the various types.


Liberal Feminism


Radical Feminism


Socialist Feminism


Cultural Feminism


Materialist Feminism


Queer Theory




(There are other types but these are the best known).


The Sydney Feminists doesn’t represent any one type of feminism, although we probably most closely follow a blend of liberal, radical, socialist and ecofeminism.


Where can I learn more about feminism?


There are many resources about feminism in the form of books, films and documentaries, some of which we have linked on this website.  A good summary of online resources is: Sociology


The Feminist eZine


Feminist Geek’s Resource Guide


Women’s Studies Online Resources


We also have an essay titled “Why Feminism is Relevant to You” which gives a quick history of feminism in the West, with a focus on Australia.


Have some questions about feminism?  Check out our Feminist Frequent Asked Questions!

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