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The feminist movement (also known as the women's movement, women's liberation, or feminism) refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, all of which fall under the label of feminism. The movement's priorities vary among nations and communities and range from opposition to female genital mutilation in one country to opposition to the glass ceiling in another.
The movement began in the western world in the late 19th century and has gone through three waves. First-wave feminism was oriented around the station of middle- or upper-class white women and involved suffrage and political equality. Second-wave feminism attempted to further combat social and cultural inequalities. Third-wave feminism includes renewed campaigning for women's greater influence in politics.
The history of feminist movements in the United States, Canada, and certain countries in western Europe has been divided into three "waves" by feminist scholars: first, second and third-wave feminism.
The feminist movement effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage, the right to initiate divorce proceedings and "no fault" divorce, the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to own property. It has also led to broad employment for women at more equitable wages, and access to university education.
The United Nations Human Development Report 2004 estimated that when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are accounted for, on average women work more than men. In rural areas of selected developing countries women performed an average of 20% more work than men, or 120% of men's total work, an additional 102 minutes per day. In the OECD countries surveyed, on average women performed 5% more work than men, or 105% of men's total work—an additional 20 minutes per day. However, men did up to 19 minutes more work per day than women in five out of the eighteen OECD countries surveyed: Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Israel, and The Netherlands. According to UN Women, "Women perform 66 percent of the world's work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property."
The feminist movement's agenda includes acting as a counter to the putatively patriarchal strands in the dominant culture. While differing during the progression of waves, it is a movement that has sought to challenge the political structure, power holders, and cultural beliefs or practices.
Although antecedents to feminism may be found far back before the 18th century, the seeds of the modern feminist movement were planted during the late part of that century. Christine de Pizan, a late medieval writer, was possibly the earliest feminist in the western tradition. She is believed to be the first woman to make a living out of writing. Feminist thought began to take a more substantial shape during the Enlightenment with such thinkers as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Marquis de Condorcet championing women's education. The first scientific society for women was founded in Middelburg, a city in the south of the Dutch republic, in 1785. Journals for women that focused on issues like science became popular during this period as well.
The women who made the first efforts towards women's suffrage came from more stable and privileged backgrounds, and were able to dedicate time and energy into making change. Initial developments for women, therefore, mainly benefited white women in the middle and upper classes.
Feminists are sometimes, though not exclusively, proponents of using non-sexist language, using "Ms." to refer to both married and unmarried women, for example, or the ironic use of the term "herstory" instead of "history". Feminists are also often proponents of using gender-inclusive language, such as "humanity" instead of "mankind", or "he or she" in place of "he" where the gender is unknown.
Gender-neutral language is a description of language usages which is aimed at minimizing assumptions regarding the biological sex of human referents. The advocacy of gender-neutral language reflects, at least, two different agendas: one aims to clarify the inclusion of both sexes or genders (gender-inclusive language); the other proposes that gender, as a category, is rarely worth marking in language (gender-neutral language). Gender-neutral language is sometimes described as non-sexist language by advocates and politically correct language by opponents.
Not only has the movement come to change the language into gender neutral but the feminist movement has brought up how people use language. Emily Martin describes the concept of how metaphors are gendered and ingrained into everyday life. Metaphors are used in everyday language and have become a way that people describe the world. Martin explains that these metaphors structure how people think and in regards to science can shape what questions are being asked. If the right questions are not being asked then the answers are not going to be the right either. For example, the aggressive sperm and passive egg is a metaphor that felt 'natural' to people in history but as scientists have reexamined this phenomenon they have come up with a new answer. "The sperm tries to pull its getaway act even on the egg itself, but is held down against its struggles by molecules on the surface of the egg that hook together with counterparts on the sperm's surface, fastening the sperm until the egg can absorb it."  This is a goal in feminism to see these gendered metaphors and bring it to the public's attention. The outcome of looking at things in a new perspective can produce new information.
The increased entry of women into the workplace beginning in the 20th century has affected gender roles and the division of labor within households. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Second Shift and The Time Bind presents evidence that in two-career couples, men and women, on average, spend about equal amounts of time working, but women still spend more time on housework. Feminist writer Cathy Young responds to Hochschild's assertions by arguing that, in some cases, women may prevent the equal participation of men in housework and parenting.
Feminist criticisms of men's contributions to child care and domestic labor in the Western middle class are typically centered around the idea that it is unfair for women to be expected to perform more than half of a household's domestic work and child care when both members of the relationship perform an equal share of work outside the home. Several studies provide statistical evidence that the financial income of married men does not affect their rate of attending to household duties.
In Dubious Conceptions, Kristin Luker discusses the effect of feminism on teenage women's choices to bear children, both in and out of wedlock. She says that as childbearing out of wedlock has become more socially acceptable, young women, especially poor young women, while not bearing children at a higher rate than in the 1950s, now see less of a reason to get married before having a child. Her explanation for this is that the economic prospects for poor men are slim, hence poor women have a low chance of finding a husband who will be able to provide reliable financial support due to the rise of unemployment from more workers on the market, from just men to women and men.
Some studies have suggested that both men and women perceive feminism as being incompatible with romance. However, a recent survey of U.S. undergraduates and older adults found that feminism actually has a positive impact on relationship health for women and sexual satisfaction for men, and found no support for negative stereotypes of feminists.
Virginia Satir said the need for relationship education emerged from shifting gender roles as women gained greater rights and freedoms during the 20th century:
"As we moved into the 20th century, we arrived with a very clearly prescribed way that males and females in marriage were to behave with one another ... The pattern of the relationship between husband and wife was that of the dominant male and submissive female ... A new era has since dawned ... the climate of relationships had changed, and women were no longer willing to be submissive ... The end of the dominant/submissive model in relationships was in sight. However, there was very little that had developed to replace the old pattern; couples floundered ... Retrospectively, one could have expected that there would be a lot of chaos and a lot of fall-out. The change from the dominant/submissive model to one of equality is a monumental shift. We are learning how a relationship based on genuine feelings of equality can operate practically."
— Virginia Satir, Introduction to PAIRS
Feminist theology is a movement that reconsiders the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of religions from a feminist perspective. Some of the goals of feminist theology include increasing the role of women among the clergy and religious authorities, reinterpreting male-dominated imagery and language about God, determining the place of women in relation to career and motherhood, and studying images of women in the religion's sacred texts.
The feminist movement has affected religion and theology in profound ways. In liberal branches of Protestant Christianity, women are now allowed to be ordained as clergy, and in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, women are now allowed to be ordained as rabbis and cantors. In some of these groups, some women are gradually obtaining positions of power that were formerly only held by men, and their perspectives are now sought out in developing new statements of belief. These trends, however, have been resisted within most sects of Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity.
Christian feminism is a branch of feminist theology which seeks to reinterpret and understand Christianity in light of the equality of women and men. While there is no standard set of beliefs among Christian feminists, most agree that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically determined characteristics such as sex. Their major issues are the ordination of women, male dominance in Christian marriage, and claims of moral deficiency and inferiority of abilities compared to men. They also are concerned with the balance of parenting between mothers and fathers, and the overall treatment of women in the church.
Early feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton concentrated almost solely on "making women equal to men". However, the Christian feminist movement chose to concentrate on the language of religion because they viewed the historic gendering of God as male as a result of the pervasive influence of patriarchy. Rosemary Radford Ruether provided a systematic critique of Christian theology from a feminist and theist point of view.
Islamic feminism is concerned with the role of women in Islam and aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Although rooted in Islam, the movement's pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses. Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran, hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and sharia (law) towards the creation of a more equal and just society.
Jewish feminism seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. In its modern form, the movement can be traced to the early 1970s in the United States. According to Judith Plaskow, who has focused on feminism in Reform Judaism, the main issues for early Jewish feminists in these movements were the exclusion from the all-male prayer group or minyan, the exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot, and women's inability to function as witnesses and to initiate divorce.
Historically there has been a need to study and contribute to the health and well-being of a woman that previously has been lacking. Londa Schiebinger suggests that the common biomedical model is no longer adequate and there is a need for a broader model to ensure that all aspects of a woman are being cared for. Schiebinger describes six contributions that must occur in order to have success: political movement, academic women studies, affirmative action, health equality act, geo-political forces, and professional women not being afraid to talk openly about women issues.
Political movements come from the streets and are what the people as a whole want to see changed. An academic women study is the support from universities in order to teach a subject that most people have never encountered. Affirmative action enacted is a legal change to acknowledge and do something for the times of neglect people were subjected to. Women's Health Equity Act legally enforces the idea that medicine needs to be tested in suitable standards such as including women in research studies and is also allocates a set amount of money to research diseases that are specific towards women. Geo-political forces can improve health, when the country is not at a sense of threat in war there is more funding and resources to focus on other needs, such as women's health. Lastly, professional women not being afraid to talk about women's issues moves women from entering into these jobs and preventing them for just acting as men and instead embracing their concerns for the health of women. These six factors need to be included in order for there to be change in women's health.
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