The history of feminist thought can be broken down roughly into three waves. First-wave feminism, from the 18th until the beginning of the 20th century, was a movement to liberate women legally, economically, and politically. Feminists of that period sought equal rights for women with respect to owning property, engaging in labor, protection from violence, and voting. Of special note is that first-wave feminists came from all sides of the ideological spectrum: Libertarian, Christian conservative, Socialist, Anarchist. Not all supported suffrage, and some advocated for free love and the abolition of marriage.
The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and lasted until about the 1990s. It focused on increasing economic opportunity for and ending social discrimination against women. Much influenced by European postmodern philosophers, feminists began to apply the idea of social construction to advance their ideas. Differences between men and women, apart from those in reproductive organs, are not the product of human nature rooted in biology but of social and cultural conditioning in favor of males. Thus, achieving equality became a matter of reconstructing culture and thereby human nature. Inevitably, that meant the use of state force, by instituting affirmative action, creating sexual harassment laws, reforming the prosecution of rape, introducing speech codes and mandatory diversity/sensitivity training on college campuses, and censoring sexually explicit materials. And, unlike with its first-wave predecessors, Leftism predominated among the second-wavers.
Simultaneously, feminists in academia began to view the social and natural sciences as being taught from an inherently biased perspective, namely that of white males, to the disadvantage women's and minorities' perspectives. More radical feminists claimed that our cognition and experiences are socially constructed by our group affiliation. Finding white, heterosexual male standards of logic and science oppressive, they offered subjugated groups' ways of knowing as antidote. Hence, the proliferation of courses in feminist science, literary theory, sociology, and psychology, and the establishment of entire departments devoted to [insert oppressed group here] studies in colleges and universities across the country.
Third-wave feminism is said to begin in the early 1990s in response to a perceived backlash against the outcomes of second-wave feminism, and a concern that young women were no longer interested in feminist issues. But this wave continues to be concerned with the issues of the second wave: reproductive rights, gay and transgender rights, eliminating sexism and racism, achieving economic equality and social justice for women and other oppressed groups, and environmentalism.
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