Generally, feminism means the advocacy of women's rights to full citizenship--that is, political, economic, and social equality with men. Feminism encompasses some widely differing views, however, including those advocating female separatism.
Modern feminism, which was born with the great democratic revolutions of the 18th century (American and French), differed from its precursors in applying the democratic implications of "the rights of man and the citizen" to women as a group. Abigail Adams asked her husband, John, to "remember the ladies" in framing the Constitution; Mary Wollstonecraft, inspired by the French Revolution, wrote the premier feminist treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, American women schooled in reform struggles began a serious fight for the rights of women to control their persons, property, and earnings and for the right to vote (see suffrage, women's). Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments established a blueprint. American women would not gain the vote until 1920, but throughout the remainder of the 19th century many feminist goals were gradually realized, especially the rights of married women to control their own property (New York State, 1848 and 1860; South Carolina, 1868; and so on).
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the women's movement primarily reflected white middle-class values and never satisfactorily answered the ex-slave Sojourner Truth's challenge: "Ain't I a woman?" The goals of black and working-class women remained inseparable from their racial and class oppression. The goals of middle-class women centered on obtaining the opportunities available to the men of their own class, such as education or reforming society as a whole. Thus some women sought to improve the position of women through temperance (see temperance movement; WCTU), social reform, and protective legislation for working women.
After women won the vote, the women's movement waned, and the first Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), introduced by Alice Paul in 1923, failed to pass.
The women's movement did not reemerge until the 1960s, when the example of the civil rights movement and the dissatisfactions of college-educated women converged. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) called national attention to women's plight. The founding (1965) of the National Organization for Women provided a focus for the struggle for women's rights. In 1973 the ERA was reintroduced. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, women have won the right to abortion and some guarantees for equal opportunity and pay in employment. During the 1980s, however, the ERA was defeated, the right to abortion came under attack, and growing numbers of women were finding the ad hoc employment measures inadequate to guarantee equality. The decline in alimony and child support, combined with the rising divorce rate, made women's rights to economic equality pressing. As Friedan's The Second Stage (1981) suggested, many feminists were also interested in building a new kind of family life.
Despite differences, most feminists seek equal economic rights; support reproductive rights, including the right to abortion; criticize traditional definitions of gender roles; and favor raising children of both genders for similar public achievements and domestic responsibilities. Many wish to reform language so that it does not equate man with humanity. Many also campaign vigorously against violence against women (wife battering, rape) and against the denigration of women in the media.

As individuals, women have participated in essentially all of the activities performed in human societies. As a group, however, women have been identified with particular roles ascribed to them by their societies. These roles have commonly been presented as naturally linked to women's physiology--childbearing and infant care. Even in societies where women have been given broader responsibilities and power, men have normally dominated formal political life. The emergence of classes, states, and major religions has universally strengthened male dominance, and the rise of capitalism has furthered this tendency.
Preliterate Cultures
In both hunting and foraging and early settled agricultural societies, women contribute directly and indispensably to subsistence, frequently controlling or collecting the essentials for survival. No known societies have entrusted any technological activities specifically to women. Although such female activities as food preparation and cooking approximate technology, men monopolize hunting, butchering, and the processing of hard materials. Kinship provides the basic social organization in preliterate societies; work is allocated according to gender and generation.
Some 19th-century scholars, notably Johann Jakob Bachofen, believed that