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[fem-uh-nist] /ˈfɛm ə nɪst/
adjective, Sometimes, feministic
advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
an advocate of such rights.
Origin of feminist
1852 (probably in the current sense, but possibly in the sense “feminine, womanly”); < Latin fēmina “woman” + English -ist; cf. French féministe
Related forms
antifeminist, noun, adjective
antifeministic, adjective
nonfeminist, adjective, noun
profeminist, noun, adjective
unfeminist, noun
Word story
When the term feminism first entered English toward the mid-19th century, it meant “feminine qualities or character,” a sense no longer in use. (Its companion term, feminist, also entered the language around that time, but it is not certain whether it was then used to mean anything other than “feminine or womanly.”) However, toward the end of the 19th century, both feminism and feminist unambiguously took on their modern meanings related to equal rights for women. Activists of the late 19th and early 20th century, now considered to be first-wave feminists, campaigned for women’s right to vote, or suffrage, and members of the movement were known as suffragettes or, more generally, suffragists. Even though the term feminist was not widely used during this period, there also were broad-ranging efforts to advance women’s right to work outside the home, to freely enter professions, and to own property.
It wasn’t until the 1960s and '70s, in the United States, amid the sexual revolution, that the terms feminist and feminism gained widespread use. This period, considered to be the second wave of feminism, saw the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the debate over reproductive rights, and the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW). While feminists questioned and challenged their prescribed roles in society, many antifeminists viewed this movement as threatening to traditional American family values. The semantics mattered: In 1970s polling, the majority of respondents were in favor of “women’s rights,” but less supportive when the labels “feminism” or “women’s liberation” were used.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, a period emerged that was characterized as postfeminist. Though the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failed to be ratified by a sufficient number of states to become law, some people believed that many of its goals had been achieved, and they thus considered feminism passé. The June 1998 cover of Time magazine asked in dramatic bold letters, "Is Feminism Dead?” Activists of this era — also known as third-wave feminists — were more globally oriented and more inclusive of women of color, lesbians, transgender people, and other marginalized groups.
Supporters of gender equality in the early 2000s were less likely to self-identify as feminists. Some perceived the label feminist as exclusionary, misandrist, or anachronistic. However, the popularity of the word feminist may be on the rise again, as evidenced by its more open embrace by pop culture celebrities. But in a climate where women who call themselves feminists may be admired by some but singled out by others for harassment or threats of violence, we are faced with the challenge of affirming the core meaning of feminism, without its cultural and historical baggage, especially of the 20th century. Do you agree that women should have the same social, political, and economic rights as men? If you do, then you are in agreement with feminist ideals, even though you may still prefer to disavow the label. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for feminist
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • That was a feminist of a different stamp from Peter Ivanovitch.

    Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad
  • For the rest she had given herself—with reservations—to the feminist movement.

    Marriage la mode Mrs. Humphry Ward
  • Havelock the Dane, on the other hand, was by no means a feminist, but was a socialist.

  • Only recently has she been indicated as her nation's first folklorist and feminist!

    Brazilian Tales Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
  • But, feminist as she was, Lola had no sympathy with any suggestion to grant them the franchise.

    The Magnificent Montez Horace Wyndham
British Dictionary definitions for feminist


a person who advocates equal rights for women
of, relating to, or advocating feminism
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for feminist

1893, from French féministe (1872); cf. feminism. As an adjective by 1897. Womanist sometimes was tried as a native alternative.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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