[ fem-uh-niz-uhm ]
/ ˈfɛm əˌnɪz əm /
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the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
(sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
Older Use. feminine character.


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Origin of feminism

1840–45; <Latin fēmina “woman” + English -ism; 1890-95 for sense of “women's movement” (from feminist, adjective); see feminine; cf. French féminisme

historical usage of feminism

See feminist.


fem·i·nist, noun, adjectivean·ti·fem·i·nism, nounpro·fem·i·nism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does feminism mean?

Feminism is a doctrine, or principle, that states women should have rights equal to those of men, especially social and political rights.

Because feminism is a doctrine, there are many different thoughts about what feminism actually means and how best to achieve the desired equality. There is no unified group of feminists with a single philosophy, but all feminists agree that women are somehow not treated equally to men and that they should be.

In the United States, from around 1848 through to 1920, feminism was generally concerned with women’s right to vote (known as women’s suffrage), notably starting at the Seneca Falls Convention.

From around 1960, feminism began to be concerned with women’s civil rights and questioned what women’s role in society should be. Scholars are divided on whether the second wave actually ended and, if so, when.

Starting in the 1990s, feminism started emphasizing electing women to political offices and majorly fighting against sexual harassment in the workplace. Many feminists at the time also questioned the notion of gender and the stereotypes of male and female societal roles and behavior.

Some scholars suggest in the early 2010s, feminists began to focus on furthering better treatment of women. This can be seen by the rapid spread of the Me Too movement.

Why is feminism important?

The first records of the word feminism come from around 1840. It is made from the Latin fēmina, meaning “woman,” and the suffix -ism, which denotes a principle or doctrine.

But women argued for equality to men much earlier than 1840. Feminism writings have been recorded as early as the 1300s and even ancient Roman women sometimes gathered to oppose discriminatory laws.

Feminism is not a monolithic movement in which all feminists share a single belief system. Even the first wave of feminism had groups with different beliefs and goals. Additionally, both the first and second waves had divisions based on class and race, and the second wave had divisions on nationality.

Even today, there are many different ideas about what feminism is and what its goals should be.

Did you know ... ?

Susan B. Anthony was a major leader of the women’s suffrage movement, and she founded the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony was the first woman to have her likeness honored on American coins thanks to a 1978 law that bears her name, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act.

What are real-life examples of feminism?

Feminism takes many forms and can be addressed from many different perspectives.

Feminism is still widely held today, and there are still people who fight against it.

What other words are related to feminism?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Feminism is the belief that women should have rights equal to men’s rights.

How to use feminism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for feminism

/ (ˈfɛmɪˌnɪzəm) /

a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women
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

Cultural definitions for feminism (1 of 2)


The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men. (See under “Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology.”)

Cultural definitions for feminism (2 of 2)


A movement for granting women political, social, and economic equality with men. (See women's movement.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.