Feminism in the 20th Century

Feminism: The 20th Century’s Greatest Idea

Though over 100 years old, the feminist revolution is still going strong and continuing to unleash its possibilities.

The women of '76:

A century ago, an idea was about to sweep the world that would radically change society. Premised on the basic equality of human beings and rooted deeply in liberal conceptions of individuality and fair play, it challenged preconceived notions of how society should be ordered and set into motion a social revolution that is still happening today.

What was that idea? It wasn’t socialism or communism, nationalism or any other idea based upon some preexisting political or economic arrangement. No, the revolution that is still so important to us today concerns women and men and how the two halves of humanity view one another despite their biological differences. The revolution is feminism.

To be sure, the basic ideas of feminism — the notion women should enjoy the same rights and privileges as men — had been percolating in the background of Western society for some time. During the French Revolution, for instance, some of the most vehement revolutionaries were the, and in our own bid for independence, played an active role in America’s fight for freedom. Indeed, as historians of the movement are wont to tell us, women at every stage of Western public life played one crucial role or another for a long time.

Still, this active and accepted participation of women in public life was neither extensive nor anywhere near approaching real equality with men, and for another 200 years after feminine voices sang the Marseilles hymn while fighting on the barricades of revolutionary Paris, women were still largely relegated to a subservient role both at home and in public life. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, however, something truly marvelous was about to occur: full female enfranchisement as equal members of Western society.

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