Equality Feminism

Feminism is a political philosophy and social movement which has spanned the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Throughout its history, the term feminism has evolved into a number of different sub-branches and taken so many different meanings. 

Equality Feminism Equality Feminism

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Table of contents

    In this article, we are going to, explore a branch of feminism named "equality feminism". First, we are going to contextualise it in the history of feminism. Then we are going to look at what equality feminists believe in and why. We are also going to briefly look at its history and we'll compare it to a branch of feminism that stands in complete opposition to it: difference feminism.

    Equality feminism definition

    Equality feminism was the dominant form of feminism during first-wave feminism and is a subsection of Liberal feminism. Equality feminism focuses on what women and men have in common and aims to achieve equality between the sexes in all aspects: economic, political and social.

    Liberalism is the political philosophy that focuses on individuals' rights and freedoms and the ability to pursue one's own life choices. The role of the state is to uphold these rights. Liberal feminism is the branch of feminism that focuses on women's rights and freedoms. Liberal feminism aims to achieve equality between women and men through legal and political reforms.

    Within liberal feminism, there's an agenda to make society, and its legislation, gender-neutral. Focusing on gender differences is seen as a barrier to equal political participation.

    Here is a parallel with the LGBTQIA+ movement's idea that removing gender identities and expectations from society would allow individuals to express themselves more freely.

    Inclusive pronouns. Language is one of humanity's most powerful tools. The English language lacks gender-neutral pronouns and therefore people who do not identify as "male" or "female" are not represented fairly by gendered pronouns (she/her/hers and he/him/his). The LGBTQIA+ movement is therefore promoting the use of inclusive pronouns (they/them) to challenge restrictive socially constructed notions of gender and represent trans and non-binary communities.

    Historical context of feminism

    All Feminist thoughts agree on the need to challenge oppressive patriarchal structures to create more equitable societies.

    However since feminism emerged in the late 18th century, it has branched off into many subsections, all pursuing their perspective of what they see as the feminist goal.

    These subsections can be broadly divided into four time periods, also referred to as "waves". Arguably, this is a simplistic metaphor, but it does help us understand the history and development of feminist thought. This is especially the case as each "wave" is a direct development of the previous one, and wouldn't have happened without it.

    Let's have a quick look at each to better understand where equality feminism fits.

    • First wave

    First-wave feminism spanned over the 19th and most of the 20th century and focused on women's rights, specifically, suffrage.

    • Second wave

    Second-wave feminism emerged in the 1960s alongside the civil rights movement and lasted up till the 1990s. It shifted the focus from women being the same as men, to women being different from men. It celebrated the feminine and treated women's experience as "universal". It focused mainly on reproductive rights.

    • Third wave

    While first-wave feminism was mostly white and middle class, Second-wave feminism included ethnic minorities and working-class representation. This crucial addition gave rise to the ideas of identity politics and intersectionality. The inclusion of these concepts led to third-wave feminism in the 1990s to 2010. Third-wave feminism rejects the idea of a "universal" female experience and, instead, welcomes and celebrates differences.

    Identity politics

    Identity politics is the approach that lets people define their own political perspective depending on their own specific identity based on ethnicity, class, religion, gender, gender expression, presence of a disability and any other identifying factor.


    Intersectionality is the perspective that includes all the aspects that make up a person's identity to understand how they see and are seen by their society. The perspective and experience of a white, upper-class, straight man are different from those of a Latina, working-class, trans-woman with a disability.

    • Fourth wave

    Emerging in 2012, fourth-wave feminism is still growing and evolving. It focuses its struggle on overcoming sexual harassment, body shaming and rape culture. Fourth-wave feminism is characterised by the use of social media and online forums as a way of coming together, sharing experiences, organising and gaining strength.

    Equality feminism theory

    Liberalism is the political philosophy that emerges from the rationalist school of thought.

    Rationalism is the school of thought that argues that all knowledge comes from thinking and logical reasoning. According to rationalism, human beings are essentially capable of reason and reaching their own conclusions about right and wrong.

    The theory of equality feminism is true to its rationalistic background. It holds that all individuals have the same capacity for reason, regardless of their sex or gender identity. Building on this, equality feminists argue that on this rationalist basis all individuals should have access to the same rights, freedoms and opportunities.

    Equality feminism history

    Equality feminism emerges from the thinking of the English liberal author and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1758-1797).

    Equality Feminism Mary Wollstonecraft- after a painting by John Opie StudySmarterFig. 1 Mary Wollstonecraft

    In her book, A Vindication of the Right of Woman1, Mary Wollstonecraft argues for the basic intellectual equality between women and men, as women and men possess the same capacity for rational thinking. Wollstonecraft said that any intellectual difference was caused by different levels of access to education, rather than anything inherent to individuals.

    These ideas rippled through Europe and the United States. About 50 years from the publication of Wollstonecraft's book, the Seneca Falls Convention took place in the United States in 1848 and started the women's suffrage movement.

    Back in England, the philosopher, economist and member of parliament John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is remembered as a prominent liberal thinker and one of the first men who wrote on feminist issues. In 1866 Mill presented to the House of Commons a petition with over 1,500 signatures in favour of women's suffrage. Though women's suffrage wasn't achieved till 1928, John Stuart Mill's action contributed to the debate that led to it. In 1869 he published The Subjection of Women2, presenting ideas he had developed with Harriet Taylor Mill. John Stuart Mill argued that society didn't know what women were capable of due to the limited opportunities available to them. He asserted that everyone should have access to the same rights on the basis of their humanity. He believed that equality between women and men would lead to the moral and intellectual advancement of everybody.

    After suffrage, another crucial advancement in the recognition of women's rights internationally was the establishment in 1946 of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The UNCSW is the United Nations organ for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It meets annually to track progress, identify ongoing issues, set international standards and set practical steps to address any failures.

    The UNCSW sets a theme each year and involves Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to learn about women's challenges and formulate solutions from the grassroots. In 2022, the themes of gender equality and the empowerment of women were coupled with the issues caused by climate change.

    Equality feminism case study

    The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was the first women's rights convention. It was organised by five women who were also active participants of the abolitionist movement. These women were: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Wright, Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt and Mary Ann M'Clintock. The Convention called for women's equality as American citizens to be constitutionally guaranteed.

    Abolitionist movement

    A movement which called for the end of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery.

    The organisers presented to the convention a Declaration of Sentiments. This was a document inspired by the American Declaration of Independence which stated that women's equality spanned all aspects of life: family, politics, jobs, education, morals and religion. The Declaration of Sentiment included their grievances and demands.

    Amongst these were women's social and financial subjugation to their husbands and their inability to vote for laws that would apply to them.

    They called for the overthrowing of the government that upheld such injustices. They demanded to be recognised as equals and to have the right to vote.

    Following debates at the convention, 100 of its members signed the Declaration of Sentiments.

    Equality Feminism List of signatures from the Declaration of Sentiments 1848 StudySmarterFig. 2 List of Signatures from the Declaration of Sentiments, 1848

    The Seneca Falls Convention led to other conventions for women's rights such as the Rochester Women's Rights Convention two weeks later in Rochester, New York. the Organisers of the Seneca Falls Convention continued campaigning for women's rights on a state and nationwide level.

    In America, women's suffrage was achieved in 1929. The Seneca Falls Convention is seen as the beginning of the struggle to get there.

    Equality feminism vs difference feminism

    Let's now compare equality feminism with a branch of feminism that stands in contrast to it: difference feminism.

    The difference between equality feminism and difference feminism is a crucial one. It has been dividing feminists for as long as the concept of feminism has existed: do we follow a philosophy based on similarities or differences?

    The core of equality feminism is to focus on what men and women have in common.

    It aspires to androgyny: men and women being equals and their roles in society and in private being equally shared.

    Androgynous: an adjective describing a person or a situation that presents both male and female characteristics in equal amounts.

    Which wave of feminism do you think difference feminism belongs to?

    Difference feminism is younger than equality feminism as it emerged in the 1980s, in line with second-wave feminism.

    Difference feminism focuses not only on promoting the differences but also on celebrating the "femininity" that has been underplayed by first-wave feminism. This celebration is a positive, active choice to balance out humanity's history of oppression and segregation of women and anything associated with the "female".

    For more information on difference feminism, check out our article on Essentialist Feminism.

    For example, Difference Feminism seeks to uplift characteristics viewed to be typically "feminine" and therefore undervalued in patriarchal societies. These could include actions of a caring, nurturing or expressive nature.

    Equality Feminism - Key takeaways

    • Equality feminism was the dominant form of feminism during first-wave feminism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
    • Equality feminism is a subsection of liberal feminism.
    • Equality feminism focuses on what women and men have in common and aims to achieve equality between the sexes in all aspects: economic, political and social.
    • The theory of equality feminism states that as women have the same capacity for reason as men, they should have access to the same rights, freedoms and opportunities.
    • The main philosophers behind equality feminism are Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill.
    • The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women of 1946 was the first body for the international promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
    • The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 is seen as the beginning of the women's suffrage movement.
    • Difference feminism, focuses on the differences between women and men and celebrates femininity rather than aspiring to equality.


    1. Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Right of Woman 1792
    2. John Stuart Mill The Subjection of Women 1869
    3. Fig. 2 List of Signatures from the Declaration of Sentiments 1848 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman%27s_Rights_Convention.jpg) by (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CKXzBSKWwAEzQT8.jpg) licenced by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://spdx.org/licenses/CC-BY-SA-4.0.html) on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Equality Feminism

    How is equality different from feminism?

    Equality is different from feminism as not all feminist schools of thought strive for it. For example, difference feminism does not want equality, instead it strives for a redefinition of gender roles according to female-only standards

    What is equality feminism?

    Equality feminism is a first-wave branch of feminism that focuses on what women and men have in common and strives for equality between the sexes.

    What is the history of equality feminism?

    Equality Feminism emerges from the liberal thinking of Mary Wollstonecraft who impinges women's rights on their capacity for rational thought. First-wave feminism, arguably ended with the achievement of women's suffrage and the beginning of the civil rights movement. this latter led to the inclusion of ethnic minority and working-class women which changed the focus of the feminist movement.

    What are different types of feminism? 

    Feminism's history can de divided into first, second, third, and fourth-wave feminism. Each is a development on the previous.

    What is the main focus of equality feminism?

    Gender equality and societies which acknowledge the similarities of all individuals, regardless of their sex. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which "wave" of feminism does equality feminism fit in?

    When did equality feminism originate?

    Which of these isn't a proponent of equality feminism?


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