As a political term, ‘feminism’ was a twentieth-century invention and has only been a familiar part of everyday language since the 1960s. (‘Feminist’ was first used in the nineteenth century as a medical term to describe either the feminization of men or the masculinization of women.) In modern usage, feminism is invariably linked to the women’s movement and the attempt to advance the social role of women. Feminist ideology is defined by two basic beliefs: that women are disadvantaged because of their sex; and that this disadvantage can and should be overthrown. In this way, feminists have highlighted what they see as a political relationship between the sexes, the supremacy of men and the subjection of women in most, if not all, societies. In viewing gender divisions as ‘political’, feminists challenged a ‘mobilization of bias’ that has traditionally operated within political thought, by which generations of male thinkers, unwilling to examine the privileges and power their sex had enjoyed, had succeeded in keeping the role of women off the political agenda. Nevertheless, feminism has also been characterized by a diversity of views and political positions. The women’s movement, for instance, has pursued goals that range from the achievement of female suffrage and an increase in the number of women in elite positions in public life, to the legalization of abortion, and the ending of female circumcision.
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