The Evolution of Feminism in America

Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos, 1970

“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” — Gloria Steinem

The word “feminism” has been redefined through the years by both advocates and critics. What once simply meant, “the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes,” has become a subjective and often controversial term with an abundance of varying definitions; a homonym of its own kind.

I sought out to gather unique and personal answers to the question:

What Does Feminism Mean to You?

These modern-day definitions have been crafted from years of social progress by women. Progressively larger and stronger glass ceilings have been shattered, one after another, beginning 100 years ago when women were granted the constitutional right to vote in the United States.

The timeline below highlights a selection of notable gender equality achievements in history.


With progress comes opposition. Prior to social media, political cartoons were used to mock and oppress the women fighting for equal rights.

In 1940, a video produced by Handy (Jam) Organization titled, “Easy Does It” was created to show just how “difficult” housework is for women. The video aimed to “credit” women for their hard work while perpetuating gender stereotypes and discouraging them from leaving their duties as housewives. As satirical and amusing as it may seem today, it was once a sincere attempt at flattery.

In another pop culture reference, one particular scene in the beloved 1964 film Mary Poppins depicts the mother as a negligent feminist dedicating her life to the fight for equality while her troublesome children are cared for by their numerous, short-lived nannies; in other words, it depicts the prediction of many anti-feminism advocates of its time.

More recently, social media has played an important role in the transformation of feminism. The New York Times posted a powerful online article featuring the stories of women who have experienced discrimination due to their gender:

Twitter has also been influential. Various hashtags have erupted to promote social movements, either for or against feminism.

On the left, the most frequently used words in tweets containing #Feminism, such as “social justice,” “great” and “empower,” are shown. On the right, #Fem2, popularized in 2008 by Niambi Jarvis, was intended to promote the new age of feminism, or “feminism 2.0.”

A contrasting collage below shows the words most often associated with the #WomenAgainstFeminism, which has been used to express female resistance to the movement.

In addition to anti-feminist hashtags, anti-feminist Twitter accounts, such as @MeninistTweet, have been created to serve a similar purpose as that of the pre-nineteenth amendment political cartoons.

According to a 2013 poll published by The Huffington Post, a shockingly low percentage of Americans identify as feminists:

Are men afraid of women becoming “too powerful”? Are women afraid themselves of becoming “too powerful”?

What has led to the fear of feminism?

Author Michael Kimmel discusses his personal view on feminism as a movement and equality as a necessity:

While we as a society disagree on whether or not gender equality should exist, the legacies of the women who have worked to make it possible are ours to either honor or disregard:

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.