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Feminism History


From the early days until now, women are exploited in their daily life especially by the labor market. In this paper, we are going to see how women are exploited in the labor market. Exploitation of women is a social fact in the world, so I chose this topic because it started to be a social problem after the Second World War period and Industrial Revolution. In the Second World War, most of our women faced many problems by participating and aiding the men.

Actually, if we go back in time, we can see the gender-based division of labor typical of hunting and gathering societies. For example, most forms of farming were characterized by a distinction between ‘‘men’s work’’ and ‘‘women’s work.’’ In horticulture, the chief task for men was to clear the land. After this was done, women performed the more time-consuming tasks of planting, weeding, and harvesting. As with economies based on hunting and gathering, economies depend on horticulture were much more affiliated to the labor of women than the productive activities of men.

Men, however, took on a larger role when horticulture gave way to agriculture.

Also, in prehistory, women have always worked as hard as men to support their families and build the cultures that dominated the ancient world. During the early Stone Age, when humans first appeared and lived in hunting and gathering, most of scientists support that women did most of the gathering while men did most of the hunting. Women always took part up to now.

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Thus, women in the ancient world worked hard. They were always overwhelmingly responsible for care of children and their ill, for providing food, and clothing for the household. In addition, most women took on the duties of bringing in some income for family or working in the family businesses. These facts remained constant. What did change over time was the degree to which women’s contribution was valued: As life became more urban, women’s contribution within the home was valued less than it was when life was more rural. It was with city life that labor outside the home which brought in money as a profit was valued more than labor within the home. This shift caused women’s work to be devalued.

This devaluation began in the ancient world and continues into the present to the detriment of women without whose labors families and societies would not have survived. With the development of agriculture, societies grew larger and more complex. The increased population also permitted more specialization of labor, and women’s labor remained essential and varied. After the Agricultural Revolution, the technological and organizational changes that were the basis of some transformation have been labeled the Industrial Revolution which is first in Britain and then in many other parts of world. One of the conspicuous social changes was movement of women into paid employment in Industrial Revolution. This was not the same thing as an increase in number of ‘working women.’ Women have always worked hard up to now. The Industrial Revolution gave women new wage-earning opportunities, especially in the textile industry and the majority of the workforce was made up of young, unmarried women. Most of employers and factories benefited from women’s work, as their employment drove down the cost of labor. The Industrialization creates new opportunities for women in job creation especially in textile, clothing, and food industries.

Also, during the industrial revolution, the emergence of factories opened many doors for women in the working world. It gave them opportunities for work outside of the home, mostly in factories. During the early years of the Industrial Revolution when a multitude of factories were emerging, between the years of 1780 and 1840, women are dominated by the labor forces. Even though these women were unskilled laborers, they worked quickly and productively yet were paid half or less than half of what men received. However, in the long run it did not change the female workforce. Although the Industrial Revolution provided independent wages, mobility and a better standard of living, for the majority, factory work in the early years of the nineteenth century resulted in a life of hardship. With the Industrialization, women’s life conditions started with many difficulties. They are suffered by lots of stress and pain as a result of the conditions in which these women were working long hours, little food, crowded factories, overall unsuitable conditions.

Most of women claimed that they have to study and bring home the bacon even they have a low-paid job. At this time, the early Industrialization did not invent large numbers of jobs for women. Despite it resumed to employ large numbers of women for the production of textiles and clothing, household-based manufacture persisted important aspects of the national economy. Moreover, with the development of mechanized textile industry and other industrial enterprises, many women continued to work with long hours and low wages. Finally, the most part of women worked long hours for low wages from ancient times to date. They have faced many difficulties in their daily life in both inside and outside the home; however, I will emphasize women’s work outside the home in the labor market. In the project, we will see exploitation of women in the labor market from Marxist-Feminist perspective with the examples.


Although there are many definitions of feminism and some disagreement concerning specific definition, there is agreement on two core principles underlying any concept of feminism. First, feminism concerns equality and justice for all women, and it seeks to eliminate systems of inequality and injustice in all aspects of women’s lives. Second, feminism is inclusive and affirming of women; it celebrates women’s achievements and struggles and works to provide a positive and affirming position toward women and womanhood. Feminism is a personal perspective as well as political theory and social movements. Feminism denotes to social theories, economic ideologies, political movements, and moral philosophies aimed at bringing equality to women. Also, it refers to complex set of political ideologies used by the movement in order to advance the cause of women’s equality, to end the sexist theory, and to practice of social oppression. Feminism has been classified in different groups and issues over the history.

The first wave feminism gave rise to liberal feminists who make a struggle for the vote, access to education, and marry law reforms in the 1800s and 1900s. In the second wave feminism, we can see it with the emergence of radical feminists who protested for work and reproductive rights in the 1960s and 1970s. The third wave feminism associates with all forms of oppression (such as racism, globalization) from 1990s to date. Also, the second wave of feminism spread across the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. By 1970, women’s liberation was in the news and a part of many women’s lives. For example, feminists protested women’s magazines at the Ladies’ Home Journal sit-in and the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality featured creative protests from women in cities across the United States.

In Turkey, it has started in the Ottoman Empire in order to have right to education, right to labor, right to respectability in family, etc. in the 1870s. After these events, women’s studies improved and increased by women in the world and it has come to these days. I think, although most of societies take action about like violence, oppression, discrimination, and trafficking of women, exploitation of women cannot take care in the world. For example, most of women protest some actions like violence against women, but when it comes to the exploitation of women in labor market, there is no action in the society. In this sense, feminism is not just sexism, discrimination, oppression, etc. Feminism is having the equal rights like men and avoid from sexism, discrimination.


The existence of the term feminism or the movement it has come to represent. The term feminism comes from the French word ‘féminisme’ and was popularized by Hubertine Auclert in 1882 when she organized the first women’s suffragist society in France. However, prior to the advent of the word, there were publications that fell within the purview of feminism. Some feminists suggested that women should build their own cities, free of men, so as to avoid men’s violence and oppression. In this sense, the history of feminism is the chronological narrative of the movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. While feminists around the world have differed in causes, goals, and intentions depending on time, culture, and country; however women’s right should be considered feminist movements, even though they did not apply the term to themselves.

Also, as I mentioned before, feminism is a movement which is a collection of loosely connected groups and individuals committed to organized action, including changes in behavior and members of movements. Feminist ideas and social movements emerged in Europe, Great Britain, and the United Sates in an international context that promoted the migration of people and ideas across national boundaries. At this time, Mary Wollstonecraft has published ‘Rights of Women’ (1792) and John Stuart Mill has broadcasted ‘The Subjection of Women’ (1869). Between these times, ideas, social movements, and individual feminists migrated across land and sea for generating a powerful new context for women’s rights.

Therefore, these publications illuminate the process of this movement. Also, in Turkey At the end of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century educated women began organizing themselves as feminists within the elites of Istanbul. These feminists fought to increase women’s access to education and to work low- paid, to abolish polygamy, etc. Early feminists printed woman magazines in different languages and established different organizations for women. Also during this time the Ottoman Welfare Organization of Women was first women association which was founded in Turkey in 1908. During the turn of the century accomplished writers and politicians such as Fatma Aliye Topuz (1862-1936), Nezihe Muhiddin (1889-1958) and Halide Edip Adıvar (1884-1964) also joined the movement not only for advocating equality of Muslim women, but for women of all religions and ethnic backgrounds.


Feminism, in the most generic of definitions, is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, and organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and common interests. There are many feminists and many different theories. However, feminism can be broken up into three waves; first-wave which was seen from the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, second-wave which lasted from the early 1960’s through the late 1980’s, and the third-wave which started in the early 1990’s, and it continues through present time. In this sense, feminist history is divided into three waves.

A) First-wave Feminism

The first-wave of feminism began in the United Kingdom and the United States around the nineteenth century and lasted until the early twentieth century. It focused on gaining the right of women’s suffrage, the right to be educated, better working conditions and sexual standards. The term, ‘first-wave’ was coined after the term second-wave feminism. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. Also, it emphasized mandated inequalities; but primarily gaining women’s suffrage. In this part, some feminists suppose inequality, patriarchy, lack ok distinction between men and women. For example, one of the earliest manifestations of first-wave feminism in Europe, Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792) which was written in the wake of the French Revolution and Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’ (1949) are central to the canon as well, even though both authors were also laying the groundwork for radical second-wave feminism.

Beauvoir introduced the notion of women’s radical otherness or, rather, the cognitive and social process of “othering” women as the second sex in patriarchal societies. Finally, first-wave feminism has been clarified as socialist/Marxist feminism in workers’ unions in the United States, in reformist social-democratic parties in Europe, and during the rise of communism in the Soviet Union. Liberal and socialist/Marxist feminism shared a basic belief in equity and equal opportunities for women and men, but the latter focused particularly on working-class women and their involvement in class struggle.

B) Second-wave Feminism

The term second-wave feminism refers mostly to the radical feminism of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1990s. The second wave focused on the link between societal and cultural inequality and political inequality. This wave unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the growing self-consciousness of minority groups around the world. In this phase, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues. second-wave feminism is a period of feminist activity. This phase began with protests against the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City between 1968 -1969 in terms of women’ s beauty dominated by patriarchy and low-paying jobs. For example, there was a worldwide movement called ‘Women’s Liberation Movement’ which was seen in Europe and Turkey.

For example, most of women who work in clothing and textile factory staged a protest to these factories in terms of unhealthy working conditions, low-paid, poor sanitation, etc and it started with strike. When the police attacked to women, it broke out fire and many women died because of fire in Europe. Finally, at this stage, women’s liberation grew out of the New Left and provided alliances with socialist/Marxist feminisms in areas such as the criticism of the dual workload for women working outside as well as inside the home, the demand of equal pay for equal work, a breakdown of the gendered division of the educational system and the labor market.

C) Third-wave Feminism

The third wave began in the 1990s as a response to the perceived failures of second wave feminism. It is a more holistic approach and it seeks to fight inequality that occurs as a result of age, race, sexual orientation, economic status and education as well as gender. Third wave feminism is also known as a variety of other names including girlie feminism, lipstick feminism, and etc. Also, it currently emphasizes the concepts of globalization, post colonialism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. Third-wave feminism is tied up with the effects of globalization and the complex redistribution of power, which challenge feminist theory and politics. It also mirrors the diversification of women’s interests and perspectives and the breakdown of master stories of oppression and liberation. Finally, Third-wave feminism manifests itself in “grrl” rhetoric, which seeks to overcome the theoretical question of equity or difference and the political question of evolution or revolution, while it challenges the notion of “universal womanhood” diversity, and multiplicity in transversal in theory and politics.


Feminism, like Marxism, takes a macro approach to studying society. They argue that there is inequality between genders. Feminist sociologists argue that, on account of their sex, women experience injustices in favor of men. For Feminists, it is living in a patriarchal society that leads to inequalities for women. This means that men have tended to determine the lives of women. However, there are striking differences between feminists in their values and perspectives. These differences can be divided into three broad tendencies like Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism, and Marxist/Socialist Feminism. Also, there are other feminist ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women such as; ecofeminism, multiracial feminism, moderate feminism, etc.; but, these three main types of feminism is the most important ideologies in feminism.

1) Liberal Feminism

Liberal feminism is a form of feminism that argues that equality for women can be achieved through legal means and social reform. Liberal feminism leans towards an equality or sameness argument with men. It primarily focuses on women’s ability to show and maintain their equality through their actions and choices. Liberal feminists argue that our society holds are false belief that women are, by nature, less intellectually and physically capable than men, it tends to discriminate against women in the academy, the forum, and marketplace. Liberal feminists seek equal rights with men and believe individuals should be treated in accordance with their talents and effort etc. as opposed to characteristics of their sex. They campaign to remove any obstacle, be it political, social, legal or economical that gets in the way of women having the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Gender prejudice is based around individual ignorance.

Education is seen as a valuable tool in the battle against discrimination based around ignorance. It is possible to legislate against sexual discrimination as a way of changing individual attitudes and behavior. For example, this action came up with the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts in the 1970s in Britain. Liberal feminists also tend to support marriage as an equal partnership, and more male involvement in child care. Abortion and other reproductive rights have to do with control of one’s life choices and autonomy. Liberal feminism conceives of politics in individualistic terms and looks to reform present practices in society, rather than advocating for a wholesale revolutionary change. Feminist writers associated with this tradition include early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and second-wave feminist Betty Friedan.

2) Radical Feminism

Radical feminists believe that the main rival of women is patriarchy, which guarantees male supremacy and the subordination of women at work and in the home. Patriarchy has existed in all known human societies and, as such, pre-dates capitalist forms of gender inequality. Patriarchal relationships are considered to have paved the way for capitalist forms of economic and gender exploitation. In their view, men inflict physical and sexual violence over women and commandeer the majority of material rewards. They believe that men are able to justify their actions by persuading people. It is natural that men should be the dominant sex. For radical feminists, sexual inequality is institutionalized in society. It is not possible to achieve sexual equality through legal means or by “changing people’s attitudes”. Radical feminism advocates lesbian relationships to free themselves from men. They argue that new technology eliminates dependency on men as a means of conceiving.

This group views the oppression of women as the most fundamental form of oppression, one that cuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This is a movement intent on social change, change of rather revolutionary proportions. Some radical feminists argue that female emancipation can be achieved technologically like women being freed from childbirth. In general, radical feminists see the exploitation of women as involving both the public sphere like work and the private sphere like in the home. Finally, radical feminism locates the root cause of women’s oppression in patriarchal gender relations. In this sense, radical feminists believe that gender inequality is a result of the collective efforts of men to dominate, control, and exploit women.

3) Marxist/Socialist Feminism

Marxist/Socialist Feminists believe social class affects the life chances of women; it is a key factor in the relationship between men and women. They believe capitalism has led to amplification of conflicts between the sexes and that introducing communism would solve this. Under capitalism women are a ‘reserve army of labor’ who are excluded from crafts and exploited for free labor in the home. They believe men are socialized into exploitative roles. The phrase “socialist feminism” was increasingly used during the 1970s to describe a mixed theoretical and practical approach to achieving women’s equality. Socialist feminist theory analyzed the connection between the oppression of women and other oppression in society, such as racism and economic injustice. Socialists had fought for decades to create a more equal society that did not exploit the poor and powerless in the ways capitalism did. Like Marxism, socialist feminism recognized the oppressive structure of capitalist society. Like radical feminism, socialist feminism recognized the fundamental oppression of women in patriarchal society.

However, socialist feminists did not recognize gender and only gender as the exclusive basis of all oppression. For Marxist feminists, the concept of social class is considered to be more important than the concept of patriarchy since the latter is seen as a form of ideology that stems from class exploitation. Women are not a sex class because the only thing they have in common is their sex as an upper class woman. Women’s work and their social status are highly marginalized by their potential / actual “dual role” in modern societies (baby sitter and worker). Employers are able to exploit this dual role to pay women lower wages. Men are able to exploit this dual role by receiving “unpaid services” within the home. The main reason for women’s lower status in relation to men is the fact that they are generally economically dependent upon their male partner.


To begin with, most of women are exploited by both work inside and outside the home and this condition is not recent origin. It started with hunting and gathering societies, but they have been very active in the labor market since the Second World War period. Women are exploited by discriminating, oppressing, working, etc. and their live always face with difficulties by these causes. However, if we analyze the background of exploitation of women, it partially comes from inequality because in the contemporary world, inequality is manifest in the economic and social class which affects women more than men in the world. It still continues to increase in every part of the world because of the capitalism. In this sense, Marxist feminism emphasizes the social institutions of private property and capitalism to explain and criticize gender inequality and oppression. Private property gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political, and is the root of women’s oppression in the social context. Capitalism still alive in the society and with growth of the capitalism, exploitation of women increases continuously. Capitalism gave to women in an insignificant way.

Marxist feminists view the capitalist drive for profits as responsible for women’s second-class status and other forms of oppression such as racism or discrimination. Moreover, Marxist feminism believes that women are an exploited class in the capitalist mode of production, both by their  within families and by employers in the paid labor market and the theory indicates that men are in bourgeoisie and women are in the proletariat. Marx showed that how the working class is exploited for profit by capitalists who gain wealth by paying workers a bare minimum of the value that they produce. Marxism and feminism complement one another in many ways, as both are centrally concerned with oppression and inequality. Marxist theory states that people are oppressed by the ruling class and that production, namely capitalism, is the ruling force of society. According to feminist theory, women are oppressed by a male-driven society. Marxist feminism, the intersection of the two philosophies, calls for the dismantling of capitalism to free the proletariat and promote gender equality.

Karl Marx critiqued the capitalist power structure that oppressed the proletariat, and which also oppresses women. Marxism and feminism complement one another in many ways, as both are centrally concerned with oppression and inequality. Marxist theory states that people are oppressed by the ruling class and that production, namely capitalism, is the ruling force of society. According to feminist theory, women are oppressed by a male-driven society. Marxist feminism, the intersection of the two philosophies, calls for the dismantling of capitalism to free the proletariat and promote gender equality. Also, scholars influenced by Karl Marx have seen capitalism as an inherently exploitative system one in which capitalist workers, whose low wages do not fairly compensate them for the work that they perform. Others have taken opposite position, arguing that capitalist industrialization, although uneven in its consequences, brought about a rise in incomes and living standards for the bulk of the working population.

Furthermore, women have been always worked in the labor market, factories, marketplace, etc. They are partially seen in subordination status. The main reason for women’s lower status is relation to men is the fact that they are economically dependent upon their male partner. Sometimes women have to dependent on their male partner because men always work in a factory and marketplace and most of men seem like ‘breadwinner’. In this sense, patriarchy is an ideology that comes from male attempts to justify the economic exploitation of women and patriarchal forms of exploitation have existed in all known societies, not just capitalist ones. In addition, they argue that patriarchy predates capitalism which makes it more significant explanation of female exploitation. In some Mexican and Central American plants, women expose to pressure in order to not to become pregnant so that companies do not have to pay maternity leave.

This exploitation is in form of ‘sweatshop’ like working conditions. They give unproportional wage compared to male workers. Today, it still continues like that. For example, in Nike companies, women face to some difficulties such as low wages, poor sanitation, no break, unhealthy environment, no security. Women are mostly seen like slave and victim in every sector of market. They do not say anything because most of women want to be independent individual and make money for their family. Also, textile and food industries are mostly preferred by women even the working conditions are not convenient. According to Marx, society is broken up into two classes containing those who own the means of production (factories, tools, capital) and the laborers who are exploited to produce the items demanded by the ruling class. Marxist feminists are primarily concerned with the division of labor that keeps women in the domestic sphere and men in the workplace.

In addition to this, when women enter the workforce, they are delegated to jobs that are deemed appropriate for their gender and are usually underpaid for their work. Working-class women are clearly the most oppressed, super-exploited sector of the entire proletariat. Also, Engels said that ‘‘…These measures are not aimed at driving all women permanently out of the work force. Rather, they make women more vulnerable to increased exploitation, by driving down their place in the work force (lower wages, fewer hours, less job security, fewer holidays, and more piece work, less safety and less unionization). Thus this attack is focused on a sector of the work force whose place in the work force has traditionally been seen as marginal, but its overall effect is to exert a downward pressure on the wages and conditions of all workers’’( Engels, 2004:8).


As a conclusion, women are generally underpaid compared to men in every part of sector and working conditions; but not just labor market. Also, they expose to discrimination, pressure, sexual harassment, exploitation inside the home. They are exploited more by capitalism than male workers in the labor market. In this sense, Marxist feminist theory attempts to explain the structure of modern industrial society with special emphasis on class and labor and women workers are exploited at a higher level than male, with women of color suffering the highest degree of exploitation because of gender and race discrimination. In my point of view, exploitation of women is a social fact in our society, not only in labor market but also in other aspects of their daily life like at home. ın the contemporary world, inequality is manifest in all sectors, most of companies, factories applied to pressure to the women like pregnancy, low wages, no security. Although, Industrial Revolution gave new opportunities in terms of jobs, exploitation of women continued to expand in the world. Today, thanks to the institutions, women are more outgoing in the society, even the exploitation of women still grows up. As a final point, exploitation of women is seen like a normal action in the society, at least others are not like that. In this sense, women are not classified by their race, gender, inequality, etc.

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