the belief and aim that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men; the struggle to achieve this aim See related entries: Political views and systems, Social justice CulturefeminismThe issue of equality (= equal treatment) for women in British society first attracted national attention in the early 20th century, when the suffragettes won for women the right to vote. In the 1960s feminism (= the belief that women and men are equal in abilities and should have equal rights and opportunities) became the subject of intense debate when the women's lib (= liberation) movement encouraged women to reject their traditional supporting role and to demand equal status and equal rights with men in areas such as employment and pay.Since then, the gender gap between the sexes, though still present, has been reduced. The Equal Pay Act of 1970, for instance, made it illegal for women to be paid less than men for doing the same work, and in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act aimed to prevent either sex having an unfair advantage when applying for jobs. In the same year the Equal Opportunities Commission was set up to help people claim their rights to equal treatment and to publish research and statistics to show where improvements in opportunities for women need to be made. Women now have much better employment opportunities than formerly, though they still tend to get less well-paid jobs than men, and very few are appointed to top jobs in industry.Many people believe that there is still a long way to go before women are treated as equals in employment. In education, however, girl's and women's opportunities have improved rapidly and in public employment there are policies to increase the proportion of women employed, which is still very low at senior levels.In the US the movement that is often called the ‘first wave of feminism’ began in the mid 1800s. Susan B Anthony worked for the right to vote, Margaret Sanger wanted to provide women with the means of contraception so that they could decide whether or not to have children, and Elizabeth Blackwell, who had to fight for the chance to become a doctor, wanted women to have greater opportunities to study. Many feminists were interested in other social issues.The second wave of feminism began in the 1960s. Women like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem became associated with the fight to get equal rights and opportunities for women under the law. An important issue was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was intended to change the Constitution. Although the ERA was not passed there was progress in other areas. It became illegal for employers, schools, clubs, etc. to discriminate against women. But women still find it hard to advance beyond a certain point in their careers, the so-called glass ceiling that prevents them from having high-level jobs. Many women also face the problem of the second shift, i.e. the work that they do at home, running a household and caring for children.In the 1980s feminism became less popular in the US and there was less interest in solving the remaining problems, such as the fact that most women still earn much less than men. But American women have more opportunities than anyone thought possible 40 years ago. One of the biggest changes is in how people think. Although there is still discrimination, the principle that it should not exist is widely accepted.Feminism has brought about many changes in the English language. Many words for job titles that included ‘man’ have been replaced, for example ‘police officer’ is used instead of ‘policeman’ and ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ for ‘chairman’. ‘He’ is now rarely used to refer to a person when the person could be either a man or woman. Instead he/she, or sometimes (s)he, is preferred. The title Ms may be used for women instead of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, since, like 'Mr', it does not show whether a person is married or not. Wordfinderbias, discriminate, equal, feminism, homophobia, human right, marginalize, persecute, race, society Word Origin late 19th cent.: from French féminisme.