Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (2022)

"Feminism" is about equality of the sexes, and activism to achieve such equality for women. Not all feminist theorists have agreed about how to achieve that equality and what equality looks like. Here are some of the key writers on feminist theory, key to understanding what feminism has been all about. They are listed here in chronological order so it's easier to see the development of feminist theory.

Rachel Speght

Rachel Speght was the first woman known to have published a women's rights pamphlet in English under her own name. She was English.She was responding, from her perspective within Calvinistic theology to a tract by Joseph Swetmen which denounced women. She countered by pointing to women's worth.Her 1621 volume of poetry defended women's education.

Olympe de Gouge

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (1)

1748 - 1793
Olympe de Gouges, a playwright of some note in France at the time of the Revolution, spoke for not only herself but many of the women of France, when in 1791 she wrote and published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen. Modeled on the 1789 Declaration of the National Assembly, defining citizenship for men, this Declaration echoed the same language and extended it to women, as well. In this document, de Gouges both asserted a woman's capability to reason and make moral decisions and pointed to the feminine virtues of emotion and feeling. Woman was not simply the same as man, but she was his equal partner.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (2)

1759 - 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the most important documents in the history of women's rights. Wollstonecraft's personal life was often troubled, and her early death of childbed fever cut short her evolving ideas.

Her second daughter,​Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, was Percy Shelley's second wife and author of the book, Frankenstein.

Judith Sargent Murray

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (3)

1751 - 1820
Judith Sargent Murray, born in colonial Massachusetts and a supporter of the American Revolution, wrote on religion, women's education, and politics. She's best known for The Gleaner, and her essay on women's equality and education was published a year before Wollstonecraft's Vindication.

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Fredrika Bremer

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (4)

1801 - 1865
Frederika Bremer, a Swedish writer, was a novelist and mystic who also wrote on socialism and on feminism. She studied American culture and the position of women on her American trip in 1849 to 1851​ and wrote about her impressions after returning home. She's also known for her work for international peace.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (5)

1815 - 1902
One of the best-known of the mothers of woman suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the 1848 woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, where she insisted on leaving in a demand for the vote for women -- despite strong opposition, including from her own husband. Stanton worked closely with Susan B. Anthony, writing many of the speeches which Anthony traveled to deliver.

Anna Garlin Spencer

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (6)

1851 - 1931
Anna Garlin Spencer, nearly forgotten today, was, in her time, considered among the foremost theorists about the family and women. She published Woman's Share in Social Culture in 1913.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (7)

1860 - 1935
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote in a variety of genres, including "The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story highlighting the "rest cure" for women in the 19th century; Woman and Economics, a sociological analysis of women's place; and Herland, a feminist utopia novel.

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Sarojini Naidu

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (8)

1879 - 1949
A poet, she led a campaign to abolish purdah and was the first Indian woman president of the Indian National Congress (1925), Gandhi's political organization. After independence, she was appointed the ​governor of Uttar Pradesh. She also helped found the Women's India Association, with Annie Besant and others.

Crystal Eastman

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (9)

1881 - 1928
Crystal Eastman was a socialist feminist who worked for women's rights, civil liberties, and peace.

Her 1920 essay, Now We Can Begin, written right after the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, makes clear the economic and social foundations of her feminist theory.

Simone de Beauvoir

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (10)

1908 - 1986
Simone de Beauvoir, a novelist and essayist, was part of the existentialist circle. Her 1949 book, The Second Sex, quickly became a feminist classic, inspiring women of the 1950s and 1960s to examine their role in culture.

Betty Friedan

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (11)

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1921 - 2006
Betty Friedan combined activism and theory in her feminism. She was the author of The Feminist Mystique (1963) identifying the "problem that has no name" and the question of the educated housewife: "Is this all?" She was also the founder and first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and an ardent proponent of and organizer for the Equal Rights Amendment. She generally opposed feminists taking positions that would make it difficult for "mainstream" women and men to identify with feminism.

Gloria Steinem

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (12)

1934 -
Feminist and journalist, Gloria Steinem was a key figure in the women's movement from 1969. She founded Ms. magazine, starting in 1972. Her good looks and quick, humorous responses made her the media's favorite spokesperson for feminism, but she was often attacked by the radical elements in the women's movement for being too middle-class-oriented. She was an outspoken advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and helped found the National Women's Political Caucus.

Robin Morgan

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (13)

1941 -
Robin Morgan, feminist activist, poet, novelist, and non-fiction writer, was part of the New York Radical Women and the 1968 Miss America protest. She was an editor of Ms. Magazine from 1990 to 1993. Several of her anthologies are classics of feminism, including Sisterhood Is Powerful.

Andrea Dworkin

1946 - 2005
Andrea Dworkin, a radical feminist whose early activism including working against the Vietnam War, became a strong voice for the position that pornography is a tool by which men control, objectify, and subjugate women. With Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin helped draft a Minnesota ordinance that did not outlaw pornography but allowed victims of rape and other sexual crimes to sue pornographers for damage, under the logic that the culture created by pornography supported sexual violence against women.

Camille Paglia

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (15)

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1947 -
Camille Paglia, a feminist with a strong critique of feminism, has proposed controversial theories about the role of sadism and perversity in Western cultural art, and the "darker forces" of sexuality that she claims feminism ignores. Her more positive assessment of pornography and decadence, the relegation of feminism to political egalitarianism, and assessment that women are actually more powerful in culture than men are has put her at odds with many feminists and non-feminists.

Patricia Hill Collins

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (16)

1948 -
Patricia Hill Collins, a professor of Sociology in Maryland who was head of the African-American Studies Department at the University of Cincinnati, publishedBlack Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment.Her 1992Race, Class, and Gender,with Margaret Andersen, is a classic exploring intersectionality: the idea that different oppressions intersect, and therefore, for instance, Black women experience sexism differently than white women do, and experience racism differently from the way Black men do.Her 2004 book,Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism,explores the relationship between heterosexism and racism.

bell hooks

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (17)

1952 -
bell hooks (she does not use capitalization) writes and teaches about race, gender, class, and oppression. HerAin't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminismwas written in 1973; she finally found a publisher in 1981.

Dale Spender

1943 -
Dale Spender, an Australian feminist writer, calls herself a "fierce feminist." Her 1982 feminist classic, Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Themhighlights key women who've published their ideas, often to ridicule and abuse. Her 2013 Mothers of the Novelcontinues her efforts to raise up women of history, and analyze why it is that we largely don't know them.

Susan Faludi

Top 20 Influential Modern Feminist Theorists (18)

1959 -
Susan Faludi is a journalist who wrote Backlash:The Undeclared War against Women, 1991, which argued that feminism and women's rights were undermined by the media and corporations -- just as the previous wave of feminism lost ground to a previous version of backlash, convincing women that feminism and not inequality was the source of their frustration.


Who is the most modern feminist? ›

1/18Modern feminist icons- in pictures
  • Kathleen Hanna. ...
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. ...
  • Beyoncé ...
  • Laverne Cox. ...
  • Emma Watson. ...
  • Rupi Kaur. ...
  • Tavi Gevinson. ...
  • Malala Yousafzi. At 17 years old, the Pakistani activist for female education became the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.
8 Mar 2017

Who was the most influential feminist? ›

17 Famous Feminists That Changed Women's Rights
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an author, academic, and one of the figureheads of the women's rights movement in the mid- and late-1800s. ...
  • Rose Scott. ...
  • Simone de Beauvoir. ...
  • Grace Lee Boggs. ...
  • Gloria Steinem. ...
  • Angela Davis. ...
  • Bell Hooks. ...
  • Audre Lorde.
3 Nov 2020

What are the main feminist theories? ›

The core concepts in feminist theory are sex, gender, race, discrimination, equality, difference, and choice. There are systems and structures in place that work against individuals based on these qualities and against equality and equity.

Who is the founder of modern feminist? ›

Betty Friedan launched modern feminism, arguably the most influential and successful intellectual movement of the 20th century. Friedan's feminism emphasized career-oriented independence for women and men instead of domestic life.

What is a modern feminist? ›

Modern feminist thought still focuses on the destruction of societally expected gender norms and behaviors. It still strives for equality and justice of all people in the eyes of the law, though the strategies and subcategories may vary.

Who are the major thinkers of feminism? ›

Key figures include:
  • Simone de Beauvoir.
  • Doris Lessing.
  • Toni Morrison.
  • Cindy Sherman.
  • Octavia Butler.
  • Marina Warner.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
  • Chantal Akerman.

Who was the first woman feminist? ›

In late 14th- and early 15th-century France, the first feminist philosopher, Christine de Pisan, challenged prevailing attitudes toward women with a bold call for female education.

Who is the leader of the feminist movement? ›

Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a young mother from upstate New York, and the Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott, about 300 people—most of whom were women—attended the Seneca Falls Convention to outline a direction for the women's rights movement.

Who was the first feminist theorist? ›

Although writings that could be characterized as “feminist” or embodying the perspectives and experiences of women have appeared throughout time, the history of Western feminist theory usually begins with the works of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), one of the first feminist writers in the liberal tradition.

Who is the father of feminist theory? ›

Mary Wollstonecraft is seen by many as a founder of feminism due to her 1792 book titled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in which she argues for women's education. Charles Fourier, a utopian socialist and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word "féminisme" in 1837.

What are the 4 types of feminism? ›

Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously. There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

What are the 3 types of feminism? ›

Three main types of feminism emerged: mainstream/liberal, radical, and cultural. Mainstream feminism focused on institutional reforms, which meant reducing gender discrimination, giving women access to male-dominated spaces, and promoting equality.

Who was the first feminist writer? ›

Mary Wollstonecraft: The first feminist writer.

Who was the first feminist in America? ›

She was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founder of the 19th century feminist movement and one of the women who organized the Seneca Falls, N.Y., Women's Rights Convention of July 1848. That convention is still remembered largely because it was the first of its kind.

Why is modern feminism important? ›

Feminism benefits everyone

And one of the main aims of feminism is to take the gender roles that have been around for many years and deconstruct these to allow people to live free and empowered lives, without being tied down to 'traditional' restrictions. This will benefit both men and women.

What is 5th wave feminism? ›

The fifth wave of feminism has evolved into a multi-dimensional solution that combines the forces of politics, economics, culture, media, and sustainability to build the argument for gender equality.

Why is feminism important in the 21st century? ›

There remain too many gender-based divisions in our society and beyond. The feminist movement offers a hope that the lives of women across the world will see a change. Whilst we may have overcome our political rights in the last century, the position of women remains one of neglect, culturally and socially.

What is Judith Butler's theory? ›

JUDITH BUTLER questions the belief that certain gendered behaviors are natural, illustrating the ways that one's learned performance of gendered behavior (what we commonly associate with femininity and masculinity) is an act of sorts, a performance, one that is imposed upon us by normative heterosexuality.

What is an example of feminist theory? ›

Expanding human choice: Feminists believe that both men and women should have the freedom to develop their human interests and talents, even if those interests and talents conflict with the status quo. For example, if a woman wants to be a mechanic, she should have the right and opportunity to do so.

What is feminist theory sociology? ›

< Sociological Theory. Feminist Theory is a way of looking at the social world through the lens of gender inequality. The focus is on male and female 'power. ' Feminist theory addresses the roles women have in society and the ongoing battles women face.

Who is a feminist man? ›

A feminist man, technically, is just a man who is a feminist. But because feminism aims to challenge the power men have in society, feminist men need to do more—and different—work both internally and collaboratively in order to advance feminist ideals in support of a more just society.

What is the symbol for feminism? ›

The clenched, raised fist combined with a Venus symbol represents Feminism. It is an iconic symbol of the women's liberation movement.

Who is the most famous female in history? ›

Virgin Mary, 1st-century BC–1st-century AD. The mother of Jesus, Mary is venerated by both Christians and Muslims, and is probably the most famous woman in history.

Is Emma Watson feminist? ›

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me,” said Emma at the beginning of her speech. In the same year, Emma appeared as the cover star of Elle US issue which called her “The Fresh Face of Feminism”.

Who was the first woman activist? ›

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American writer and activist who was a leader of the women's rights movement in the U.S. during the mid- to late-19th century.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
BornNovember 12, 1815 Johnstown, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 26, 1902 (aged 86) New York City, U.S.
8 more rows

Who is a famous female activist? ›

Find out more about this dynamic group of activists, including Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Gloria Steinem, Malala Yousafzai and many more.

Who is fighting for gender equality? ›

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) is the UN agency dedicated to gender equality. The agency was established to accelerate progress on meeting women's needs across the world.

Who was the most important women's rights activist? ›

Susan B.

Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, pioneers of the Women's Rights Movement, 1891. Perhaps the most well-known women's rights activist in history, Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, to a Quaker family in Massachusetts.

What influenced feminist theory? ›

Feminist social theory has influenced and been influenced by the agendas and struggles of each of these waves. “First-wave” theorists like Mary Wollstonecraft and Susan B. Anthony were influential for their focus on how women's lack of legal rights contributed to their social demotion, exclusion, and suffering.

What is early feminist theory? ›

Early feminist theory is rooted in the humanistic form of literacy some women acquired while it was being denied to women as a sex. The struggle of the querelle was carried on by women of the higher.

What is critical feminist theory? ›

In some usages, the term critical modifies feminist theory, suggesting that all feminist theory criticizes the misogynistic view of women that characterizes society. Feminist theory, viewed in this light, is a critical theory representing the radical notion that women are people.

What is the difference between feminism and feminist theory? ›

Feminism refers to the various movements aimed at defending equal social and economic rights for women. It also consists in establishing equal opportunities for women. On the other hand, the word 'feminist' refers to a person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.

Who founded feminist Criticism? ›

Virginia Woolf is rightly considered the founder of modern feminist literary criticism. Prior to her landmark contributions to the field, in particular her feminist manifesto of literary criticism, A Room of One's Own (1929), very few works register in historical accounts of its genesis.

Who is the founder of radical feminism? ›

History. In 1967 a group called New York Radical Women was started by Carol Hanisch, Shulamith Firestone and Robin Morgan. They were a group of who were unhappy with being ignored by civil rights and antiwar groups that were led by men.

What is postmodern feminist theory? ›

Postmodern feminists seek to analyze any notions that have led to gender inequality in society. Postmodern feminists analyze these notions and attempt to promote equality of gender through critiquing logocentrism, supporting multiple discourses, deconstructing texts, and seeking to promote subjectivity.

Why is feminist theory important? ›

Feminist theory helps us better understand and address unequal and oppressive gender relations.

What is Marxist feminism theory? ›

Marxist feminism analyzes the ways in which women are exploited through capitalism and the individual ownership of private property. According to Marxist feminists, women's liberation can only be achieved by dismantling the capitalist systems in which they contend much of women's labor is uncompensated.

Who is called a feminist? ›

A feminist is someone who supports equal rights for women. If your brother objects strongly to women being paid less than men for doing the same job, he's probably a feminist. If you believe that women should have the same political, social, and economic rights as men, you are a feminist.

Is there a fourth wave of feminism? ›

Fourth-wave feminism is a feminist movement that began around 2012 and is characterized by a focus on the empowerment of women, the use of internet tools, and intersectionality. The fourth wave seeks greater gender equality by focusing on gendered norms and the marginalization of women in society.

What is the true meaning of feminism? ›

: belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.

Who is the feminist writers of the 20th century? ›

Titled “Her Story: A Century of Women Writers,” the show spotlights such literary giants as Toni Morrison, Anne Sexton, Sandra Cisneros, Ayn Rand, Jhumpa Lahiri, Marianne Moore and Jean Kerr. Collectively, the museum notes in a statement, the women represented have won every major writing prize of the 20th century.

Who are famous feminist writers? ›

Five Feminist Writers That Changed History
  • Sappho. ...
  • Mary Wollstonecraft. ...
  • Jane Austen. ...
  • Virginia Woolf. ...
  • Maya Angelou.

What is the first feminist novel? ›

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy.

Who led the first wave of feminism? ›

Some of these early activists include, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, and Dorothy Day. The first wave of feminism was primarily led by white women in the middle class, and it was not until the second wave of feminism that women of color began developing a voice.

What were 3 major events in the women's rights movement? ›

Here are just some of the many important events that happened as women gained the right to vote.
  • 1848. First Women's Rights Convention. ...
  • 1849. The First National Women's Rights Convention. ...
  • 1851. “Ain't I a woman?” ...
  • 1861-1865. The Civil War. ...
  • 1866. Formation of the American Equal Rights Association. ...
  • 1867. ...
  • 1868. ...
  • 1870.
10 Nov 2020

When was the 2nd wave of feminism? ›

The second wave feminism movement took place in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on issues of equality and discrimination. Starting initially in the United States with American women, the feminist liberation movement soon spread to other Western countries.

Is Emma Watson feminist? ›

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me,” said Emma at the beginning of her speech. In the same year, Emma appeared as the cover star of Elle US issue which called her “The Fresh Face of Feminism”.

Is Ariana Grande feminist? ›

Ariana Grande. Grande has been on the front lines of the fight against the patriarchy for years, and her contributions to feminism have largely flown under the radar.

Is Angelina Jolie a feminist? ›

Angelina Jolie Says Feminism Is About 'Equality' And 'The Freedom To Make Our Own Choices' Angelina Jolie does not believe feminism should come at the expense of men. The actress, filmmaker, and humanitarian spoke on the topic of feminism and femininity in a Q&A with perfume line Mon Guerlain.

Who is the leader of the feminist movement? ›

Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a young mother from upstate New York, and the Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott, about 300 people—most of whom were women—attended the Seneca Falls Convention to outline a direction for the women's rights movement.

What does feminism stand for? ›

So what does feminism mean to us? Quite simply, feminism is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities. It's about respecting diverse women's experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights.

What are some feminist quotes? ›

Feminism Quotes
  • “You educate a man; you educate a man. ...
  • “When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. ...
  • “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. ...
  • “I'm tough, I'm ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. ...
  • “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Why is Emma Watson so famous? ›

About Emma Watson

Emma is best known for her role as the iconic character of Hermione Granger in the globally successful “Harry Potter” films. Her performance in the first film of the series, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,” won her a Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actor.

What is a feminist hero? ›

A feminist hero is a well-rounded character, with real assets and real flaws, whose story does not revolve around a man and his wishes. She makes her own choices, good or bad. I know many definitions of the feminist hero holds that she should be a good role model for girls.

Why Angelina Jolie is a hero? ›

American actress, director, and humanitarian Angelina Jolie is a supporter of human rights and was named a Goodwill Ambassador by the UNHCR. She has spent years dedicated to improving the quality of life for people around the globe, using her immense celebrity to bring attention to important causes.

Who is known as the first feminist? ›

In late 14th- and early 15th-century France, the first feminist philosopher, Christine de Pisan, challenged prevailing attitudes toward women with a bold call for female education.

Who is the most famous female in history? ›

Virgin Mary, 1st-century BC–1st-century AD. The mother of Jesus, Mary is venerated by both Christians and Muslims, and is probably the most famous woman in history.

What is 5th wave feminism? ›

The fifth wave of feminism has evolved into a multi-dimensional solution that combines the forces of politics, economics, culture, media, and sustainability to build the argument for gender equality.


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