First Wave/Equality Feminism: It primarily focused on gaining the right of women's suffrage and other notions of equality. Focused on the sameness of god given rights, social and moral equality, acknowledge the existence of women's sexual desires, temperance, abolition of slavery (among Americans), abortion rights started in the early 19th century as a reaction to patriarchal social attitudes. Stuck in the cult of domesticity with women still confined primarily to the home.

Second Wave/Difference Feminism: greater focus on economic equality, partly through female admission to previously male only/dominated arenas in business, education and politics; and rights of minority women. The onus was on overcoming or addressing the differences between men and women.

Third Wave Feminism, resulting from an emphasis on the differences between men and women, the adherents of which probably would be considered “femi-nazis” by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Third Wave Feminists are seen to have a more radical feminist agenda, such as those of lesbian separatists, who saw marriage and heterosexual relations as inherently bad for women (which makes the same-sex marriage push somewhat ironic). Third wave feminists emphasize differences’ between men and women and their needs, be they emotional, psychological, physical or something else.

Post-feminism is something of a backlash against second and third wave feminist notions. The fundamental claim is that feminism is no longer valid.

In literature, Feminism can be seen in "feminist critique," which is the evaluation of writing by men to look at their depiction of women and the establishment of a relationship with women readers. Gynocritcism, not a common term, is the study of women writers and writing.

Three phases of feminist "awareness":

  1. Feminine: Protested against male standards and values, and advocated women’s rights and values, including a demand for autonomy.
  2. Feminist: Focus on plight of slighted women, showing often harsh and cruel treatment of women at hands of more powerful males. “Women wrote in an effort to equal the intellectual achievements of the male culture, and internalized its assumptions about female nature” (Showalter 137). Rejection of prior "protest" standards with a focus on imitating male standards.
  3. Female: Women reject imitation prominent during the feminine stage/phase. Emphasize developing a female understanding of female experience. The female works to uncover misogyny in male produced texts. “Women reject both imitation and protest—two forms of dependency—and turn instead to female experience as the source of an autonomous art, extending the feminist analysis of culture to the forms and techniques of literature” (Showalter 139)

Showalter, Elaine, ed. New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.