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The most usually recognized starting point of

western feminism is in the eighteenth century

and, in particular, the publication, in 1792, of

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights

of Woman. This book emerged out of a number of

social and intellectual changes in the eighteenth

century: the growing assumption of the equal

rights of all individuals and what Thomas Laqueur

has described as the invention of sex in his Making

Sex (1990). From the beginning of the eighteenth

century onwards, numerous writers (including

Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin)

articulated what was to become the rallying cry

of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Equality, and

Fraternity.” Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) entirely

supported the first two of these propositions

but took issue with the idea of “fraternity.”

Her argument suggested that no society should

allow men to control the public space or to have

no knowledge of, or responsibility for, the private,

domestic sphere. Thus Wollstonecraft argued not

just for the education and public emancipation

of women, but also for the domestic education

and participation of men.

Wollstonecraft died the death of thousands of

eighteenth-century women when she gave birth

to her daughter, Mary Shelley. But her book was

recognized both before and after her death, and

was influential in what became known as the

domestication debates of the early nineteenth

century. Although her influence on writers is often

implicit rather than explicit, what Wollstonecraft

had done was to identify the social making of

gender: this made it possible for later writers

to suggest (as Simone de Beauvoir was to do in

the twentieth century) that women are “made and

not born.”

Throughout the nineteenth century, in both

Europe and the United States, women (and occasionally

men such as John Stuart Mill) questioned

the social role of women and argued for their

greater participation in the social world and

equality of education. Perhaps inevitably, in the

nineteenth quite as much as in the twentieth

century, feminism and feminist demands were

complicated by differences between women. In

Britain these differences were generally differences

of social class, while in the United States

racial and ethnic differences were to have equal


Throughout the nineteenth century, feminism,

on both sides of the Atlantic, was to constitute an

important part of social debates and the culture

which informed literature and the visual arts.

Classic liberalism, for example in Mill’s On the

Subjection of Women (1869), emphasized the importance

of the education of women: this emphasis

was hugely influential and made education, and

access to education, a consistently important part

fecundity feminism


of feminist campaigns in both the nineteenth

and the twentieth centuries. (Indeed, in the late

twentieth century this argument still continues:

the economist Amartya Sen has suggested that

the key to reducing the birth rate, and a greater

degree of economic prosperity, lies in the education

of women.) In both the United Kingdom and

the United States, white, middle-class women

campaigned for women to have access not just to

schools – which had always been allowed, if less

enthusiastically than for men – but to higher education.

By the end of the nineteenth century, this

objective had been achieved in both Britain and

the United States and a very small number of

women had begun to attend university.

Feminist campaigns for education were, however,

only part of feminist history in the nineteenth

century, and a part which was largely the

concern of middle-class women. Of equal importance

were the campaigns, often far more disruptive

and socially contentious, for the right of

women to own their own property and for a

form of sexual morality which did not take for

granted male sexual rights over women. Alongside

these campaigns – fought throughout the

West – were the struggles of working-class women

to secure rights in paid work. One of the longest

battles which has been fought by western feminists

is that for equal pay: this battle continues

into the twenty-first century. The arguments involved

have changed considerably over the past

100 years and second-wave feminism in the West

secured the greater recognition of the concept

of “equal work of equal value,” which did much

to overturn the more traditional idea of the different

(and deeply gendered) value of different

kinds of work.

A second campaign fought by feminists has a

similar historical length to battles over the rewards

of paid work. This is the campaign by

women for control over their bodies: a campaign

which first arose in the nineteenth century over

the question of the sexual double standard and

has continued into the twentieth and twenty-first

centuries in relation to issues related to new

forms of technology, notably contraception and

the new reproductive technology. In the nineteenth

century, campaigners such as Josephine

Butler succeeded in over-turning legislation which

assumed male rights of sexual access to women.

In the early twentieth century, women such as

Marie Stopes argued for women’s right to contraception

and heterosexual fulfilment. All these

debates, as much in the nineteenth century as in

the twentieth, lie within the remit of feminism

(since they imply an explicit commitment to the

rights of women), yet they are at the same time

complicated by the different politics of the

women involved. For example, Marie Stopes had

views about genetics and the reproduction of

“the race” which would nowadays be regarded

with some suspicion; other women involved in

campaigns around reproduction and sexuality

were committed to normative heterosexuality

and the social status quo.

It is thus that the history of feminism is complicated

by the diverse politics which women (and

very occasionally men) have held. In the twentieth

century, there was a very general approximation

of the coincidence of feminist and progressive

views about women and women’s emancipation

with left-wing and radical politics. Thus the rightwing,

fascist regimes of the twentieth century

(Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s

Germany) have all supported traditional views

of women and passed legislation designed to

ensure the exclusion of women from the public

world. At the same time, it is also the case that

those equally radical, although left-wing, regimes

such as that of Stalin’s Russia, while fully integrating

women into paid work (and putting in

place a social infrastructure to make this possible)

have minimized sexual difference and articulated

a model of human beings as male. This eradication

of gender difference has been widely questioned,

and feminist writing of the late twentieth

century has claimed that feminism should be

about the recognition of the female/feminine

rather than the equalization of the female/

feminine with the male.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century,

feminist writers have come to recognize that

feminism is a broad church and that the interests

of feminism cannot be easily summarized. The

great work of twentieth-century feminism, de

Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (first published in 1949

[trans. 1972]) famously argued that women are

made by society and the social world, and that

the social world which “makes” women has a

consistent tradition of misogyny. This social constructionist

view of women has been widely influential

and there was little significant challenge

to the view until the publication, in 1974, of Juliet

Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism. In this discussion

of Sigmund Freud, Mitchell argued that

feminists should re-consider the impact of biological

difference on behavior and our symbolic interpretation

of the world. The work was extremely

influential and opened up new developments

which made feminism itself more reflective.

feminism feminism


In large part this greater self-consciousness led

feminists to re-consider the relationship of feminism

to the social world and to consider, as Sheila

Rowbotham (1943– ) has done in Hidden from

History (1973), the emergence and practice of

western feminism as part of the politics of liberal

capitalism. What this view does is to shift the

claims of feminism from those of a movement

of social transformation to those of a movement of

social integration. Without for one moment denigrating

the achievements of feminism (which in

areas such as paid work, property and legal rights,

and sexual politics have been of value to all

women, regardless of class and race and ethnicity),

this argument sees feminism in wider terms and

as part of the transformation of western capitalism

to a social system based on consumption.

The history of feminism is generally divided

into the first-wave feminism which extends from

the middle of the nineteenth to the early twentieth

century, and second-wave feminism which

developed from 1970 onwards. Feminism at the

beginning of the twenty-first century is often

described as part of the “mainstream” in that

many institutional contexts demand gender equality

and policies which recognize the claims of

women and men to equal treatment. At the same

time, while institutional contexts have achieved

significant forms of recognition of the rights

of women, there remain numerous aspects of

social life where gender differences are still considerable.

Throughout the West it is still the case that

the birth of children impinges far more on the lives

of women than on the lives of men, and women

have far less involvement in political, public

power than men. These gender differences are

clearly resistant to social change, despite the fact

that, in the United Kingdom, women over the age

of thirty have had the vote since 1918, partly as a

result of the political impact of the Suffragettes –

a social movement associated with Mrs. Emmeline

Pankhurst (1858–1928) who successfully campaigned

for the enfranchisement of women.

These issues remain of consistent importance

to individual women and to those feminist groups

which campaign on specific issues related to the

situation of women. In this sense, the contemporary

history of feminism is similar to its history

in the past: as a movement its concerns are

rooted in a particular historical and social context,

even though the thread which unites all

feminist movements is that of the universal social

subordination of women. But what has become

a central part of contemporary feminism is

the acknowledgment that claims such as the

“universal subordination of women” are complicated

by the differences between women and the

part which women themselves play in determining

their own situation. Thus feminism today

recognizes the considerable degree of female

agency, with the crucial implication that this

may powerfully disrupt the idea of a single

feminist agenda. MARY EVANS


This term refers to the actual production of children.

Demographers thus distinguish between

the actual production of children and the ability

to produce children, known as fecundity. Medical

scientists do not make such a distinction, and use

the term fertility to refer to reproductive ability.

French-speaking and Spanish-speaking demographers

(like their English-speaking counterparts)

also distinguish between the potential and actual

production of children, but they reverse the

English usage of the terms. Thus French-speaking

demographers use the term fertilite´, and Spanishspeaking

demographers the term fertilidad, to refer

to reproductive ability, and fe´condite´ and fecundidad,

respectively, to refer to actual reproductive


An easily understood and interpreted method

for quantifying fertility is the crude birth rate

(CBR), that is, the number of births in a population

in a given year, per 1,000 members of the population.

It may be expressed as follows:

CBR ¼ births in the year

population at mid-year

_ 1; 000

Using data for China for 2004, the equation becomes:

CBR ¼ 15; 600; 000

1; 300; 000; 000

_ 1; 000 ¼ 12

This means that in China in 2004, there were 12

babies born for every 1,000 persons in the population.

Crude birth rates among the countries of the

world in 2004 ranged from lows of 9 in several

countries, including Austria, Germany, Bulgaria,

Poland, and Greece, to highs of 55 in Niger and 51

in Malawi. The range of crude birth rates is much

greater than that for crude death rates, which in

2004 extended from a low of 2 to a high of 29.

Lay persons tend to employ the CBR more often

than any other fertility measure, but it is not the

most accurate of the measures. Its denominator

does not really represent the population exposed

to the risk of givingbirthbecausemales,pre-puberty

females, and post-menopausal females are included.

Because of this overly inclusive denominator,

the CBR should be interpreted with caution.

feminism fertility


Demographers use more refined fertility measures,

including the general fertility rate (GFR),

age-specific fertility rates (ASFR), the total fertility

rate (TFR), the gross reproduction rate (GRR), and

the net reproduction rate (NRR). The GFR, ASFR,

and TFR are increasingly more accurate measures

of the childbearing experiences of the population.

The GRR and the NRR measure not fertility but

actual reproduction.

Demographers have developed extensive theories

of fertility. Prominent explanations include

demographic transition theory, wealth flows theory,

human ecological theory, political economic

theory, feminist theory, proximate determinants

theory, bio-social theory, relative income theory,

and diffusion theory. The view of some that demography

is void of theory is an incorrect one.

Indeed there is more theory in demography than

in most of the social sciences.

A major explanation of fertility change and dynamics

has its origins in demographic transition

theory (DTT), as first developed by Frank W.

Notestein in “Population – The Long View,” in

T. W. Schultz (ed.), Food for the World (1945), and

by W. S. Thompson in his article “Population”

(1929, American Journal of Sociology). Current versions

of DTT propose four stages of mortality

and fertility decline that occur in the process

of societal modernization. The first is the preindustrialization

era with high birth and death

rates and stable population growth. With the

onset of industrialization (see industrial society)

and modernization, the society transitions to

lower death rates, especially lower infant and

maternal mortality, but maintains high birth

rates, with the result of rapid population growth.

The next stage is characterized by decreasing

population growth due to lower birth and death

rates, which lead then to the final stage of low

and stable population growth.

DTT argues that the first stage hinges on population

survival. High fertility is necessary because

mortality is high. Thus societies tend to develop

a variety of beliefs and practices that support

high reproduction, and these are primarily centered

on the family and kinship systems. The

forces of modernization and industrialization

alter this state of near-equilibrium, and the first

effect is often a reduction in mortality. Indeed

the beginnings of mortality decline in many European

countries were stimulated not so much by

medical and public health improvements as by

a general improvement in levels of living. This

intermediate stage resulted in rapid rates of

population growth because fertility remained

high after mortality had declined. In the next

stage fertility declines also to lower levels. The

causal linkages are complex. Underlying the

global concepts of industrialization and modernization

are such determinants of fertility as

women’s participation in the labor force and

the changing role of the family. The normative,

institutional, and economic supports for the large

family become eroded, and the small family becomes

predominant. The increasing importance

of urbanization affects the family by altering its

role in production. Also, urban families meet

considerably higher demands for consumption

from their children, especially for education and


J. C. Caldwell, in “Toward a Restatement of

Demographic Transition Theory” (1976, Population

and Development Review), has called for a restatement

of demographic transition theory. His fertility

theory of wealth flows is grounded in the

assumption that the “emotional” nucleation of

the family is crucial for lower fertility. This occurs

when parents become less concerned with ancestors

and extended family relatives than they are

with their children, their children’s future, and

even the future of their children’s children. He

argues that ideally there are two types of societies;

the first is where “the economically rational

response is an indefinitely large number of children

and the second where it is childless.” But

why from an economic view would couples want

either an unlimited number of children or none

at all? Caldwell explains that it depends on the

direction of the intergenerational flows of wealth

and services. If the flows run from children to

their parents, it is entirely rational for parents

to want to have large families. In modern societies

where the flow is from parents to children,

it is rational to want small families. To say that

parents in the less developed countries are “irrational”

because they continue to have large

families is to misunderstand these societies. Caldwell

states that fertility behavior is rational in

virtually all societies irrespective of their levels

of development.

Two other prominent fertility paradigms are

based on human ecology and political economy.

The human ecological theory of fertility is a

macro-level explanation and argues that the

level of sustenance-organization complexity of a

society is negatively related with fertility. In

the first place a high fertility pattern is dysfunctional

for an increasingly complex sustenance

organization because so much of the

sustenance produced must be consumed directly

fertility fertility


by the population. High fertility should reduce

the absolute amount of uncommitted sustenance

resources thereby limiting the population’s

flexibility for adapting to environmental, technological,

and other kinds of changes and fluctuations.

Low fertility is more consonant with

the needs and requirements of an expansive

sustenance organization. More sustenance would

be available for investment back into the

system in a low-fertility population than in a

population with high fertility. Large quantities of

sustenance normally consumed by the familial

and educational institutions in a high-fertility

population would hence be available as mobile

or fluid resources in a low-fertility population.

Sustenance organization in this latter instance

would thus have the investment resources available

for increasing complexity, given requisite

changes in the environment and technology.

This leads to the hypothesis of a negative

relation between organizational complexity and


The political economy of fertility is not really a

theory of fertility per se, but an investigative

framework or “analytic perspective” for the study

of fertility, according to S. Greenhalgh in “Toward

a Political Economy of Fertility: Anthropological

Contributions” (1990, Population and Development

Review). Diverse fields of knowledge are integrated

into the political economy approach. It is a

“multileveled” approach, combining both macroand

micro-level explanations of fertility patterns

occurring in a given locale. This means that determinants

are considered and measured at

every level, including, for instance, global, international,

and national forces; political, structural,

and legal shifts; community factors; and characteristics

of the individual couple. Central to this

perspective is the appreciation of “agency and

structure,” or structuration, which refer to the

structural elements and stages that delineate the

existing choices people have, as well as the incentives

and tactics that come into play as individual

objectives are met. This framework entails

both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

A good example of a political economy approach

to fertility is Dennis P. Hogan and David I. Kertzer,

Family, Political Economy and Demographic Change

(1989), a study of Casalecchio, Italy. They tracked

one rural community over a few change-laden

decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,

using individual-level data and directed by a

life-course perspective. They touched on often

ignored historical events, such as labor and marriage

patterns, and found that fertility varies with

the social class or occupation of the individual



This term is used to describe forms of political,

economic, and social relationships found during

the Middle Ages, principally in western Europe

but also in Japan and sometimes China. It is

derived from the Latin term feodum and the

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