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I am a junior in college and I am writing a thesis paper on the elements of feminism in the poem, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." However, I don't really know the status of women during the middle ages and I was wondering if you could tell me if the first women's movement occurred in the U.S. in the late 1800's, or was there an earlier movement in England? My thesis is based on the fact that although feminism is a relatively new idea, traces of early feminist thought can be seen in older works of literature. Thus, to further support my thesis, I would like a time frame reference. Thanks for all your help!

Thanks for your note. In the United States, the women's movement really began to organize itself in the middle of the 1800s--much of this work grew out of the abolitionist movement and therefore, their overarching goals became to abolish slavery and get women the vote. The fight for the latter was greatly inspired by the suffrage movement in England. (There is actually a great book and documentary about the latter called "Shoulder to Shoulder".) However, it was also inspired by Native American communities--which actually presented a model for equality. In Europe, feminism was visible in Mary Wolstonecrafts "Vindication of the Rights of Women", which was written in the late 1700s as well as in Christine de Pizan's "The City of Ladies", who was written in France in the 1600s. So you are correct that feminism is not solely a contemporary term.

I hope that helps -- good luck.


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