It addresses social constructs of sexuality and gender issues. The answer to the question what is feminism is that it focuses mostly on gender issues and woman's rights.
Gender refers to the socially prescribed identity that an individual assumes from birth. Gender roles refer to masculine or feminine roles as society prescribes for us depending on our biological characteristics. Gender roles are extremely influential as they guide us on what to think, act, eat, drink, play, dress and relate to others. Feminism since its gradual development since the 19th century has questioned these gender roles, especially those that are detrimental to the interests of women.
For example, little boys are conditioned to play rough games and little girls with soft toys. As adults successful men are tough, aggressive and in control while successful women are physically attractive, passive and delicate. Gender defined stereotypes have been prevalent in most societies since time immemorial. Women were assigned to the role of homemakers and bound to the kitchen in total servitude to the husband. They did not have a voice in decision-making or politics. In a patriarchal society they were a commodity to be exchanged between the father and the husband.
It took a few hundred years before strong women in different societies questioned these gender roles. It was thanks to the suffragettes that women got the right to vote and take part in the political process. Elsewhere women emerged from behind the veils to be educated on par with men, take up professions hitherto male domains like defense services, engineering, journalism etc. Today they are a powerful force in social dynamics. Feminism itself is a daring path undertaken for questioning of traditional norms and customs.
Feminism touches upon a vast array of issues. Feminist theory concentrates on gender politics, power relations and sexuality. Feminist political activism commonly campaigns on issues such as reproductive rights, violence within a domestic partnership, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. Other issues explored in feminism include patriarchy, stereotyping, and objectification. Feminism as a movement is also supportive of civil Rights movement, Gay Rights movement etc.
The evolution of feminism is a long process of much churning of ideas. Beginning with the Nineteenth century, there have been three waves of feminism. The first group of feminists is called 'first-wave feminists' and ones after 1960 are called the 'second wave feminists'. The second wave consisted of Radical and Gender feminism. The latest wave is the third wave, which preaches the rights of men and equality of the sexes.
Feminism has its opponents. Feminists are derided as unfeminine, aggressive, masculine and troublemakers. Researches show that highly feminine women and masculine men are reluctant to support the role of feminists because it will threaten their gender role identities. A study by Burn et al on the other hand found that it was in fact high gender self-esteem in women and low gender self-esteem in men that was positively related to support for feminism.
The third wave feminists believe in equality of the sexes yet critics of feminism say that males are beginning to be oppressed. They object to the feminist movements efforts to break down traditional gender roles.The single parent family cannot pass down masculine and feminine roles to the children as the traditional family. Also, take the case of Radical feminism which universalizes the experience of middle class white females and fails to recognise that racial oppression for some women is sometimes more harrowing than gender discrimination.
Yet feminism is very much relevant today. One of the most obvious developments in recent pop culture has been the emergence of the rhetoric of 'girl power', a new wave of feminism. Women are encouraged to be self confident, self sufficient and tough. Film stars, pop stars, magazine articles and the rest of the media are popularizing this image of the New Age woman. In fact, as women are becoming more assertive, it has left the men confused about their gender role.