Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist Ideals vs. Feminism Before the 20th Century

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Liberal, Conservative, and Socialist Ideals vs. Feminism before the 20th Century 

Tales from the beyond, story one: a parent binds his baby girl's feet in China, so it will not grow more than five to six inches because small feet in women are a sign of elegance; story two: a wife is burned alive in India, so she can accompany her husband in death. Are these stories? No, things like this really happened in the past. They are part of the reason that contributed to the birth of the Women's Movement in the 19th century. This movement was also known as the Feminist movement because its foundation came from feminism, an ideology that developed in the 19th century, and whose main goal was to gain equality for women. The goals of the Women's Movement in the 19th century where: to get the vote, to archive equality in property rights, access to education, access to jobs and fair pay, divorce, and children's custody. These ideals had been around for a while, but the 19th century was the perfect time for them to develop. During the 19th century, nations were going through radical changes; countries were adopting new ways of life based mainly of one of three ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. The development of one of these ideologies, and the success of feminism in a country went hand in hand, and it is by analyzing the similarities, and differences between feminism, and each of these ideologies that we can see why feminism was most successful in liberal countries. 

Moral, political, and social are the three cores of liberalism, and the ideas in each core have a very similar resemblance to the ideas the feminist movement was trying to promote in the 19th century. Liberals believe that individuals had the right to personal liberties, which included the freedom to think, talk, and worship. Feminist believe women had the right to think, to have an opinion different from that of their husband, or fathers. The faith in total freedom, and equality for the individual that liberals, and feminist shared came from their faith in education. Their theory was that if individuals were educated, then they could be trusted to make the right decisions, decisions which would then in return helped make a better society. Adam Smith, writer of "The Wealth of Nations" considered the bible of liberal economics, believed in that theory, he expressed that "each person,.., is the best judge of his or her actions and interest, an so did. If people are allowed a free hand to pursue these interests they will, and by so doing will improve the wealth of the society and the nation as a whole."(Macridis, 29) John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher and one of the most faithful promoters of feminism, also believed in that theory; he expresses that "Education would transform an essentially hedonistic society into a body of civic-minded individuals."(Macridis, 35) 

One very important arena, where liberal, and feminist ideologies concurred, was the political arena. Liberals where anti state, they placed the individual, and his or hers initiative above the state. It was John Stuart Mill, who best described this philosophy in his essay "On Liberty." According to Mill, the role of the state is to protect the individual, not to impose restrains that would decrease individual freedoms. These ideals are represented in the liberals' goals to outlaw slavery, grant freedom of press, speech, and association, and to extend the vote to everyone. Goals that the feminist movement shared, and fought for very hard. The United States was one of the liberal countries that accomplished all three of these goals, and where feminist did very well in the 19th century. Freedom of speech, press, and association was accomplished when the Constitution was written, the end of slavery was accomplished by the Civil War, and the vote took some time, but finally it was extended last to women in the beginnings of the 20th century. 

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