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The Man Who Coined "Feminism"

Cristen Conger

Charles Fourier.
Charles Fourier.
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Fun etymological fact about feminism: a dude coined the term.*

In 1837, radical French philosopher Charles Fourier invented feminisme in writing about the indelible link between women's status and social progress ("Liberty, unless enjoyed by all, is unreal and illusory. . ." he wrote). But a true feminist Fourier was not. Though he thought 19th-century women were treated like chattel, he stopped short of rallying for complete gender equality since it didn't jive with sex differences he observed (NB: gender equality and sex differences can -- and should -- coexist beautifully).

Nor was feminisme the crux of Fourier's philosophizing. He was all about conceptualizing an agrarian, utopian society based upon a communal network of co-ops he called phalanxes (or phalanges, as in the same word referring to the bones in your hands and feet). By working together under a socialist system, Fourier envisioned "an amount of wealth tenfold greater than the present" and thus "elegance and luxury will be had by all."

And while some Fouriersm followers attempted their own phalanx-based societies, his utopian dreams would ultimately be crushed by the unstoppable forces of industrialization, which Fourier had considered a passing fancy -- unlike, ironically, feminisme.

Courtesy: Indiana University
Courtesy: Indiana University

*In September 1896, Eugenie Potonie-Pierre also claimed to have coined feminisme. It was during the 1890s that "feminism" in the sense of women-led activism for equality became a common term, migrating from France and entering the English language as early as October 1894 in a London newspaper article.


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