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Sylvia A. Law

In its original eighteenth-century form, liberal democratic theory did not recognize the full humanity or citizenship of either women or people of color. Nonetheless, women have mobilized liberal values and tools to build an increasingly feminist world. This chapter traces two centuries of accomplishment and failure. The chapter begins by describing liberal feminism and tracing the connections between classic liberalism and feminism in the United States from their roots in the eighteenth century to the present day. It explores the methodologies of liberal feminism, including legal reform, scholarship, cultural and societal changes, and grassroots organization. It then examines three challenges confronting liberal feminism in the twenty-first century: women’s ongoing lack of reproductive justice, pervasive sexual harassment and acute disparity in the distribution of income and opportunity. It concludes that liberal rights are essential in constructing a just society, but not by themselves sufficient to assure human flourishing and solidarity.