See also: écriture féminine; feminism (movements/groups); feminist thought; parties and movements; publishing l'edition
A good working definition of feminist thought has been provided by the philosopher Michèle Le Doeuff: 'Depuis deux siècles, une féministe est une femme qui ne laisse à personne le soin de penser a sa place; de penser, tout court, et plus particulièrement de penser ce que c'est la condition féminine, ou ce qu'elle devrait être' ('For the last two hundred years, a feminist has been a woman who lets no one do her thinking for her: thinking full stop, but more especially, thinking about what women's condition is, or what it ought to be'; Le Doeuff 1989).
The number of French women fitting this definition rose steadily throughout the first half of the twentieth century, as educational and career opportunities expanded. The right to vote (granted in 1944) transformed the possibilities of the feminine condition. Economic expansion in the 1960s provided the conditions to turn the possibilities into reality. More women were taking up new roles as producers as well as consumers in the market economy, just as that economy and its culture were undergoing the radical political and philosophical critique that shaped the revolutionary events of May 1968. Women, experiencing what for many was the novelty of acting for the first time as independent economic subjects, found themselves in a cultural politics where the agenda had been set by Marx, Freud and Lacan, and the dominant discourses were those of Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. The women's groups who came together in the aftermath of the May events to form the MLF (Mouvement de Liberation des Femmes) developed within and against those radical masculine doctrines and the consciousness of the theoretical dimension of practice which is the distinctive mark of contemporary French feminism. Their activities over the subsequent years, foregrounding and challenging masculinist bias in the production of thought, and creating opportunities for women to participate fully in all areas of intellectual activity, have transformed the cultural landscape in France. In the process, they have also made a distinctive contribution to the course of feminism elsewhere in Europe and America.
For most Anglo-American feminists, who know France chiefly through the bias of humanities departments, the work of Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous (often known only partially and belatedly, through translations) are synonymous with French feminist thought. The real situation is more complex. Feminist thought nowadays operates within a multitude of disciplines: philosophy, sociology, linguistics, literature, psychoanalysis, history and politics. Within France, perceptions of the importance of different individuals and groups have varied, as intellectual fashions and emphases change. Outside France, this fashion-effect has been compounded by the inevitable distortions produced by the special interests of academic and publishing networks.
Postwar feminist thought begins, famously,