This is a philosopher's history of feminism. I didn't do historical research (I do know a little about this history). I'm going to talk mostly about ideas, and use philosophical methods to understand the issues.
Once upon a time, feminism was a pretty good idea. Women were oppressed. Women were considered inferior to men, by everyone, and were treated badly. Women were mistreated a bit like children still are. They couldn't vote, they couldn't work in most jobs, and no one expected them to have good ideas. In any disagreement between a man and a women or child, the man was presumed correct.
Men could intimidate their wife and children. And even hit them. Obedience was expected. Even the legal system was unfair. Up until 1993, some U.S. states had special exceptions in rape laws so that raping your wife wasn't a crime.
Eventually, feminism won (in the U.S. but not in Iran). Not 100%, but pretty close. Women are no longer an especially notable victim group. The situation (in the West) isn't perfect, but there are lots of other things that are worse (like the treatment of children or the "mentally ill"). The treatment of women, by society, doesn't stand out. Women are no longer oppressed, much.
Lacking oppression to criticize, feminists today complain about non-problems like the fictitious campus rape epidemic. They created this "problem" by saying if a women regrets sex later, or had one beer, then it's rape. And they put a lot of money towards encouraging females to come forward with rape accusations along those lines.
Women can vote. Women can be top executives or scientists or politicians. It's hard for feminists to find legitimate things to complain about. Women aren't being externally oppressed.
Feminists claim women are paid less for doing the same job. But they compare different jobs. For example, a women who takes time off from work to have a baby isn't offering the same services to her employer that a typical man would. 2.3 lengthy vacations (which the employer may or may not have to pay for) make her service less valuable (due to having to hire and train a part-time replacement, or other downsides). Another difference is that women, on average, put less effort into negotiating for a higher salary. In that case, a company which pays people partly according to their salary negotiation efforts would pay women less. Whether that's a good system or not, it's pretty common and is applied equally to men and to women.
Not everything is equal, but feminists don't want to address the main remaining issues. No longer are women particularly oppressed by men or by society. But women are often more passive, less persistent/tough/responsible, more emotional, worse at negotiating, worse at math, and have worse job skills. And plenty more. Why?
Some people believe women are genetically inferior (as a matter of unfortunate scientific fact, not sexism). I'm not going to argue about that topic here, but I will say I don't believe genetics are the issue. I think it's a cultural issue.
A big part of the issue is women, on average in aggregate, have different priorities than men. They put more effort towards parenting, socializing and appearance. They place a higher value on emotional sensitivity, tact and certain kinds of relationships. What feminists don't want to face is that you can't have it both ways. Neither men nor women have the magic ability to be really good at everything. Lots of women are worse at math because they put less effort into being good at math, preferring other skills instead. Lots of women have worse careers than men because they put more effort into other things besides their career. That isn't oppression, it's choice.
Another part of the issue is that women are encouraged, at a young age, primarily by their mothers, to pursue a female-appropriate lifestyle (e.g. not math). Men are also encouraged, at a young age, to pursue a male-appropriate lifestyle. Everyone is under tremendous social pressure to conform to gender roles. This is primarily from first their parents and early teachers, and then themselves and their peers. It's not enforced by the authorities, by business, by scientific leaders, by university teachers, or by men. Feminists aren't very happy with this perspective because it's not the fault or men or authorities. It's the fault of everyone pretty equally including all the women, and it hurts men too.
Women can be, and often are, oppressors of little girls. Women especially are the oppressors here because they are more often the active parents and teachers of young children. This is not compatible with feminist blame-men-as-oppressors ideology.
If a women deviates from her social role, she'll be punished socially. People won't like her or want to date and marry her. But that's basically it. There's no real oppression of women. The same thing happens to men, they're also socially punished for role deviation. That's bad in both cases, but it's not what feminism is about.
The gender roles in our culture are not equal, feminism doesn't want to take a frank look at them and how to change them. Instead, it blames men. It's criticized a lot of flaws of the male gender role. And it's had a lot of success. Men have changed, the male gender role has improved. Result? Men are now better than women. Feminism helped men improve while shielding women from the criticism that could be the source of their own progress. And feminism doesn't want to take on gender roles themselves in a serious way because it's committed to defending some amount of feminine behavior as non-bad.
Feminists want to retain lots of the female social role and then blame the consequences in reality on oppression by others. Ideas have consequences, living particular lifestyles has consequences. Women aren't paid less for being women, they are paid less for living a lifestyle that's less productive and assertive in terms of career. (There are always exceptions. Some individuals are sexist. But most people find sexism offensive and horrible.)
Feminism wants a lot of special treatment for women. Women can follow their gendered role of dressing up sexy, but then if a man follows his gendered role of how to respond to sexy outfits, he might be accused of sexual harassment. Feminists want women to have this weird hybrid of reason and femininity, in whatever way their whims decide, while men aren't allowed to do an arbitrary hybrid of reason and irrational masculinity. They don't blame the woman for initiating and participating in that gender role interaction by dressing sexy. Instead they pretty much set things up so the women has, at her whim, the choice to name you an attractive suitor she wants to date, or a harasser she wants to sue. She can do this in response to identical behavior just because of a man's appearance, with no regard for the fact that the "harasser" was just doing normal courtship behavior like everyone else, male or female.
There is also such thing as real harassment, which is different, and not especially common. Many of the worst cases I read people yelling about involve a woman encouraging lots of it, playing along in lots of ways, never being clear to stop, then complaining later. Note that statements like "omfg stop" are things women often do as part of flirting, they are not clear communications to stop. If you really want to tell a guy to stop, you need to be clearer than that. For example, use a cold tone of voice and boring repetitive language. If you say, "Stop, I do not consent, I want you to stop" in a monotone voice, several times, people are going to realize this is not in good fun. If you squeal "omfg stop, what if we get caught? no no you can't do that, omg, this is so intense" then that isn't actually telling him to stop.
Lots of women routinely say a half-hearted "no" in order to avoid responsibility (in their own minds, not in fact) for what happens next. In that context, actually saying no requires substantial clarity. Saying "no" should be a clear confrontation, if it really means "no". Many women try to avoid confrontation by saying "no" in unclear ways that won't offend anyone, then later say "well i told him no! he abused me!". If you aren't willing to say "no" in a confrontational way, you played along. Bullshit harassment claims are a big problem.
Anyway, gender roles often conflict with reason. Feminists selectively use reason to criticize when men pursue gender roles contrary to reason, but not when women do. They want men to change, but women don't have to change. This is sexist against women. Why shouldn't women make changes to improve? Why should they be told they are fine the way they are, and don't worry about changing? Feminists are now on the side of preventing the progress of women by saying women aren't ever to blame for anything bad.\
Feminism identified external oppression as the problem women face. 200 years ago, there was a lot of truth to that. There was a lot of oppression of women. Today, there isn't much oppression of women. And it turns out, oppression was never the whole problem. The female gender role has plenty of problems that have nothing to do with oppression. So feminism is trying to solve the wrong problem while actually denying the real problem exists. Feminism is now part of the problem.
The male gender role also had lots of flaws. However, feminism had a lot of success pointing out some of those flaws. So feminism managed to improve the male gender role. It still has flaws, but less so.
Big picture, the feminists complained about men and got them to reform a lot (not completely). So, feminists helped men improve. Meanwhile feminists did not help women improve. The results is men are now, on average in aggregate, better people than women. Long ago everyone sucked. Now men have improved a lot (thanks partly to helpful feminists), but women keep saying they don't need to change anything, they want reality (and men) to do all the changing to improve the lives of women. That is a big mistake.
So to summarize, feminism criticized some problems with men. Thanks to the helpful criticism, men improved. Meanwhile feminism denied women have flaws and should make any changes. Then feminism is mad that men are now better than women. (What did they expect? Criticism is helpful. Encouraging people to see themselves as helpless victims is not helpful.)
Feminism demanded more responsibility from men, and less obedience to their flawed gender role. But for women, feminism defends their irresponsible obedience to their own gender role. (With superficial exceptions like feminists often dislike makeup, which they incorrectly blame on men.)
Feminism got men to be less like assholes and reduce some other flaws. It meant to help women. This did help women some. But it helped men more. Men being assholes was worse for men than it was for women. Feminism doesn't understand.
To me, feminism seems to be more about making all people, men and women, more aware of these cultural gender roles you mentioned. To erase them, to make a more equal society where everyone can be however they like, without being looked down on.
And that's still very important, like you said. To everyone.
Despite what you claim to know, your opening is an overly simplistic summary. Philosophising without grounding is masturbation. Here are a few questions you may want to start with instead.
If women were oppressed, beaten and ignored, why did e.g. the Christian Temperance Union get anything done? Why had family law changed in women's favour by 1900? Why the Tender Years Doctrine? Why did women gain such rights, while offloading all associated responsibility on their husband, even after divorce? Why did a Patriarchy send millions of men to be shot, bombed and gassed in the trenches, while women sat at home shaming men with White Feathers of Cowardice? Why does a society of never ending Patriarchy award the vote to women barely 20 years (on average) after giving it to men? What reasons did female writers and activists have for opposing suffrage, and why did it involve military service? Why was the militant pro-war side of feminism swept under the rug, what arguments did they use? And why did Geraldine Doyle, considered by some to be the role model for the iconic "We Can Do It" poster leave her job 3 weeks in, making a choice none of her male colleagues had?
Here's one possible answer. History sucked for 99% of the people in it, inequality was mainly class-based, and elite women who wanted it acquired power. Traditional gender roles were set up to protect and shelter women from a world full of disease and crime, one which men were expected to man up and deal with. History shows women got what they asked for, way before there was such a thing as feminism. The things feminists like to take credit for were only enabled by significant medical and technological changes. Childbirth stopped being a significant health risk. Contraception freed unwilling women from motherhood. Maintaining a household went from back breaking labour to a life of leisure, with plumbed and powered appliances. Populations urbanized, services were socialized, society became safer and nicer. Suddenly women, as a group, wanted to have more of an active role in politics and economy, now that the state would take care of them, rather than directing a husband to take on all the risk and provide them with a guaranteed income.
According to some, this view is misogyny. Apparently we're supposed to believe that women have been useless, worthless, thoughtless objects for millennia instead.
You make a pretty bad impression by insulting me for not already sharing your non-standard view before you told it to me, and providing no links.
I'm also pretty unclear on what you think my position is, or what you think specifically contradicts it. Parts of what you say seem OK to me. I'm glad to hear thoughts that aren't orthodox left-wing.
I do agree with you that, "History sucked for 99% of the people in it". I'm not some kind of feminist crusader. But I don't think, "elite women who wanted it acquired power" is a fair statement. So many more men than women had powerful positions in history. Are you saying it's because lots of men wanted power but few women did? (I doubt that's a full explanation. But even if that were true, wouldn't it indicate women having upbringings that teach them more passivity and dependence than men?)
Liberalism was having a big effect by 1800, so it's no surprise to me for there to be some women-favorable law by 1900. If you thought I was giving 1960's U.S. feminists credit for much of anything, that's not what I meant.
Yes women have always gotten a better deal in some ways like not going to war much.
But I think women never liked being raped by their husbands. I don't think it was medicine or technology that changed the rules for that. Women as a group, or individually, did not get everything they wanted all the time throughout history. (Neither did men.)
In my view: gendered social roles were not designed by a man, let alone a sexist man. They evolved as anti-rational memes, controlled by no one in particular. They are awful for everyone involved. By happenstance, they are worse for women (still, to this day). Why? Because women are taught more passivity and irresponsibility as children. Women are taught to aim lower, and satisfy themselves with social and family stuff, and less power. Men are taught to take more initiative, be more confident and controlling when dealing with the world, be more responsible for what happens, stuff like that. Men more often learn skills and participate in human progress.
and tell me again that history sucked for everyone and women weren't substantially more mistreated than men.
And don't think it is evidence of women being more mistreated than men. All people through out history have faced adversity. One anecdote is not evidence that there is some worldwide, time wide conspiracy to keep women barefoot and pregnant.
"One anecdote is not evidence that there is some worldwide, time wide conspiracy to keep women barefoot and pregnant."
But, Elliot said:
"They evolved as anti-rational memes, controlled by no one in particular. They are awful for everyone involved."
A conspiracy involves some people (person) in particular.