The feminism of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton was about recognizing the equal worth of the distinctive excellences of women. In particular, they did not want women as wives and mothers to be denigrated because they were wives and mothers. Of course, they fought against the discrimination that all women faced just because they were women. But their vision was of womanhood which was greater than simply being a person, of womanhood that was (at least) as excellent and necessary to society as manhood.
Now consider the most famous sentence from Betty Friedan's great book, The Feminine Mystique:
The problem that has no name — which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities — is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.
I read The Feminine Mystique while my wife was studying for the bar exam. While she was in a class of prospective lawyers that was about equally men and women in 1985, I sat outside and read about the restrictions on educated women in 1963. I appreciated how many doors had been opened to women in between, and how far as a society we had come. It was a moving experience that, as you can see, sticks with me to this moment.
In the years since then, though, I have come to appreciate the downside of Friedan's kind of feminism. Friedan's brand of egalitarian feminism thought that treating women as different from and complementary to men would be denigrating to women, making them less than people. It is right there, I think, in the famous sentence quoted above. It is not surprising that Betty Friedan was the kind of egalitarian who saw any difference as discrimination. She was trained, after all, as a communist. In recent years, though, this Marxist vision that every one is the same (and the state will give you your equal due) has not fared well in politics both global and domestic.
First wave feminism, though, had a different vision. They saw womanhood as better than mere personhood, just as manhood was better than mere personhood. This difference feminism lives on today, though academic feminists would be more likely to cite Carol Gilligan than Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a source for their ideas. Of course men and women should be equal before the law. Of course, men and women live together in the most richly intertwined ways. To say that men and women are complementary is not to put one above the other. To say that men and women are different is not to say they should live separately, or even that they can live separately.
First wave feminism was about women as women. Second wave feminism was about women as persons. Being a woman is not less than being a person; it is more.