A vast amount of confusion surrounds the preferred terminology used by contemporary feminisms when encapsulating the complete definition of each feminist theory. Usage of modifiers such as anti-, post-, postmodern, and so forth do not provide clear definitions of the theory behind their feminism and leave much room for interchangeability.
With the third wave of feminism, the idea has been popularized that there is more than one way to be a feminist, and importantly, more than one way to be a woman. Feminisms are now incorporating all aspects of identity, including race, class, gender, religion, political affiliation, and more.
Understandably, it is difficult to condense every important detail from each of these areas of feminism into short, neat descriptions. Additionally, incorporating every form of feminism in any work is impossible, so it should be said that the areas of feminism selected were not meant to marginalize other aspects of feminism, but are instead used to create a conversation about empowering women and oneself by looking at some diverse areas of feminism.
Types of Feminism:
This form of feminism can be traced to Thomas Gramstead and his making sense of Ayn Rand’s connections of heroism with the then modern idea of feminist ideology, and again reinforced by Gloria Steinem’s encouragement of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon. This particular branch examines female physical gallantry or valor and this connection to gender equality with an emphasis on the image of women with particular abilities in the field of athletics. Simply put, there is an encouraged focus on the build of women in society and how that demonstrates their capabilities.
Photo of Ayn Rand. Roger Wolfe. Flickr.
A focus is placed on the consolidation of anarchy and feminism. Patriarchy is regarded as a form on involuntary coercion in a hierarchy which should be torn down in order to create a “decentralized free association.” In essence, anarchy is viewed as inherently feminist in nature, agreed upon by feminists such as L. Susan Brown.
This form promotes feminism within Atheism, conjuring the idea that the vast majority of religions and religious institutions can be traced back as a main source of female oppression. Ernestine Rose is the first to be noted as a feminist who incorporated the ideas of feminism and atheism in order to establish equality and human rights for all.
Black feminism notes the inevitability of sexism, classism, and racism as institutions tied together, noting the idea of intersectionality and identities intersect in a fashion that is used to challenge oppressions especially linked to race and specific intensity of oppression associated with race. Alice Walker is a significant figure in this form of feminism, especially with her idea of Womanism, looking at the social struggles that elevated levels of oppression and the reality of these struggles specific to one’s identity.
Photo of Alice Walker. 2013. Southbank Centre. Flickr.
Set of theories utilized for specifically Mexican American, Chicana, and Hispanic women in the United States and examining their roles in terms of a historical, social, political and economic context. In a historical context, these women faced a male kinship that was particularly discriminatory and relegated them to positions of a “weaker sex,” stating that their performance outside of the home would be impossible. This form of feminism comes from a worry about not being a part of “La Familia,” the family, and no specific interest in their racial issues from the majority of feminists during the 20th century.
Uses the spirituality of Christianity in order to form an understanding of equality among men and women through morality and in a social structure. Christian feminists focus their energies on male dominance throughout the religion, spiritual abilities being equal amongst women and men, structures of marriage, and a search for existence of feminine divine power, all while recognizing that God does not discriminate against people of particular characteristics such as gender and race.
Focus is placed more on the physical differences between men and women and the idea that there is a particular need to consider that men and women are different beings all while being morally equal. Women like Carol Gilligan promoted the idea of reverse gender polarity in which through sex differences, women are considered the dominant sex and men as the inferior sex, debunking ideas instituted by philosophers such as Aristotle. Other ideas deriving from difference feminism are fractional gender complementarity, women and men come together to make one complete whole, and Integral gender complementarity, women and men are whole, integral beings and come together in order to create something that “exceeds the sum of their parts.”
Photo of Carol Gilligan. 2013. Manhattan College. Flickr.
A connection is made in this movement between feminism and ecology. Françoise d’Eaubonne is credited for coining Ecofeminism in 1974. Examining the historical oppression of the environment and that of women, the two connections are drawn and seen to show the exploitations and domination of the two groups as seen in our patriarchal society. Vandana Shiva makes that assertion that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth.” Additionally, ecofeminists look at the patriarchy and how it chooses to assert dominance through binary oppositions including human/animal, spirit/matter, heaven/earth, white/non-white, and many more.
A particular submovement that has been supported by great women such as Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This type of feminism goes against some of the ideas associated with difference feminism in that it emphasizes the compelling similarities amongst women and men. Equality feminists note that while women and men are anatomically and biologically different beings, they are produced with inheritance from that of a mother and father, thus there is a certain androgyny that must be considered, showing that women and men are truly equal beings and should be treated as such.
Fat Positive Feminism
These feminists highlight critical ideas set aside in culture and society where people look at, specifically, women as disadvantaged in areas of economics, education, social abilities, and physical abilities simply because of their weight. This form of feminism looks not at needing to lose weight, but rather endorsing body acceptance for all women in all shapes and sizes, so size discrimination is particularly oppressive and thus needs to be removed.
Almost self-explanatory, global feminism centers on asserting women’s rights on a global scale. Adopting a historical feminist lens after the effects of colonialism, this group of feminism works to break down patriarchal structures on a global level. A close eye is also placed on the migrant mother and struggles that she might face through oppression and public and private spheres of labor.
This form of feminism takes a look self-identified feminists, specifically those born after 1964, who bring together feminists issues and ideologies and incorporate them with certain hip-hop sensitivities. Hip-hop feminism meshes together ideals from black feminism as well as the overall third-wave of feminism, but none the less creating its own space considering issues related to women in the hip-hop generation. A heavy recognition is placed on culture and how it allows for specific political changes and challenges.
An emphasis is placed on the individual, their mind and body, in this form of feminism. Women are encouraged to take total responsibility for their lives in order to alter legal systems in such a way that class privileges and gender privileges are abolished. Thus, the government is to have no say in decisions made about bodies, rather those individuals are expected to make decisions for themselves because government involvement model a patriarchal society.
Taking a certain interest in women in Islam, Islamic Feminism highlights gender equality for all Muslims, contributing to global feminist perspectives. Certain goals that are emphasized in this form of Feminism are equality for all genders, social justice, and women’s rights. Several Muslim female leaders in Muslim majorities have been produced, showing great strides in this area of feminism, including Benzair Bhutto of Pakistan, Mame Madior Boye of Senegal, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and various others.
Another religious based feminism, Jewish feminism, yearns to repair religious, legal, and social status for women in Judaism. Reforms in this particular feminism include religious experience opportunities as well as areas of leadership. Specific criticisms of the Jewish religion truly helped to frame the inequalities of Judaism including “The Unfreedom of Jewish Women” by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, and “The Jew Who Wasn’t There: Halacha and the Jewish Woman” by Rachel Adler. Feminists issues focus on Reform Judaism and problems arising from inclusion of women in religious practices, ability to initiate divorce, and the ability for women to act as witnesses to name a few.
While a fairly westernized form of feminism, lesbian feminism looks at the status and place of lesbian women in a societal context and approaches the idea of heteronormativity in a negative light and shows how it is oppressive and demeaning. Feminism has often been confused as a Lesbian Feminism, but assuredly being as lesbian and a feminist is not inherent. Lesbian feminism derives from a particular exasperation with the second wave of feminism as well as the gay liberation movement.
More of an individualist style of feminism, liberal feminism essentially focuses on women’s abilities in order to maintain their equality by utilizing their own choices and behaviors. One particular idea that liberal feminists believe is that society has the preconceived idea that women lack intellectual and physical abilities that men possess. A common thought amongst liberal feminists is that “female subordination is rooted in a set of customary and legal constraints that blocks women’s entrance to and success in the so-called public world,” so their work is politically and legally based to show equality of men and women.
This particular form of feminism embodies the idea of “femininity” as a form of empowerment while incorporating the sexual power that women possess and connecting these two main concepts with the overarching idea of feminism. Transforming the idea of the “ugly feminist,” lipstick feminism used what had formerly been seen as demeaning or disempowering in a way that could be advantageous and a way to empower women, such as make-up and traditionally “feminine” articles of clothing. Much debate arises in this form of feminism saying that embracing sexuality was objectifying women, but lipstick feminists assure that their sexuality is used to create a social power and dominate in interpersonal relations of men and women.
Capitalistic and Patriarchal societies are highlighted in this form of feminism as the root causes for oppression for women. Rather than overthrowing institutions, material feminism vie for social change, and feminists like Jennifer Wicke explicitly argue form altered social order and removal of gender hierarchies. Arguments are made that all forms of material conditions actively participate in social productions of gender. Additionally, material feminists look at women and men across all backgrounds of races and ethnicities and shine light on the idea that low socioeconomic status subordinates individuals to insignificant levels in society through an imbalance in power and which those who were previously privileged will always remain privileged.
Marxist feminists build connections between our capitalist society and the gender inequality that we live in. They see private property and gender oppression as mutually dependent. Deriving from Karl Marx’s theories, heavy focus lies on connecting the Marxist idea of class oppression with gender oppression and essentially focusing on private property as the idea that is oppressing women and seeing that capitalist societies use sexist principles to encourage working class men which in turn negatively impacts women.
Combines principles of Lipstick feminism, that of embracing femininity in a manner that creates equality between women and men, as well as generally describing any recent indications of feminist activist. For the most part, Neofeminism is used as a way to differentiate between the suffragist efforts in the first wave of feminism from that of efforts made in the second wave of feminism and beyond. Important theorists extending from this form of feminism are Luce Irigaray and Céline T. Léon.
Photo of Luce Irigaray. 2011. Komunitas Salihara. Flickr.
This particularly philosophical approach to feminism really hones in on women complimenting men and vice versa. While using aspects of difference feminism, new feminism understands difference with perspectives and strengths of women and men but really promoting that these differences are merely biological and not cultural, thus equal worth and respectability should be shared by all people.
Recognizing that most feminisms work with Westernized women’s issues, postcolonial feminism looks at the postcolonial world and how racism ties in with issues surrounding economic and cultural effects of colonialism and in turn how that impacts non-white, non-Westernized women. Postcolonial feminism began as a critique with feminist theories throughout developed countries and how their universal ideas were marginalizing certain women and that certain countries outside of Western countries were not being adamantly or even accurately represented.
Postmodern Feminism is a general overarching term that has been defined in certain contexts as a way to describe changes, developments, patterns, and strides which have and are taking place throughout fields such as literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy, etc. from around the 1940s/1950s and on. Judith Butler has been noted as a woman from postmodern feminism and her claims about social constructions and looking at how gender, even though it might be socially constructed, it is not always constructed in the same way. Thus, the argument remains that the subordination and oppression of women having no singular cause or solution therefore there is not just one single path to the solution of this problem, so postmodern shows that multiple paths are working towards the ultimate goal of equality. However, it is noted that even Butler agreed that the term is quite vague and confounding.
Aligning beliefs with post-structuralist thought, post-structural feminism asserts “the contingent and discursive nature of all identities,” so the emphasis then lies on social constructions of gender and its subjective nature. This category is vital from its contributions that there is no single way to be a ‘woman,’ and the idea of intersectionality was truly introduced, the intersection of various identities such as race, ethnicity, class, sex, age, ability, and many more. This area of feminism takes an analytical approach to bringing forth equality and looks at literary analyses, socio-culture critiques, and explorations of certain relationships such as language, sociology, and the subjective nature of power-relations and their seemingly inevitable impact on gender. The patriarchy is analyzed through the subjectivity of knowledge based on its solely male construction and male assertion and female exclusion in knowledge acquisition processes. We see names such as Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak contributing heavily to this area of feminism.
An extremely controversial group of feminists are the pro-life feminists or sometimes called anti-abortion feminists. This group of “feminists” believe that principles benefiting them call for their support of the right to life for prenatal humans. In essence, abortion is seen to impair women more than it boosts their empowerment. Majority of feminists outside of this group would assert that a woman has the right to her own body and should be able to assert control whenever she feels the need. Pro-Life feminists feel that abortions would in turn limit respect for women in areas such as citizenship, and thus their efforts are pro-mother and being empowered by this preconceived idea that women should be mothers. Pro-life feminists have failed to align their feminism with mainstream feminisms, so they tack on their involvement with generic pro-life groups in order to promote their beliefs.
This view of feminism takes the patriarchy and views it as a system of power in which societal relations are all derived from male supremacy and in turn inherently oppressing women. Thus, the patriarchy is a system that must be abolished and challenged in which standard gender roles are confronted and the idea of women’s oppression is not accepted and there is a pivotal need for radical reordering and restructuring of society. While radical feminists will consider ideas of legal system based oppressions, much like liberal feminism, and class based conflicts, as seen in Marxist feminism, the main location for oppression is found in patriarchal gender relations. In theory, women are seen as “other” in comparison to men and through such ideas, have been systematically marginalized in their respective communities and throughout society and culture, but men are benefiting from this oppression creating a one party dominance that is not tolerable. Radical feminists include women like Andrea Dworkin, Monique Wittig, Mary Daly, Jill Johnston, and many more.
A form of radical feminism in which opposition and attacks on the patriarchy are thought to best be left to women instead of men, where men are seen to not possess many abilities in order to make positive contributions in feminism and feminist movements. An intriguing description of Separatist feminism is made by Marily Frye in which she describes this feminism as “separation of various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and activities that are male-defined, male-dominated, and operating for the benefit of males and the maintenance of male privilege—this separation being initiated or maintained, at will, by women.” Divisions made by separatist feminists are amongst categories such as heterosexual, lesbian, and radical separatist feminisms. Community projects have been established in which separatist feminists literally separate themselves and move to rural suburban communities in order to avoid mainstream society and work together to fight against the oppression.
Sometimes referred to as sexually liberal feminism or pro-sex feminism, sex-positive feminism connects sexual freedom with women’s freedom. Thus, legal/political or social efforts that attempt to restrain sexual activities that occur between adults giving proper consent are strongly opposed. The patriarchy is seen as a device that limits sexual expression for those of all genders, so sex-positive feminists fight to make sure that anyone and everyone that wants to engage in sexual activities should have the opportunities to do so and be able to openly express their sexuality. Women however are not seen as a commodity to be “earned” or “obtained” or “taken,” but rather sex should be mutually fulfilling between one person and their partner(s) and all social stigmas related to gender based sexuality, such as slut shaming, should be removed. Thus, women should be able to openly express their sexual nature if they desire and not be chastised or humiliated for their activity or lack thereof—sex is seen as an open opportunity, not a means of shaming one sex and uplifting another.
Through this form of feminism, socialist feminists center on the public and private spheres of influence, specifically in a woman’s life, and argue that liberation in general can and will be achieved through removal and cultural and economic based oppression. Socialist feminism incorporates Marxist feminism’s idea that capitalism is oppressive and radical feminism’s idea of gender related oppression developing from the patriarchy. Socialist feminists note that women cannot achieve equality because of their financial dependence of men and this encouraged through the patriarchy, and importantly, capitalism. Through capitalism, men rule women via an unbalanced control of wealth. As stated by the Socialist Party USA, “Socialist feminism confronts the common root of sexism, racism and classism: the determination of a life of oppression or privilege based on accidents of birth or circumstances. Socialist feminism is an inclusive way of creating social change. We value synthesis and cooperation rather than conflict and competition.
Originally defined by Robert Hill, transfeminism integrates applications of transgender discourses with feminist discourses and vice versa—all for the common goal of liberation. Transfeminism is specifically for transgendered and transsexual people but still being applicable to all types of women, and those of other genders/biological sexes. Transfeminism notes that transgendered and transsexual people have a unique experience, much like that of women of color, lesbians, and working class men, thus their feminism is expected to be recognized for its unique take on feminism. Key feminists coming from this submovement are Kate Bornstein, Sandy Stone, Julia Searano, and Krista Scott-Dixon.
Photo of Laverne Cox. 2013. University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). Flickr.
Crucial differentiations are made between international and transnational conceptions, but of course transnational being emphasized. This form of feminism concentrates on ideas such as race, gender, nationhood, sexuality as well as economic exploitation all across a worldwide scale in the specific framework of global capitalism. Not only does transnational feminism involve itself with liberation, but also considering connection to colonialism, racism and imperialism. Ideas such as sisterhood and global sisterhood which treat all women’s experiences as the same, are rejected and more productive foundations are built in order to assist women across all borders and from all culture backgrounds.