Bonjour, y’all! My name is Brita (pronounced bree-tuh), and I’ve been writing at the Christian feminist lifestyle blog Belle Brita for almost two years now. While I write about many topics, I most frequently offer a feminist perspective on relationships and marriage. In fact, my all-time most popular post is a satirical look at why I didn’t change my name upon marriage. I also have a popular series on Feminism 101 and Feminism FAQ. This guest post is a bit like those!
Or, as Gloria Steinem puts it, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”But getting beyond the basics of feminism can get a bit more complicated. While feminists agree on gender equality, we don’t all agree on what that looks like or how to achieve that.
These different approaches to feminism are referred to as feminist theories or feminist ideologies. Feminists often identify with more than one feminist ideology, or parts of one feminist theory and parts of another. For example, as a Christian feminist libertarian, I identify with parts of liberal feminism, radical feminism, libertarian feminism, and anarcha-feminism. And I agree with much of womanism/black feminism and transfeminism, but as a white, cisgender feminist, it’s not really my place to identify with those feminist theories.
Confused yet? It gets more confusing.
Some feminist theories are directly at odds with others… If considering the entirety of each theory’s beliefs. For example, liberal feminism and radical feminism have almost completely opposite core beliefs, and yet I subscribe to a little bit of each.
I could easily write an entire book on each feminist theory. This blog post is just an overview of a few popular feminist theories. Keep in mind my feminist knowledge is limited by both my experience and my access to resources. Thus this overview on feminist ideologies focuses on American feminism.
A Brief Overview of Selected Feminist Theories
When the average American thinks of the history of feminism or famous feminists, they are thinking of liberal feminism. According to Reference,
Liberal feminism is the belief in equality and in the fact that everyone, though particularly women in a patriarchal culture, should be allowed to live as she chooses. It is a combination of two philosophical ideologies, liberalism and feminism.
Liberalism is the belief that people should be free to live their own lives and a have a say on how the government is run. Feminism is the belief that all human beings should have equal rights and life choices and should be treated equal under the law and in society, although feminism particularly focuses on gender inequalities between men and women.
Liberal feminists work towards political and legal change. Their first major success in the United States was the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, granting women the right to vote.
Famous liberal feminists include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem. Famous liberal feminist organizations include the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Ms. Magazine.
Contrary to common belief, “radical feminism” doesn’t refer to man-hating, bra-burning feminists. (The whole bra-burning thing is a myth, for the record). According to Rational Wiki:
Radical feminism takes the point of view that society under patriarchal rules is necessarily oppressive to women and that gender is entirely a social construct made for the benefit of patriarchy. For radical feminists, true equality between the sexes can only be brought about by bringing down these social constructs of gender along with the rest of the inequality-maintaining power structure.
This is just my opinion, but I feel like radical feminism is not well-known outside of feminist circles. In fact, I can only think of one famous example of radical feminism. Radical feminists are the ones who protested the 1968 Miss America pageant, which really helped launch public awareness of the feminist movement.
Radical feminists oppose sex work, including but not limited to, prostitution and pornography. Radical feminists argue that sex work is an example of male oppression or domination over women.
Some radical feminists assert that transgender women are not real women. Feminist critics of these feminists refer to them as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. TERFs believe that the transgender movement reinforces patriarchal gender norms.
Some feminists think libertarianism is intrinsically anti-feminist. Some libertarians think feminism is intrinsically anti-libertarian. But as a feminist libertarian, I think the two philosophies can be blended, and I’m not alone! According to Wikipedia:
Classical liberal or libertarian feminism conceives of freedom as freedom from coercive interference. It holds that women, as well as men, have a right to such freedom due to their status as self-owners.
Libertarian feminists don’t trust the government to grant women equality. While the primary goal of feminists is to end all forms of oppression, libertarian feminists see government control as another form of oppression.
I’ve only just started learning about anarcha-feminism in the last few months. According to InfoShop:
Anarchism, therefore, is based on an awareness that fighting patriarchy is as important as fighting against the state or capitalism… Anarchism, like feminism, fights patriarchy and for women’s equality. Both share much common history and a concern about individual freedom, equality and dignity for members of the female sex.
Anarcha-feminists oppose marriage as an unequal institution that oppresses women. Instead, they support free love, a movement that wants to separate the state from sexual choices such as marriage and contraception.
Coined by Alice Walker, womanism is a reaction to the failure of feminism to address issues unique to black women. According to A Feminist Theory Dictionary:
Womanism addresses the racist and classist aspects of white feminism and actively opposes separatist ideologies… Womanism is unique because it does not necessarily imply any political position or value system other than the honoring of Black women’s strength and experiences.
Womanism is not so much a specific set of feminist ideals or goals, but rather both an alternative to and an expansion of feminism as a whole.
These are just a handful of the feminist theories out there. There are way more feminist ideologies that I can introduce in just a single blog post!
Do you subscribe to any single feminist theory? Is your particular brand of feminism a blend of multiple feminist theories? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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