Feminism since its inception in the mid-1800s has branched into many movements, all of which identify themselves as ‘feminist,’ but vary in their philosophical perspectives.
- Cultural Feminism
This theory believes that there is a distinctive ‘male culture’ and a ‘female culture,’ which are different largely due to the differing biology of men and women, and they manifest in differing social behaviors. So for e.g. cultural feminists see nurturing and caring to be more of ‘female culture,’ than ‘male culture,’ and this they recognize as being intrinsic to the process of being female. Cultural feminists also believe that the contributions of ‘female culture,’ such as child care, domestic work etc. have been disregarded and greatly devalued in society, largely because they are unpaid. They also believe that social systems have evolved along lines of ‘male culture,’ and include traits like competition and aggression, and so they tend to isolate women. The focus of cultural feminists is to have ‘women’s work’ – particularly in the domestic care and child care arena recognized as economically and socially productive. And to change the work place environment outside the domestic realm to incorporate more ‘female culture’ and make it accessible to women.
- Liberal Feminism
Liberal Feminism has a perspective that is diametrically opposite to that of cultural feminism. They believe that the differences in male and female social behavior are not so much because of biology but because of how their environment conditions them to be. They believe that gender identity and behavior are cultural constructs, products of the discrepancies in the legal and social opportunities available to men and women, and of the differences in how gender norms for behavior, choices, expectations, etc are set by society for girls and boys, and men and women. The focus of liberal feminists therefore is on creating a completely level playing field for the genders in terms of legal and social systems, and gender norms and gender socializations for that is what they believe is the key to the gender equality.
- Socialist (Marxist) Feminism
This theory recognizes that in addition to gender discrimination, there are many other social venues for discrimination, such as race, class, education, sexual orientation and economics. And they believe that each category of discrimination compounds a woman’s experience of gender discrimination. So for example a poor, uneducated black American woman would be three times more disadvantaged than a wealthy, educated white American woman. So the Socialist Feminist perspective is that for there to be total gender equity all forms of discrimination in society will have to be simultaneously addressed.
- Radical Feminism
It believes that a dominating patriarchy is the primary form of female oppression in society, regardless of class, color and economics. The control that men have had over women is largely through brute, physical force. The focus of Radical Feminists is largely on the violence that women suffer, and their social subjugation through violent behavior inflicted by men. And they believe that this is what keeps women oppressed whether they are rich or poor, black or white, educated or illiterate. The focus of Radical feminism is therefore on fighting gender related violence.
- Womanism (Woman of Color Feminism)
This is the feminist movement of the women of color. It started in the U.S. and includes black, Hispanic and Asian-American women. Womanists believe that is it not men who are their primary oppressors but a white, racist society. And that men of color suffer from this racial and related class discrimination, just as much as they do as women. They do recognize the oppression of colored women by colored men, but they believe that this is a result of the indignity the colored man suffers. So the focus of the Womanist movement has been on joining hands with their colored brothers to fight for racial equality.
- Anarcha-Feminism (Anarchist Feminism)
This theory believes that the domination of the patriarchy is the inadvertent result of a larger societal thinking that fosters a hierarchical set-up of society. So the focus of Anarcha-feminists is the fight against the state and the dismantling of a hierarchical governance, for that they believe is the only road to equality of genders and all other social stratas.
Ecofeminists believe that it is the patriarchal system that causes the oppression of both women and the environment. This involves ‘ownership,’ ruthless destruction and exploitation for men’s own profit and pleasure. Ecofeminists argue that men in power are able to take advantage of both women and the environment because they see them passive and helpless. Some ecofeminists also argue that besides a common history of exploitation by men, women and the environment also share a deep connectivity because of their common capacity to produce, nurture and sustain. So ecofeminists believe that to end gender injustice, it is important to protect and honor the earth and its environment.
- Post-Colonial Feminism (Third World Feminism)
This form of feminism emerged in third world countries that had earlier been colonized by European countries. These feminists are of the opinion that the racial and economic oppression their countries were subjected to as colonies is what marginalized women in the postcolonial societies. They generally reject Radical and Liberal Feminism, and do not accept the notion that the traditional patriarchy in their respective countries are the main cause for women’s oppression. Postcolonial feminists have objected to western standards of modernization and empowerment of women in their countries and believe that they have to work for gender equality within the logic of their own cultural models.
- Post-Modern Feminism (French Feminism)
The fundamental argument of this branch of feminism is that there is not one unique, absolute definition for gender – neither biologically nor socially but that gender is a variant constructed through language. They believe that a dualistic vision of gender creates a constrictive dichotomy which in itself becomes restrictive of women. Post-modern feminist Judith Butler argues “woman” is a questionable category, because it involves much more – class, race, sexuality, and other aspects of individualism – all of which in some ways define each woman independently. She states that therefore “gender” is a “performative” word. Thus the contention of postmodern feminists is that there is no single basis for women’s subordination and no single method of dealing with the issues.
- Tong, R. P. (1998). Feminist Thought (2nd ed.). Boulder: Westview.
- Baumgardner, J. and A. Richards. (2000). Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and The Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
- B. Hooks. (2000). Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge: South End Press.