Feminisms? With an s? That’s right! Although it’s usually lumped into one big f-bomb, feminism is actually a collection of ideologies, all generally related to women and women’s rights. Here’s an introduction to some of the most popular variants. Who knows, after seeing all the variation, you might even identify as a particular kind of feminist!
Note: These short definitions represent complicated ideologies whose own subscribers debate their definition and purpose. For more thorough definitions, explore the resources at the bottom of this article.
Cultural Feminism – Cultural feminists hold an essentialist view that there is a female essence that is oppressed and undervalued. This essence is usually argued to be based on reproductive capacity. Cultural feminists work for a women-centered culture and believe in inherently female traits that bond women together.
Eco Feminism – Eco feminism roots women’s oppression in the exploitation of the environment. Eco feminists believe in a deep connection between women and nature, and argue that this connection is not represented or recognized by our current society.
Lesbian Feminism – Arising as a branch of second-wave feminism, lesbian feminism refutes heteronormativity and its institutionalization. Some lesbian feminists advocate separatist organizations or communes, and many see lesbianism as a political choice that rejects patriarchy and heteronormativity. Famous lesbian feminists include Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Sheila Jeffreys.
Liberal Feminism – Liberal feminists believe that the gender inequalities oppressing women are deeply rooted in our public, political, and legal customs. Liberal feminism is individualistic, and focuses on each woman’s ability to assert her equality. Many liberal feminists are household names: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton.
Marxist/Socialist Feminism – While some types of feminism focus on the effects of patriarchal societies on gender inequality, socialist feminists assert that class and economies oppress women and that female economic dependence on males creates inequality. Socialist feminists use many Marxist concepts to support their beliefs, and also hold that women’s liberation must occur alongside the liberation of all people.
Radical Feminism – Radical feminism is the main source of many feminist stereotypes. Radical feminists focus on the patriarchy as the oppressors of women and calls for a restructuring of society. While many varieties of mainstream feminism advocate for an examination of male-dominated societies, radical feminism often calls for severe and sometimes violent ways of restructuring society outside of the existing political structure. Famous radical feminists include Valerie Solanas, who called for the elimination of the male sex in her work SCUM Manifesto (worth a read!).
Second-Wave Feminism – Second-wave doesn’t refer to a particular type of feminism, but instead names a whole period of feminist history, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Second-wave feminism broadened the feminist debate, shifting its focus away from arguments about suffrage and instead to discussions of reproductive rights, sexuality, and women in the workforce. Many credit Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as having sparked the beginning of second-wave feminism.
For much more info, check out Bitch Magazine’sEverything You Always Wanted to Know About Feminism But Were Afraid to Ask,” the Women, Gender and Sexuality department’s fantastic library, or just explore on your own!