The term ‘feminism’ embodies a very wide variety of meanings which can be divided into four:
- an over-arching theory about the nature of women’s oppression by men;
- a political theory (and associated practices), which aims to liberate women from male exploitation;
- a modern social movement that promotes specific changes in the legal, social, economic, political and cultural condition of women; and
- an ideology that opposes all misogynist (i.e. ‘women-hating’) ideas and behavior.
Although largely originating in the West, feminism is manifested worldwide and is represented by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. Feminism has made interpersonal relations, reproductive rights and domestic violence into issues of wide political significance.
Feminist ideology can take many different forms. Broadly speaking, it is of the following types:
Liberal feminism emerged in the USA during the 1950s and the 1960s when many civil rights movements were taking place. Liberal feminists hold that all human beings are equal and deserve equal rights. They are of the view that women have the same mental capacity as their male counterparts and should be given the same opportunities in political, economic and social spheres. Consequently, liberal feminists support acts of legislation that ensure equal opportunities and rights for women, including equal access to jobs and equal pay. Liberal feminism has been criticized for failing to address the deeper ideology of patriarchy, and also for ignoring race and class issues.
Radical feminists believe that women’s emancipation is possible only through the dissolution of patriarchy and the rigid sex-gender system that results from it, not just through acts of legislation.
Socialist feminists see a direct link between class structure and the oppression of women. They challenge the ideologies of capitalism and patriarchy. According to socialist feminists, western society rewards working men because they produce tangible, tradable goods, while women’s work in the domestic sphere is not valued as they do not produce tangible, tradable goods. This gives men power and control over women. Socialist feminists believe that the way to end this oppression is by putting an end to class and gender both.
Cultural feminists believe that there are fundamental, biological differences between men and women, and that women should celebrate these differences. Western society values male thought and the ideas of independence, hierarchy, competition and domination, whereas females values ideas such as interdependence, cooperation, relationships, community, sharing, joy, trust and peace are not valued. Cultural feminists are usually non-political, focusing instead on individual change.
Eco-feminists believe that patriarchy and male domination are harmful to women as well as the environment. There is a link between men’s desire to dominate women and wilderness. Men feel as though they must tame and conquer both in order to have complete power. Eco-feminists say that it is this desire that destroys both women and the earth. They believe that women have a central role in preserving nature because woman understand and are one with nature. There is a deep connection between the earth and women that men cannot understand and therefore women need to use their superior insight to reveal how humans can live in harmony with each other and with nature.
Stuti Das, India
Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series:
- Society & Us: Varna & Caste
- Society & Us: New International Division of Labor
- Society & Us: Hidden Curriculum
- Society & Us: Kinds of Nationalism
- Society & Us: Kinship
- Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The Sage Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
- Brunell, Laura, and Elinor Burkett. “Feminism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc., 14 July 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
- “Different Types of Feminist Theories.” Different Types of Feminist Theories. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.