Feminism in all shapes and sizes

By Jan Creaser

Post-modern feminism
Post-modern feminism seeks social harmony rather than gender equality by eliminating the assumption that men and women have “essential natures,” fundamental and immutable aspects which differentiate men from women and make one superior to the other. In contrast to radical feminism, post-modern feminism does seek equal rights among genders, avoids placing blame or assigning “right” and “wrong,” and places less emphasis on physical differences between genders to achieve harmony among all people.

By deconstructing language, symbols and discourse to reveal its social power and fallacies, post-modern feminism seeks to upset the patriarchal order and establish equality of rights. Among post-modern feminism deconstructions is the word “women,” which they claim is meaningless because of the heterogeneity among females, and “females,” which are defined in terms of males.

Post-modern feminism also departs from other types of feminism in that it places the responsibility for the actions of the movement upon the individual as opposed to the government.

Liberal feminism
Liberalism is a philosophy based on the principle of individual liberty. Liberal thinkers believe freedom of choice should exist without interference of public opinion or law. In terms of feminism, liberal feminists believe the inequality of women stems from the denial of equal rights and from their learned reluctance to exercise such rights. Liberal feminists fight for the extension to women of those rights and privileges being offerered to men through social and legal reform.

Liberal feminism represents best the efforts of first-wave feminists. First wave feminists are those such as the “Famous Five” who sought the right to vote and to be perceived as “persons” in Canada in the early 20th century.

Critics of liberal feminism believe the definition of “equal rights” as those extended to men encourages women to seek equality based on a traditionally male lifestyle, and, therefore, puts down the validity of men and women seeking recognition for pursuing avenues perceived as traditionally female.

Standpoint or anti-racist feminist
Standpoint or anti-racist feminism arose out of the fear that mainstream feminism was too focused on white, middle-class women’s lives. The lives of minorities, poor women and disabled women were considered very different from these other women, and therefore required different goals and approaches to solving the discrimination these groups suffer.

This type of feminism attempts to talk about women, their experiences and politics in concrete and historical ways. It also tries to define and add to the multitude of feminist goals by understanding the context in which certain groups of women live.

As well, standpoint/anti-racist feminism seeks to abandon the idea that there is a unified female identity or a single female perspective. This type of feminism is perhaps the most important for understanding the lives and experiences of women and their unique needs within society. It teaches women and men to look at the circumstances of each individual’s lifecarefully.

Socialist/Marxist Feminism
Socialist feminism’s roots lie in mid to late 19th century political, intellectual and socioeconomic changes that took place in North America and Europe. Socialist feminists saw women’s relationship to the economy as the origin of women’s oppression and suggested that gender took shape under capitalism, where women’s work often took place in private and was unpaid or underpaid. The goal of socialist feminism was to transform basic structual arrangments of society so that categories of class, gender, sexuality and race no longer acted as barriers to the equal sharing of resources. From this perspective, individuals were viewed as social beings embedded in a network of concrete social and economic relationships.

On offshoot of socialist feminism, Marxist feminists also saw oppression as originating in the introduction of private property. Ultimately, women were oppressed by capitalismbecause they are often responsible for the production of goods and services that have no exchange value (e.g., housework, childcare). Therefore, Marxist feminists sought the dissolution of women’s economic dependence from men.

Lesbian Feminism
Emerging from the political and social unrest in the late ’60s and early ’70s, lesbian feminism called for the complete upheaval of the sexist patriarchal system. According to lesbian feminists, the system only existed because gender is compulsory, and escape from the two-gender system was only possible by embracing homosexuality.

In the ’70s, there were many factions within the lesbian feminist movement, including those that separately advocated spiritual, political, linguistic, cultural and philosophical changes. A prominent
faction, the separatist lesbian feminists,called for temporary and permanent “womyn-“, “wimmin-“, and “womon-” only events and communities, and were the subject of much controversy because of their perceived intolerance.

Many, including those in the gay, bisexual, transgendered and lesbian community have criticized lesbian feminism for being racist, exclusionary towards other gender types, anti-sex and politically inept.

Lesbian feminism today is but a shard of its former self. Some lesbian feminists from the ’70s remain active, mostly in the arts and publishing, while most have moved on to peruse more contemporary goals.

Radical Feminism
Radical feminism arose at the height of the women’s movement in the 1970s. It views women’s oppression as the first, most widespread and the deepest form of human oppression.

Radical feminists defined partriarchy as a “sexual system of power in which the male possesses superior power and economic privilege.” Women in this movement wanted to eliminate gender and saw unity among women as the only effective means for liberating women because, to them, patriarchy is organized through men’s relationships with other men.

As well, radical feminists assumed reproduction and male control of female sexuality as main causes of women’s oppression. They felt if reproduction could be removed from the female body, men would not be able to force restrictions on women any longer. Radical feminists believed women would always be subordinate to men unless sexuality was reconceived and reconstructed in the image and likeness of women. Eliminating male violence against women was a major goal of radical feminists.

This theory has often been criticized as being, well, too radical. However, the radical nature of this brand of feminism allowed later theorists to develop more moderate, but equally effective ideas for tackling sexual inequality.

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