What are the different types of feminism?

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Difference feminism: Emphasizes women’s difference/uniqueness and traditionally “feminine” characteristics; argues that more value should be placed on these qualities.

Difference Feminists see women as all being separate homogenous groups. This means that they argue that working class and middle class women, white and black women, heterosexual and lesbian women will all have different views and experiences of society, be it patriarchy, homophobia, racism or capitalism.

Key arguments (against other feminists):

§  The main argument of difference feminists is that other feminists fail to take into account the different levels of oppression according to ethnic group.


§  They focus too much on difference and ignore the similarities of women when facing oppression.

Difference feminists:

Carol Gilligan is a difference feminist who believes in a psychological difference between men and women. She believes that men think more about justice and women think more about relationships, and she wants both to be viewed as equal in western society.

Liberal feminism: Focuses on working within institutions to gain equality for women (e.g., the vote, equal protection under the law) but does not focus on changing the entire institution (e.g., doing away with government). They primarily focus on women’s ability to show and maintain their equality through their own actions and choices and they are often at odds with radical feminism.

Their beliefs:

§  The way to achieve equality is to change law, not through the use of violence

§  They want a cultural change so there are no stereotypes (equal pay act and employment law changes)

§  They believe that men are wrong when they say that there are biological difference between them and women that make them more competent. Liberal feminists believe that it is a culturally constructed view.

§  Ann Oakley (1972) distinguished the difference between gender and sex. Sex is a biological difference; gender is socially constructed

§  They hold the Optimistic Theory: we are gradually leading to more rational views about gender; there should be political action to introduce discriminatory laws and, if this is achieved, we will have a fairer society where people are no longer judged on their gender


§  Liberal feminists criticise Functionalists for they dislike that they distinguish between different roles (i.e. Males have the instrumental role and are the breadwinner and females have the expressive role and perform domestic tasks. This breeds unequal conjugal roles)

§  Marxist Feminists say that Liberal Feminists ignore Capitalism

§  Radical Feminists say that they are not pushing hard enough for reformation

Marxist/socialist feminism: Attributes women’s oppression to a capitalist economy and the private property system (blames classism for women’s oppression rather than sexism). Argues that capitalism must be overthrown if the oppression of women is to end. Draws parallels between women and “workers” and emphasizes collective change rather than individual change. Alienation happens because women are segregated in the home and men have more opportunity and experience, which breeds unhappiness in women.

Views on family:

§  Male dominance is the result of class division between men who own property (bourgeoisie) and women who do not (proletariat)

§  If wives are to become emancipated from their husbands, they must gain financial stability first and become economically independent

Views on labour:

§  Believe that women workers are exploited more than men

§  They desire domestic tasks to be viewed as work

§  Some believe domestic labour should be socialised

§  They have the Wages-For-Housework campaign


§  Not much support

§  Too narrow minded

§  Ignores phallic power

Radical feminism: Cutting-edge branch of feminism focused on sweeping social reforms, social change, and revolution. Argues against institutions like patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism and instead emphasizes gender as a social construction, denouncing biological roots of gender difference. Often paves the way for other branches of feminism.

They emphasize the patriarchal roots between men and women and the social dominance of men. They view patriarchy as dividing rights, privileges and power primarily by gender and, as a result, women are oppressed and men are privileged.

They imply that the institutions of male rule are privilege depend on the subordination of women. Men control property and families, oppressing women. They want a major reform in society so that gender roles and patriarchy do not exist.

Three solutions to free women:

§  Separatism: men oppress women at home. Women should live alone and create a new culture of female independence

§  Consciousness raising: raise problems in women-only groups which can result in collective action (e.g. marches)

§  Political lesbianism: heterosexual relationships are oppressive as you are ‘sleeping with the enemy’ so lesbian relationships are advocated 

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