Different Types of Feminism: Feminism is one of the most important and well-known philosophies and movements in the world, and one that has been around for centuries. There is no one definition for feminism, as it encompasses a range of movements and different perspectives. Feminist author and academic bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Since there are various feminist perspectives out there, the term feminisms is used when talking about the same. This article aims to provide a synoptic introduction to different types of feminist theories, as outlined by gender studies scholar and theorist Judith Lorber in her 1997 work “The Variety of Feminisms and their Contributions to Gender Equality.” This is connected to but different from the waves of feminism, as that captures different time periods in the feminist movement.
Lorber begins by stating that each of these theories has contributed to the cause but also have their limitations and that feminists take in and choose to include ideas and strategies from different perspectives while aligning their own ideals. There has also been a continuous and ongoing debate between different branches over the years. As with any field of study, feminist theories have also changed over the decades as we are gaining a deeper and more complex understanding of concepts such as gender, sex, and sexuality. Taking into account feminist theories from the last three and a half decades, Lorber has grouped them into three overarching categories based on similarities – “gender reform feminisms, gender resistant feminisms, and gender revolution feminisms” (Lorber, 1997)
Gender Reform Feminisms
These theories – liberal feminism, Marxist and socialist feminisms, and development feminism were developed during the second wave, between the 1960s and the 1970s.
Liberal feminism: Liberal feminism posits that men and women are actually pretty similar, and thus, should be treated equally under the law and should have equal opportunities. Liberal feminists contributed a lot towards the representation of women in different public spheres and securing abortion and reproductive rights.
Marxist and Socialist Feminisms: Marxist and socialist feminisms locate the position and role of women, such as housewives in the capitalist system and economy, showing how the family acts as an oppressive force for women, exploiting their labour. They argued that the answer to this was to provide women with full-time work, combined with state-provided paid maternity leave and childcare.
Development Feminism: Development feminism analyses global economies and addresses the exploitation of women in developing countries, which are former colonial subjects. It postulates that the modes of production and control of resource distribution in a society determine the status of women in it – i.e., if women are in control of the above, they gain high status. It also looks into the conflict generated between women’s rights and cultural traditions in many of these societies, as many of their cultural practices are often oppressive and meant to control women.
Read: Feminism Today
Gender Resistant Feminisms
These theories were developed in the 1970s and rose from women who were part of civil rights, left, and anti-war movements noticing that they were not being treated equally even in those progressive spaces. Gender resistant feminisms have also been critiqued for the essentialism and homogenization of women’s experiences found in their writings.
Radical Feminism: One of the most controversial and spoken about branches of feminism. Radical feminists argue that the patriarchy is extremely difficult to destroy due to patriarchal thinking being deeply rooted in our cultures and thinking. They advocate for resisting it through forming women-only spaces and creating separate knowledge, culture, etc. from a female perspective. It critiques heterosexuality and conventionally masculine qualities and rather encourages feminine characteristics such as nurturing, sharing, warmth, etc. Radfems, as they are known, gained prominence for fighting against pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
Lesbian feminism carries forward from radical feminism the idea that heterosexual relationships are inherently exploitative, and thus advocates for women to “turn to other women for sexual love, as well as for intellectual companionship and emotional support” (Lorber, 1997). The lesbian continuum, a concept presented in lesbian feminism, proposes that any woman identified experiences that women have come under it, thus taking the focus away from sexual relationships alone.
Psychoanalytic feminism is based on feminist readings interpretations of the theories of Freud and engagement with the theories of Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault. Developed by French feminists, it looks at the different ways in which art, media, literature, etc. are informed by the male gaze and represent “the masculine unconscious” and are filled with phallic imagery. Therefore, French feminists encouraged women to resist this culture by writing about their bodies and female experiences, such as menstruation and childbirth.
Standpoint feminism brings together viewpoints the above-mentioned gender resistant feminisms and critiques the male hegemony that is present when it comes to knowledge production and research in both the sciences and social sciences. It argues that women have unique perspectives stemming from their experiences, which are more rooted in the material world and that thus knowledge produced by them would be closer to everyday lives.
Gender Revolution Feminisms
The following theories – social construction feminism, men’s feminism, postmodern feminism, queer theory and multi-ethnic feminism emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. They seek to not only critique the patriarchal order but also question the other categories and hierarchies that form the social structures in our society alongside gender and work towards dismantling them.
Multi-ethnic feminism outlines how various factors such as gender, religion, class, race/ethnicity, sexuality, etc are structurally intertwined and act as various vectors of oppression or privilege in society. Further developing on standpoint feminism, it states that it is not just about representing the perspective of women but that the perspectives of both men and women from different classes, religions, races, and communities must be represented. It talks about how marginalized communities or identities are uniquely positioned in their social locations affected by different axes of oppression. Marginalized women often are oppressed and exploited not only by both men and women from dominant groups but also by men of their own community. Multi-ethnic feminism is very similar to intersectional feminism, a concept based on the work of Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw which has gained prominence in the last few years.
It is based upon studying masculinity and men through the lens of feminist theories. It looks at masculinities – breaking down the idea that there is only one kind of masculinity, and analyses the differences between men of various backgrounds and identities. Men’s feminism has developed a concept termed hegemonic masculinity, referring to those men from dominant groups who hold the most power. It critiques traditionally masculine institutions such as the military, college fraternities, etc for glorifying misogyny and violence, and also critiques the societal pressure on men to not be vulnerable. It also examines how homosexual men hold less power than their heterosexual counterparts, but still benefit from male privilege.
Social Construction Feminism:
Social construction feminism states that the social structure of gender is all-pervasive and affects everything in our society from individual behaviours and selves to collective conditions. It looks into how a lot of what we perceive as natural or natural processes are social constructs and learned behaviours. It posits that methods such as enforcing gender norms and creating rigid binaries are ways to maintain control and that our sexuality too is molded by social norms and cultural standards. These constructs are upheld by all our social institutions that teach and encourage conformity within individuals and punish any kind of deviance from these patterns.
Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory:
Their basis lies in critiquing the categories of gender and sexuality that for so long were assumed to be fixed, rigid binaries; and rather stating that gender and sexuality are fluid, and are present in various forms. They also look into how beliefs and ideas about gender are made acceptable to us by inserting into cultural texts, whether it be films, literature, music, advertising media, etc. The prevailing atmosphere and socio-political conditions of that time also affect the discourse, or discussions surrounding the text. How the text has been made and funded also shapes audience opinions.
A lot of postmodern feminist deconstruction (breaking down texts) has been of both pop culture and fine art representations; of breaking down discourses that contain messages about our bodies, sexualities, and gender roles. They promote behaviour such as settling down, getting married, and having children as happy endings. Queer theory, more specifically, examines both gender and sexuality as social performances. While social construction feminism tells us how systems are structured, queer theory looks towards destabilizing them completely.
Thus, these are some of the different types and subsets of feminisms that have been developed and worked upon by various women scholars, academics, and activists. It is important to note that these concepts are ever-changing and evolving, as we come to gain a deeper understanding of these fraught concepts and as our societal systems change, hopefully for the better.
Lorber, J. (1997). The Variety of Feminisms and their Contribution to Gender Equality. BIS Verlag. http://oops.uni-oldenburg.de/1269/1/ur97.pdf