What is Feminism?

Happy Women’s History Month!

Ask 10 people what feminism means and you may get 10 different answers. Feminism can be loaded subject and sometimes it pushes people further into their respective corners. When I think of my work within purity culture, the concept of feminism is easily intertwined. It made sense to bring light to it here. My hope is to dispel a few misconceptions and bridge a few gaps for my audience.

Think of it this way, feminism is a garden with a variety of theories, perspectives, and methodologies. It’s ok to not understand or agree with everything you see; simply enter the garden with curiosity.

(By no means is this an exhaustive explanation or resource on feminism. This is simply a launching pad for better dialogue and exploration.)

Defining the Terms

It’s hard to learn if there is not a shared language. Here are some definitions that might be old news to you, but I’ll include just in case. Some are more contested than others. I’ve also included a few extra resources that I found interesting.

Feminism

“the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes”

— Britanica

“Feminism is a gamut of socio political movements and ideologies that share a common goal to delineate, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. Feminist movements over decades have campaigned for rights of women, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity and to protect women and girls from brutal crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.”

Misogyny, feminism, and sexual harassment by Srivastava, Chaundhury, Bhat, and Sahu

“The one historical strategy of feminism that is also a philosophical imperative is the cultivation of an independent mind. Independent thinking, acquired through rigorous education, is the bastion of liberalism and specifically underscores the tenet of freedom.” 

— Marcie Bianco, Nothing says misogyny like defining feminism as equality for all

Patriarchy

“Patriarchy is a social structure, not a conspiracy among men. It is not always intentional; men need not intend to oppress women. Men too are subject to the enormous pressures of a social system that creates paths of least resistance consistent with patriarchy, such as going along with the locker room chatter about babes. Men as well as women are damaged by patriarchy. For example, masculine men are hurt when they learn to repress emotions and to deny their needs for connection and intimacy in order to avoid being punished as sissies and to maintain the control necessary to protect themselves from other men.”

Patriarchy and Inequality: Towards a Substantive Feminism

What is Patriarchy? (2 minute video)

Gender

“Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.”

World Health Organization

Sex

“Sex refers to the biological distinctions between males and females, most often in connection with reproductive functions.”

Sex, Gender, Genetics, and Health by Short, Yang, Jenkins
source: forallwomankind.com

Brief History of Feminism in the West

Feminism, as a movement, is a relatively recent one. But the hope (ache) for equality is not new.

“…women have always found ways to resist the oppressions of patriarchal forms, systems, and values. These currents in feminist theory are important for reminding us that women, though oppressed, need not be rendered essentially as victims; indeed, that many have found ways to make vital contributions in, around, and in spite of myriad forms of sexist oppression.”

Bettina Tate Pedersen

I don’t intend to be the spokesperson for the history of feminism, so I’ll summarize the Western movements here with different voices and hope it inspires you to learn more about global movements.

Additional resources:

Flavors of Feminism

Feminism, like other systems of belief or thought, is a spectrum. There are all different combinations of motivations, fears, and convictions under the larger umbrella. Many feminists disagree with other feminists.

Feminism cannot be defined by a single wave or a single figure. It is a living and breathing body of work and people who have general commonalities and specific differences.

The Relationship Between Feminism & Racial Justice

When women won the right to vote in 1920, it was only white women who benefited from this new law. Women of color continued to be discriminated against at the polls until 1965, 45 years later, when the Voting Rights Act became law by President Johnson.

This is just one example. Too easily, feminism can bypass the unique obstacles women of color face. Racial justice/reconciliation is too often seen as a secondary issue; it should be prioritized if feminism means what it says. White supremacy and white privilege are still active systems in today’s world. How many of these privileges do you benefit from?

True feminism must recognize and support not only white women, but all women.

Read or watch more:

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