A lot of people have an image in their mind about what a feminist looks like. In addition to the people who think we’re all humourless, hairy, man-haters, I’ve also heard from people who say they believe in women’s equality but don’t want to call themselves feminists because they think feminism is about making women out to be victims or about saying women are better than men.
I follow bell hooks’ broad definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression”, which includes other forms of oppression such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and class oppression. But there are many different types of feminism, which I’ll try to list here. This is, of course, very simplified and I’d encourage people who are really interested to do further reading (I highly recommend Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog).
Waves of (Western) Feminism
- First Wave Feminism: Refers to the first concerted Western movement for women’s reforms in the nineteenth century. Dominated by white middle and upper-class women, first wave feminism focused on women’s education and changes to marriage laws. It also included the push for white women’s suffrage.
- Second Wave Feminism: Refers to the increase in feminist activities from the 1960s to the 1980s, particularly in Britain and North America. The movement arose out of the Civil Rights and antiwar movements in the United States, and out of working-class socialism in Britain. Key issues were equal pay, reproductive freedoms, and violence against women. The key slogan associated with Second Wave Feminism is “the personal is political.”
- Third Wave Feminism: Third Wave Feminism arose in the early 1990s in response to a backlash against issues championed by the second wave. Third Wave Feminism has attempted to address the exclusion of women of colour, lesbians, low-income women, trans people, and men from past feminist movements.
Branches of Feminism (not mutually exclusive)
- Liberal Feminism: Most associated with the second wave, liberal feminism argues women’s equality is an inherent right. Liberal feminists believe oppression is caused by the socialization process that constructs women as sexual beings, not citizens. Historically, liberal feminists have supported change through reform rather than revolution.
- Marxist Feminism: Marxist feminism believes women are oppressed primarily due to capitalism, which divides genders in order to create a more dominable workforce. Socialist feminism has a similar foundation and sees class struggle as necessary for women’s liberation, but does not see class oppression as primary for every woman. One of Marxist and socialist feminism’s most important contributions to feminist theory is the notion of the “double shift”, which refers to women working in both the public sphere and the home, while not being paid for the latter.
- Radical Feminism: Radical feminists believe all forms of oppression stem from male dominance. Radical feminists try to deconstruct theories of desire and argue sexual relations are political acts. Radical feminists tend to be skeptical about changes to the existing social and political system, seeing it as inseparably linked to patriarchy.
- Ecofeminism: A branch of feminism that sees the oppression of women and animals/the environment as inextricably linked. Ecofeminists draw attention to the connections forms of oppression through socially accepted binaries (men dominate women, men dominate the environment, North dominates South, white dominates “other” races).
- Psychoanalytic Feminism: Psychoanalytic feminism uses psychoanalytic theories to explain the oppression of women, with the belief that solutions can be found by investigating the causes of men’s domination of women in men and women’s psyches, focusing on early childhood development.
- Global Feminism: Attempts to bring a global perspective to feminism, noting similarities in women’s oppression worldwide.
- Libertarian Feminism or iFeminism: Pushes for individual liberties for women and opposes government interference in women’s lives, especially in regulating reproductive rights. Libertarian feminists see a primary goal as encouraging women to be economically and psychologically independent and disagree with other feminists who believe in more collective struggles.
- Post-Feminism: Although the definition is disputed, the term is generally used to describe a belief that the goals of feminism have already been accomplished and that feminists should distance themselves from the organizations and campaigns associated with it.
- Womanism: The term womanism, created by Alice Walker, who said “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender”, was created to refer to the experiences of women of colour. It’s similar to black feminism, but womanists believe the term “feminism” is tainted by its historical exclusion of women of colour and other marginalized women. Womanists believe no equality can be achieved without dealing with multiple intersecting forms of oppression