Feminism Types And Waves
Types Of Feminism
Amazon feminism is dedicated to the image of the female hero in
fiction and in fact, as it is expressed in art and literature, in
the physiques and feats of female athletes, and in sexual values
Amazon feminism is concerned about physical equality and is
opposed to gender role stereotypes and discrimination against
women based on assumptions that women are supposed to be, look or
behave as if they are passive, weak and physically helpless.
Amazon feminism rejects the idea that certain characteristics or
interests are inherently masculine (or feminine), and upholds and
explores a vision of heroic womanhood. Thus Amazon feminism
advocates e.g., female strength athletes, martial artists,
Anarcho-Feminism, Anarcha-Feminism, or Anarchist Feminism
Anarcho-feminism was never a huge movement, especially in the
United States, and you won’t find a whole lot written about it. I
mention it mostly because of the influential work of Emma Goldman,
who used anarchism to craft a radical feminism that was (alas!)
far ahead of her time. Radical feminism expended a lot of energy
dealing with a basis from which to critique society without
falling into Marxist pleas for socialist revolution. It also
expended a lot of energy trying to reach across racial and class
lines. Goldman had succeeded in both. Radical feminist Alix
Schulman realized this, but not in time to save her movement.
She’s put out a reader of Goldman’s work and a biography, both of
which I recommend highly.
This branch of feminism advocates the equality of the sexes within atheism.
Atheist feminists also oppose religion as a main source of female oppression and inequality, believing that all religions are sexist and oppressive to women.
Black feminism believes that sexism and racism are linked, and that
sexism will never be overcome while the system is still racist. This
movement grew out of the discontent of African American women during
the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970’s, who felt their particular
needs as minority women were not being addressed. The term “Black Feminism” is often used to encompass the needs of all women of color.
Chicana Feminism, also called “Xicanisma”
This branch of feminism is a group of social theories that analyze the
historical, social, political, and economic roles of Mexican American,
Chicana, and Hispanic women in the United States. In Latin America, many women
were treated by their fathers, brothers, and husbands with discrimination. Women
in Latin America, Mexico included, were seen as child-bearers, homemakers, and
caregivers. These same women had to watch their children perform household chores
and cook for their husbands. Many men didn’t consider women to be capable of working
outside of the home, which is part of the reason the term “weaker sex” was coined.
This branch of feminism is an aspect of feminist theology which seeks to advance and
understand the equality of men and women morally, socially, spirtitually, and in leadership
from a Christian perspective. Christian feminists argue that contributions by women in that
direction are necessary for a complete understanding of Christianity. Christian feminists
believe that God does not discriminate on the basis of biologically-determined characteristics
such as sex and race. Their major issues include: the ordinantion of women, male dominance in
Christian marriage, recognition of equal spiritual and moral abilities, reproductive rights,
and the search for a feminine or gender-transcendent divine.
As radical feminism died out as a movement, cultural feminism got
rolling. In fact, many of the same people moved from the former
to the latter. They carried the name “radical feminism” with
them, and some cultural feminists use that name still. (Jaggar
and Rothenberg don’t even list cultural feminism as a framework
separate from radical feminism, but Echols spells out the
distinctions in great detail.) The difference between the two is
quite striking: whereas radical feminism was a movement to
transform society, cultural feminism retreated to vanguardism,
working instead to build a women’s culture. Some of this effort
has had some social benefit: rape crisis centers, for example; and
of course many cultural feminists have been active in social
issues (but as individuals, not as part of a movement).
Cultural feminists can sometimes come up with notions that sound
disturbingly Victorian and non-progressive: that women are
inherently (biologically) “kinder and gentler” than men and so on.
(Therefore if all leaders were women, we wouldn’t have wars.)
I do think, though, that cultural feminism’s attempts to heighten
respect for what is traditionally considered women’s work is an
important parallel activity to recognizing that traditionally male
activities aren’t necessarily as important as we think.
I have often associated this type of statement [inherently kinder
and gentler] with Separatist Feminists, who seem to me to feel
that women are *inherently* kinder and gentler, so why associate
with men? (This is just my experience from Separatists I know…I
haven’t read anything on the subject.) I know Cultural Feminists
who would claim women are *trained* to be kinder and gentler, but
I don’t know any who have said they are *naturally* kinder.
As various 1960s movements for social change fell apart or got
co-opted, folks got pessimistic about the very possibility of
social change. Many of then turned their attention to building
alternatives, so that if they couldn’t change the dominant
society, they could avoid it as much as possible. That, in a
nutshell, is what the shift from radical feminism to cultural
feminism was about. These alternative-building efforts were
accompanied with reasons explaining (perhaps justifying) the
abandonment of working for social change. Cultural feminism’s
justification was biological determinism. This justification was
worked out in great detail, and was based on assertions in
horribly-flawed books like Elizabeth Gould Davis’s _The First Sex_
and Ashley Montagu’s _The Natural Superiority of Women_. So
notions that women are “inherently kinder and gentler” are one of
the foundations of cultural feminism, and remain a major part of
it. A similar concept held by some cultural feminists is that
while various sex differences might not be biologically
determined, they are still so thoroughly ingrained as to be
intractable. There is no inherent connection between
alternative-building and ideologies of biological determinism (or
of social intracta- bility). SJ has apparently encountered
alternative-builders who don’t embrace biological determinism, and
I consider this a very good sign.
I should point out here that Ashley Montagu is male, and his
book was first copyright in 1952, so I don’t believe that it
originated as part of the separatist movements in the ’60’s.
It may still be horribly flawed; I haven’t yet read it.
This type of feminism is a feminist community, philosophy, and set of
practices concerned with feminist interactions with and acts in cyberspace.
This term was coined in 1991, and feminist individuals, theorists, and groups
identifying themselves as cyberfeminists were most active in the 1990’s.
Cyberfeminists resist rigid definitions of their movement, but it is broadly
concerned with expressing and developing feminism in the context of online
interactions and online art.
[European] This seemed to start (as a movement) in Germany under
the rule of Otto von Bismarck. He ruled the land with the motto
“blood and iron”. In society the man was the _ultra manly man_ and
power was patriarchal power. Some women rebelled against this, by
becoming WOMAN. Eroticism became a philosophical and metaphysical
value and the life-creating value.
This branch of feminism is much more spiritual than political or
theoretical in nature. It may or may not be wrapped up with
Goddess worship and vegetarianism. Its basic tenet is that a
patriarchical society will exploit its resources without regard to
long term consequences as a direct result of the attitudes
fostered in a patriarchical/hierarchical society. Parallels are
often drawn between society’s treatment of the environment,
animals, or resources and its treatment of women. In resisting
patriarchical culture, eco-feminists feel that they are also
resisting plundering and destroying the Earth. And vice-versa.
This is actually socially-conscious environmentalism with a tiny
smattering of the radical and cultural feminist observation that
exploitation of women and exploitation of the earth have some
astonishing parallels. The rest of “eco-feminism” turns out to be
a variation on socialism. The Green movements of Europe have
done a good job of formulating (if not implementing) an
environmentally aware feminism; and while Green movements
were not originally considered a part of eco-feminism, they
are now recognized as a vital component.
(If I remember correctly, a couple of feminist groups, including
NOW have joined up with Green parties.)
This branch of feminism focuses on equality between men and women
in all domains including: work, home, sexuality, law, etc. Equality
feminists argue that women should receive all privleges given to men
and that biological differences between the two sexes do not justify
inequality. This is the most common type of feminism represented in
This branch of feminism focuses on true biological differences between
men and women. Essentialist feminists argue that women are essentially
different from men but equal in value as in, separate but equal.
Fat Feminism or Fat-positive Feminism
This branch of feminism is a form of feminism that argues overweight women
are economically, educationally, socially, and physically disadvantaged due
to their weight. Instead of losing weight, fat-positive feminists promote
acceptance for women of all sizes and oppose any form of size discrimination.
Fat feminism originated during second-wave feminism, and has not met mainstream
acceptance. While very closely affiliated with the fat acceptance movement, fat
feminists focus on women who are discriminated against because of their size.
This term was “invented” by the radio/tv host Rush Limbaugh. He
defines a feminazi as a feminist who is trying to produce as many
abortions as possible. Hence the term “nazi” – he sees them as
trying to rid the world of a particular group of people (fetuses).
This term also is a militant form of radical feminism that embraces
the hostile term “feminazi”. This word is most often used as a hateful
label for feminists. These feminists are often highly disliked by popular
culture and ghettoized as crazy, outrageous, and bitchy.
Feminism and Women of Color:
In _feminist theory from margin to center_ (1984), bell hooks
writes of “militant white women” who call themselves “radical
feminists” but hooks labels them “reactionary” . . . Hooks is
refering to cultural feminism here. Her comment is a good
introduction to that fractious variety of feminism that Jaggar and
Rothenberg find hard to label any further than to designate its
source as women of color. It is a most vital variety, covering
much of the same ground as radical feminism and duplicating its
dynamic nature. Yet bad timing kept the two from ever uniting.
For more information you might want to also read hooks’ book and
her earlier reader, _ain’t i a woman?_ Whereas radical feminism
was primarily formulated by educated white women focusing on
women’s issues, this variety was formulated by women who would not
(because they could not) limit their focus. What is so
extraordinary is that the two converged in so many ways, with the
notable exception that the women of color were adamantly opposed
to considering one form of oppression (sexism) without considering
I think an important work in the history of feminism and women of
color is Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga’s anthology, _This
Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color_. It’s
my belief that the unique contribution of women of color, who
experience at least two forms of discrimination daily, provides
balance and reality to much of the more theoretical forms of
academic feminism favored by educated white women.
This branch of feminism focuses on the power relationships between
colonizers and native colonized people Fourth-World feminists argue
against the process of colonization, whereby native cultures are
stripped of their customs, values, land, and traditions and forced to
adopt the colonizers ways of life.
This movement was started in France by a set of French feminist thinkers mainly in the 1970’s,
who reshaped feminist thought by adding a philosophical focus to feminist theory.
These feminists were associated with several male intellectuals of the time.
Global Feminism also known as Transnational Feminism, World Feminism, and International Feminism
This type of feminism is a feminist theory closely aligned with postcolonial theory and
postcolonial feminism. It concerns itself primarily with the forward movement of women’s
rights on a global scale. Using different historical lenses from the legacy of colonialism,
Global Feminists adopt global causes and start movements which seek to dismantle what they
argue are the currently predominant structures of global patriarchy.
Individualist, Individual Feminism, or Libertarian Feminism
Individualist feminism is based upon individualist or libertarian
(minimum government or anarchocapitalist) philosophies, i.e.
philosophies whose primary focus is individual autonomy, rights,
liberty, independence and diversity.
This type of feminism is concerned with the role of women in Islam. It aims for the full
equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists
advocate women’s rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework.
Although rooted in Islam, the movement’s pioneers have also utilized secular and European or
non-Muslim feminist discourses and recognize the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated
global feminist movement.
This type of feminism seeks to improve the religious, legal, and social status of women within Judaism and
to open up new opportunities for religious experience and leadership for Jewish women. Feminist movements,
with varying approaches and successes, have opened up within all major branches of Judaism.
Lesbianism, or Lesbian Feminism
There are a couple of points to make here. First is that
Lesbianism is not necessarily a *de facto* part of feminism.
While it is true that merely being a lesbian is a direct
contravention of “traditional” concepts of womanhood, Lesbians
themeselves hold a wide variety of opionions on the subject of
feminism just as their straight sisters do.
On the other hand, Lesbianism has sometimes been made into a
political point by straight women “becoming” lesbian in order to
fully reject men. However, it is never accurate to characterise
all feminists as Lesbians nor all Lesbians as feminists.
The reader should also note that homophobia is as present among
feminists as it is in any other segment of society. Lesbianism
and feminism, for all their common points and joint interests, are
two very different groups.
This is the variety of feminism that works within the structure of
mainstream society to integrate women into that structure. Its
roots stretch back to the social contract theory of government
instituted by the American Revolution. Abigail Adams and Mary
Wollstonecraft were there from the start, proposing equality for
women. As is often the case with liberals, they slog along inside
the system, getting little done amongst the compromises until some
radical movement shows up and pulls those compromises left of
center. This is how it operated in the days of the suffragist
movement and again with the emergence of the radical feminists.
Marxist and Socialist Feminism
Marxism recognizes that women are oppressed, and attributes the
oppression to the capitalist/private property system. Thus they
insist that the only way to end the oppression of women is to
overthrow the capitalist system. Socialist feminism is the result
of Marxism meeting radical feminism. Jaggar and Rothenberg point
to significant differences between socialist feminism and Marxism,
but for our purposes I’ll present the two together. Echols offers
a description of socialist feminism as a marriage between Marxism
and radical feminism, with Marxism the dominant partner. Marxists
and socialists often call themselves “radical,” but they use the
term to refer to a completely different “root” of society: the
A movement in the late 19th century to liberate women by improving
their material condition. This meant taking the burden of
housework and cooking off their shoulders. _The Grand Domestic
Revolution_ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one reference.
This branch of feminism tends to be populated by younger women or
other women who have not directly experienced discrimination.
They are closely affiliated with liberal feminism, but tend to
question the need for further effort, and do not think that
Radical feminism is any longer viable and in fact rather
embarrassing (this is the group most likely to espouse feminist
ideas and thoughts while denying being “feminist”).
This feminism focuses on girl power idols and Wonder Woman images. This
type of feminism often attracts young women interested in empowerment
but uninterested in social change and activism. It appears
to be a catch-all for the sort of feminism that everyone loves to hate:
you know, the kind of feminism that grinds men under its heel and admits
to no wrong for women. It is doubtful that such a caricature actually
exists, yet many people persist in lumping all feminists into this sort
of a category.
This type of feminism emphasizes a rejection of colonial power relationships,
in which the colonizer strips the colonized subject of her customs, traditions,
and values. Postcolonial feminists argue for the deconstruction of power
relationships and the inclusion of race within feminist analysis. This usually
includes all feminist writings not from Britain or the United States.
This feminism was informed by psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and postcolonialism.
Post-feminists emphasizes multiple forms of oppression, multiple definitions of
feminism, and a shift beyond equality as the major goal of the feminist movement.
This type of feminism critiques the male/female binary and argues that this binary
as the organizing force of society. Postmodern feminists advocates deconstructionist
techniques of blurring boundaries, eliminating dichotomies, and accepting multiple
realities rather than searching for a singular truth.
This branch of feminism is the opposition to abortion by a group of feminists who
believe that the principles which inform their support of women’s rights also call
them to support the right to life or prenatal humans. Pro-life feminists believe
abortion has served to hurt women more than it has benefited them.
This type of feminism uses psychoanalysis as a tool of female liberation by revising
certain patriarchal tenants, such as Freud’s view on mothering, Oedipal/Electra complex,
penis envy, and female sexuality.
Provides the bulwark of theoretical thought in feminism. Radical
feminism provides an important foundation for the rest of
“feminist flavors”. Seen by many as the “undesireable” element of
feminism, Radical feminism is actually the breeding ground for
many of the ideas arising from feminism; ideas which get shaped
and pounded out in various ways by other (but not all) branches of
Radical feminism was the cutting edge of feminist theory from
approximately 1967-1975. It is no longer as universally accepted
as it was then, nor does it provide a foundation for, for example,
cultural feminism. In addition, radical feminism is not and never
has been related to the Maoist-feminist group Radical Women.
This term refers to the feminist movement that sprung out of the
civil rights and peace movements in 1967-1968. The reason this
group gets the “radical” label is that they view the oppression of
women as the most fundamental form of opression, one that cuts
across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This is a
movement intent on social change, change of rather revolutionary
proportions, in fact.
Ironically, this get-to-the-roots movement is the most root-less
variety of feminism. This was part of its strength and part of
its weakness. It was always dynamic, always dealing with
factions, and always full of ideas. Its influence has been felt
in all the other varieties listed here, as well as in society at
To me, radical feminism is centred on the necessity to question
gender roles. This is why I identify current “gender politics”
questions as radical feminist issues. Radical feminism questions
why women must adopt certain roles based on their biology, just as
it questions why men adopt certain other roles based on theirs.
Radical feminism attempts to draw lines between biologically-
determined behavior and culturally-determined behavior in order
to free both men and women as much as possible from their previous
narrow gender roles.
The best history of this movement is a book called _Daring to
be Bad_, by Echols. I consider that book a must! Another
excellent book is simply titled _Radical Feminism_ and is an
anthology edited by Anne Koedt, a well-known radical feminist.
Radical feminist theory is to a large extent incompatible with
cultural feminism. The reason is that the societal forces it
deals with seem so great in magnitude that they make it impossible
to identify any innate masculine or feminine attributes except
those which are results of the biological attributes. (This is
what I think the [above] “view[s] the oppression of women as the
most fundamental form of oppression,” [is getting at] although I
don’t agree with that statement in its context.)
Popularly and wrongly depicted as Lesbians, these are the
feminists who advocate separation from men; sometimes total,
sometimes partial. Women who organize women-only events are often
unfairly dubbed separatist. Separatists are sometimes literal,
sometimes figurative. The core idea is that “separating” (by
various means) from men enables women to see themselves in a
different context. Many feminists, whether or not separatist,
think this is a necessary “first step”, by which they mean a
temporary separation for personal growth, not a permanent one.
It is equally inaccurate to consider all Lesbians as separatist;
while it is true that they do not interact with men for sexual
fulfillment, it is not true that they therefore automatically shun
all interaction with men. And, conversely, it is equally
inaccurate to consider all separatists Lesbians. Additionally,
lesbian feminism may be considered a category distinct from
separatist feminism. Lesbian feminism puts more emphasis on
lesbianism — active bonding with women — than separatism does,
in its emphasis on removing bonds with men.
Sex-positive Feminism also known as Pro-sex feminism, Sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism
This branch of feminism began in the early 1980’s. Some became involved in the sex-positive
feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists, to put pornography
at the center of a feminist explanation of women’s oppression. This period of intense
debate and acrimony between sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists during the early
1980’s is often referred to as the “Feminist Sex Wars”. Other less academic sex-positive
feminists became involved not in opposition to other feminists but in direct response
to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality.
This type of feminism emphasizes feminist scholarship outside Britain
and the United States and the ways in which capitalism shapes all
relationships of dominance. This branch of feminism shows how oppression
of women by men is similar to oppression of third-world countries by
This type of feminism is most often known for the application of transgender
discourses to feminist discourses, and of feminist beliefs to transgender
discourse. It is said that Transfeminism also concerns its integration within
mainstream feminism. This type of feminism has specific content that applies
to transgender and transsexual people, but the thinking and theory of which
is also applicable to all women.
The Three Waves Of Feminism
Each wave of feminism is described as dealing with different aspects of the same feminist issues.
First Wave Feminism
The first wave refers mainly to women’s suffrage movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries (mainly concerned with women’s right to vote). First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the U.K. and U.S., it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights of women. However, by the end of the 19th century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage, though some feminists were active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive, and economic rights at this time.
Women’s suffrage was achieved in Britain’s Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand and South Australia granting women the right to vote in 1893 and 1895 respectively, and followed by Australia permitting women to stand for parliamentary office and granting women’s right to vote.
In Britain, the Suffragettes and the Suffragists campaigned for the women’s vote, and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned houses. In 1928, this was extended to all women over 21.
In the United States, notable leaders of this movement included: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women’s right to vote and were strongly influenced by Quaker thought.
In the U.S., first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919), granting women the right to vote in all states. The term first wave, was coined retrospectively to categorize these western movements after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement that focused as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as political inequalities.
During the late Qing period and reform movements such as the Hundred Days’ Reform, Chinese feminists called for women’s liberation from traditional roles and Neo-Confucian gender segregation. Later, the Chinese Communist Party created projects aimed at integrating women into the workforce, and claimed that the revolution had successfully achieved women’s liberation.
In 1899, Qasim Amin, considred the “father” of Arab feminism, wrote The Liberation of Women, which argued for legal and social reforms for women. Hoda Shaarawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923, and became its president and a symbol of Arab women’s rights movement. Arab feminism was closely connected with Arab nationalism.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1905 triggered the Iranian women’s movement, which aimed to achieve women’s equality in education, marriage, careers, and legal rights. However, during the Iranian revolution of 1979, many of the rights of women had gained from the women’s movement were systematically abolished, such as the Family Protection Law.
Second Wave Feminism
The second wave refers to the ideas and actions associated with the women’s liberation movement beginning in the 1960’s (which campaigned for legal and social equality for women). Second-wave feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960’s and continuing to the present, an it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second wave feminism is largely concerned with issues of equality other than suffrage, such as ending discrimination. Second-wave feminists see women’s cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encourage women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan “The Personal is Political”, which became synonymous with the second wave.
Second and third-wave feminism in China has been characterized by a re-examination of women’s roles during the communist revolution and other reform movements, and new discussions about whether women’s equality has actually been fully achieved.
In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt initiated as part of his government “state feminism”, which outlawed discrimination based on gender and granted women’s suffrage, but also blocked political activism by feminist leaders.
During Sadat’s presidency, his wife, Jehan Sadat, publicly advocated for further women’s rights, though Egyptian policy and society began to move away from women’s equality with the new Islamist movement and growing conservatism. However, some activists proposed a new feminist movement, Islamic feminism, which argues for women’s equality within an Islamic framework.
The term post-feminism is used to describe a range of viewpoints reacting to feminism since the 1980’s. While not being “anti-feminist”, post-feminists believe that women have achieved second wave goals while being critical of third wave feminists goals. The term was first used to describe a backlash against second-wave feminism, but it is now a label for a wide range of theories that take critical approaches to previous feminist discourses and includes challenges to the second wave’s ideas. Other post-feminists say that feminism is no longer relevant to today’s society. Amelia Jones has written that the post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980’s and 1990’s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and criticized it using generalizations.
Third Wave Feminism
The third wave refers to a continuation of, and a reaction to, the perceived failures of second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990’s. In the United State in the early 1990’s, third-wave feminism began as a response to perceived failures of the second wave and to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave’s essentialist definitions of femininity, which, they argue, over-emphasize the experiences of upper middle-class white women. Third-wave feminists often focus on “micro-politics” and challenge the second wave’s paradigm as to what is, or is not, good for women, and tend to use a post-structuralist interpretation of gender and sexuality. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave, such as: Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other black feminists, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities.
Third-wave feminism also contains internal debates between difference feminists, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes, and those who believe that there are no inherent differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning.
The third-wave embraces change and diversity. The third-wave movement realizes that women are of many different colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and cultural backgrounds. In the third-wave movement, there is no single feminist idea.
Third-wave feminist theory incorporates elements of queer theory; anti-racism and women of color consciousness; womanism; girl power; post-colonial theory; postmodernism; transnationalism; ecofeminism; individualist feminism; new feminist theory, transgender politics, and a rejection of the gender binary.