The overarching goal of all feminist movements is to put an end to sexist oppression. Feminists of different stripes have very different ideas about how to achieve this goal. An overview.
By Celia Parbey
Over the past few decades, Black and Indigenous women and women of colour have raised objections to forms of feminism that prioritize white women's perspectives and that have traditionally dominated the public image of feminism. Based on these critiques, they have developed new, more inclusive approaches to feminism. Western feminists are also increasingly alive to varieties of feminism already practised in non-Western societies. The following is an overview of the many faces and facets of modern-day feminism.
Ecofeminists see the climate crisis, like the oppression of women and racialized people, as a consequence of patriarchal and capitalist systems of power. The term was coined in 1974 by French feminist Françoise d'Eaubonne. Ecofeminist movements nowadays focus on perspectives that are often disregarded in international climate policy, especially those of marginalized people in the global South, Africa and South America, who are the ones already hardest hit by the climate crisis. Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement is a case in point: As early as 1977, Maathai was already calling attention to the specific problems Kenyan women face in coping with climate change.
Intersectionality and Feminism
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Black American civil rights advocate and critical race theorist, coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to describe the interaction between multiple mechanisms of discrimination. Crenshaw criticized white feminism’s exclusive focus on gender because it disregards the experience of many women of colour. Crenshaw developed intersectionality theory based on the experiences of Black women in the US, who face a combination of racism, sexism and classism, along with other forms of social discrimination. The concept of intersectionality has been expanded in recent years to include such categories as sexual orientation, “ableism” and nationality.
Like Crenshaw, the American writer and activist Alice Walker coined the term “womanism” in 1983 in reaction to the feminism of middle- and upper-class white women at the time, which, she felt, failed to allow for the experiences and problems of racialized women. The family plays a central role in womanism. Whereas intersectional feminism is more broadly conceived, womanism revolves around the experiences of women of colour.
Africana womanism is rooted in African cultures and focuses on the experiences, struggles, needs and aspirations of African and Afro-diasporic women. The term “Africana womanism” was coined by the African-American academic Clenora Hudson-Weems in the late 1980s. She points out that Africana women do not regard Africana males as the enemy, the way white feminists (and justifiably so) see white men: men of colour do not enjoy the same institutionalized power as white men, she explains, so they’re unable to oppress their women in the same manner.
Queer feminism explicitly includes the LGBTQIA+ community in its struggle. Queer feminists reject binary feminist movements that revolve only around men and women, thus excluding the majority of FLINTA (female, lesbian, intersexual, non-binary, transgender and agender/asexual) people and perpetuating patriarchal mindsets. Queer feminism is intersectional and recognizes the fact that all genders suffer under patriarchy. It sees gender as a social construct, not an absolute biological reality. Queer feminism questions social norms that we generally take for granted, including binary conceptions and hierarchies of gender, heteronormativity, social classes, race, monogamy and much more.
Feminism has now reached the mainstream and popular culture. In the 2010s, pop singers like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift began publicly positioning themselves as feminists and using this new label for self-marketing purposes. Proponents of pop feminism view this development as an opportunity to bring feminist ideas to a wider public. Detractors, on the other hand, disparage pop feminism’s “girl-power” message that individual achievements can alleviate systemic problems. Pop feminism does not undermine patriarchal structures, they argue. It merely elevates individual women to positions of power in order to create the impression that all genders are on an equal footing or on the way to attaining equality. As a movement, pop feminism commercializes feminism.
The Zapatista Movement
The Zapatistas (aka Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or EZLN for short)) are a movement of Indigenous peoples in Mexico fighting against the effects of neoliberal capitalism, especially the privatization of land and other natural resources. From the outset, women and women’s rights have played a central role in the movement. On New Year's Day 1994, the Zapatistas in Chiapas called for revolution and staged several armed uprisings. One of the leaders of the uprising and the movement in general was Comandanta Ramona, who also drafted the Ley Revolucionaria de mujeres. This Revolutionary Women's Law established women’s rights to physical self-determination, an equal say in political matters, equal pay, education and a life free from domestic violence.
The Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, or WITCH for short, was founded in 1968 as an offshoot of a group called the New York Radical Women. WITCH members held so-called “zaps” combining public protest and elements of witchcraft. On Halloween 1968, for instance, they marched down Wall Street in black coats and pointy black hats to symbolically hex the financial district. They also released a hundred live white mice amid the crowd at a bridal fair in New York’s Madison Square Garden to protest against the “enslaving” institution of marriage. But WITCH feminism focused more on anti-capitalist class struggles than on relations between men and women.
Difference feminists hold that men and women are different by nature. Their object is to valorise qualities that have traditionally been devalued as “feminine”, such as empathy, emotions and caring for others. Difference feminists urge women to celebrate their “natural” personality traits and form a society based on those feminine traits and values. They reject supposedly “masculine” traits such as aggressiveness. Other feminist groups accuse difference feminism of romanticizing traditional binary images of femininity and masculinity and reinforcing existing gender stereotypes, as well as failing to allow for the diverse viewpoints and values of people from different cultures and from all walks of life.
The goal of equality feminism is the economic and political equality of the sexes within the existing political framework. In contrast to difference feminism, equality feminists reject fixed gender roles and ascribe differences between the sexes to socialization, not biology. Simone de Beauvoir was a leading exponent of equality feminism.