10 Fascinating Sub-movements Within Feminism

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Since the first organized feminist movement in the 1850s, feminism has changed the face of women’s civil rights in the United States. From legal protection, political participation and social progress, feminism has brought women closer to overall equality. While the goals of feminism appear to be simple, the feminist movement is actually quite complex. Feminism is categorized into three distinct waves and each of these waves contains several sub-movements that have their own ideology within the overall feminist movement. Here are 10 fascinating sub-movements within feminism:

  1. Liberal Feminism
    Liberal feminism promotes equality for men and women though political and legal reform. This feminism movement focuses on women’s ability to demonstrate equality through their actions and choices, without altering the structure of society. Liberal feminism promotes gender equality by looking at the interactions between men and women, in order to make changes that will benefit both sexes and implement better laws. Liberal feminists focus on important issues like reproductive rights and abortion access, sexual harassment, voting, education, affordable healthcare and childcare and equal pay for work and other equality rights.
  2. Socialist Feminism
    Socialist feminism centers on the public and private areas of a woman’s life. It claims that liberation can only be achieved by ending economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression. Socialist feminism encompasses Marxist feminism’s belief that capitalism has a role in women’s oppression, as well as radical feminism’s belief that gender and patriarchy also play a role. Followers of socialist feminism critique traditional Marxism for not making the natural connection between patriarchy and classism, and instead Marx put class oppression first hoping gender oppression would vanish thereafter. Today, social feminists put most of their efforts toward separating gender oppression from class oppression.
  3. Radical Feminism
    Radical feminism is based on the idea that the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy is the root of women’s oppression. Unlike liberal or socialist feminism, radical feminism zeros in on the root cause of women’s oppression from patriarchal gender relations and feminists seek to abolish patriarchy. Radical feminists believe the only way to change the system of power is to analyze the underlying causes of oppression through revolution and taking direct action.
  4. Anti-Pornography Movement
    The anti-pornography movement is backed by many feminists, who believe pornography has many harmful effects on society and encourages serious issues like human trafficking, pedophilia, sexual assault and dehumanization. Feminists, along with religious groups, psychologists and ex-porn stars, reject the belief that pornography promotes sexual expression and sexual freedom, but rather exploits women and contributes to the male-centered objectification of women, which leads to sexism. Feminists who support the anti-pornography movement believe that pornography is a central example of women’s oppression. This early 1980s movement gave way to the sex-positive feminism movement that had opposing views about pornography and sexual expression, causing what was called the “Feminist Sex Wars.”
  5. Sex-Positive Feminism
    Sex-positive feminism, also called pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism and sexually liberal feminism, is an important movement from the early 1980s that promoted sexual freedom for women and opposed the anti-pornography feminists’ belief that pornography causes desensitization, sexual exploitation and dehumanization of women. Sex-positive feminists are against legal or social efforts to control sexual activities of consenting adults and support sexual minority groups. They also embrace human sexuality in its entirety, while rejecting the patriarchy limits and control of sexual expression.
  6. Cultural Feminism
    The cultural feminism movement derives from radical feminism by expanding on an ideology of a female nature or essence that sets women apart from men. Cultural feminism highlights undervalued female attributes and focuses on individual lifestyle. Instead of urging women to go against social norms and participate in mostly mail-dominated work, such as politics, the cultural feminism movement focuses on explaining the differences in women and men by using biological comparisons. Critics of cultural feminism find it to be an unrealistic transformation and non-progressive way of thinking because it advocates independence rather than coalition to end oppression.
  7. Separatist Feminism
    Separatist feminism is a form of radical feminism, which focuses exclusively on women and girls while opposing patriarchy entirely. Separatist feminists do not support heterosexual relationships, nor do they condone working with or having personal or casual relationships with men. Separatist feminists believe that men offer no positive contributions to the feminist movement and will only keep patriarchy alive. This movement, as well as lesbian feminism and lesbian separatism have been highly criticized for being sexist in and of itself.
  8. Conservative Feminism
    Conservative feminism is a less radical movement that shares views closer to the majority and even sometimes questions whether gender difference, discrimination or women’s oppression truly exist and to what extent. Conservative feminists may be conservative to their society or take a less aggressive approach to oppression.
  9. Postmodern Feminism
    Postmodern feminism incorporates both postmodern and post-structural theory that believes sex and gender are socially constructed, and it’s unjust to generalize women’s experiences across the board. Postmodern feminism challenges previous feminist theories and discounts the essentialist definitions of femininity from modern feminism. Postmodern feminism breaks away from the traditional thinking of overemphasizing the experiences of upper middle-class white women in America and explores the oppression experiences of women from other cultures and time periods.
  10. Ecofeminism
    Ecofeminism is based on the idea that man’s control of land caused gender inequality and destruction of the natural environment. Ecofeminism makes a correlation between environmentalism and feminism, in which the oppression of women in society and the degradation of nature paved the way for patriarchy and male domination over women, nature and other races. Ecofeminism has been criticized for misandry and pinpointing men as the root of most problems, but it also discusses the oppression of minority males by other men.

Published by

Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

4 thoughts on “10 Fascinating Sub-movements Within Feminism”

  1. So how do feminist separatists reproduce? Do they reproduce at all? What do they think of people who do reproduce? Is reproduction considered submission to the patriarchy?

    1. That’s an interesting question. I don’t have any first hand knowledge of the reproductive practices of separatist feminists.Perhaps they feel that reproduction isn’t important. If so, they obviously, like the Shakers, are only able to add to their numbers through recruitment.

  2. Its funny how no Patricia Hill Collins or intersectionality theory or black feminist thought, which is centered on black females experiences but also acknowledges other minorities and womens experiences, is excluded from the wonderful feminist movements. Many feminists, especially white ones, really seem to completely forget how much harder it is to be a brown woman than a white woman. We need unity as women but until you acknowledge these movements, you won’t find it.

    1. I agree. It was a gross oversight. I didn’t make up the list, but I should have noted the absence of anything referring to diversity, intersectionality, multiculturism, or black/women of color feminism thought. You sound very knowledgeable and articulate; would you consider writing a guest post about how the feminist movement too often excludes women of color? If not, I will, but I have a feeling it would sound better coming from you.

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