History has given us a vintage view of different types of feminism over the years down to this modern era’s feminism. Let’s start with a quote from Rebecca West on feminism.
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”Rebecca West
We shall take these words by Rebecca West, one of the greatest underappreciated writers of the time, as a rough definition of feminism, if you take a doormat to be a non-talking abused female. But in what way the female is abused has never been and is still not a universally agreed matter. This was the cause of the rifts in the modern school of feminist thought that prominently originated in the eighteenth century. These rifts still exist today, and so with these different opinions arose different types of feminism, each with its own explanation, agenda, and solution. Without trying to oversimplify a rather nuanced subject I will now attempt to explore these divisions in a very concise and structured manner, and using a historical approach.
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Different types of feminism
Among the earliest feminist movement, this philosophy concerned itself with gender inequality coming from the presumed disappointing intellect of the female that denied her education, employment, and social advancement and also promoted the image of the ideal woman as the homebound partner suitable only for keeping house. This had resulted in the inability of a woman to attain material comfort without the necessity of a restrictive marriage. Many women had to turn to prostitution which became the fourth largest feminine occupation in Victorian England, and these prostitutes, products of a society power-structured on the basis of gender, were regularly hunted out, manhandled, and arrested indiscriminately by a male-controlled government on account of the rising sexually contagious diseases in communities without a consideration that their male clienteles might have well been the carriers.
Among The Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act which had sought after protecting the rights of these prostitutes, the liberal feminists wielded handy political and legal instruments to pursue other reforms on employment, education and marital laws. For the ideal home woman image had also fostered domestic violence, emotional abuse, skewed sexual morals in favour of the man, lack of ability of the female to own property of any sorts after marriage, or to have custody of her children after divorce.
A major figure here is Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the female writer that gave the world the classic “I, Frankenstein.” She and others long after her fought to release women from the kitchens and into schools and higher educational institutions. The success of the movement had shown that women could at their ease take on scholarly interests just as could men, and it saw women flourish who came to believe that their potentials as women in society were clamped by these pre-conceived gender roles. Classic examples of these are Beecher Stowe, who would go on to be delightfully charged with having written a worthy contender for the Greatest American Novel; Marie Curie, the noble lady that died discovering radioactivity; and Mary Ann Evans, the wordsmith who had to use a man’s name in order to ensure appropriate critiquing of her works.
The crowning achievement of Liberal Feminism was to have been the giving of the vote to women and their enrolment into parliament. But these electoral and political reforms did not automatically translate into social or economic success. Women were paid less than men in workplaces and in parliament, there were still little opportunities for social advancement as the issue of pregnancy, maternity leaves, low psychological threshold were often cited as among many rationales for women’s low wages or forbiddance to higher echelons of office in industry. It was during this time also that Socialism gained rage. Marxist Socialism as a revolutionary concept charged the working class to upend the current exploitative capitalists to achieve a classless society in which everyone, including workers and industrialists, was equal and had the same amount of rights as the other.
Feminism hopped on this ideology and proclaimed that women were still subjugated because of the capitalist politico-economic system that exploited women who exercised both free labor of home-duty and poorly renumerated long-hours labor of semi-skilled factory work, while the male capitalists were eating fat from their underpaid labor, and so from that higher economic ground men could constantly dominate them in other social spheres. Compared to other class contradictions the Marxist feminists held the social and economic subjugation of women as the most fundamental oppression and a situation that had to be altered only by the means of a socialist feminist revolution.
While some leaned on socialism, asserting the masculine gender, the upper class of the capitalist society, as an oppressive force to be leveled down, others saw feminine subjugation as a fact of humanity that long preceded the coming of capitalism. The ancient civilizations of the Bronze Age, said these radicals, had cultures that were intolerant of females and their desired placements in society, as for example the Chinese women of the 1000 B.C. Zhou were foot-bound until they could no longer walk and were thus admonished to stay at home to serve their husbands.
Examples like these had caused the radicals to believe that the only way to fully win women’s rights was to completely overhaul more than five thousand years of orchestrated oppression. And this condition was naturally blamed on the fact that it was the woman who bore the brunt of reproduction and naturally had more stake in a child who had dwelled in her womb for almost a year.
So they had advocated family planning and birth control policies, fought for the promulgation of abortion law, and even went as far as fielding the plausibility of some futuristic technology that would make breeding possible outside the female reproductive organ. It is the ultimate hope of the radical feminist to make the world genderless so that political, social, and economic rights are not awarded on the consideration of what sexual organs one possesses.
For those who had thought the proffered solutions of Radical feminism very unorthodox and infeasible but had come to share their beliefs, especially of how reproduction defined gender, they came to an understanding of role of society in constructing gender roles and norms, and how these norms had come to be politicized and helped to maintain the male-female power dynamic. This movement became prominent after the two world wars when the belief in the purpose of humanity had taken a forlorn tone after the catastrophe that splurged in their wake.
Women began generally to lash out against the prescribed traditional norms of homely and gentile spirit attached to a woman, and to wear loose clothing that accentuated the shape of their body, took up smoking which was previously a masculine pastime. They also spoke against the laxity with which society viewed male promiscuity while reinforcing the role of the faithful wife or the virgin female youth.
This movement began to bloom with the Millennials, and went in line with the dogma of their rugged independence. They preached for the female to accept responsibility for her actions and her life. They preached the respect for all sexual choices, the legalization of sex work, the sexual liberation of women, and freedom to take up more than one sexual partner if they so desire, without having to be rebuked for it. Today, it still rides with “Fourth Wave feminism” which has begun to speak out against rape, sexual harassment, and body-shaming.