This thread is a continuation and replacement of the old Feminism Catch-All (with FAQ) thread.
This initial post is a placeholder for an FAQ in progress, and includes placeholder text between headings...
Existing threads of discussion
- How does feminism relate to the rights of men, or does it? Should we call it something different? (Page 1)
Feminism is at its core the idea that women should be treated like human beings. That women deserve equal political, economic, and social rights to men. Wikipedia says: 'Today the Oxford English Dictionary defines a feminist as "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women".'
There are a variety of social movements and ideologies that have grown out of this core belief, and this can lead to a great deal of confusion. Much of the wide variety in feminist ideologies is tied to different approaches to understanding gender inequality, its origins, and possible solutions arising from those approaches.
And yes, some of those ideas are rather odious at times.
But the heart of feminism? That's simply equal treatment. Not preferential treatment. Not the destruction of cultural institutions. Not having everyone dress in unisex clothing. Just... equal treatment.
Also see the question about men and women being different for some more details about what this means in more specific context.
Because gender inequality is at the heart of feminist concerns, feminism also frequently touches on other aspects of gender inequality and stereotyping (including GSRM issues), and wider issues of inequality (kyriarchy and intersectional issues).
Finally, note that because feminism is frequently about rigidity of gender roles and gender inequality, it's also about breaking down places where men are treated unequally towards women: when people look askance at a guy who wants to make a career working with kids, that's a feminist issue, because it's founded on an assumption that certain jobs are "women's work", and that any man who engages in those jobs must have ulterior motives.
(Note for later linkage: "What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like?" (NPR))
Some things from later in this thread:
Here are some bits pieces from Wikipedia:
First-wave feminism was a period of activity during the 19th century and early twentieth century. In the UK and US, it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women.
Second-wave feminism is a feminist movement beginning in the early 1960s and continuing to the present; as such, it coexists with third-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism is largely concerned with issues of equality beyond suffrage, such as ending gender 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.
In the early 1990s in the USA, 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 distinguished itself from the second wave around issues of sexuality, challenging female heterosexuality and celebrating sexuality as a means of female empowerment. Third-wave feminism also 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.
There are also a variety of ideologies within feminism that are useful to know about, and developed and changed within those waves.
Liberal feminism seeks individualistic equality of men and women through political and legal reform without altering the structure of society.
Radical feminism considers the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy as the defining feature of women's oppression and the total uprooting and reconstruction of society as necessary.
Conservative feminism is conservative relative to the society in which it resides.
Libertarian feminism conceives of people as self-owners and therefore as entitled to freedom from coercive interference.
Separatist feminism does not support heterosexual relationships. Lesbian feminism is thus closely related. Other feminists criticize separatist feminism as sexist.
Ecofeminists see men's control of land as responsible for the oppression of women and destruction of the natural environment; ecofeminism has been criticised for focusing too much on a mystical connection between women and nature.
Marxist feminism argues that capitalism is the root cause of women's oppression, and that discrimination against women in domestic life and employment is an effect of capitalist ideologies.
Socialist feminism distinguishes itself from Marxist feminism by arguing that women's liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women's oppression.
Anarcha-feminists believe that class struggle and anarchy against the state require struggling against patriarchy, which comes from involuntary hierarchy.
Womanism emerged after early feminist movements were largely white and middle-class.
Postcolonial feminists argue that colonial oppression and Western feminism marginalized postcolonial women but did not turn them passive or voiceless.
Third-world feminism and Indigenous feminism are closely related to postcolonial feminism.
Post-structural feminism draws on the philosophies of post-structuralism and deconstruction in order to argue that the concept of gender is created socially and culturally through discourse.
Riot grrls took an anti-corporate stance of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Riot grrrl's emphasis on universal female identity and separatism often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave.
Lipstick feminism is a cultural feminist movement that attempts to respond to the backlash of second-wave radical feminism of the 1960s and 1970s by reclaiming symbols of "feminine" identity such as make-up, suggestive clothing and having a sexual allure as valid and empowering personal choices.
I'll add transfeminism to the mix, which is a movement informed by transgender experiences towards recognizing that gender is not as simple as men and women, and affirming that how we interact with gender is a choice and not a given. It sees the idea that gender is purely a social construct as simplistic, although the ways we interact with and understand gender are certainly socially constructed.
And of course, individual people are individual and can have all sorts of mixtures of ideas. I know radical transfeminists. I know Marxist radical feminists. I know libertarian lipstick feminists. etc.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of other attitudes and ideologies floating around as well, and a sense that we're beyond the third wave of feminism but uncertainty about what that means.
Also note the word "intersectional" in particular. This was coined by Black Feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, who put forward the idea that intersections between different axes of marginalization combine in ways greater than the sum of their parts. That is: the situation of Black women may not be understood by understanding sexism and understanding racism separately. There are aspects of what Black women face that are unique to them. (Today, that intersection is often called "misogynoir", a portmanteau of misogyny and the word "noir" for the color black.)
Some more words that often come up:
This does not mean "born with a silver spoon in your mouth". It refers to being in the advantageous position in some axis of marginalization. This is often difficult for the privileged person to perceive, because many advantages of privilege amount to being treated like a human being while others are treated as less. For example: a woman will be judged as "bossy" or "abrasive" for speaking up in the workplace, while a man in the same position speaking the same way will have the privilege of being treated as "forceful" and "no-holds-barred" for speaking up even more strongly. Another example: a white person may be treated with suspicion in an upscale store if they are poorly dressed (although in the age of Silicon Valley, this is no certainty), but a Black person is likely to be treated as a potential shoplifter even if they are dressed impeccably.
See also this news story, where:
Kamilah Brock says the New York City police sent her to a mental hospital for a hellish eight days, where she was forcefully injected with powerful drugs, essentially because they couldn’t believe a black woman owned a BMW.
A marginalized person is a person who is treated as less significant and "pushed to the margins". This is the opposite side of privilege. Women are discouraged from leadership positions in businesses because they have to keep to the margins to avoid being picked out as trouble-makers. People of color are discouraged from going to the same shops and neighborhoods as white people because they'll be treated as suspicious outsiders. Transgender people will avoid medical providers even when suffering from dangerous conditions because of fears of being treated as a curiosity rather than as a patient.
Being marginalized means not being able to take part in society to the same degree as those with privilege. White people can participate more than Black people. Men can participate more than women. Straight people can participate more than gay people. Both straight and gay people can participate more than bi people sometimes. (Really!) And so on.
People who are marginalized have to constantly prove themselves in different ways, and even having proved themselves continue to be required to do so. Privileged people are assumed to belong.
This is a different way to talk about privilege and marginalization, somewhat more common in second wave feminism than later feminism. The implication is the same, although the language is stronger. It may seem like these words are overstating the case--but we can see in recent cases of police treatment of Black people that they may not be as far off the mark as we would like to believe.
The attitude that sex should be a thing that can be celebrated, and doesn't need to be treated as a vehicle of oppression. This is connected with other third-wave ideas in reclaiming things associated with femininity instead of rejecting them. Making them about women empowering themselves, rather than about women submitting themselves to the will of men. A sex-negative attitude towards makeup would be that it's done for men's benefit to look more attractive for them. A sex-positive attitude would be that it is a form of self-expression that a woman can flaunt for no reason other than to feel good about herself.
"Sex-worker exclusionary radical feminist" and "trans exclusionary radical feminist". People often have these views at the same time, although it's certainly not universal.
TERFs often hold to some radical feminist ideas put forward in the 1970s that trans women are men altered through the medical-industrial complex to be invaders into the society of women. They usually ignore the fact that trans men exist (instead preferring to believe that they're still women, albeit very butch), and if forced to confront the fact that trans men see themselves as men will see them as deluded.
SWERFs hold to the idea that sex work is always oppressive, and never something that a person can choose to do themselves. They tend to show up in places where work is being done to change the law to decrease the "evils of prostitution". They almost always ignore the words of sex workers who decry their approaches as more destructive than what they're trying to cure. Sex-work positive feminists generally believe that sex work is a job that people choose to do, and which prohibition does not eliminate, and as such believe that legalizing sex work in order to provide safer working conditions (and allow sex workers to go to the police when they are abused, for example) is the right way to end these evils.
Not all sex-worker exclusionary feminists are radical feminists (for example, see white feminism just below.)
This refers specifically to a sort of attitude that is often seen among prominent women (usually white, but also some women of color). It is somewhat reminiscent of first-wave feminism in that it has a sense of "the fight has been won", and ignores the fact that people in different situations have it worse off. A cardinal example would be Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In", which is criticized as basically just saying that "all women have to do is work harder to be recognized, but we can do it!! This ignores the fact that Sandberg had tremendous advantages that allowed her to do this, which are not available to women in different situations.
White feminism is generally dismissive of the issues of women of color, queer women, and sex workers.
There are some branches of feminism that believe that men and women will never truly be equal until all differences between men and women are stamped out. Fortunately, that's kind of a fringe point of view.
[em]Of course[/em] men and women are different. Physically, in terms of the effects of hormones on their bodies while developing in the womb and throughout their lives. Possibly mentally and emotionally based on the influence of hormones on the brain. Socially in terms of commonly preferred social roles, ambitions, interactions with others, fashions. There are a lot of ways that men and women are different.
But it's important to note a few things: First, [em]individual people are all different[/em]. Second, [em]different doesn't necessarily mean worse[/em]. And third, [em]some of these differences are choices[/em].
It is not prejudice, when you have two candidates for a task, to evaluate the two candidates on the basis of their actual ability to perform the task and to then pick the one who can do it better. It [em]is[/em] prejudice to look at the two candidates and make unjustified assumptions about their actual ability to perform the task, and then pick the one who you assume can do it better.
Women do, on average, have less muscle mass and bone density than men. However, the average is just the average. Actual individual women and men have a great variety of physicality, and there's a ton of overlap. So if you take an individual man and an individual woman, and you want to know which one is actually better at lifting heavy things, you need to evaluate those two individuals--not the averages.
There are also many many places in our world where men and women are treated differently, based purely on diffent assumptions about how one or the other "should" act. For example, the Guardian has a reaction piece pointing out how a Politico Op-Ed was sexist--not because it asserted that Jill Abramson is a bad editor because she's a woman, but because it criticized aspects of her leadership style that would be lauded in a male editor.
Similarly, in the famous case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the issue was prejudicial treatment of a woman based on her failure to conform to gender stereotypes. Behavior that would have been accepted in a man was instead criticized in a woman. If it's acceptable for some people to choose to behave a certain way, it's unreasonable to demand that others not make the same choices simply because of their gender (or ethnicity, or so on.)
And yes, the same sort of thing happens to men who act in a more typically feminine manner, and that's also a feminist issue.
In short: Equality doesn't mean stamping out differences. It's not about physical equality. It's about equality in social, economic, and political [em]treatment[/em]. It's not about demanding that you ignore the very real differences, it's about demanding that the differences actually exist rather than being assumed into being.
(Note for later linkage: Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police.)
(Notes for possible later linkage regarding "slut-shaming" which often follows on from "victim-blaming", although maybe it deserves its own heading somehow: The shame of slut-shaming, I Was Detained and Interrogated at the Border for Carrying Condoms.)