In my last couple of posts on Women Against Feminism (see here and here) I made the claim that feminism is everywhere- or as Free Northerner (and others) have said: in the air we breath. All of this centered around the argument that the WAF are feminists, whether they realize it or not. Central to this is the fact that feminism has been with us so long, and has been so successful, that our understanding of what constitutes feminism has shifted without our realizing it.
This post is going to cover what I think are the major “strains” of feminism. I use strains because a strong argument can be made that feminism is a disease of sorts, one that has been with us for a long time. Now, as far as I can tell there are three ‘major’ strains. While it is possible to break them up further, I think that all of them fall under one of these three main categories. They are “Traditional Feminism”, “Egalitarian Feminism” and “Supremacist Feminism.” Here are some brief explanations of them. If anyone can think of any other major categories, do argue for them in the comments. I hope to use this post as an opportunity to really delve into this particular subject.
- This strain of feminism existed before the term “feminism” was invented or used in the manner we understand it now.
It has existed for centuries in the West, and can be traced back to the hijacking of chivalry by aristocratic women in feudal Europe. Consequently another name for this might be Pseudo-Chivalric or just Chivalric Feminism. Here is an example of it in action.
- Unlike the latter strains, Traditional Feminism is not about women gaining “structural power” for themselves, but instead limiting, circumventing or suborning male structural power. Its goal was to turn female protections into female privileges. One example of this is excluding men from certain activities, on the grounds that it is a woman’s role or activity only, as compared to something women should do because they are better at it.
- Pedestalization is very big part of this form of feminism, which was the dominant strain until the last century or so. Until recently, it was found most often among “conservative” women. Nowadays it is fairly rare, largely due to the success of Egalitarian Feminism. [To understand strike-throughs see bottom update.]
- This strain of feminism is more recent, [probably] originating in the last few centuries.
It was a product of the liberalism or modernism, whichever term you prefer. One of the original proponents of Egalitarian Feminism was Abigail Adams. Most of “First-Wave” Feminism falls under the Egalitarian Feminism category. So does the Suffragette movement, assuming you separate it from first-wave feminism.
- The main goal of this strain is to equalize the structural power of men and women. Equality is the name of the game here, although primarily equality of opportunity. This strain pushed the 19th Amendment, pushed to have female jurors, and otherwise open to women anything that was closed (or perceived to be closed) to them. It is less about female privilege than it is about ending perceived male privilege.
- Most “conservative” women today (and men for that matter) are infected by this particular strain. The WAF are also infected by it. What makes it so dangerous in a way is that it is difficult to detect. Because of the earlier success of Egalitarian Feminism (back when it was recognized as feminism), it has become the default mode of thought in Western society. So in a way “Egalitarian Feminism” won, and is no longer recognized as feminism. It just is- it is the proper state of affairs.
- This is the strain that is sometimes referred to as “Radical Feminism.”
It is a recent phenomenon, dating back less than a century or thereabouts. “Second-Wave” and “Third-Wave” feminism belong to this category. Most modern self-identifying feminists fall under this category.
- The principal goal of this strain is to elevate female interests and/or to denigrate male interests. Whether it is “woman good” or “man bad”, those who are infected with this strain are not concerned with equality (or at least equality of opportunity). Instead “Social Justice” or Equality of Outcome are their goals. Ending “male privilege” is important, but to them leveling the playing field requires that women be elevated to compensate for millennia of abuse and oppression at the hands of men. Here structural power is shifted away from men and towards women- an example is the way that colleges and universities address reported rapes on campus.
- When feminism is referred to by most these days, it is Supremacist Feminism that they mean. Given how much success feminism has had thus far, most everyone sees only this as feminism. They have no idea it is only the latest in a long progression of feminist efforts. When “conservatives” and the WAF speak out against feminism, this strain is what they are attacking- at least in theory.
I’m curious if folks agree with my categorization effort. I know these categories aren’t perfect, as there is some overlap between them. But overall I think they accurately portray feminism has it exits and has existed.
[Update: I struck out most of the historical claims in this post, as others challenged their accuracy and they were probably right. I never studied the history of feminism, and haven’t devoted time to doing so since university, so I should have known better than to make any claims on this account.]