What Is Feminism?

January 28, 2021 Updated: January 28, 2021

I enjoyed your opinion article “A Raised Glass: Here’s to Some Admirable Young Women” by Jeff Minick (Dec. 16, 2020).

One section, in particular, grabbed my attention—”Feminism and Motherhood”—where Jessica said, “A lot of girls my age, at least in college, struggle with what feminism really means.”

Like for many complex issues, there are misunderstandings, since most issues are not simply black and white.

As Jessica herself acknowledged, even women themselves struggle with the definition of feminism. One challenge I see is that there are multiple views of what feminism means to people. That view can differ from a 14-year-old girl, a university graduate, a Sunday school teacher, a retired grandmother, etc. There is not one strict definition of what feminism means. Furthermore, the meaning changes over time. In fact, according to Quora submission writers:

“Oliver Lee: There are three historical waves of feminism.

“First Wave – Mary Wollstonecraft demonstrates ‘Women can think in a manner equal to any man’

“Second Wave – Simone DeBeauvoir demonstrates ‘Women can act in a manner equal to any man’

“Third Wave – Women at large demonstrate ‘Women can be as productive in the workplace as any man’”

Margaret Thatcher, the first woman UK Prime Minister and friend of USA President Ronald Reagan, said, “In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.”

Stereotypes of feminists can certainly be unflattering. For some, particularly men, feminists are women with hairy legs; for others, they are aggressive, strident women; for yet others, they are women who are afraid of men and who seek the protection of women’s company as a shield against a harsh, violent masculinist world.

To echo Jessica’s comments, an article [“What Is Feminism?” published April 2011 in the journal Agenda] continued, “Even for those women who identify themselves as feminists or with feminist issues, there is confusion over the debates that rage within feminism.”

Feminism (for Olivia Grace, another Quora writer) means:

“Feminism is believing in equal rights for everyone. Feminism is believing EVERYONE deserves equal chances and opportunities. Feminism is not only fighting for women’s rights, but also for men’s. Being a feminist is believing that a man being raped or abused is just as wrong and horrible as a woman being raped or abused.”

Another Quora writer, Veronique Helmridge-Marsillian, writes:

“The five branches are summarized as:

“Traditionalism: ‘Feminism is an attack on men’s rights.’

“Liberal Feminism: ‘Equal rights for men and women, but no quotas or regulation.’

“Radical Feminism: ‘Patriarchy oppresses women.’

“Marxist Feminism: ‘Capitalism oppresses women.’

“Cultural Feminism: ‘A world ruled by women would be kinder.’”

My advice, if Jessica asked me, would be to continue to explore feminism from a variety of sources—ask fellow university students (both male and female), retired grandmothers (lots of life experience!), aunts, women entrepreneurs, homeschool mothers, Sunday school teachers. The wider your intellectual spectrum, the more you can see what might work best for you.

As a male supporter of Liberal Feminism, I would agree with former Prime Minister Thatcher’s quote:

“Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understand the problems of running a country.”

 

Mike Guzman Jr.

California