Feminism:  A Tapestry of Colors and Weaves ll Rev. Mary Coday Edwards

Feminism:  A Tapestry of Colors and Weaves
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.
April 10, 2018

“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, or a prostitute.”  —  Rebecca West, 1913

     What follows is a non-exhaustive list of feminism’s branches; some authors lump categories together, some exclude (1, 2). My point of this exercise is to recognize that we differ in how we direct our energy for a just society. During the 2016 election, intersectional feminists criticized Hilary Clinton for her liberal feminism. They saw her as compromising feminist values—sleeping with the enemy. They ignored how she struggled for decades to enable intersectional feminists to even exist.

     And so we end up where we are now, with millions marching in pink pussy hats. And where a year ago, under this current political administration, we were treated to the photo op of 13 men and no women deciding the fate of women’s healthcare (3).

     I suggest you read the following mindfully, paying attention to any emotional pings. From there, see if you can trace those responses to where you’ve created values, beliefs, attitudes, and laws that other people must follow in order to meet your standards in the fight for social justice. We journey through different life stages, with various limitations imposed on us—sometimes by life choices and sometimes due to what life has given us. Walk with gentleness and compassion toward the other.

Liberal Feminism

This variety of feminism works within the structure of mainstream society to integrate women into that status quo structure.

     As opposed to other forms of feminism, Liberal Feminism is individualistic rather than group-based. Men and women deserve equal rights because both are individuals; rights are granted to the individual—not gender or groups. In the late 1700s, its ardent champions Abigail Adams and Mary Wollstonecraft worked within patriarchal power structures to gain women the right to vote. But that was for white women—not black.

     Focusing on individuals, it sidesteps the social nature of women’s oppression. Compromise is the name of the game, toiling along inside the system. The male-dominated social status quo defines the range in which women are allowed to roam and what that roaming looks like. It’s demanding equal participation in a male tradition. Traditional religions opening up to female leadership initially look like this.

Radical Feminism

     Radical Feminism has its roots in the civil rights and peace movement of 1967-1968 and was the leading edge of feminist theory until about 1975. From the Latin word, root or source, Radical Feminism believes that the male-dominated hierarchy is the source of the oppression of women.

     While Liberal Feminism focused on the rights of the individual, Radical Feminism was dedicated to eliminating and re-ordering the social/group structures that perpetuated that oppression. Its goal was to jettison male supremacy in all institutions.

     This included the idea that since men had oppressed women for hundreds of years, it may be necessary to discriminate against men while society undergoes this change, such as by excluding men from positions of power for a time.

     This laser-directed attention changed laws, giving women access to credit, equal pay, equal employment opportunities, as well as raising public awareness to issues of rape and violence against women. This branch of feminism has given birth to several sub-categories which focus on particular issues.

Marxist and Socialist Feminism

     Instead of the patriarchy as the root of all female oppression, Marxist Feminists see capitalism as the cause of gender equality. This economic system presses women into assuming responsibility for unpaid domestic tasks, such as child-rearing, homemaking, and caring for elderly family members or those with disabilities, while men are free to create monetary wealth in the public sphere. It is sometimes seen as a sub-category of Radical Feminism.

Cultural Feminism

     Social change demanded by Radical Feminism (or any group working for social justice) is just plain hard. Pessimism always waits around the corner ready to defeat you. So in the case of Radical Feminism, many moved over to Cultural Feminism—the difference between the two is that while the former sought to transform society, the latter moved to create a woman’s culture. If you can’t change the male-dominated society, avoid it as much as possible. Health centers created by women with a specific focus on the needs of women, children, and those in poverty are an example. 

     Cultural Feminism holds that women and men are essentially different and that women are generally more nurturing, more empathic, and less violent than men. Cultural Feminists seek to celebrate these qualities, which they believe have been oppressed by men.

     Cultural Feminists believe that both men and women are hurt by contemporary male-dominated society, which they see as encouraging male behavior such as competition and conflict.

     The goal of Cultural Feminism is not to bring about some pre-scripted political revolution, but to improve tolerance and diversity by celebrating women’s special qualities and unique experiences. Like Marxist Feminism, Cultural Feminism has in recent years expanded its focus from championing not just the perspectives of women, but also those of sexual and racial minorities as well.

Ecofeminism

     Always a favorite of mine, it holds that a patriarchal, resource extraction and polluting society degrades and/or extinguishes our natural resources with no attention to the consequences of these policies to the rights of nature or to sustainability. “Mankind” in all its wisdom (and hubris) denies interconnectedness and will develop technology to reverse the impact of pollution’s poisons in our air, water, and earth. Since dominance rules, survival of the fittest in its most harmful form is law. Creatures who can’t defend themselves against man’s greed and violence are destined to be eliminated from our planet.

     This theory says that as men control and destroy our environment for their own benefit and pleasure, so they also control and oppress women for the same reasons. Ecofeminism advocates for a reduction in environmental destruction, as well as creating a healthy society to repair social and environmental injustices.

Intersectional Feminism

This section deserves its own page, which I will address in my next blog.

     A primary criticism of early feminism is that it was defined around the needs of white, middle-class women, ignoring the fact that women of color, those with disabilities, or any transgender will face alternative forms of oppression. Intersectional feminism seeks to address these blinders.

Other

     Other categories include Black, Separatist, or I-Feminism. I will discuss some of their concepts in my next blog.

     In the meantime, practice awareness, inclusion, and compassion in order to create a just and equal society.

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Notes & Sources:

1.) Many resources exist on the Web. An excellent sources for additional reading options: https://www.uah.edu/woolf/feminism_kinds.htm

2.) https://opinionfront.com/types-of-feminism-you-should-know-about

3.) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/room-men-maternity-coverage_us_58d416e6e4b02d33b749b713

4.) Kabat-Zinn, Jon, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, on mindfulness practices.

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is  Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

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