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What is Feminist Theory? - Definition & Overview

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  • 0:25 Basic Feminist Ideas
  • 1:29 Types of Feminism
  • 4:01 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Do all feminists have the same beliefs about equality? Find out in this lesson, where we'll discuss the different types of feminism, as well as some of the basic feminist ideas. After the lesson, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Feminist Theory?

Feminist theory, or feminism, is support of equality for women and men. Although all feminists strive for gender equality, there are various ways to approach this theory, including liberal feminism, socialist feminism and radical feminism. Let's take a look at the basic feminist ideas and various approaches to achieving gender equality.

Basic Feminist Ideas

Both females and males who identify themselves as feminists disagree on many things. That being said, most feminists agree on five basic principles:

  • Working to increase equality: Feminist thought links ideas to action, insisting we should push for change toward gender equality and not just talk about it.
  • Expanding human choice: Feminists believe that both men and women should have the freedom to develop their human interests and talents, even if those interests and talents conflict with the status quo. For example, if a woman wants to be a mechanic, she should have the right and opportunity to do so.
  • Eliminating gender stratification: Feminists oppose laws and cultural norms that limit income, educational and job opportunities for women.
  • Ending sexual violence & promoting sexual freedom: Feminists feel that women should have control over their sexuality and reproduction.

Types of Feminism

There are three basic forms of feminism: liberal, social and radical feminism. Liberal feminism is rooted in classic liberal thought and believes that individuals should be free to develop their own talents and pursue their own interests.

This approach sees gender inequalities as rooted in the attitudes of our social and cultural institutions. Liberal feminists do not see women's equality as requiring a reorganization of society, but they do seek to expand the rights and opportunities of women.

They focus mainly on protecting equal opportunities for women through legislation. Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 was a big step forward for liberal feminist agenda, which in part states that, 'Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.' To date, 35 states have ratified the amendment; 38 are needed for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution. The 15 states that have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment include those in the Deep South, Midwest and Southwest and include Florida, Missouri and Nevada.

Socialist feminism evolved from the ideas of Karl Marx, who blamed capitalism for promoting patriarchy by concentrating power in the hands of a small number of men. Socialist feminists believe that the traditional family is based upon a capitalist system, where women stay home and men work. As the main source of women's inequality, the system and traditional family can only be replaced by a socialist revolution that creates a government to meet the needs of the family.

By comparison, radical feminists find the attempts by liberal and socialist feminists to address issues related to gender inequality inadequate. Radical feminists believe that men not only benefit from the exploitation of women but are also responsible for it as well.

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