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Feminist Social and Political

Why has Feminist Theory Split in the 20th Century into its own
Reformist and Revolutionary Wings?

By: Nabaz Shwany

Debates On the Term of
• “I adopt a general definition of feminism as perspective that seeks to
eliminate the subordination, oppression, inequalities and injustice women
suffer because of their sex” (E. Porter, 1991, p.27)

• “ It’s a doctrine suggesting that women are systematically disadvantaged in

modern society and advocating equal opportunities for men and women”
(Penguin dictionary of sociology, 1988)

• “Its an advocacy of woman’s rights based on a belief in the equality of the

sexes, and in the broadest use the word refers to everyone who is aware of
and seeking to end women subordination in any way and for any reason…
feminism originated in the perception that there is something wrong with
society treatment of women” (Encyclopedia of feminism, 1987)
A Brief History of
• Feminism emerged in 15th century.
• According to Simone Deauvoir, Christina De Pisan was
the first woman who “take up her pen in defense of her
• Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
• She is a mother of First wave of Feminism
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797),

• She urged her sister to divorce

• She attempted to commit suicide (twice)
• Criticized social norms
• Women are rational creature
• Concentrated on the moral demands of equality, particularly in
• Education is a source for woman freedom
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797),

• “If women be really capable of acting like rational

creature, let them not be treated like slaves; or like brutes
who depended on the reason of man, when they associate
with him, give them the salutary and let them attain
conscious by feeling themselves only depend on God,
teach them in common with man to submit necessity,
instead of giving to render them more pleasing a sex to
Morales” (Schneir, M. 1992, p.12)
Twentieth century
• Twentieth century feminism ends up the first wave
of feminism which concerned on inequalities,
collective social and political interests, self
determination of woman
• In the early years of twentieth century, first wave
of feminism achieved suffrage right. In UK
(1918), in USA 1920 (Humm, M, 1992, p. 11)
• Women gained their basic rights in some countries
Twentieth century
• Second wave of feminism appeared and focused on
different issues
• They tended to analyse gender differences
• Twentieth century feminism split into different wings
which are reformist and revolutionaries
• Reformist feminists are Liberals
• The revolutionary feminists are Radicals and to some
extend, socialists & Marxist
Liberal Feminists

• It’s a moderate or reformist form of feminist

• Women position in society could be explained in terms of unequal right
• There are artificial barriers on women participations of public life
• They strive to achieve equal social, Political and legal rights
• Public institutions must be constructed with the equal right for both
• Equal access for education, health and welfare, with equal job
Liberal Feminists

• Male & female are created equal and should not be

denied equality of opportunity because of gender
• “emphasize upon society rather than revolutionary
change” (Beasley, C. 1999, p.52)
• Don’t want to questioning what men got.
• Focus on individual freedom and women values
Liberal Feminists

• They are not challenging social institutions, but they

ask redistributions of benefits and opportunities
(Beasley, C. 1999, p.52)
• Liberal Feminists make efforts to change social
institutions through the construction of legislation
and regulation.
• Payment for housewives as Zillah Eisentein asked
Zillah Eisentein 1948

• “Capitalism did not supersede patriarchy but

extend male power to further option in the
family and in employment” (Humm, 1992,
• Legal reform should be the core of feminist
• State functions outside, doesn’t regulate
private life
Zillah Eisentein 1948

• Reform in Capitalist System

• Sexual biases of market place
• Women take the responsibility of work, house work
and children
• Equal payment, pregnancy and disability payment,
abortion right for women
• Equality before the law
• Without reform, capitalism can not keep its promises
of equal rights and equal opportunities.
Radical Feminism

• Radical feminism are revolutionary feminism

• Reject liberal approaches toward men
• It gives a positive insight on womanhood, and reject any association
with men.
• Against all social structures because they are created by men
• Focuses on woman suppression as woman and its because of their
• Any woman… has more in common with any other woman,
regardless of class, race, age…than any woman has with man
(Johnson cited in Beasley, 1999, p.54)
• Sexual oppression is a most significant form of women suppression
• Differences between men and women are inevitable
Radical Feminism

• Men are the main enemy

• “Men collectively victimized women” (Mary Daly Cited in Humm, M.
1992, p.168)
• Capitalist system is derived from patriarchy
• Capitalist system impose men supremacy over women.
• Require to overthrow the system
• Require revolutionary medal of social change
• State itself is patriarchal, so they refuse its intervention
Radical Feminism

• Encourage women to stay far away from men

• Reject heterosexual marriage
• Lesbianism is main challenge to men superiority
• Lesbianism is “mutual recognition between women”
• To eliminate men dominance on social orders, women must focuses on
• Radical Protests against Miss America pageants in 1968-1969
• the way women look is more important than what they think or do.
• Throw bras, girdles, false eyelashes, high heels, and makeup, into a trash
in public
• Carried different slogans about patriarchal oppression of women by men
through using women beauty.
Adrian Rich 1929

• She was an American lesbian radical feminist

• Developed De Beauvoir Idea on “women are originally homosexual”
• Lesbianism define the historical presence of woman
• “Lesbian continuum” is the exploration of lesbian history and culture,
which every feminist should engage” (Humm, M. 1992, p.175)
• Women desired genital sexual experience with a fellow women
• Lesbianism is a tool to reject compulsory way of life
• Sought heterosexuality as betrayal
• Lesbianism liberating all women
Adrian Rich 1929

• Women fragmented, that’s why the resistance

history of women is fully understood
• Lesbianism is attack on male dominance
• Its an act of resistance against patriarchy
• “Heterosexuality is a compulsory institution
designed to perpetuate the social power of
men across class and race”(Rich cited in
Krolokke, 2005, P. 10)
Marxist & Socialist
• Developed I 1970
• Marxist Feminism “advocates revolutionary approach in which the overthrow of
capitalism is viewed as the necessary precondition to dismantling male privilege”
(Beasley, 1999, p.61)
• Hierarchal class relation is the source of oppression.
• “sexual oppression is seen as a dimension of class power” (Beasley, 1999, p.60)
• Social and economic class rise male dominance
• Capitalism treat women as prosperity
• Organization of labor and technology forms the economic structures of society
• Inequality is the result of this economic structure not the attitudes or ideas
• Marxist claims power have nothing with sex, but class, wages and property, however
socialist feminists combine both
Marxist & Socialist
• Socialist and Marxist feminists believe that family
maintain patriarchal and class inequality.
• It serves capitalist agenda and is obstacle on
women struggling for equality
• Marxist sought capitalism and modernity as the
main enemy
• Women are Like men oppressed by capitalism, and
hence the “interests” of men and women are not
crucially different” (Beasley, 1999, p.61).
Sheilla Rowbotham
Women Consciousness and Man’s World (1973)

• She was an American socialist feminist

• Self-consciousness is a pre-condition for women survival
• The first step of women struggling for equal life is to
connect trust each other
• Women should break the sound of silence
• “the revolution must carefully listen to the language of
silence, it has particular importance for women because
we come from such a long silence”
• Language is a source for male dominance
• Male impose its domination over women during the
weakness of women like pregnancy and disability

• In twentieth century feminism expanded

• The feminists split to reformist and revolutionary wings
• The feminists have different approaches on women issue, each of them advocated their
own analytical viewpoint to solve those issue
• Liberal feminists required reform in the social institutions and providing equal right and
opportunities with men as a way to eliminate inequalities.
• The revolutionary feminists that includes radicals/lesbians and Marxist/socialists
advocated different approaches
• Radicals requires women liberation and reject any relation with men. They recognized
lesbianism as a way to fight men dominance. Finally, they demand to overthrow all
social and hierarchal institutions.
• Marxist and socialists explained women condition within the framework of social class
and private properity. Marxist advocates a revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalist
institution. Besides, socialists blame private institutions like nuclear family for
maintaining class and inequalities.
Nabaz Shwany