Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share the common goal to achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. Feminist movements have campaigned for women’s rights, including the right to vote, freedom to hold public office, to work, to earn equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, and equality in both marriage and divorce. Feminists also worked to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Feminism is considered to be the primary force behind many positive societal changes for women’s rights, particularly in the West such as women’s suffrage and reproductive rights. Numerous Feminist Political Philosophies have developed over the years and represent different viewpoints and aims.
Liberal Feminism is an individualistic form of feminist theory that focuses on women’s ability to maintain their equality through their own actions and choices. The main emphasis of liberal feminism is on making the legal and political rights of women equal to men and the removal of legal and institutional barriers. Liberal feminists argue that society holds the erroneous belief that women are less intellectually and physically capable than men and that this view encourages continued and unjust discrimination against women in nearly every facet of life.
Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the leading proponents of the liberal feminist political theory. In her book Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), Wollstonecraft argued that documents such as France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man should include protection for women as well and linked the idea of marriage to that of slavery and divorce as that of liberation/freedom.
Marxist feminism is a variant of feminism focused on investigating and explaining how and why women are continually oppressed through the systems of capitalism and private property ownership and distribution. According to Marxist feminists, women’s liberation can only be achieved through the radical restructuring of the contemporary capitalist economy, in which they contend much of women’s labor is uncompensated and unrecognized for the vital role that it plays in all facets of society.
In “Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels drew on the work of early anthropologists to show how women’s oppression developed in pre-history when matrilineal societies were violently replaced with patriarchal societies in which individual wealth and private property were vital. From a position of early leadership and respect, women became powerless domestic slaves, which Engels as “the world historical defeat of the female sex.” Marx and Engels viewed women’s entry into the paid labor force as a step toward liberating women from dependence on men, though it does little to free them from the class oppression they share with male workers. To achieve the complete liberation of women and the multi-racial, working class of all nations, Marx and Engels argue that international socialism is necessary, which is a return in modern form to the cooperative, egalitarian foundations of early human existence.
Radical feminism calls for a fundamental reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all contexts. Radical feminists seek to abolish the idea of patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions. These efforts include questioning traditional gender roles, opposing sexual objectification of women, and raising public awareness towards issues such issues as rape and violence against women. Radical feminists consider the root cause of women’s oppression in patriarchal gender relations instead of through the legal system or class conflict.
Separatist Feminism is an offshoot of radical feminism that believes that opposition to the patriarchal system is best done through focusing exclusively on women and girls and improving their life situations. Some separatist feminists feel that men cannot make positive contributions to the feminist movement and that even well-intentioned men replicate the dynamics of patriarchy based on their instinct and past habits.