Feminism has become a bit of a hot word in the Christian and Secular realms alike with people seeming to feel quite strongly one way or another. What does it mean to say “I am a feminist”? There are many opinions and satirical Buzzfeed articles making matter-of-fact statements about equal rights and curteous practices, but feminism isn’t just a pop culture issue but a topic that has been studied and formulated for decades. A simple and practical essay by Rosemary Radford Ruether neatly packages the three major streams of feminism: Liberal, Social, and Radical feminism. Using the descriptions from The New Earth: Socioeconomic Redemption from Sexism, we can see the contributions each stream has made to society and decipher which theories contain the best approaches to continue to implement in whichever context you find yourself. I will summarize.
Though many raise their defenses at the term “liberal”, Liberal Feminism was the first form of organized uprising. Liberal feminism seeks “liberation” for women from the patriarchy that has always suppressed females.
Focus: the historic and traditional low status of women in comparison to men. Bringing equality through dismantling patriarchy.
Brought us: political office and all other political rights that came with the right to vote, access to higher education and the professional sphere.
Concerns: equal pay, control of body, changes to marriage laws (made marital rape a criminal offense).
Weaknesses: In the capitalist context, women can only become equal to men by hiring other women to fulfill domestic duties. Equality becomes available only to the upper classes.
The differences between the liberal and social approaches to feminism exist mostly in the approaches to equality. While Liberal Feminism focuses on bringing equality through bringing down patriarchy, Socialist Feminism seeks creating institutions that bridge the gap between the male and female realms as well as social classes. While upper-class women are able to enter the professional sphere, it is because they can pay other women to do the domestic labour that had been holding theh women back. Social feminism would implement government funded childcare programs to better enable all women to enter the workforce not just in menial labour.
Focus: enabling women to be self sufficient partners of men, creating equality in the workforce as well as the home.
Brought us: Publicallly funded childcare, maternity and paternity leave.
Concerns: equality for all women, regardless of class.
Weaknesses: would require a societal shift that strays from the free market making it perhaps more dificult to implement.
This stream of thought recognizes patriarchy as male domination over women’s bodies resulting in a more negative approach to mankind.
Focus: full control over personal experiences and bodies. Liberating women from being objects of male sexual control and desire.
Concerns: sharing domestic labour (equally with partners or community).
Weaknesses: Alienates males completely. Becomes the reversal of patriarchy.
Ultimitely, feminism is about acknowledging that there are inequalities in our society and offering ways to abate some of them. Some may argue that equality has been achieved, all are equals under the law. But it is not the law that is the daily struggle for most women in the west; its the second shift, unachievable beauty standards, minimal expectations and opportunities in the workplace, and the constant need to prove themselves. Its not just the laws that protect male hierarchy, its the people of our own society who are stuck in a system. It is difficult to question practices that have just “always been”. Weddings are an excellent example of this as they have changed very little in structure over the centuries. Christian and non-Christian weddings may vary on what vows are included in the ceremony, but most follow the pattern of idolizing a woman’s virginity. The white dress, woman being “given” to man, and the various other pomp and circumstance that ensures all focus is on the appearance and virtue of the woman have remained unchanged, yet I doubt that the many people who practice these traditions are also practicing the meanings. It has only been since the rise in acceptance of same-sex marriage that this ceremony has begun to change and encourage some heterosexual couples to follow suite.
Though each of theses branches of feminism have their virtues, each begins to crumble when pressed to apply to society as a whole. This does not mean that feminism cannot work but rather that perhaps we need to work towards a more integrative feminist approach. According to Rosemary Radford Ruether;
“We seek a society that affirms the value of democratic participation, of the equal value of all persons as the basis for their civil equality and their equal access to the educational and work opportunities in the society.
We seek a society that acknowledges the importance of both male and female participation in it. A balanced society requires both sexes actively participating in it. It is overwhelming to think of how far we yet have to go, but the only way there is one piece at a time. Equality cannot occurr all at once, so pick a goal and work towards it. Encouraging the use of gender-neutral language among your peers can be a full tme task, advocating for a childcare facility in your workplace, and organizing complimentary work schedules with your partner that allow an equal sharing of domestic duties increase awareness of the female challenge. These seem like comparatively simple lifestyle changes, but you may be surprised at all the ways you can start changing the worldview of those around you.