Feminist theory is a body of literary, philosophical, and sociological analysis that explores the inequality that exists between men and women in societies around the world. Specifically, this theoretical body of knowledge examines gender-based aspects that affect politics, power relations, and sexuality. Feminist theory consists of numerous subcategories that explain gender disparity through differing causal factors. Regardless of the subcategory of feminist theory that is examined, all of them contend that men and women should be equal within the political, economic, sexual, and social spheres of society.
II. Liberal Feminism
III. Radical Feminism
IV. Marxist Feminism
V. Socialist Feminism
IV. Psychoanalytic Feminism
VII. Cultural Feminism
VIII. Minorities and Feminism
IX. Feminism around the Globe
X. Feminist Theory in Relation to Domestic Violence and Other Crimes against Women
The feminist movement has had a long history in the United States and an even longer history in some countries, such as France. There have been numerous women who have advocated feminist perspectives for hundreds of years. For instance, one eighteenth-century feminist writer and journalist, Mary Wollstonecraft, was highly cognizant of the feminist movement occurring throughout areas of Europe (Baird 1992). While in the United States, Wollstonecraft wrote what is considered the first book advocating women’s liberation (Baird 1992). Wollstonecraft’s book, entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Women, was written in 1792 in response to Thomas Paine’s fairly biased treatise The Rights of Man. Naturally, Wollstonecraft’s work underscored the fact that women were neglected and overlooked in almost all aspects of society, including the literary and scholarly circles (Baird 1992). While not popular among most of the male population of the time, her book was nonetheless widely read in the United States and parts of Europe (Baird 1992). This also served as the impetus of future actions that would come on behalf of women worldwide.
Though the work of Wollstonecraft is considered the first text on women’s liberation, the true origins of feminism as a distinct school of thought are typically thought to have emerged in 1848 with the passage of the ‘‘Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions’’ that was enacted at the women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York.
- Indeed, this has been dubbed the ‘‘first wave’’ of feminism and was also associated with an antislavery agenda. Essentially, this period of feminism advocated for equality of all people and eschewed practices of exploitation regardless of the rationale presented for such unfair systems. This initial wave of feminism grew out of the movement to abolish slavery (Jurik 1999). Even though this initial period of feminism addressed various issues affecting women, the first wave ultimately centered around the acquisition of political rights, with the right to vote being its primary goal. Thus, this period lasted until 1920, when the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed woman suffrage.
- The ‘‘second wave’’ of feminism emerged during the late 1960s and was referred to as the Women’s Liberation movement. According to Jurik (1999), second-wave feminism drew its initial membership from women working in the Civil Rights, student, and anti–Vietnam War movements. Jurik (1999) goes on to note that during the Civil Rights movement, rights that were specific to women were largely ignored or placed as secondary to those advocated for racial minorities. Because of this, many white American women (and some minority women as well) disbanded from many of these movements and formed ‘‘consciousness-raising groups’’ that consisted of an all-female membership (Jurik 1999, p. 32). This period emerged in 1967–1968, and it is from this point that the Women’s Liberation movement officially began. During this period, advocates of the feminist movement held that true equality consists of more than a mere ability to vote, hold a job, or engage in other activities. Rather, true equality was also held to mean equality in the legitimate access to such opportunities.
- The ‘‘third wave’’ of feminism started in the mid to late 1980s and focused on issues of patriarchy. The basic contention of this movement was that men inherently seek to dominate and exploit women. While third-wave feminists all desired to overcome the systematic subjugation of women, the women’s movement had grown to encompass a wide variety of different and often conflicting subgroups of membership. Although feminists disagreed on many issues, they did share in the work of many projects, including work to support freedom in decisions pertaining to sex and sexuality, access to abortion services (particularly the right for women to choose), and the development of battered women’s shelters (Jurik 1999).
It is from this point that any overview of feminist theory must address the variety of subcategories of feminism that have since developed. This research paper will provide an overview of many of the primary categories of feminist theoretical thought in an effort to compare and contrast the bases for their development. In addition, the last section of this research paper will discuss the importance of feminist theory in addressing issues related to domestic violence and sexual assault. Feminist theory has had a very distinct and important impact on services for victims of such crimes as well as the specific interventions utilized with perpetrators of violence against women.
II. Liberal Feminism
Liberal feminism contends that equality between men and women is possible but that any such equality will require substantive changes through social and legal reform. According to Hedges (1996), this type of feminism ‘‘attempts to reform or use existing political structures to advance women’s interests along a civil rights model’’ and ‘‘argues that women deserve the same privileges, protections, pay, and opportunities that men do’’ (p. 1). Essentially, this type of feminist thought contends that the social system can accommodate the appropriate social change without the need to resort to an entire social revolution. This form of feminism is a bit more conservative than many other subcategories, since it does hold that men and women can coexist on equal terms and contends that the needed changes can be orchestrated within the current social system. One of the key challenges associated with this theoretical outlook revolves around achieving a balance, where women are afforded equality with men while not forsaking their identity as women (Hedges 1996). Finding such a balance has been touted as difficult, forcing women to act as if they must play the role of a man in the workforce rather than being free to have freedom of feminine expression in conjunction with equal access to opportunity there (Hedges 1996).