Katherine Castiello Jones
Michelle J. Budig
University of Massachusetts
Published, 2008, in Encyclopedia of Social Problems, Vincent N. Parrillo, editor. Sage
Feminist theories are varied and diverse. All analyze women's experiences of gender
subordination, the roots of women's oppression, how gender inequality is perpetuated, and offer
differing remedies for gender inequality.
Liberal feminism argues women's unequal access to legal, social, political and economic
institutions causes women's oppression. Their remedy advocates women’s equal legal rights and
participation in the public spheres of education, politics, and employment.
Radical feminism claims women's oppression originates in sexuality. They argue
women's bodies are controlled through violence, objectification, and social institutions such as
medicine and religion. Radical feminists see sexism as the oldest and most pervasive form of
oppression; they argue that the eradication of patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality are key
to ending gender oppression. This would be accomplished by increasing women's control over
their bodies, including transforming sexuality, childbirth, and motherhood.
Marxist and Socialist feminists root gender inequality in capitalism. They argue
capitalists and individual men exploit women's unpaid reproductive labor within the family.
Women are also exploited as a low-wage and expendable reserve army of labor. Marxist
feminists claim patriarchy is produced by capitalism and will end with capitalism’s demise.
Socialist feminists ague patriarchy and capitalism are separate systems of oppression. They call
for a transformation of relations within the family through a redistribution of responsibilities, and
changes in access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities and political power.
Psychoanalytic feminism applies Freudian theories to gender inequality. It seeks to
correct the male bias in psychoanalytic theory, producing theories that explore women's
experiences with their emotions, bodies and sexuality. Theories argue early childhood
experiences shape women's psyches and create differences between men and women. They
argue the phallus, a symbol of male power, dominates Western culture. Solutions call for an
androgynous society, possibly created through dual parenting.
Women of color criticize feminist theories for ignoring coexisting forms of oppression.
This perspective includes Black, Chicana, multicultural, and third world feminisms. They
integrate analyses of gender oppression with systems of inequality based on race, class and
sexuality. They show how privilege and disadvantage are built into a matrix of domination and
intersect to produce unique forms of oppression. They advocate for remedies that focus on the
survival of entire peoples, rather than solely on women. Postcolonial feminism elaborates on
intersectionality by emphasizing Western colonization. Here, sexism results from modernization
and economic restructuring; it includes women’s exploitation as workers and sexual beings.
They focus on the roles of women as mothers within communities who can use this position to
advocate for education of girls, adequate healthcare and environmental protection.
Postmodern feminists avoid overarching causes or solutions of gender inequality and
focus on plurality and difference. They challenge inevitable and fixed characteristics of gender,
including heteronormativity (assumption that heterosexuality is “natural”), and the
undifferentiated category of “woman.” They argue performativity—the repetition of gendered
identity and display—perpetuates gender inequality. They advocate queering, a blending of
gendered characteristics, and questioning “normal” forms of gender and sexuality as remedies
for gender inequality.
Further Readings and References:
Lorber, Judith. 2005. Gender Inequality:Feminist Theories and Politics, Third Edition. Los
Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Tong, Rosemarie. 1998. Feminist Thought. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.