Difficulties within Feminism

There are a number of problems within the feminist movement.  The top two, put simply, are a lack of definitions and essentialism.

We want equality for women.  Makes sense right?  Not once you actually start working for it.  First off, what does equality mean?  Do we want to be equal to men?  Do we want to be like men or are there different things that we need than men do?    Are women the only ones who need to change or should men, too?  Is our culture’s take on men, masculinity and power the problem, rather than women’s place in it?  These are important questions and there are MANY different answers in the feminist community.

Feminism is often thought of as a group, which implies a sort of unity that just is not present.  There are many brands of feminism: liberal, welfare, socialist, marxist, radical and so many others.  They (generally) share the goal of equality, but how they believe we should go at it varies greatly.  This means that feminists are unable to unite their efforts for change and can often hamper each others efforts.  There is little unity and it gets confusing and there can often be oppositions within feminism, which creates even more issues for the name “feminism”.

The second problem is a  bit simpler, but much bigger.  Feminism has been routinely accused, accurately so, of essentialism.  Essentialism is when generalizations about a group (i.e. women) are too broad and end up excluding a segment of them (i.e. minority women).  The original feminist movements mostly affected the lives of white, middle-class women.

For example, the big moves in the work place were not advantageous at the time for the vast majority of minority women.  These women were already in the work force,  often as domestic workers.  The protections that women obtained for themselves at work also did not extend to these work places.  Even now many of the jobs traditionally held by minority women do not qualify for things such as social security, healthcare, etc.

Class goes right along with the racial exclusions in feminism’s history.  Lower-class white women were already working and had been for years before feminism’s big accomplishments.  Of course, workplace issues are not the only differences, but they are the easiest to explain.

These oversights do not negate the accomplishments, but they are the things we need to address.  We cannot ignore that all women do not have the same experiences.  If all we work for is the rights of white middle-class women then our efforts are in vain.  Our race, class, religion, etc. puts the experiences that we do all share in different contexts.  Feminism is working towards fixing these problems, though.  The methods are not always effective, but we are trying to confront and change the biases in sciences and assumptions.

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About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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