When meaning blurs, impact dulls
Love it or hate it, feminism appears in much of mainstream commentary today, and it is generally guaranteed to create conflict at mere mention. Unfortunately, much of the conflict results from confusion over its definition. The main issue with the feminist movement is that no one knows exactly what it is, often not even feminists. It seems like a small thing, but as feminist ideals often dictate, words matter. Heavy feminism resistance demonstrates the dangers of broad language.
If asked to define feminism, many would say equality for women and men, or equality for all genders. Equality may be a driving force for almost all brands of feminism, but generally, feminism is not about equality alone, but egalitarianism or humanism. Some claim feminism to be an active extension of egalitarianism and humanism, the mechanism of achieving those ideals in the realm of gender and branching from there to other social issues. Feminism as a methodology, the feminism generally discussed in the mainstream, explains why there are so many different variations of feminism that are often in conflict.
Feminism comes in four major branches: Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism, Cultural Feminism, and Marxist and Socialist Feminism. Liberal Feminism pushes for equality through political reform and supports the achievements of women to protect that equality. Radical Feminism demands the alteration of current society, which is seen as a male-favoring authority that can only result in oppression. Cultural feminism creates female-minded institutions following the thought that women and men are different. It also says a female perspective is needed to balance the male perspective and can be superior to the male perspective. Marxist and Socialist Feminism blames capitalistic exploitation for the oppression of women, and it calls for a society based on Marxism.
This is just the beginning. Other subforms of feminism include: Anarcha-Feminism, Black Feminism, Postcolonial Feminism, Multiracial Feminism, Libertarian Feminism, Standpoint Feminism, Postmodern Feminism, Ecofeminism. These are just some of the recognized forms of feminism. Each version defines, explains, and tries to solve gender equality in a different, often conflicting, manner.
Feminism as a methodology, the feminism generally discussed in the mainstream, explains why there are so many different variations of feminism that are often in conflict
Divides regarding fundamental issues reveal the incongruences of many practices of feminism. Some believe stay-at-home women betray their sex, others find the act to be a brave stand for women’s freedom of choice. Some stances are anti-pornography, while others are sex-positive. Some believe there are differences between genders, while others do not. Some wish to create a new socio-economic system, while others push reform within the current system. For most feminist opinions there exists a feminist counter-opinion, which is why a workable definition for the feminist movement does not exist. How is it possible to truly support or refute a movement that regularly refutes itself?
The disillusionment with feminism that many face often results from its inconsistencies, but this is not the fault of any single flavor of feminism. The problem comes when all flavors of feminism are mixed together—whichever flavor you may like, the mix can leave a bad taste.
In order to unify the movement, feminist activists ought to stop referring to themselves as simply feminists. A feminist is not a feminist, but a certain brand of feminist. I understand the complications that could result from this. Many believe tenets of different types, and want the freedom to easily adjust their opinions. Many do not know the different types well enough to know where they fit. Many hold the entire system of labeling in contempt, or believe that such an introduction would seem arrogant. Despite these issues, I believe this would be the most effective way to make the world aware of the different forms of feminism and broaden support for the movement as a whole. The greatest concern would be that by emphasizing the diversity of different feminists, feminism would become more divided. I counter that feminists are already divided, and differences could be better addressed if brought out from behind the shield of general feminism.
Feminism is a powerful force that has gained some negative connotations from its self-dissent. The best way for feminism as a whole to broaden and strengthen support would be to spread awareness of all the different flavors of feminism.