FAQ: What is feminism?

Introductory Essays

Classic Quote

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute…”

–Rebecca West, The Clarion, 11/14/13

Classic quote:

“The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism. Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women –as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement.”

–Barbara Smith, 1979

Clarifying Concepts

Click on the category labels at the bottom of this post for more additions to the Introductory category in the future. There are more links to essays in the Clarifying Concepts category.

About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

29 comments on “FAQ: What is feminism?

  1. […] What is feminism? What is male privilege? What is the “Gender Gap”? Isn’t feminism just […]

  2. […] That made me smile, and, of course, there are some people still plugging away at trying to define and articulate feminism for the masses like Feminism 101. […]

  3. I am no expert but I have just had my entire flat (2 girls, 1 guy) turn against me in a discussion because I said I was a feminist. I always had believed it was a movement for gender equality rather than female over male but now that I’m reading these forums I think I may have got the wrong end of the stick. Is this true? If I don’t believe in female over male but do believe in equality what does that make me? – an equalitist???

  4. …it still makes you a Feminist.

  5. What on this site suggested to you that folks here think feminism is about “female over male”?

  6. A good thread over at Metafilter asking what resources are good for people looking to know more about feminism.

    Quite a few blogs mentioned and lots of books recommended.

  7. I just wanted to let you know that your link to Sarah Bunting’s fabulous essay seems to not work. Here’s the address I have it bookmarked at, which does work: http://www.tomatonation.com/?p=677

    Love the blog!

  8. Thanks, C. I’ll update the post.

  9. Look I am a man coming for understanding

  10. “There are just two pieces of dogma in my feminist tent:

    1. Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.
    2. This is a problem that must be corrected.

    You’ll notice that they have nothing to do with: men, race, class, liberty, religion, teleology, biology, consumerism, violence, sex, or shoes. This is deliberate.”

    This shows beutifully why so many do have problems with feminism. Lets take a closer look.

    “1. Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.”

    1. There is no mention of mens issues, mens rights, or mens problems. There is the implicit message that MEN DONT HAVE ANY ISSUES.
    2. When refering to “balance” the writer looks upon equality in relative terms. It has nothing to do with basic rights, wants, needs, usually called empowerment. It is about outcome, and the problem according to the writer is that that outcome is imbalanced.

    “2. This is a problem that must be corrected.”

    Not mens issues. Not empowerment. But outcome. And this is called equality.

    In my mind this has nothing to do with equality, true equality will never be reached until any individual, no matter what sex, have the same opportunities in life. No more, no less. In order to achieve that we need to adress mens issues ASWELL as womens issues, and focus must be on empowerment, not outcome. Outcome will NEVER be equal between any two groups, be it sex or haircolor or leangth.

    The notion that feminism = equality is very naive.

  11. I don’t really know if any one will read this but if you will please reply to this message.

    I was in this class two years ago, which was called “Women’s Studies”. The reason why I took this class is because I really wanted to get a better understanding of what feminism is. This is because I refused to believe that feminism is about “female
    over male”. However, after 15 weeks of this class I got so disappointed after all what I have heard and all the negative responses and comments I heard about men made by women-feminists who registered for this class. I realized that no one in this class has ever given credit to men. No one has ever said any thing about how men can support us and protect us. Why is it so?

    Is it because these women just had bad experiences in their past relationships? Or is there any other reason?


  12. Ronette,

    I took my first women’s studies class a couple of years ago too, never referring to myself as a feminist, but just wanting to get a better idea of what women’s studies really entailed. Upon taking the class, I was introduced to a professor that said in the beginning and throughout the class, “Question everything that is taught in this class,” and, “there is absolutely no male-bashing allowed.” My professor held true to these principles throughout the semester. Then I took another women’s studies class with a different professor and on several points, I disagreed with some of her most basic, fundamental ideas. The thing that most students do that they don’t realize is that they accept their programming even once in college. I advise everyone I know to think for themselves and questions EVERYBODY. I call myself a feminist and do that because, in my gut, I believe women need to have the same rights as everyone else in society. This is based on the fundamental idea that we don’t have the same rights and privileges as men. That is my truth. I look at the hard cold facts and realities that exist in our culture and that is my basis – I don’t blame anybody for my life, especially not the men in my past.

  13. To bj0rnborg,

    My interpretation of the same definition of feminism you just dissected:

    “1. Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.”

    You stated: “There is the implicit message that MEN DONT HAVE ANY ISSUES.”

    My response: Let’s apply this same statement to race instead of gender. “Society deals with race in a way that, on balance, harms people of different races than that of the dominant race.

    If you’re theory is correct, then the same should apply. It doesn’t say anything about WHITE PEOPLE NOT HAVING ISSUES, but everybody knows that everybody has issues.

    Also, if your theory is correct, then men that are gay, bi-sexual, or transsexual, are implied as well not to have any issues (which everybody also knows that this is not true). Oh and let’s not forget those that are born with both male and female genitalia. What about them? They must not have any issues either. That’s not what that statement says.

    There is no hidden agenda or implications to it. Just because it doesn’t include these other individuals doesn’t mean they don’t have issues. Lastly, the word feminism considers femininity and females, so why on Earth would the word feminism be used to describe men?

    “2. This is a problem that must be corrected.”

    You stated: “Not mens issues. Not empowerment. But outcome. And this is called equality.”
    “Outcome will NEVER be equal between any two groups, be it sex or haircolor or leangth.”

    My response: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
    Hmmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this written in our nation’s Declaration of Independence?

    Okay. Now let’s take another closer look… “2. This is a problem that must be corrected.”

    What is the problem? Refer back to #1. The problem is the imbalance, right? And that this imbalance harms women. So what exactly needs to be corrected? What the imbalance creates. It creates things like rape and domestic violence, eating disorders, the slut vs the stud reputations, glass ceilings and sticky floors, the madonna/whore impossibility, insecurity, and low self-esteem if you don’t have the ideal barbie-doll body. So the imbalance is the umbrella that envelopes all these issues. Am I right? If I’m not, please, I invite all discourse and am interested in alternative perceptions.

  14. Your Karen Healey link isn’t working – here is the post: http://girl-wonder.org/girlsreadcomics/?p=12
    Also, the University of Montana link is broken.

    Keep up the good work, tigtog!

  15. I believe that feminism is fight for female equality. I think its to say that males and females are and can be equal. That not one gender is better than the other.

  16. OK, so feminism is about equality, while at the same time being only about women.

    There are too many conflicting definitions of feminism to actually understand it.

    If it were really about equality, then the name would change to something like “egalitarianism”. “Fem” is a female prefix, which would make even the name sexist against men.

    And Persephone’s Box is a perfect example of why I disagree with a lot of feminism – she hates all men for the actions of a few.

  17. I just happened upon this blog:


    and it seems pretty neat-o.

  18. The University of Montana Women’s Center’s “brief history of Western Feminism” is very brief indeed…it leads to: Sorry, we couldn’t find the file you are looking for.

  19. There are just two pieces of dogma in my feminist tent:

    1. Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.
    2. This is a problem that must be corrected.

    You’ll notice that they have nothing to do with: men, race, class, liberty, religion, teleology, biology, consumerism, violence, sex, or shoes. This is deliberate.

    I was just randomly surfing when I came across this website and and this particular view of feminism. It is interesting that the author uses the term ‘dogma’, when this is in fact one of the least dogmatic characterizations of feminism I have come across. Bravo!

    In the world I live in (academia) to call oneself a feminist you must first demonstrate your ideological purity by espousing the proper views on abortion, affirmative action, nature vs nurture, etc, etc (the list goes on and on).

  20. Just stumbled across this and thought I’d add my two cents.

    My preferred definition of feminism comes from bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” I like it because this definition does not privilege either sex, and includes the idea that the goal of feminism is not only to end oppression that is sex-based, but all oppression, be it according to race, class, sexuality, gender or anything else.


  21. I also like the bell hooks quote cuz it doesn’t hold feminism to a 2-sex system that corresponds with a 2-gender system. I like that feminism can be about resisting the sexism of all gender coercion, and that I can have personal stake in feminist work as a gender nonconforming person. so I’d like to point out that it isn’t just for women: but for everybody.

  22. Thanks for this wonderful site. ^_^

    I came here out of curiosity and sympathy with this just cause (plus it is indirectly related to other causes I believe in; anarchism and animal rights for example).

    The first link does not work sadly :(.

    Do you have a copy of the essay, anyone?

  23. I am a feminist, and I came across this website while searching for ways to become a feminine activist. I thought writing down my views might help me sort out my thoughts, and maybe help other people understand the cause of feminism.

    I believe that the main goal of feminism is equality between all men and women. This follows the assumptio that women today are denied these rights either legally or in practice (such as job preferences). Feminism is a movement to give women in all countries equality under law, but it is also a movement to change how society views women. Women must see themselves as equal to men, and act as such. So too men must see women as their equals, and give them equal treatment. This is a goal to be worked for, but never achieved, just like ending racism and prejudice between religions. Still, we must continue to work for it, so women everywhere can receive equal rights.

    I feel the need to clarify some key points on some issues related to feminism, which anti-feminists have used as cannon fodder against feminism. Feminism is a movement purely for equal rights for women. Feminists can be pro-life or pro-choice. Feminists may be pro gay/lesbian rights or against. Feminism supports the rights of stay-at-home mothers and working women together. Above all, feminism is not a movement for women superiority. If feminists support female leaders, it is to balance the overwhelming majority of male leaders in the government.

    This is simply my honest opinion on feminism. I will not say what my views are on abortion or gay marriage. Does it really matter? I feel that women everywhere deserve equalrights,and I am willing to speak out and act on this conviction. This makes me a feminist. If you are a waoman and feel this way, then you are a feminist too. If you are a man and agree with me, then you are just as important in the quest for women’s rights. I hope more people understand the cause of feminism after reading this.

    Elizabeth, age 15

  24. The Clover Patch’s FAQ (near the top of the page) link is broken due to GeoCities being closed. I found what appears to be the old site under a new URL here: http://reocities.com/wellesley/3059/table.html . I’m not sure if it’s the same site, though.

  25. Hello!
    Thank you for this site, I just started reading and the “Yes you are” link alone was worth it!

    I see the issue of the Clover Patch dead link has been adressed
    the (Persephone’s box) doesn’t work either, though!
    I get this message:
    “This blog is open to invited readers only
    It doesn’t look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation.”

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