Feminist Theory Essay

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Feminist theories are varied and diverse. All analyze women’s experiences of gender subordination, the roots of women’s oppression, the perpetuation of gender inequality, and remedies for gender inequality.

Liberal feminism argues that women’s unequal access to legal, social, political, and economic institutions causes women’s oppression. Liberal feminists advocate women’s equal legal rights and participation in the public spheres of education, politics, and employment.

Radical feminism claims women’s oppression originates in men’s power over women (patriarchal power). They argue that men control women’s bodies through violence, objectification, and men’s status in 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, and by eliminating patriarchal social relations.

Marxist and socialist feminists root gender inequality in capitalism. They argue that capitalists and individual men exploit women’s unpaid reproductive labor—both within the family and in the workplace. Women are exploited as a low-wage and expendable reserve army of labor. Marxist feminists claim capitalism produces patriarchy that will end with capitalism’s demise. Socialist feminists argue that patriarchy and capitalism are separate systems of oppression but that they do intersect. They call for economic and social change, specifically of relations within the family, as well as changing access to education, health care, 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. Theorists argue that early childhood experiences shape women’s psyches and create differences between men and women, especially because of the different roles of men and women within the family. They argue that 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, gender, 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. Post-colonial 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. Postcolonial feminists focus on the roles of women as mothers within communities who can use their position to advocate for education of girls, adequate health care, 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 that 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.


  1. Lorber, Judith. 2005. Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury.
  2. Tong, Rosemarie. 1998. Feminist Thought. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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