Feminist Philosophy

Do you think men and women should get paid💰the same for doing the same job? Do you think it’s totally cool when guys wear pink or paint their nails💅🏼? Do you stan Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the Notorious RBG)? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re probably a feminist! Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to buy one of those pink hats to be a feminist. In its simplest form, feminism is a movement that advocates for gender equality. Feminist philosophy, however, has evolved through time to analyze not only issues relating to the inequality between men and women, but also broader issues with gender👩‍🎤🧑‍🎤👨‍🎤, sexuality👨‍❤️‍👨, and current social structures.

We commonly use the concepts sex and gender interchangeably. But feminist philosophy tells us that they are actually quite different! Sex refers to biological characteristics while gender refers to how someone feels and is seen in society.  Simone de Beauvoir was one of the first feminist philosophers to draw this distinction, claiming that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman💁🏾‍♀️.” What she means by this is that women do not naturally enjoy the color pink or wearing dresses👗 and makeup💄! Feminist philosophers argue that women like these things because of societal expectations placed upon them. Current feminist philosopher Judith Butler has expanded on Beauvoir’s idea by claiming that gender is “performative” or that it is ultimately a performance that we put on in our daily lives. 

Another concept very important to feminist philosophy is the patriarchy. Maybe you’ve heard someone say “fight the patriarchy🤜💥” and wondered what that was, exactly. The patriarchy consists of the norms and expectations pushed onto men and women where men have power or control and women do not. For example, the idea that men should be the breadwinners 👨🏻‍🔧  while women should be stuck at home all day cleaning and making dinner is a patriarchal idea. But the patriarchy can even push harmful expectations and ideas on men in many ways as well🤕. The patriarchy puts an expectation on women to be subservient to men but also puts an expectation on men to be emotionless and tough😐. I don’t know about you, fellow reader, but sometimes I (a man) don’t want to ignore how I’m feeling and “be a man” about it! Studying feminist philosophy can help you better see how sexism rears its ugly face in many parts of our current society and better understand how to combat this so we can live in a more equitable society no matter your gender or your identity.

Podcasts

  • Feminist Philosophy

    Philosophy Now Radio Show

    Listen
  • Feminist Philosophy Talk

    Philosophy Never Sleeps

    Listen
  • Kate Kirkpatrick on the Life and Work of Simone de Beauvoir

    Philosophy Bites

    Listen
  • Beyond Men and Women

    Philosophy for Our Time

    Listen

Pop Culture Examples

  • A League of Their Own (1992)

    PG, 2h 8min

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  • Mrs. America (2020)

    TV Mini Series, TV-MA

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  • Princess Mononoke (1997)

    PG-13, 2h 14min

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  • Hidden Figures (2016)

    PG, 2h 7min

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Want to Know More?

Questions to Think About

  • What gender-related expectations do you encounter in your life?

  • Are society’s gender roles harmful? In what ways?

  • Do you see the patriarchy in your daily life?

  • Why do gender-related expectations exist?

  • How does society react to women rejecting gender roles? What about men?

  • Which gender norms do you reject? Which do you accept?

Key Thinkers and Actors

  • Simone de Beauvoir

  • Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Susanne Langer

  • Marilyn Frye

  • Judith Butler

  • Martha Nussbaum

  • Uma Narayan

  • Angela Davis

  • Luce Irigaray

  • Iris Young

  • Sally Haslanger

  • Carol Gilligan

  • bell hooks

  • Emma Hart Willard

  • Sojourner Truth

  • Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli

  • Lucy Stone

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton 

  • Susan B. Anthony

  • Betty Friedan

  • Gloria Steinem

  • Harriet Grimke

  • Sarah Moore Grimke

  • Angelina Emily Grimke

“Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Avraham Shlonsky and Leah Goldberg” by Government Press Office (GPO) is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/. https://www.flickr.com/photos/69061470@N05/6470403371

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“Emma Hart Willard” by Unidentified Artist is licensed with CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/. https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.81.111https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.81.111

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Key Texts

Key Terms

  • oppression
    long-term poor treatment of people in certain groups created and continued by those with power in society
  • gender
    refers to how people think about themselves (gender identity) or how one is perceived in society
  • sex
    refers to whether one is male or female based on biological characteristics
  • patriarchy
    a social system in which men hold the most power in society
  • misogyny
    hatred of or prejudice toward women
  • double bind
    Situations where few options are available and all options are pretty bad
  • gender norms
    expectations for men to only act masculine and women to only act feminine
  • First-wave feminism
    the first movement of feminism in the West during the 19th and early 20th century. It focused primarily on securing the right to vote for women, as well as other legal rights
  • Second-wave feminism
    resurgence of feminism that began during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s until the 1990s. Focused on cultural and political issues, including equal pay, access to contraception, gender-based violence, among other issues.
  • Third-wave feminism
    considered by some to be the current wave of feminism, beginning in the 1990s. Focuses on how past feminist movements have excluded trans women and minority women.
  • Liberal feminism
    focuses on reforms within the current political structure. Focuses more on individual rights.
  • Radical feminism
    focuses on large-scale social change
  • Socialist feminism
    focuses on the link between gender-based and class-based oppression.
  • Ecofeminism
    focuses on the connection between the treatment of women and the treatment of the more-than-human world
  • Black feminism
    focuses on the connection between racism and sexism and the unique experience of Black women
  • Postcolonial feminism
    focuses on the connection between sexism and imperialism and colonialism and issues that women in the Global South countries face because of sexism, racism, colonialism and capitalism.

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