This article will be taking a look into the differences between liberal and radical feminism, and why both are necessary to foster an environment of change in society.
Liberal feminism is defined as feminism on an individual level. For instance, its emphasis on women maintaining equality no matter what choices they make, such as legal and political rights being equivalent to the rights of men. It also believes that there are certain blockages in society that hinder women trying to have careers and be taken seriously in the workforce. This is due to the common myth that men are more capable than women. This branch of feminism is behind movements such as trying to close the gap between male and female salaries (aka the wage gap).
What makes radical feminism different to liberal feminism is that it is more intense in the way it wishes to achieve equality. Radical feminism calls for a drastic change to society in which the patriarchy is erased in all social, economic and political contexts. This branch of feminism is responsible for the #MeToo movement, which highlights issues such as rape, sexual assault, and gendered violence. Radical feminism is also known for challenging the social norms deeply entrenched in institutions of society.
In my opinion, liberal and radical feminism work intrinsically together to achieve gender equality. There is a lot of tension between the two groups as to which theory is better, and I believe that this tension between branches is inherently unfeminist. How can we claim to be feminists if we wish to regulate which branch of feminism makes you a ‘real’ feminist?
In fact, liberal feminism cops a lot of hate for being centred on male involvement and male entitlement to the feminist movement. While I can understand that this is problematic in some instances, without discussions around liberal feminism, the radical theory of feminism would not have been coined in the 1960’s, or perhaps at all. So, radical feminists need to remember that their whole discipline would not exist without liberal feminism.
It is my belief that all intersectional feminism (which includes everyone, not just middle-class white women) is a good thing, and it brings something positive to current political discussions around women’s rights. The response to the recent legislation changes to abortion through the ‘heartbeat laws’ in states of America is a great example of liberal and radical feminists agreeing on something and using their voices to try and create change together. In fact, calls of outrage from pro-choice feminists of both theories led to some states such as New York to place protective legislation to ensure abortion rights within their borders are always available.
I also believe that for young women just starting to gain an interest in feminism, that liberal feminism is the more approachable theory to begin with. It’s pro-choice, LGBTQIA+ friendly and inclusive, it’s about amending the social fabric to try and create more equal positions for women and to allow them the same freedom and liberties that are allowed to men. It’s an easier theory to understand and identify with.
Radical feminism I feel is harder to jump straight into. It’s almost like relearning everything you’ve ever learned in your life about gender, sex, social norms etc, and it can feel more exclusive and harder to understand and take part in. I agree with radical feminists that in order to achieve total equality between the genders, the current institutions of society need to be torn down. They should be recreated excluding the patriarchy in the re-branding and building of said structures and institutions.
Some radical feminists go as far to question if pregnancy is a root cause of misogyny. What if we removed pregnancy from the female body and instead used reproductive technologies to create babies separately from the womb? Would that then remove the stigma and myth around women not being as capable as men due to their childbearing and assumed maternal nature? While radical notions like this are thought provoking and fascinating, I believe it can be a bit confronting for new feminists to tackle such extreme ideas. I truly think that liberal feminism is often a gateway to the more radical feminist beliefs, or at least this is what I have found in my own personal experience.
Regardless of which theory you identify with, they are both integral in fostering any kind of change within society. It’s important to understand one another, and we should create a more positive communication network between the theories as to not alienate each other. By doing so, radical and liberal feminism could work more cohesively together and may have an even greater likelihood to incite some very important adaptations in the world in regard to gender equality.