What’s so ‘feminist’ about feminism?

I think I’m a feminist. I certainly care about lots of things feminists care about: unequal pay, sex discrimination and so on. But whenever I think about it, the ‘feminist’ parts of my concerns seem to fade away. I care if women aren’t paid fairly, but then, I care if anyone is not paid fairly. Again, I care if women are discriminated against, but then, I care if anyone is discriminated against. How many ‘feminist’ concerns are subsumed in more general, gender-neutral concerns, and so, seemingly, not really ‘feminist’ at all?

Of course, some ills, like breast and testicular cancer, are gender-specific. But even in these cases, we seem to care about that person because they are a person and because they are suffering, not because they are male or female.


  1. clementineb

    Well, the same could be said about racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. All these modes of thought can be said to be variations on the theme of humanism, though some people might disagree. What’s ‘feminist’ about feminism is that we’re looking at cultural, historical, sociological trends that set women apart from men. It’s a very complex web of influences and thanks to feminism, you can look specifically at gender differences in many fields (psychology, literature, science, anything) and analyse them.

  2. Polly

    I think many feminists would agree with you, what they (we) care about is equality in general. However a lot of inequality arises between men and women, often because arbitrary differences in biological and sexual characteristics are thought to imply biological or natural differences in character traits, disposition and attitude. Feminists may recognise that class, race, culture etc. are also used in similar ways to promote inequality, but are specifically engaged in trying to investigate, analyse and dispel the myths based around gender. It sometimes makes sense to look at inequality in general, but because there are many differences in the ways in which different characteristics have been used against people, it can be useful to focus efforts on particular areas. Personally I do not think that gender inequality constitutes the most fundamental form of inequality, though I’m aware that some feminists do, but nonetheless it can be much more productive to sometimes deal with feminist issues on their own, because this can be the most effective way of eradicating them.

  3. beva

    feminism is a movement– of women against patriarchy, actively challenging the status quo, even when it is intensely personal and ingrained in everyday life. Gender norms are shaped by patriarchy, and these norms affect both women and men and the way they interact in every part of their lives.
    Feminists have addressed this is many ways, and the way feminism has interacted with other struggles against privilege has at times been unproductive (for example, in the USA women and black movements competed as much as co-operated to gain the vote), but at other times understandings of gender privilege and other forms of privilege (race, class, colonial situations) have enriched each other.
    Feminism challenges the accepted order along one dimension, and as it is a struggle that speaks to 50% of any population in a different way to the other 50% it is a powerful place to start addressing privilege.
    Addressing feminist concerns in my life means challenging the roles of my parents, the expectations of my male partner, and the role assigned to me by others in a way that other struggles do not. I want to be engaged in countering all sorts of privilege, and some of these are closer to me than others- feminism is one of the closest. That is why feminism means something to me that sets it apart from my general humanism.

    the original post was not by a woman(guessing from the name). I believe that struggles that one can approach as one of the unprivileged have a particularly personal meaning- solidarity is on a stronger basis of shared identity, and so one’s engagement is qualitively different. Maybe feminism means something that sets it apart from humanism more easily to women more than to men.

    It comes from feminism that ‘the personal is political’. It’s not just about “unequal pay, sex discrimination and so on” as things one cares about, but the pervasiveness of privilege into personal life. This applies to other struggles too, but feminism is where this is most relevant to me.

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