As folks have been discussing a bit in this “Alas” thread, conservatives tend to divide feminists into two categories: “gender feminists” and “equity feminists.”
These terms were coined by Christina Hoff Sommers, in her anti-feminist classic Who Stole Feminism?. Here’s how Hoff Sommers introduced the term “gender feminists”:
The gender feminists (as I shall call them) believe that all our institutions, from the state to the family to the grade schools, perpetuate male dominance. … Gender feminists are constantly on the lookout for the smoking gun, the telling fact that will drive home to the public how profoundly the system is rigged against women. To rally women to their cause, it is not enough to remind us that many brutal and selfish men harm women. They must persuade us that the system itself sanctions male brutality. They must convince us that the oppression of women, sustained from generation to generation, is a structural feature of our society.
In contrast, equity feminists are those who (in Hoff Sommer’s view) derive their feminism from the suffragettes. Here’s Hoff Sommers’ first mention of “equity” feminism:
The traditional, classically liberal, humanistic feminism that was initiated more than 150 years ago was very different. It has a specific agenda, demanding for women the same rights before the law that men enjoyed. The suffrage had to be won, and the laws regarding property, marriage, divorce, and child custody had to be made equitable. More recently, abortion rights had to be protected. The old mainstream feminism concentrated on legal reforms. …
Most American women subscribe philosophically to that older “First Wave” kind of feminism whose main goal is equity, especially in politics and education. A First Wave, “mainstream,” or “equity” feminist wants for women what she wants for everyone: fair treatment, without discrimination.
Note that the definitions are already a bit incoherent; although Hoff Sommers is trying to create two opposed categories, her definitions leave a lot of room for overlap. There is no contradiction, for example, between believing that “system is profoundly rigged against women” (gender feminists) and wanting “fair treatment, without discrimination, for everyone” (equity feminists).
Ignoring the incoherence for a while, the two key differences in Hoff Sommers formulation seem to be that “gender feminists” believe that sexism against women is a widespread problem, found in virtually all our society’s institutions. In contrast, “equity feminists” apparently think that feminism’s only proper concern is legal equality – a goal that has been, to a significant extent, achieved in the USA – and there is absolutely no cultural or systemic bias against women.
(Note, by the way, that the dictionary definition of feminism - which I’d phrase as “the movement organized around belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” – is closer to “gender” than “equity” feminism, since its conception of equality is far broader than simple legal equality.)
- Clueless anti-feminists in review
- Fact-Checking the Anti-Feminists; like following around an elephant with a bucket, no matter how much crap you clean up they keep producing more.
- Five Reasons Conservatives Can't Be Feminists
- Will the real liberal feminism please stand up?
- Can conservatives be feminists? (redux for the 100th time)