More on Definitions and Feminism

In the comments to the post just below this one, Roy asks whether abortion can be a litmus test for feminism. He says,

I think that the problem is that feminism, like some other movements, is pretty broad, and covers a lot of topics. There are myriad issues that feminists have strong views on, and I doubt that you’ll find that all or even most feminists have like minds about all of them.
And that’s part of why it’s hard to say whether or not a person who doesn’t personally identify with feminism has feminist ideas or not. Take the abortion issue- it’s certainly a hot-button issue, and one that many feminists are pretty vocal about. Is it possible to be a feminist but not support abortion on demand?
I think that it is. Just as one could potentially be, say, a Christian who supports choice, or a liberal who doesn’t support gun control.
If there are, say, 6 major issues (making up a number), and someone agrees with The Feminists on 5 of them, there’s a good possibility that such a person could be a feminist.

Here is a good place to make a distinction between the entire left (or right), and the sub-movements that comprise it, like feminism or labor liberalism. Liberalism has several main issue planks, which you don’t have to agree with all of to be considered a liberal: racial equality, gay rights, feminism, civil liberties, health care, immigration, labor rights, liberal internationalism.

In contrast, sub-movements focus on only a few issues. Movement feminism is about a plethora of issues, but in most countries that I know of, the most important two are reproductive rights and economic equality. Reproductive rights don’t equal abortion in places where the main RR battle is about contraception (see Liza’s post for more details), but in the US, they do. Economic equality usually centers around equal pay for equal work.

I’ve seen people summarize American feminism several times as being primarily about abortion and equal pay, so I suppose these are the two issues you have to agree with the feminist mainstream on to be considered a feminist. There are other issues, which feminist organizations emphasize less – daycare, parental leave, family law, health care, sex ed, sexual assault, media stereotypes. On these issues, there’s a lot more leeway, especially for people who have a strong activist record on the two main issues.

This is not just a definitional issue. Most movements are about just one issue – gay marriage, withdrawing from Iraq, raising the minimum wage, and so on. The fact that feminism defines itself around two issues signals that these two issues are strongly coupled, and people who agree on just one are unwelcome. Because movements center around one issue at a time, what usually happens is that one issue gets deemphasized; in Latin America it’s usually abortion, I think, but in the the US it’s been equal pay since the demise of the Equal Rights Amendment.

One Response to More on Definitions and Feminism

  1. I have problems storing my documents and confusion to try to restore the missing files.
    Please suggest a way for document storage.

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