Study Notes

Liberal Feminism

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

Liberal feminism is built upon two inter-related elements. Firstly, women are rational individuals entitled to inalienable and universal human rights. In the eloquent words of the pioneering first-wave feminist Mary Wollstonecraft; “the mind has no gender.” In the context of gender equality, liberal feminists advocate a society in which women hold political equality with men. The second aspect of liberal feminism is the aim to facilitate a diversity of lifestyles amongst women.

Diversity is the watchword of liberal feminists and the guiding principle should be one shaped by individual choice (as in the case of pro-choice pressure groups). A society governed by liberal feminism enables women (and men) to maximise their personal freedom to the very full.

Liberal feminists contend that the governance of society would be improved significantly by a more inclusive attitude to women. These benefits would also apply to the economic realm. Access to education and career opportunities must also be broadened to benefit women – particularly those marginalised within society. Liberal feminists also wish to dismantle the patriarchal character of social institutions (notably within the political realm) that force women to suppress their natural femininity.

Liberal feminism is the most significant of the main strands of feminism, and was the dominant strand during both the first-wave and the third-wave of the women’s movement. At heart, liberal feminism entails a constructive engagement with the political and legislative process (such as the One Billion Rising worldwide movement against violence against women).

Ultimately, the problem of sexism is resolvable via a set of legislative and employment measures to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The focus of liberal feminism thereby centres upon protecting the rights of females with regard to employment and reproduction. As the strand of feminism closest to the centre of the political spectrum, liberal feminism entails a rejection of the overt emphasis upon equality from those on the left of the women’s movement, and the extremist stance adopted by radicals at the margins of political debate.

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