Differentiate Between Liberal Feminism And Radical Feminism

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Sept 06, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD



What Is Radical Feminism?

Radical feminism is a branch of feminism that seeks to dismantle the traditional patriarchal power and gender roles that keep women oppressed.

The word radical means ‘of or relating to the root’ – thus, radical feminists see patriarchy as the root cause of gender inequality, and they seek to up-root this.

Radical feminists believe that the cause of gender inequality is based on men’s need or desire to control women. They argue that global change of the patriarchal systems is required to achieve liberation for women.

They also assert that patriarchal systems are in place in an attempt to gain control over women’s bodies, such as laws about abortion and contraception.

According to radical feminists, women are objectified and many experience violence from men as a way for them to gain control and dominate women.

They argue that violence against women is not down to a few perpetuators, but it is a wider, societal problem.

What Are The Goals Of Liberal Feminism?

Liberal feminists want women to be granted the same social and political rights as men, have equal pay for doing the same work as men, and be equal in marriage and partnership.

Many of these changes are thought to come through legal and legislative reformation. As well as this, liberal feminists aim for equality in the representation of women in the workplace, politics, and the media.

They would want to see more women in positions of power and being equally represented to men in film and television. Reforming the system is a big part of liberal feminism. They believe that gender justice is best achieved by modifying existing social institutions and political systems which have the capacity to adjust.

Liberal feminism is also individualistic rather than group based. This means that rights are granted to individual women who are assumed to be equally deserving of these rights, rather than granting rights to a whole group.

What Is Liberal Feminism?

Liberal feminism is a popular branch of feminism which emphasizes the value of freedom which can be achieved through political and legal reform.

The ideas of liberal feminism are rooted in liberalism, a political philosophy that encourages the development of freedom, particularly in the political and economic spheres.

According to liberal feminism, there is gender inequality because women do not have the same rights as men. They claim that once this is achieved for women, that this will eradicate the inequalities that persist. They also believe that sexism is the fundamental cause of discrimination against women.

Liberal feminists have most notably fought for women’s right to vote, to work, to have an education, and to have equal pay to men. Many liberal feminists believe that their fight for these rights means that their battle is largely won.

However, many others believe there are still issues to work on such as the gender pay gap, and representation in politics and the media.

What Are The Goals Of Liberal Feminism?

Liberal feminists want women to be granted the same social and political rights as men, have equal pay for doing the same work as men, and be equal in marriage and partnership.

Many of these changes are thought to come through legal and legislative reformation. As well as this, liberal feminists aim for equality in the representation of women in the workplace, politics, and the media.

They would want to see more women in positions of power and being equally represented to men in film and television. Reforming the system is a big part of liberal feminism.

They believe that gender justice is best achieved by modifying existing social institutions and political systems which have the capacity to adjust. Liberal feminism is also individualistic rather than group based.

This means that rights are granted to individual women who are assumed to be equally deserving of these rights, rather than granting rights to a whole group.

What Are The Differences Between Radical And Liberal Deminism?

Liberal feminism is thought to have emerged in the 18th and 19th century through the work of early feminist scholars such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who advocated for educational and social equality for women, and John Stuart Mill who defended the civic and legal equality of women and their right to vote.

There was then a rise in liberal feminism during the first wave of feminism in the 19th and early 20th century when women fought for their right to vote.

Radical feminism primarily developed during the second wave of feminism from the 1960s onwards. It is thought to have been developed in opposition to liberal and Marxist feminism at the time.

Although becoming popularized from the 1960s, there are believed to have been radical feminist activism and ideas during the first wave of feminism. For example, some of the actions of the women in the suffrage movement can be considered radical.

Liberal feminism does not generally consider what the root cause of gender inequality is. Instead, they claim that the oppression of women comes from their lack of political and civil rights and that once they have these rights, they will be equal to men.

However, they do not explain why it is that women were not granted these rights in the first place. Radical feminists would claim that they go a step further than liberal feminists by wanting to tackle the root of gender inequality – the patriarchy.

The patriarchy and its structures and institutions which follow patriarchal ideals are thought to be the cause of all gender injustice. Radical feminists would criticize liberal feminism since they claim that only seeking to add more women into the already established systems is not enough.

Just because there are more women in positions of power does not mean there is not still sexism and misogyny, radical feminists would reason. They would argue that the whole system needs to be uprooted and changed for women to be free from gender inequality.

For liberal feminists, gender inequality is thought to be eliminated once women gain the same rights as men. This is done through reforming the legal, political, social, and other existing systems.

However, for radical feminists, it is believed that reforming the systems that are already in place will not do enough to make real change. Instead, they suggest that to eliminate gender inequality will require a radical restructuring of society and its systems.

They believe that removing male supremacy from all spheres of society is the only way that women will be truly liberated.

There are differences between radical and liberal feminism when it comes to ideas about the private sphere. Liberal feminists are generally not against heterosexual marriage and having children, as long as this is what the woman wants.

If the woman is being treated as an equal by their partner and chooses how to raise their family, this is a feminist choice. Although this is not the case for everyone, many radical feminists would choose to not marry or engage in any kind of heterosexual relationship with men. Some may engage in political lesbianism as a way to be segregated from men.

Many hold the view that traditional marriage is a patriarchal institution since this makes women part of men’s private property. Even in modern marriage, radical feminists argue that women who are married to men are under patriarchal rule and are still made to complete much of the unpaid labor in the household compared to their husbands.

Are There Any Similarities Between Radical And Liberal Feminism?

Despite the many differences between radical and liberal feminism, there are some similarities between these branches. Liberal feminists generally support radical feminists’ views that abortion and other reproductive rights should be granted to women. They would also believe that women should have control and autonomy over their own lives and bodies.

Radical and liberal feminists both work to encourage gender equality in the private as well as the public spheres. They have both also achieved legislative change for women’s rights and aim to end domestic violence obstacles that stop women from achieving on an equal level to men.

A criticism of both radical and liberal feminism is that they are mainly prominent in western cultures, aiming to tackle gender inequality particularly for western women. Intersectional feminism would suggest that radical and liberal feminism may fail to account for different groups of women and how oppression affects them uniquely.

For instance, women who are of different ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, disabilities, and social class would have different experiences of gender inequality.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, Sept 06). Differentiate Between Liberal Feminism And Radical Feminism. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/radical-feminism-vs-liberal-feminism.html

References

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Cottais, C. (2020). Radical Feminism. Gender in Geopolitics Institute. Retrieved 2022, September 2, from: https://igg-geo.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Technical-Sheet-Radical-feminism.pdf

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