Writer Rebecca West called feminism “the radical notion that women are people”. In brief, feminism is the belief that people should be treated equally regardless of gender.
Frequently asked questions about feminism
I thought feminism was all about voting and equal pay…?
In the UK, women have been able to vote on the same terms as men since 1928, and it’s been illegal to pay women less than men for work of equal value since the Equal Pay Acts of 1970 and 1985. Though feminists no longer campaign for the right to vote in the UK, on average women are still paid 14.9% less than men, which means that the battle for equal pay has not been won.
Modern feminism is concerned with a number of social and political issues. For more information, see types of feminism below.
Do all feminists think the same things?
Not at all. There are as many different types of ways to be a feminist as there are to be a person, and people who identify as feminist can hold contradictory ideas.
I think everyone should be equal, am I a feminist?
The guiding principle of feminism is equality between the genders, but not everybody who holds this view calls themselves feminist. Just like any other label, it’s important that the word works for you. Some people feel the term ‘feminist’ is too political or too dated, and prefer the term ‘egalitarian’, some call themselves ‘post-feminist’ and some don’t call themselves anything.
Do feminists hate porn and sex-work? What about BDSM?
Some feminists are against pornography and sex-work, seeing each as exploitative of women. Not all feminists hold this view, though, and many believe that sex-work can be a job like any other provided the conditions that the women work in are reasonable and that they are working of their own free will.
The relationship between feminism and BDSM has always been controversial but today many feminists are supportive of consensual BDSM play. Feminists who do not condemn pornography sex-work and BDSM are sometimes called ‘sex-positive’.
Can men be feminists?
Yes! Many men recognise the value of feminism both for the women in society and for themselves and the movement generally accepts men as feminists and feminist allies.
Aren’t you all just humourless man-hating lesbians?
Feminists come in all sexualities (and senses of humour!). While some female-identified feminists are lesbian, and some are separatists (see below), most feminists have valuable relationships with men.
Commonly used words and phrases
The first wave of feminism, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries focussed primarily on the legal rights of women. The right to vote, own property, divorce and enter the professions were all won in this period.
Generally thought to have started with Betty Friedan’s 1963 book ‘The Feminine Mystique’, the ‘second wave’ ran through the seventies, eighties and early nineties. The second wave of feminism widened the focus of the movement, concerning itself with inequities of the workplace and the home, sexuality, violence against women and reproductive rights.
Major achievements of this period include the opening of the first domestic violence refuges, widespread availability of oral contraceptives and the legalisation of abortion.
The ‘third wave’ of feminism continues the work of the second wave, focussing on issues such as reproductive health, equality in the workplace, the role of women in the media, sexual violence and institutional misogyny as well as challenging gender essentialism (the notion that there is a single female experience). Third wave feminism (sometimes erroneously called post-feminism) views gender roles as a socially constructed, and therefore false, binary which should be denied.
Most modern feminisms are intersectional, meaning that they seek to understand how identities and social and biological categories (such as race, class, disability and sexuality) contribute to oppression under patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a Greek word that literally means ‘rule by the father’. It is a political, legal, social and economic system that privileges men and in which the majority of power is held by men.
Advocates of Separatism strive to minimise or eradicate relationships with men and build female-dominated communities that are “separate from men who are not consciously working for female liberation” (Roxanne Dunbar & Lisa Leghorn).
A subset of Separatism is Lesbian Separatism, which views heterosexuality as an indoctrinated behaviour, and a privilege that women should not allow themselves.
Types of feminism
There are many different types of feminism. We can’t list them all, but these are the types of feminism you’re most likely to encounter at BiCon. These definitions are necessarily short and should not be considered exhaustive.
Most feminists fit into more than one of these categories.
Trans feminism is concerned specifically with the misogyny that non-cisgendered women face as well as the experiences common to all women.
Occasionally derisively called ‘fun-fems’, liberal feminists are generally sex-positive and believe that all gender equality can be achieved through political and legal reform. Liberal feminism is arguably the most mainstream form of feminism alive today.
‘Black feminism’ is something of a misnomer, as this type of feminism represents all minority ethnic women, criticising mainstream feminisms for paying lip-service to anti-racist struggles while remaining complicit in the persecution of all non-white women.
Often called Marxist feminism, this type of feminism is particularly concerned the effects of social class and capitalism in relation to gender inequality.
Just as trans feminism relates specifically to the issues trans people face, queer feminism examines the wider LGBT community in a feminist context.
Where to find out more about feminism at BiCon
At BiCon there will be sessions talking about feminism for people new to the idea or wanting to know more, see the programme guide for sessions and meet ups appropriate for you.