Cultural feminism

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Cultural feminism is the view that there is a "female nature" or "female essence" or related attempts to revalidate attributes ascribed to femaleness.[1] It is also used to describe theories that commend innate differences between women and men.[2]

Origins of the term[edit]

Unlike radical feminism or socialist feminism, cultural feminism was not an ideology widely claimed by proponents, but was more commonly a pejorative label ascribed by its opponents. Alice Echols, a feminist historian and cultural theorist, credits Brooke Williams with applying the term "cultural feminism" in 1975 to describe the depoliticisation of radical feminism, which led to the term being picked during the 1990s by academic feminists to describe various individuals.[3] However, the term surfaced as early as 1971, when Tor Bay, in a letter printed in Off Our Backs, condemned the literary magazine Aphra as having "served the cause of cultural feminism."[4] Socialist feminist Elizabeth Diggs, in 1972, used the label "cultural feminism" to apply to all of radical feminism.[5]


Although the term "cultural feminist" is generally applied to individuals in the 1970s, similar lines of thought have been traced to earlier periods. Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman argued that in governing the state, cooperation, caring, and nonviolence in the settlement of conflicts society seem to be what was needed from women’s virtues.[6] Josephine Donovan argues that the nineteenth century journalist, critic and women's rights activist, Margaret Fuller, initiated cultural feminism in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). She stressed the emotional, intuitive side of knowledge and expressed an organic worldview that is quite different from the mechanistic view of Enlightenment rationalists.[7][8]

However, it was Linda Alcoff's argument in "Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: the Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory" that led to the widespread adoption of the term to describe contemporary feminists, not their historical antecedents. Alcoff claims cultural feminism places women in an overly determined position overdetermined by what she sees as patriarchal systems.[1] She contends that:

Man has said that woman can be defined, delineated, captured, understood, explained, and diagnosed to a level of determination never accorded to man himself, who is conceived as a rational animal with free will.[1]

Alcoff makes the point that "the cultural feminist reappraisal construes woman's passivity as her peacefulness, her sentimentality as her proclivity to nurture, her subjectiveness as her advanced self-awareness".[1]

Taylor and Rupp have argued that critiques of cultural feminism are often an attack on lesbian feminists.[9] Suzanne Staggenbourg's case study of Bloomington, Indiana led her to conclude that engagement in activities labeled as cultural feminist "provides little evidence ... a decline in political activity in the women's movement."[10]


The theory emerged in the mid-1970s where it exposed women's oppression in gendered constructions that devaluate feminine attributes.[11] Mary Daly, a cultural feminist theorist, linked "female energy", or her term Gyn/Ecology to the essential life-affirming, life-creating condition of the female spirit/body.[12] Women-only spaces were made by cultural feminists to challenge negative gendered constructions, where they were ran "by women for women."[11] Women only events were being criticized because they excluded men and by excluding men, they were being defined as the problem, rather than locating the problem in the structures of patriarchy.[11]


Cultural feminism has received criticism from some women and feminists. In a 2004 article for the Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Kristen Ghodsee notes several forms of criticism coming from women of color and women of developing countries, who believe that "the idea of a global sisterhood erases important differences in power and access to resources among women of varying races, ethnicities, and nationalities".[13]:727 A common concern, particularly among women of color and women of developing countries, is that cultural feminism only includes white, upper class women, instead of taking into account women of different color and status.[13]:727 Another concern is the belief that cultural feminists "have not challenged the defining of woman but only the definition given by men" and as such, they have not defined what it means to be a woman and are continuing to compare their similarities to men as opposed to defining and celebrating womanhood.[14]:11 Historian Alice Echols has written on male and female sexuality, stating that cultural feminists believe that in order to be respected by men, women should have less sex and they propose "an establishment of a female standard of sexuality".[15]:52 She further writes that many women take issue with this concept, as this will result in the oppressing of women for embracing their sexuality and holding them to a standard as to how much sex they can have.[15]:52

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Alcoff, Linda (1988). "Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory". Signs. 13 (3): 405–436. doi:10.1086/494426. JSTOR 3174166.
  2. ^ Kramarae, Cheris; Spender, Dale (2000). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge. New York: Routledge. p. 746. ISBN 978-0415920902.
  3. ^ Taylor, R. "Slain and Slandered: A Content Analysis of the Portrayal of Femicide in Crime News." Homicide Studies 13.1 (2009): 21-49. doi:10.1177/1088767908326679
  4. ^ Tor Bay, "goodbye", Off Our Backs 1, no. 19 (25 March 1971): 14.
  5. ^ Elizabeth Diggs, "What Is the Women's Movement?", Women: A Journal of Liberation 2, no. 4 (1972): 11-12, 20.
  6. ^ Ritzer, George. Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. ISBN 978-0-07-299759-0
  7. ^ Donovan, Josefine. Feminist Theory. 3d ed. (New York: Continuum, 1985.
  8. ^ Levine, Amy-Jill; Blickenstaff, Marianne (2004). A Feminist Companion to the Acts of the Apostles. London: T & T Clark. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-8264-6252-7.
  9. ^ Verta Taylor and Leila J. Rupp, "Women's Culture and Lesbian Feminist Activism: A Reconsideration of Cultural Feminism" Signs, 19, No. 1 (Autumn, 1993): 32–61.[1].
  10. ^ Suzanne Staggenborg, "Beyond Culture versus Politics: A Case Study of a Local Women's Movement,"Gender and Society, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Aug., 2001), pp. 507
  11. ^ a b c Bromley, Victoria (2012). Feminisms Matter: Debates, Theories, Activism. University of Toronto Press.
  12. ^ Alcoff, Linda (1988). The Problem of Speaking For Others.
  13. ^ a b Ghodsee, Kristen (Spring 2004). "Feminism by Design: Emerging Capitalisms, Cultural Feminism, and Women's Nongovernmental Organizations in Post Socialist Eastern Europe". Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 29 (3): 772–753. doi:10.1086/380631.
  14. ^ Blumenthal, Dannielle (1997). Women and Soap Opera: A Cultural Feminist Perspective. Praeger. ISBN 9780275960391. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  15. ^ a b Echols, Alice (Spring–Summer 2018). "Cultural Feminism:Feminist Capitalism and the Anti-Pornography Movement". Social Text (7): 47. JSTOR 466453.CS1 maint: date format (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Balbert, Peter. D.H. Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination. Hong Kong: The Macmillan P, 1989. ISBN 0-333-43964-3
  • Verta Taylor and Leila J. Rupp, "Women's Culture and Lesbian Feminist Activism: A Reconsideration of Cultural Feminism" Signs, 19, No. 1 (Autumn, 1993): 32–61.[2].
  • "Jane Addams on Cultural Feminism." About. 1892. Oct.-Nov. 2006 [3][permanent dead link].
  • ""I'm Not a Feminist, But..."" Two Peas, No Pods. 24 Oct. 2005. Oct.-Nov. 2006 [4].
  • Roseneil, Sasha. "The Coming of Age of Feminist Sociology: Some Issues Of." What is the name of the journal?. 1995. Oct.-Nov. 2006 [5].