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Liberal Feminism: what it is, philosophical positioning and claims

Liberal Feminism: what it is, philosophical positioning and claims

January 29, 2023

In very general terms, feminism is a set of political and theoretical movements that fight for the vindication of women (and of other historically subordinated identities) that has a history of many centuries, and that has gone through very diverse stages and transformations.

That is why it is usually divided into theoretical currents, which do not suppose the end of one and the beginning of the other, but, having incorporated different experiences and denunciations of contexts of vulnerability with the passage of time, feminism has been updating the struggles and the theoretical nuances.

After the "First Wave" of feminism (also known as Suffragist Feminism), which advocated for equal rights, feminists focused on how our identity is constructed based on the social relationships that we engage especially through the distinction between the public space and the private space.

The proposal at this time is that the claim of women has to do with our incorporation into public life, in addition to promoting legal equality. That current is called Liberal Feminism .

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What is it and where does Liberal Feminism come from?

The 1960s and 1970s, mainly in the United States and Europe, saw feminist mobilizations emerge related to the New Left and the civil rights movements of African-Americans .

In this context, women managed to make visible their experiences of sexism and the need to organize among themselves, to share those experiences and seek strategies of vindication. Emerged, for example, feminist organizations such as the NOW (National Organization of Women) driven by one of the key figures of this current, Betty Friedan.

Likewise, and at the theoretical level, feminists took distance from the most popular paradigms of the moment, generating their own theories that would account for the oppression they experienced . Therefore, Liberal Feminism is a political movement, but also theoretical and epistemological that takes place since the second half of the twentieth century, in the United States and Europe mainly.

At this stage, feminism appeared publicly as one of the great social movements of the nineteenth century whose repercussions connected with other movements and theoretical currents, such as socialism, since they proposed that the cause of women's oppression was not biological, but rather that it was based on the beginnings of private property and the social logics of production. One of the key antecedents in this is the work of Simone de Beauvoir: the second sex.

Likewise its growth had to do with the development of women's citizenship , which did not happen in the same way in Europe as in the United States. In the latter, the feminist movement of the Second Wave convened several social struggles, while in Europe it was more characterized by isolated movements.

In short, the main struggle of Liberal Feminism is to achieve equality of opportunities based on a critique of the distinction between public space and private space, because historically women have been relegated to the private or domestic space, which has fact that we have fewer opportunities in the public space, for example, in access to education, health or work.

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Betty Friedan: representative author

Betty Friedan is perhaps the most representative figure of Liberal Feminism . Among other things, she described and denounced the situations of oppression experienced by middle-class American women, denouncing that they were obliged to sacrifice their own life projects, or on equal opportunities with men; what also promotes some differences in the experience of health and illness between them.

In fact, one of her most important works is called "The problem that has no name" (chapter 1 of the book Mystique of femininity), where she relates the displacement to the private space and the silenced life of women with the development of those nonspecific diseases that medicine does not finish defining and treating.

Thus, he understands that we build our identity in correspondence with social relations and promotes a personal change of women and a modification of these relationships.

In other words, Friedan denounces that the subordination and oppression that women experience have to do with legal restrictions that already from the outset limit us access to public space, before which, it offers reformist options, that is, to generate gradual changes in said spaces so that this situation is modified.

Some criticisms and limitations of Liberal Feminism

We have seen that Liberal Feminism is characterized by fight for equal opportunities and the dignity of women. The problem is that he understands "the woman" as a homogenous group, where equality of opportunities will make all women claim our dignity.

Although the Liberal Feminism is a necessary movement and committed to equal opportunities, the relationship between this inequality and the social structure is not questioned, which keeps hidden other experiences of being women.

That is to say, deals with the problems of white women, westerners, housewives and middle class , and advocates for equal opportunities in the public space, assuming that this struggle will be the one that emancipates all women, without considering that there are differences of class, race, ethnicity or social status that build different experiences in the " be a woman "and with this, different needs and demands.

This is where the "third wave" of feminism comes from, where the multiplicity of identities and forms of being a woman are recognized in relation to social structures. Recognizes that the claims of women and feminisms are not the same in all contexts, among other things because not all contexts give the same opportunities and vulnerabilities to the same people .

Thus, for example, while in Europe there is a struggle to decolonize feminism itself, in Latin America the main struggle is survival. These are issues that have led feminism to constantly reinvent itself and to stand up in struggle according to each time and each context.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gandarias, I. & Pujol, J. (2013). From the Others to the No (s) other: encounters, tensions and challenges in the fabric of articulations between groups of migrated women and local feminists in the Basque Country. CROSSROADS. Critical Review of Social Sciences, 5: 77-91.
  • Perona, A. (2005). Postwar American liberal feminism: Betty Friedan and the re-foundation of liberal feminism. Retrieved April 16, 2018. Available at // % 20liberal.pdf
  • Heras, S. (2009). An approach to feminist theories. Universitas Journal of Philosophy, Law and Politics, 9: 45-82.
  • Velasco, S. (2009). Sexes, gender and health: theory and methods for clinical practice and health programs. Minerva: MAdrid
  • Amorós, C. & de Miguel, A. (S / A). Feminist theory: from illustration to globalization. Retrieved April 16. Available at //

Michele Moody-Adams on the Compatibility of Liberalism and Feminism (January 2023).

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