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What are the main differences between liberal feminism, socialist feminism and radical feminism?

The development of the feminist theory and feminism was accompanied by the emergency of a variety of theoretical approaches which interpreted gender roles and the position of women in the society in different ways. At the same time, practically all feminist theories came to agreement in regard to the necessity of the consistent improvement of the position of women in the society. Various feminist theories stressed the oppressed, inferior position of women in the society and insisted on the necessity of changes which can bring the desirable liberation to women and provide them with equal rights and opportunities compared to men. However, the ways and means of the achievement of such goals of the feminist movements as well as the essence of gender roles and relationship varied consistently depending on the theoretical approach applied to feminism. In this respect, it is possible to single out three major approaches to the feminist movement, including liberal feminism, socialist feminism and radical feminism.

The development of the liberal feminism is closely intertwined with the development of the civil rights movement which brought the social consciousness of the importance of respecting human rights and liberties, and, what is more, the civil rights movement contributed to the elimination of discrimination and inequality within the society. In fact, the civil rights movement stimulated the emergence of the feminist movement. At the same time, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the liberal feminism basically maintains the ideals and methods of the civil rights movement, which include mainly non-violent means of struggle of women for their rights and liberties.

To put it more precisely, the liberal feminism stands on the ground that women are oppressed by men and their position in the society has to be changed for better to get equality compared to men. The major tools, with the help of which liberal feminists attempt to achieve such equality, are the political struggle and legal reform. In fact, liberal feminist believe that women can improve their position in the society through the wider participation in the political life of the society. As women take the political power and get the possibility to influence politics and decision-making process, they can naturally introduce the legal reform which is supposed to eliminate gender-related barriers and inequality. However, the liberal feminism does not fully reveal the efficient of elimination of economic inequality, which turns out to be derivative from political inequality. At this point, the liberal feminists apparently underestimate the impact of economic inequality of men and women because it is obvious that the political inequality will persist as long as economic inequality does. As a result, the overall success of the liberal feminist principles and ideas is often criticized by radical and socialist feminists.

In this respect, it should be said that the socialist feminism views the development of society and gender relations and, therefore, the change in the position of women as a historical process of steady evolution, in terms of which gender relations grew more and more complicated. Traditionally, gender roles define the different models of behavior of men and women. In this respect, it should be said that men traditionally tend to independence, while women tend to commitment. Such a difference is, to a significant extent determined by evolutionary factors, including heritage, genes, as well as the impact of environment which makes human behavior changing.

In fact, it is possible to view gender and society from evolutionary perspective which is based on the idea that the difference between males and females is basically determined by the evolution of humans (Shortt, 1998). At the same time it is worthy of mention that the evolutionary approach basically refers to the behavioral differences between males and females (Arriaga & Foshee, 2004) though genetic factors, heritage and, therefore physical changes that occurred to humans, both males and females, are also important to this approach. At this point, the independence of men can be explained by their traditional leading roles, since they have been breadwinners since ancient times and they needed to act independently, while women have been more concerned with the family maintenance and children’s upbringing.

From the evolutionary perspective, the difference between genders and behavior of males and females are determined by the difference in their optimal reproductive style (Basile, 2004). This means that males and females have different trends in their reproductive style and their reproductive success is determined by different factors as well as the assessment of the reproductive success is measured differently by males and females that is the result of the evolutionary development of human race, where representatives of different sexes fulfilled different functions in society in terms of their parental investment (Shortt, 1998). Hence, males need to be independent to become successful in their reproductive function, while women need to be committed because they have to bear children and provide their normal development.

Finally, it is necessary to remember about the significant impact of social environment on the formation of gender roles. Specialists point out that male and female gender roles are, to a significant extent, defined by biases and stereotypes existing in society (Shortt, 1998). In fact, these biases and stereotypes define norms of social behavior of both males and females. As a result, it is quite difficult for people to violate the existing gender roles. In this regard, it should be said that the deviation from the existing gender roles will lead to the opposition from the part of society, which is unable to accept behavior that does not match social standards. On the other hand, individuals are often affected by gender roles so significantly that they obey them unconsciously and are simply unwilling to change gender roles. As a result, gender becomes highly dependent on the existing social norms and biases, which often define independence of men and commitment of women. For instance, even toys boys and girls use are different and prepare them for independence and commitment respectively.

At the same time, the socialist feminism stands on the ground that the relationship of men and women are grounded on their economic rights and opportunities and their socioeconomic position of women defines their status in the society and relationship with men. In such a context, socialist feminists stress the disadvantaged economic position in the society and they explain women’s inferiority by poor economic opportunities. On the other hand, they argue that the consistent change of the position of women in the 20th century resulted from the increasing economic opportunities. In other words, unlike liberal feminists, socialist feminists view economic equality of women prior to political and legal one since on the basis of economic relations political, legal and social relations are constructed. At the same time, socialist feminists admit the idea that the consistent, qualitative change of the position of women can occur in the result of the social revolution that will eliminate inequality.

As for the radical feminism, it is even more radical than the position of socialist feminists. To put it more precisely, they believe that the existing inequality between men and women is maintained by the patriarchal system which historically puts women into an inferior position compared to men. Consequently, radical feminists suggest that the position of women can be changed consistently only in the result of the total change of the existing system of gender and social relations, when the patriarchal system will be eliminated and the male supremacy will be overthrown by women. In this regard, radical feminists admit all means to use since the end justifies means. As a result, radical feminists insist on active civil action, public protests and gender revolution which can destroy the existing patriarchal social order.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it should be said that the independence of men and commitment of women is defined by the difference of their gender roles, which they have acquired in the process of their socialization and learning of cultural standards and which they naturally inherited from past generations. In such a way, the gender difference and different behavior of men and women can be explained from the evolutionary perspective. At the same time, different feminist theories have different recommendations to eliminate such a different position of men and women. Liberal feminists insist on the political and legal reform as the major instrument of elimination of men and women inequality. Socialist feminists insist on the improvement of the economic position of women that will lead to their liberation and equality to men and, on this way, the social revolution can be used to meet the aforementioned equality. Finally, radical feminists insist on the destruction of the patriarchal society for the sake of the society where women can be equal to men.


Arriaga, X. B., & Foshee, V. A. (2004).  “Adolescent dating violence.  Do adolescents follow in their friends’ or their parents’ footsteps?”  Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19, 162-184.
Basile, S. (2004). “Comparison of abuse by same and opposite-gender litigants as cited in requests for abuse prevention orders.”  Journal of Family Violence, 19, 59-68.
Moghadam, V.(ed), (2005). Gender and National Identity. Oxford University Press.
Nadje Sadig Al-Ali. (1994). Gender Writing/Writing Gender. New York: Random House.
Shortt, D. M. (1998). “Gender and technology: Looking to the past.” Canadian Women’s Studies, 17, 89-93.

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