Bhumika’s List of Feminist Terminology

Note: this is not a complete or exhaustive list by any means, and all of these terms have meanings that are open to interpretation. These definitions come from places like my mind, Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the following text:

Kirk, Gwyn, and Margo Okazawa-Rey. Women’s lives: multicultural perspectives. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.

  • Binary thinking: seeing things as black and white, inability to see “grey” areas
  • Black feminism: a school of thought which argues that sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together
    • Kimberle Crenshaw
    • Combahee River Collective
    • Angela Davis
    • bell hooks
    • Patricia Hill Collins
  • Capitalism: an economic system in which most of the capital — the property, raw materials, and the means of production (including people’s labor) — and goods we produce are owned and controlled by individuals or groups — capitalists. The goal of all production is to maximize profit-making.
  • Chicana feminism: also called Xicanisma, is a sociopolitical movement in the United States that analyzes the historical, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic intersections of Mexican-American women that identify as Chicana.
    • Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
    • Cherrie Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
    • Martha P. Cotera, The Chicana Feminist
    • Ana Castillo
  • Consciousness raising: a form of activism, popularized during the 2nd wave feminist movement, involving a small group of people bringing attention to a challenge or cause. During the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s & 70s, it often took the form of small groups discussions where people shared their thoughts or experiences about different topics.
  • Criminalization: the process of turning people’s circumstances or behaviors into a crime, such as criminalization of homeless people or mothers with HIV/AIDS.
  • Cultural appropriation: taking possession of specific aspects of another group’s culture in gratuitous, inauthentic way
  • Culture: the values, symbols, means of expression, language, and interests of a group of people. Dominant culture includes the values, symbols, means of expression, language, and interests of the people in power in this society.
  • Deconstruction: a strategy of critical analysis in which one examines the ambiguous signifiers of meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions.
    • Deconstructionism is hard to nail down, but it’s about the instability of language. It’s about how there is no singular meaning of anything, but rather that meaning is contextual and always changing.
    • Deconstruction is a post-structuralist theory most often associated with Jacques Derrida.
  • Difference Feminism: a concept from the 1970s & 80s focused on the differences between men and women. This concept came out in opposition to equality feminism, and difference feminism argues that sameness was not necessary for men and women to be treated equally.
    • The main critique of perspective is that it can be essentialist.
    • Mary Daly
    • Carol Gilligan
    • Allison Jagger
  • Discrimination: pattern of treating members of a group on the basis of group membership rather than individual qualities and merit; dismissal or marginalization of those against whom one holds a prejudice.
  • Equality feminism: a concept that focuses on the similarities between women and men and seeks the equality of men in women through an androgynous worldview. This is feminism was the dominant perspective of feminism in the 19th & 20th centuries.
    • The main critique of this is that this form of feminism fails to consider uniquely female experiences and privileges the male perspective
    • Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792)
    • John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill, The Subjection of Women
    • Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
  • Epistemology: the theory of knowledge. Feminist epistemology focuses on how women construct knowledge and self-expression.
  • Essentialism: the assumption that people or things have a fixed “nature,” as well as the generalizations that grow from such assumptions.
  • Exocitization: the process of sexualizing a group and reducing it and its members to “other”.
  • Feminism: various movements and ideologies focused on eliminating sexist oppression.
  • Feminization: process of associating people and things with the stereotypically feminine.
  • “The Gaze”: “to look steadily, intently, and with fixed attention.” “The gaze” is concept popularized by Jacques Lacan regarding the psychological state that comes with being aware that one can be viewed. Michel Foucault uses the concept of “the gaze” to illustrate how systems of power work in his book, Discipline and Punish.
    • Feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, came up with the concept of the “male gaze” to critique how a masculine point of view often shape visual art, especially when considering depictions of women. bell hooks came up with a critique of this concept called the “oppositional gaze” to highlight how discussions of the male gaze focuses on depictions of white women and to discuss how black women are placed outside of the male gaze.
    • Additional concepts related to “the gaze”:
      • Edward Said’s concept of the “post-colonial gaze”
      • E. Ann Kaplan’s “imperial gaze”
      • Judith Butler’s “feminine gaze”
  • Gender expression: the presentation of one’s sense of gender through behavior and dress
  • Gender identity: subjective sense of oneself as female, male, or something in between or outside of a gender binary
  • Gender roles: gendered behaviors considered appropriate by a given society or group
  • Hegemony: one group’s multiple levels of dominance over another, including the suppressed group’s consent to domination; hegemony is less a domination by force than a means of encouraging participation in one’s own oppression.
    • Cultural hegemony, a term used by Antonio Gramsci, is the use of ordinary practices and shared values as a means by which one group can dominate a diverse culture.
    • Cultural imperialism is the concept that describes how the culture of a more powerful group is imposed over less powerful groups. Significant scholars include Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, Michel Foucault.
  • Heterosexism: system of oppression which favors heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships.
  • Imperialism: the process of domination of one nation over other nations that are deemed inferior and to have dependent status for the purpose of exploiting their human and natural resources, to consolidate its power and wealth. An empire is able to draw resources from many nations and to deploy those governments and territories in its interest.
  • Identity politics: political action organized around shared social identity
    • Example: Combahee River Collective was a Black feminist lesbian organization active in Boston from 1974 to 1980, and they focused on organizing around the experiences of black women because they felt the mainstream feminist movement was focuses on the needs of white women to the point of marginalizing black women. The Combahee River Collective statement is a key document to understanding Black feminism.
  • Internalized oppression: attitudes and behaviors of some oppressed people that reflect the negative, harmful, stereotypical beliefs of the dominant group directed at them. An example of internalized sexism is the view of some women that they and other women are inferior to men, which causes them to adopt attitudes and behaviors that reinforce the oppression of women.
  • Intersectionality: Theory developed by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw focused on intersecting social identities and systems of oppression.
    • For example: Black women are not experiencing oppression based on gender and race independently of each other. Black women do not experiencing sexism the same way white women do, nor do they experience racism in the same way black men do. Racism and sexism work together to oppress black women differently, and by understanding how these systems of oppression work together, we can better understand how to dismantle these systems of oppression.
    • Note: it’s important not to get into the “oppression olympics” when thinking about intersectionality. Intersectionality does not exist to recreate hierarchies, but rather to help dismantle systems of power and create new forms of resistance.
    • Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought
    • Angela Davis, Women, Race, Class
    • bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
  • LGBT: stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intended to express the diversity of sexuality and gender.
    • Variants: LGBTQ, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA, etc
    • Alternatives: gender and sexual/sexuality minorities (GSM), queer
  • Liberal feminism: a philosophy that sees the oppression of women as a denial of equal rights, representation, and access to opportunities.
      • Betty Friedan
      • Naomi Wolf
      • Martha Nussbaum
  • Marginalization: to assign a lesser importance; to place “at the margins” those not considered important to a society, culture, etc
  • Metanarrative/Master narrative/grand narrative: the notion of one historical narrative as being central, involving the exclusion or marginalization of oppressed groups
    • Metanarratives reliance on the concept of a “universal truth”
  • Objectify/Objectification: treating a person like an object, interchangeable, as a tool for another’s person; treating a person as if they lack autonomy, self-determination; reducing a whole person down to their part.
  • Objectivity: a form of understanding in which knowledge and meaning are believed to come from outside oneself and are presumably not affected by personal opinion or bias.
  • Oppression: systems, formal or informal, that disadvantage social groups. The critical elements that differentiate oppression from simple prejudice and discrimination are that it is a group phenomenon and that institutional power and authority are used to support prejudices and enforce discriminatory behaviors in systematic ways. Everyone is socialized to participate in oppressive practices, either as direct or indirect perpetrators or passive beneficiaries, or — as with some oppressed peoples — by directing discriminatory behaviors at members of one’s own group or another group deemed inferior.
  • “The other”: Othering describes the reductive action of labelling a person as someone who belongs to a subordinate social category defined as the Other. The practice of Othering is the exclusion of persons who do not fit the norm of the social group, which is a version of the Self.
    • We can use this concept to think about how “women” or the feminine are “othered” or how non-Western societies are “othered” in us-versus-them discussions, especially as we think about the “war on terror”.
  • Patriarchy: social system in which males hold power at every level
  • Performative: term used by Judith Butler to describe gendered behavior as a performance
  • Privilege: benefits and power from institutional inequalities. Individuals and groups may be privileged without realizing it.
  • Postcolonial feminism: a perspective that critiques Western imperialism and imperialist tendencies of Western feminism, and emphasizes historically defined colonial power relations that provide a foundational context for women’s lives and struggles for change.
  • Postmodernism: broad movement across philosophy, the arts, criticism, etc, which is a departure from modernism. Postmodernism is a broad range of concepts that are focused on a distrust of metanarratives and ideologies around human nature, absolute truths, objective moralities, etc. Postmodernism posits that knowledge is contextual and products of unique social, historical, or political discourses. Postmodernism can be characterized by relativism, pluralism, irreverence, and self-referentiality.
    • Martin Heidegger
    • Jacques Derrida
    • Michel Foucault
    • Jean-Francois Lyotard
    • Fredric Jameson
    • Related concepts: deconstruction, structuralism, post-structuralism
    • Postmodern feminism: a type of feminism that repudiates the broad-brush “universal” theorizing of liberalism, radical feminism, or socialism, and emphasizes the particularity of women’s experiences in specific cultural and historical contexts.
  • Power: the ability to influence others, whether through persuasion, charisma, law, political activism, or coercion. Power operates informally and through formal institutions and at all levels
  • Queer: an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities; sometimes considered pejorative. Queer has a historical connotation that for being other than normal, outside the bounds of normality. Queer is increasingly used to describe non-normative identities, politics, actions, behaviors, etc.
  • Radical feminism: a philosophy that sees the oppression of women in terms of patriarchy, a system of male authority, especially manifested in sexuality, personal relationships, and the family and carried into the male-dominated world of work, government, religion, media, and law.
      • Andrea Dworkin
      • Catharine MacKinnon
      • John Stoltenberg
      • Mary Daly
      • Monique Wittig
  • Resistance: actions/strategies used by oppressed groups in response to the oppression. Can take the form of social critique, direct action, rebellion.
  • Sexism: system of oppression that disadvantages one gender over another. In our current patriarchal society, men cannot be oppressed by sexism because men as a social group have the most power in our society and systems exist to maintain this status quo. This does not mean that men are not negatively affected by sexism; men are negatively affected by sexism when they do not follow gender roles.
  • Sex versus gender: sex is the biological aspect of one’s identity; gender is the social construction of sexuality, the ways in which society perceives us or in which we perceive ourselves
  • Sexual orientation: sexual attraction towards others
  • Sexuality: biological, physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of human existence involving sexual experience and expression
  • Situated knowledge: knowledge and ways of knowing that are specific to a particular historical and cultural context and life experiences.
  • Social Construction: the view that concepts that appear to be immutable and often solely biological, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation, are defined by human being and can vary depending on cultural and historical contexts. On this view, for example, heterosexuality, is something learned — socially constructed — not innate. The “normalcy” of heterosexuality is systemically transmitted, and appropriate attitudes and behaviors are learned through childhood socialization, life experiences, and reinforced through institutional norms, policies, and law.
  • Socialist feminism: a view that sees the oppression of women in terms of their subordinate position in a system defined as both patriarchal and capitalist.
  • Social location: the social features of one’s identity incorporating individual, community, societal, and global factors such as gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, age, and so on.
  • Standpoint theory: theory that oppressed people possess knowledge or understanding about their social position which is unavailable to the dominant group; the view that different social and historical situations give rise to a very different experiences and theories about those experiences.
    • Sandra Harding
    • Nancy Hartsock
    • Susan Heckman
  • Stereotyping: reduction of a group or its members to supposed traits of that group.
  • Subjectivity: a form of understanding in which knowledge and meaning are grounded in people’s lived experiences; also being the subject rather than an object of theorizing. Since powerless groups have historically been treated as objects of “objective” knowledge production, feminist assertions of subjectivity are also assertions of the previously objectified groups’ claims to the subject position (that of actor and agent of action), their ability to create knowledge, and therefore, their agency in knowledge production.
  • Wave (first, second, third, etc)
    • First wave feminism: organizations and projects undertaken by suffragists and women’s rights advocates from the 1840s until 1920 when women in the United States won the vote.
    • Second wave feminism: feminist projects and organizations from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s that campaigned for women’s equality in all spheres of life and, in some ways, that argued for a complete transformation of patriarchal, capitalist structures.
    • Third wave feminism: feminist perspectives adopted in the 1990s often by younger women, with an emphasis on personal voice and multiple identities, intersectionality, ambiguity, and contradictions.
  • Womanism: a social theory based on the racial and gender-based oppression of black women, and other women of marginalized groups
    • Alice Walker
    • Clenora Hudson Weems
    • Layli Phillips