Socialist Feminism—Definition and Comparisons

Socialist Feminism in Women's History

Feminist Reunion of the Socialist League
Feminist Reunion of the Socialist League. Getty Images / Fototeca Storica Nazionale

The phrase "socialist feminism" was increasingly used during the 1970s to describe a mixed theoretical and practical approach to achieving women's equality. Socialist feminist theory analyzed the connection between the oppression of women and other oppressions in society, such as racism and economic injustice.

The Socialist Basis 

Socialists had fought for decades to create a more equal society that did not exploit the poor and the powerless in the same ways that capitalism did.

Like Marxism, socialist feminism recognized the oppressive structure of a capitalist society. Like radical feminism, socialist feminism recognized the fundamental oppression of women particularly in a patriarchal society. However, socialist feminists did not recognize gender and only gender as the exclusive basis of all oppression. Rather, they held and continue to hold that class and gender are symbiotic, at least to some degree, and one cannot be addressed without taking the other into consideration. 

Socialist feminists wanted to integrate the recognition of sex discrimination within their work to achieve justice and equality for women, for working classes, for the poor and all humanity. 

A Little History 

The term "socialist feminism" might make it sound as though the two concepts—socialism and feminism—are cemented together and intertwined, but this has not always been the case. Socialist Party leader Eugene V.

Debs and Susan B. Anthony were at odds back in 1905, each of them supporting a different end of the spectrum. Decades later, Gloria Steinem suggested that women, and particularly younger women, were eager to throw their support behind socialist Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, a concept that became evident in the 2016 national election when Sanders won 53 percent of the female vote in the New Hampshire primary in contrast to Clinton's 46 percent.

How Is Socialist Feminism Different? 

Socialist feminism has often been compared to cultural feminism, but they are quite different although there are some similarities. Cultural feminism focuses almost exclusively on the unique traits and accomplishments of the female gender in opposition to those of men. Separatism is a key theme, but socialist feminism opposes this. The goal of socialist feminism is to work with men to achieve a level playing field for both genders. Socialist feminists have referred to cultural feminism as "pretentious." 

Socialist feminism is also distinctly different from liberal feminism, although the concept of liberalism has changed over the early decades of the 21st century. Although liberal feminists seek equality of the sexes, socialist feminists do not believe that is entirely possible within the constraints of current society. 

The focus of radical feminists is more on the root causes of inequalities that exist. They tend to take the position that sexual discrimination is the sole source of the oppression of women. However, radical feminism may be more closely related than some other forms of feminism are to socialist feminism. 

Of course, all these types of feminism share similar and often identical concerns, but their remedies and solutions vary.

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Napikoski, Linda. "Socialist Feminism—Definition and Comparisons." ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/socialist-feminism-womens-history-definition-3528988. Napikoski, Linda. (2017, August 6). Socialist Feminism—Definition and Comparisons. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/socialist-feminism-womens-history-definition-3528988 Napikoski, Linda. "Socialist Feminism—Definition and Comparisons." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/socialist-feminism-womens-history-definition-3528988 (accessed November 18, 2017).