What if feminism was plural?

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin

What if feminism was plural?

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin

In 2017, the Weinstein case brought to light a hitherto invisible truth, that of sexual and gender-based violence in all societies, within all social classes. Before that, feminism was tainted with negative connotations and subject to undisguised mockery. While its claims are still criticized, the worldwide mobilization around the #metoo movement has placed gender inequality at the centre of debates. Women are now speaking out and occupying more space, both in the media and in the public sphere.

But talking about feminism in the singular seems reductive. Indeed, if the struggle for women’s rights remains the common point of many different groups, their demands cannot be expressed with the same voice. Far from going back over all the existing currents or the history of feminism, this article attempts to present various interpretations of it. The aim is to bring a new perspective to the debates shaking our Western societies.

Liberal Feminism

Also known as egalitarian feminism, this form of feminism militates against the oppression of men over women, particularly in the areas of violence, sexual and reproductive rights and equal pay. From a sociological point of view, this current is mainly composed of cisgender, white, heterosexual and bourgeois women. Their analysis therefore does not integrate other forms of social domination and focuses almost exclusively on the fight against sexism. In France, liberal feminists have made it possible to acquire the rights to contraception and abortion.

Currently, it is the movement most represented in France, both in the media and within institutional structures. This current is part of a Universalist and secular thought where all women suffer similar oppressions. For example, since some women are forced to wear a veil, no woman should wear it. Even if it is a personal choice. The logic is the same for sex work, which is seen as a form of exploitation of women’s bodies. In fact, this tendency denies the free will of those who adopt these lifestyles, and sees these behaviors as forms of alienation and submission to male domination.

Black Feminism and Decolonial Feminism

In both of these trends, women’s rights are no longer limited to fighting sexism. The different systems of oppression serve as critical tools for understanding the situation of women around the world. Indeed, when egalitarian feminism makes sexual and reproductive rights a universal demand, black American women are fighting against segregation and for civil rights. As black women, their experiences of gender discrimination are not the same as those of white women: when white women campaign for abortion and contraception rights, black women are subjected to forced sterilization. Their understanding of women’s rights is in turn influenced by racial inequalities, leading to the creation of a feminist movement that integrates the fight against racism into the struggle for women’s rights: Black Feminism.

This movement then inspired another movement, decolonial feminism, which broke away from issues centred on Western women to analyse the realities of women from colonised countries. It highlights the singularity of their experiences, inequalities and injustices inherited from the colonial system and its patriarchal, imperialist and capitalist components. This movement shows how colonisation has shaped the sexual and racial discrimination of racialized women (in the sociological sense). Decolonialists thus criticize orientalism and serve the empowerment of women and the self-determination of the people by giving a voice to racialized women, who are often marginalized.

Post-modern feminism and queer theory

Post-modern feminism goes further in its critique of the relations of domination between women and men because it questions gender itself and analyses it as a social construction at the origin of women’s inferiority. It is influenced by the struggles of gay and lesbian people who denounce heteronormativity or the fact that heterosexuality is perceived as a norm and exerts oppression on other sexualities.

Queer theory expands on this approach but still breaks away from it as it also challenges the binary division of society between men and women. That is why queer theory wants to deconstruct these concepts and defend all gender identities and sexualities. In fact, the queer movement actively participates in the struggle for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people and campaigns for the recognition of transidentities, which are often excluded from women’s associations.

Intersectional feminism

For intersectional feminism, the struggle for women’s rights is indivisible from the struggle against all forms of oppression. Originally it is a term related to Afro-feminism, which shows that racialized women experience oppressions related to gender, class and ethnicity. It reminds us that women, based on their skin colour, social class, religion, validity or sexual orientation will not be subjected to the same oppressions. This feminism refers to the sociological concept of “privilege”, i.e. the social benefits enjoyed by certain dominant populations. It is a matter of denouncing all forms of systemic oppression by giving a voice to the women concerned. Intersectional feminism thus questions the privileges of each and hopes for a “feminism” where each has their own particular experience and place. When a mobilization of struggles against different oppressions includes non-racialized people, we will then speak of a logic of alliance so as not to invisibilize the first concerned.

Talking about feminism in the singular seems reductive. If the struggle for women’s rights remains the common point of many different groups, their demands cannot be expressed with the same voice

Today’s concerns are moving away from purely sexist themes to embrace issues of “race”, class, environmental and social justice, and to criticize the capitalist system or globalization. In 2020, in the United States, black women are protesting against police violence; in Argentina, women are protesting against feminicide and neo-liberalism; in Canada and Latin America, indigenous women are advocating against feminicide but also for the respect of their culture and for access to land; current environmental concerns also highlight eco-feminist movements committed against the exploitation of natural resources. Thus, the diversity of feminisms reflects the multiple social and economic conditions of each. “Feminism” should therefore be conjugated in the plural.

Indeed, “feminism” has always been made up of multiple currents, theories and ideas, sometimes in agreement, often in opposition. The different groups feed off each other and generate new demands; demands that we hear little about and yet are representative of the transformations of our societies. These feminists make the various oppressions visible, taking a fresh look at secularism and the veil, gender and transidentity, the freedom to dispose of one’s body and sex work, universalism and the singularity of lived situations.

By shedding light on different realities, these feminisms claim their rights and create tools for resistance and action. They criticize the idea of universality and value differences. These currents then let the voices of the minority and vulnerable be heard and call for more solidarity and alliance. Finally, the common point of these so-called differentialist feminists is that they believe in the “whole” rather than the “universal”.


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.

Discover more stories