“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
This quote comes from Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which was published in 1817. It shows that, for centuries, women have tried to assert themselves as rational beings worthy of the same rights as men.
Liberal feminism advocates that women are rational beings. Thus, they have the right to choose and shape their personal and sociopolitical autonomy.
How It Works
Liberal feminism, unlike other feminist schools of thought, seeks equality through legal reform, not through revolution. Following the moral and political philosophy of Liberalism, Liberal feminists also emphasize freedom and argue that freedom can be achieved through equality within the law.
According to Liberal feminists, the state should be a central ally to the feminist movement. The patriarchal nature of our systems and institutions prevents female autonomy and freedom. These systems neglect the needs of women, creating a preventive environment in which they cannot choose or even create the circumstances under which they exist. Therefore, recognizing the civic areas where women are not included and changing them to add women's necessities in the law is the only way to enable women's autonomy. For example, by identifying that women suffer extreme levels of violence in their households and workplaces, Liberal feminists might advocate for laws that prevent and condemn such actions. These laws would better reflect women’s realities and help them shape their lives.
Liberal feminists have been well-known in many disciplines, ranging from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who were suffragists, to writers like Virginia Woolf. In contemporary times, Liberal feminism gained prominence in the 1960s, particularly after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, a book by Betty Friedan.
During the 1960s, feminists who made it to the mainstream subscribed to a liberal feminist ideology. Thus, it is imperative to understand their ideology in order to make sense of their demands. Laws like the Equal Rights Amendments and the Violence Against Women Act were passed as efforts to eradicate patriarchal violence within American society. This focus on legislation sustained the belief that legislative change was the ultimate goal in the process of women’s liberation.
Many critiques of Liberal feminism have surged in recent years. Critics mainly point out the absence of intersectionality within their analysis of autonomy. Liberal feminists’ work has been entirely focused on opening up historically male spaces to women. This type of advocacy upholds the patriarchal idea that predominantly-male activities hold more power, or are simply “better.” Many feminists argue this does not dismantle patriarchal power dynamics, but rather makes a handful of women benefit from those systems of oppression, continuing the cycle of marginalization.