This post is part of our feminist theory series meant to showcase the diversity of feminist thought. You can find the rest of the series here.
Remember when Sally Field declared that if mothers ruled the world, there would be no war? I don’t know if Field considers herself a cultural feminist or even a feminist, but I’m here to learn you some feminist theory* so let’s talk about how that statement reflects cultural feminist beliefs.
Field’s statement assumes that all mothers are the same in some way. She also implies that women are morally superior to men. Cultural feminism is based on the ideology of innate differences between the sexes. Cultural feminists see all women as essentially creative, transforming, spiritual and pure. The converse of that is that men are destructive and corrupt. Cultural opposition between men and women is the problem, and the solution is to establish a separate women’s culture. Cultural feminists attempt to do this by countering the devaluation of women with a celebration of women’s culture, power, energy, and creativity and by focusing on women’s liberation from patriarchy.
Some attempts to create a more female-oriented culture include women’s music festivals, a revival of women’s spirituality and Goddess traditions, and a recognition of traditional female art forms like knitting and quilting. Also menstrual blood art.
Ugh, menopause has really cut my art supplies in half.
— Aunt Diane (@YourAuntDiane) August 10, 2011
Cultural feminism can also include biological determinism – the idea that the traditional characteristics of women are innate in their biology. Some believe that certain biological abilities are necessary for an individual to be categorized as a ‘woman.’ For more about biological determinism and why it’s problematic, read Carly’s blog on menstruation. Some cultural feminists sought alternatives to traditionally patriarchal religions and engaged in Goddess worship.
Cultural feminist theory developed from radical feminism in the mid-1970s and has since declined in popularity. Today most progressives believe that gender is socially constructed and criticize cultural feminism for its gender essentialism. Others find gender essentialism problematic because often, when people theorize about “women,” they theorize about white women’s experiences and treat them as universal. For more, see All the Women Are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.
Most progressives today also reject the way cultural feminists view power. While cultural feminists theorize power as something you either have or something you don’t, others complicate this notion, pointing out that defining power so simplistically ignores women’s agency and the fact that many women have power to oppress in other ways, such as through white privilege, straight privilege, or cisgender privilege.
This post should be a starting point for your cultural feminism education. There’s no way I could adequately sum up years of feminist thought in 500 words. Though useful, categorizing ideas and people is imperfect. Like feminists in general, cultural feminists do not necessarily all adhere to the same ideas.
Mallory is no expert. She took one feminist theory class in undergrad. She’s a fan of qualifiers if you couldn’t tell.
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