The place of feminism in the Left politicsDecember 4, 2018
Throughout its history, the feminist movement has been one dotted by struggles and resistance against the structural conditions of modern society. On top of that, has also faced challenges in the way the State organizes itself, performs its duties and functions and implements public policies.
When it comes to pursuing different types of economic, political, and social changes, feminism leans to the Left of the political spectrum. However, that is not to say that all feminists are necessarily left-wing – this is a stereotype. In fact, one of the most frequent associations between those who begin to get acquainted with feminism is to link it almost immediately with left-wing movements. While it is true that there is a relationship between feminism and the left, it is also true that this relationship is not exclusive. Hence it cannot be said that all feminists are necessarily left-wing. Nowadays, the idea of a “right-wing”, “liberal” or “conservative” feminist is not otherworldly.
When looking at the big picture, the current feminist movement has two roots: one in the mid-nineteenth century in the USA and another in England, in the early twentieth century. In both occasions, the main objective was to fight existing inequalities between men and women, with the legalization of the female vote – which was the most important achievement of this “first wave” of the feminist movement.
From the early 1960s until the 1980s, also in the USA, the so-called ‘second wave of feminism’ emerged. Similarly, this second spur aimed to demand from the government that some legislation was rewritten in order to reverse social injustices in relation to women and their decisive role in society.
Thus, if we trace a timeline of feminism, we see that it bifurcates: to the right at around the middle of the nineteenth century, linked to capitalist traditions in the US and Europe; to the left, already in the twentieth century, connected to the socialist movements. The intersection of both occurs in the mid-twentieth century (which triggers the aforementioned “second wave) and results in the expansion of policy-related roles; civic rights that promote gender equality; the elaboration and discussion of feminist theories; the enrolling of women into university, and the insertion of leftist thoughts in capitalist countries. Interestingly, many concepts that emerged at this stage are still discussed and defended by feminists today.
However, by the end of the 1990s, when liberalism grew stronger, many women who were against breaking up with capitalism, began to create a more liberal feminist trend. Hence, regardless of power structures, the liberal feminist seeks to ensure equal conditions within a world of competition. In this sense, liberal feminist demands arise from an individual perspective more than a collective plan. It adopts a strategy of social change based on a cooperative action but aimed at the individual will of each woman, all the while more independent of the State and less involved with political parties.
Therefore, when observing the history of the feminist movement, it becomes clear that there are many women who approach feminist interests from the right rather than the left. So, instead of labeling feminism as being a property of one side or the other, it is important to reflect on what is essential for the construction of a progressive society in which there is full equality of rights and opportunities between genders. Although diverging political stances sometimes interfere in building relationships, the thinner the wall between a left or right wing feminist, the easier it will be to achieve their common feminism-led goals.
At the same time, to deny that feminism has divergences or to say that it sticks to a single political line of thought is to hinder possibilities for combining ideas that favor the development of a healthy movement. After all, the concept of embracing the plural society we live in is one of the essences of the feminist movement.
Perhaps the place of feminism in the Left politics is the same as that in a more liberal sphere. Indeed, chances are the political view of a given feminist will not repeal her feminism-based thoughts and values. At the end of the day, the stereotyping of feminist movements or its classification into left or right will not help to combat the prejudice that women face in modern society.