Liberal feminism: what it is, philosophical positioning and claims

In very general terms, feminism is a set of political and theoretical movements who fight for the defense of women (and other historically subordinate identities) who have a history of several centuries, and who have gone through very diverse stages and transformations.

For this reason, it is generally divided into theoretical currents, which do not mean the end of one and the beginning of the other, but, having incorporated different experiences and denunciations of contexts of vulnerability over time, feminism has updated struggles and theory. nuances.

After the ‘first wave’ of feminism (also known as suffrage feminism), which advocated equal rights, feminists focused on how our identity is constructed from the social relationships that we especially establish. through the distinction between public space and private space.

The current proposition is that the defense of women has to do with our integration into public life, in addition to promoting legal equality. This current is called liberal feminism.

    What is liberal feminism and where does it come from?

    The 1960s and 1970s, mainly in the United States and Europe, saw the emergence of feminist mobilizations linked to the New Left and African-American civil rights movements.

    In this context, the women were able to make visible their experiences of sexism and the need to organize themselves, to share these experiences and to seek strategies of justification. For example, feminist organizations have emerged such as the NOW (National Women’s Organization) led by one of the key figures in this movement, Betty Friedan.

    Likewise, and on a theoretical level, feminists have distanced themselves from the most popular paradigms of the moment, generate their own theories that would make them aware of the oppression they were undergoing. This is why liberal feminism is a political, but also theoretical and epistemological movement that has been taking place since the second half of the twentieth century, mainly in the United States and in Europe.

    At this point, feminism appeared publicly as one of the great social movements of the nineteenth century whose repercussions related to other movements and theoretical currents, such as socialism, because they proposed only the cause of the oppression of women. was not biological, but that it was based on the beginnings of private property and the social logics of production. One of the main antecedents in this is the work of Simone de Beauvoir: the second sex.

    the same its growth is linked to the development of women’s citizenship, Which did not happen in the same way in Europe as in the United States. In the latter, the Second Wave feminist movement called up several social struggles, while in Europe it was more characterized by isolated movements.

    In short, the main struggle of liberal feminism is to achieve equal opportunities based on a critique of the distinction between public and private space, because historically women have been relegated to the private or domestic space, which means we have fewer opportunities in public. space, for example, in access to education, health or employment.

      Betty Friedan: representative author

      Betty Friedan is perhaps the most representative figure of liberal feminism. Among other things, he described and denounced the situations of oppression experienced by middle-class American women, denouncing that they were forced to sacrifice their own life projects, or on equal opportunities with men; which, moreover, favors certain differences in the experience of health and disease between them.

      In fact, one of her most important works is titled “The Problem That Has No Name” (Chapter 1 of the book Mysticism of Femininity), where she tells movement in private space and the silenced lives of women with the development of these non-specific diseases that medicine does not only define and treat.

      Thus, she understands that we build our identity in correspondence with social relationships and promotes a personal change in women and a modification of these relationships.

      In other words, Friedan denounces that the subordination and oppression that we suffer from women are linked to legal restrictions which from the outset limit our access to public space, in the face of which it offers reformist options, that is to say, to generate progressive changes in these spaces so that this situation can be modified.

      Some critiques and limits of liberal feminism

      We have seen that liberal feminism is characterized by fight for equal opportunities and the dignity of women. The problem is that she understands “women” as a homogeneous group, where equal opportunities will make all women claim our dignity.

      While liberal feminism is a necessary and committed movement for equal opportunity, the relationship between this inequality and social structure is not questioned, hiding other experiences of being women.

      In other words, that is to say addresses the issues of white, western, housewives and middle-class women, And pleads for equal opportunities in the public sphere, it being understood that this struggle will be the one that will emancipate all women, without considering that there are differences of class, race, ethnicity or social condition which build different experiences in “being a woman” and with that, different needs and demands.

      Hence the “third wave” of feminism, which recognizes the multiplicity of identities and ways of being a woman in relation to social structures. Recognizes that the demands of women and feminisms are not the same in all contexts, among other things because not all contexts offer the same opportunities and vulnerabilities to the same people.

      So, for example, while in Europe there is a struggle to decolonize feminism itself, in Latin America the main struggle is survival. These are issues that have led feminism to constantly reinvent itself and to stand on its own feet according to each era and each context.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gandarias, I. and Pujol, J. (2013). From others to non (s) others: encounters, tensions and challenges in the fabric of links between groups of migrant women and local feminists in the Basque Country. CRUAL. Critical Journal of Social Sciences, 5: 77-91.
      • Perona, A. (2005). Postwar American Liberal Feminism: Betty Friedan and the Refounding of Liberal Feminism. Accessed April 16, 2018.Available at 20del% 20feminismo% 20liberal.pdf
      • Heras, S. (2009). An approach to feminist theories. The universities. Journal of Philosophy, Law, and Politics, 9: 45-82.
      • Velasco, S. (2009). Gender, Gender and Health: Theory and Methods for Clinical Practice and Health Programs. Minerva: Madrid
      • Amorós, C. and de Miguel, A. (S / A). Feminist Theory: From Enlightenment to Globalization. Retrieved April 16. Available at

      Leave a Comment