Feminist Theory

Feminist theory is based on the principles and understanding of feminism. These principles can be broken down into three basic beliefs.

Feminism believes that women are, and have always been throughout history, treated differently than men by society, and that women have systematically been prevented from fully participating in all social activities. They also believe women have been prevented from participating in many professions and institutions.

The feminist movement has worked diligently to rectify the situation. The movement has sought to bring about a ‘new' point of view within society that would eliminate old practices and assumptions as to why things are the way they are. The movement challenges beliefs that women are inferior to men and strives to prove they are not.

Feminist theory is the theoretical and philosophical arm of feminism. Its goal is to explain and help society understand the characteristics of inequality between the genders. It examines women's roles in many professional fields, such as sociology, economics, education, sociology, philosophy, communications and more. Feminist theory generally focuses on critiquing social relationships within society; however, promoting women's rights and exploiting the unfairness of biased treatment between the sexes also figure prominently. Among the many themes feminist theory explores are contemporary art, oppression, discrimination aesthetics and stereotyping.

Feminist theory scholars apply feminist principles to a number of specific fields, including:


Epistemology is the part of philosophy that studies and investigates the root, methodology, nature and limits of human knowledge. An integral part of feminist theory has been the creation and generation of knowledge. The common philosophical questions posed seek to determine if there exists "women's knowledge" and "a woman's way of knowing." Feminist theory sets forth what they call "feminist standpoint knowledge" which seeks to replace the traditional gender perspectives that feminists refer to as "from nowhere" with an understanding from the perspective they refer to as "from women's experiences." An important point of contention in feminist theory is that women are constantly being subordinated, and this creates negativity between the genders. Feminists also try to dispel the religious belief that it is the will of God that man be the dominant force in a marriage.


In most Western societies, women have become associated with the body, while men are associated with thinking and the mind. Feminists believe that the theory that women are associated primarily with the body has given rise to the notion and justification that women can be considered as property or objects or commodities that are interchangeable. To prove their point, feminists refer to the fact that women (and their bodies) are used in portraying and selling fashion, cosmetic surgery, exercise programs and diets. In the middle and upper classes of society, a woman's body can be treated as a decoration and is protected by the man. However, in other classes of society, such as the working class and with women of color, the female body is portrayed and associated with exploitation and labor. Many feminist activists want to include in the Bodies category the rights of women over their reproductive organs and lesbian rights.


Feminist theorists also address the topic of the masculinization of our language. They claim that we have a male-gendered language that must serve to explain women's lives. It is also used in women's literary works. They are specifically referring to the use of phrases such as "God the Father," which denotes a way of referring to God as a male figure and mainly for men. It claims that the Bible has a bias towards men, demonstrated in its use of male gender terminology with respect to God. Feminist theorists are trying to change and redefine women by changing gender language. Many feminists feel a sense of accomplishment that they have been successful in introducing new titles to unisex jobs, such as mail carrier, police officer, chairperson, etc.


Feminist psychology is based on Freud and his theories of psychoanalysis. The basic premise is that the gender of a person is not biological, but rather based on the individual's psychological-sexual development. Feminist theorists believe that all gender inequalities are a result of the experiences of early childhood. These experiences lead men to think of themselves as masculine and women to view themselves as feminine. They believe gender issues result directly from a social system in which males dominate females, and this has a great effect on the development of psycho-sexual composition of the individual.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Feminist Theory, Women's Writing
Laurie A. Finke.
Cornell University Press, 1992
The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination, Resistance, Solidarity
Amy Allen.
Westview Press, 1999
Toward a Feminist Epistemology
Jane Duran.
Rowman & Littlefield, 1991
Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction
Rosemarie Putnam Tong.
Westview Press, 1998 (2nd edition)
The Feminist Standpoint Revisited and Other Essays
Nancy C. M. Hartsock.
Westview Press, 1998
Differences That Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism
Sara Ahmed.
Cambridge University Press, 1998
Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions
Judith Kegan Gardiner.
Columbia University Press, 2002
Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory
Katie Conboy; Nadia Medina; Sarah Stanbury.
Columbia University Press, 1997
Philosophies of Science/Feminist Theories
Jane Duran.
Westview Press, 1998
Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory, and International Relations
Fiona Robinson.
Westview Press, 1999
Engendering the Social: Feminist Encounters with Sociological Theory
Barbara L. Marshall; Anne Witz.
Open University Press, 2004
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