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28.3 Cultural Feminism


This article is from the Feminism References FAQ, by Cindy Tittle Moore tittle@netcom.com with numerous contributions by others.

28.3 Cultural Feminism

As radical feminism died out as a movement, cultural feminism got
rolling. In fact, many of the same people moved from the former
to the latter. They carried the name "radical feminism" with
them, and some cultural feminists use that name still. (Jaggar
and Rothenberg don't even list cultural feminism as a framework
separate from radical feminism, but Echols spells out the
distinctions in great detail.) The difference between the two is
quite striking: whereas radical feminism was a movement to
transform society, cultural feminism retreated to vanguardism,
working instead to build a women's culture. Some of this effort
has had some social benefit: rape crisis centers, for example; and
of course many cultural feminists have been active in social
issues (but as individuals, not as part of a movement). [JD]

Cultural feminists can sometimes come up with notions that sound
disturbingly Victorian and non-progressive: that women are
inherently (biologically) "kinder and gentler" than men and so on.
(Therefore if all leaders were women, we wouldn't have wars.)
I do think, though, that cultural feminism's attempts to heighten
respect for what is traditionally considered women's work is an
important parallel activity to recognizing that traditionally male
activities aren't necessarily as important as we think. [CTM]

I have often associated this type of statement [inherently kinder
and gentler] with Separatist Feminists, who seem to me to feel
that women are *inherently* kinder and gentler, so why associate
with men? (This is just my experience from Separatists I know...I
haven't read anything on the subject.) I know Cultural Feminists
who would claim women are *trained* to be kinder and gentler, but
I don't know any who have said they are *naturally* kinder. [SJ]

As various 1960s movements for social change fell apart or got
co-opted, folks got pessimistic about the very possibility of
social change. Many of then turned their attention to building
alternatives, so that if they couldn't change the dominant
society, they could avoid it as much as possible. That, in a
nutshell, is what the shift from radical feminism to cultural
feminism was about. These alternative-building efforts were
accompanied with reasons explaining (perhaps justifying) the
abandonment of working for social change. Cultural feminism's
justification was biological determinism. This justification was
worked out in great detail, and was based on assertions in
horribly-flawed books like Elizabeth Gould Davis's _The First Sex_
and Ashley Montagu's _The Natural Superiority of Women_. So
notions that women are "inherently kinder and gentler" are one of
the foundations of cultural feminism, and remain a major part of
it. A similar concept held by some cultural feminists is that
while various sex differences might not be biologically
determined, they are still so thoroughly ingrained as to be
intractable. There is no inherent connection between
alternative-building and ideologies of biological determinism (or
of social intracta- bility). SJ has apparently encountered
alternative-builders who don't embrace biological determinism, and
I consider this a very good sign. [JD]

I should point out here that Ashley Montagu is male, and his
book was first copyright in 1952, so I don't believe that it
originated as part of the separatist movements in the '60's.
It may still be horribly flawed; I haven't yet read it. [CTM]


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