There are countless definitions of what ‘feminism’ is, with feminists themselves pointing to glib dictionary definitions, and antifeminists preferring to define it as a female supremacy movement. A hundred other definitions could easily be offered, but the more important question is what (if anything) do all these different definitions hold in common?
Below, Adam Kostakis answers this question in the affirmative with an elegant definition that most would agree with. – PW
Even essentially contested concepts, as W. B. Gallie referred to them, must have meanings which are greater than normative, else communication about them would be rendered impossible. That is – there must be some amount of general consensus over what feminism is, between feminists and anti-feminists, or we would not be able to argue about it! Even despite the differences between a feminist’s view of feminism and of our own, some shared content must exist at some level, or we would be talking about entirely different things. They might be talking about the feminist movement, while I am talking about horse-rearing, although we both refer to our respective subjects as ‘feminism’ – but we wouldn’t have much to say to each other, would we, if this were the case?
So, I shall posit the following as a universally applicable definition of feminism; that is to say, it must fit everyone’s criteria for what feminism is, in spite of the different perspectives that different people hold on its nature. It is a suitably limited definition, since it can encompass only those parts of feminism which all definitions hold in common. So, here it is: feminism is the project for increasing the power of women.
That, then, is what everybody who discusses feminism holds in common regarding the concept, whether they are supportive, skeptical, or nihilistically indifferent. No feminist, I think, would deny that this is, at the very least, the ‘bare bones’ of feminism, even if she would prefer to flesh it out in a lot more detail. But that will not do, for beyond this narrow inference, we disagree with each other. To be as objective as possible, then, we must take only that which everybody agrees upon, and that is our universally applicable definition.
Note that there is no mention of equality. This is because there are a number of feminists who explicitly did not pursue equality, but supremacy. So, equality cannot fit into the universal definition of feminism, since certain feminists themselves – who were very famously, unequivocally feminist – disavowed it. To say that feminism is ‘about equality’, then, would be to place oneself in diametrical opposition to several extremely influential feminists! And why, that would be … misogynistic!
Nor can feminism be said to be the project for increasing the power of women relative to men, since, in this counter-feminist’s view, feminists are often quite content to increase the power of women in an absolute sense. That is, they endeavor to grab all they can for women, without reference to the status of men. The phrase ‘relative to men,’ then, only serves to imply that women are power-less relative to men at present, thus casting feminism in an unfairly favorable light. In reality, once women do achieve power which is at an equal or equivalent level to that of men, the demands of feminists do not stop. What we find is that female power becomes entrenched, and extended, and when it surpasses male power, this is simply referred to as ‘parity’ and ignored by feminists – at least, when they are not gloating over men’s newfound powerlessness.
Nor are we able to list, in our universal definition, the specific areas of life, or spheres, in which the feminist project applies. This is because feminism is inherently universalizing; it seeks to colonize and dominate every single facet of life where men and women meet. It aims for domination in every sphere of life, actual and potential.
You may disagree with some of the points above, particularly if you are supportive of feminism. But this does nothing to change our universal definition, because all we can say about those points is that they are contentious. That is, feminists and non-feminists, who are educated about feminism, disagree about these aspects of feminism, and it would simply be biased to take one or the other view for granted. That would be like consulting only Jacobins on the historical accomplishments of the Jacobin Club, or like canvassing only conservatives to explain modern liberalism. It would be a good example of poor methodology, and would help us very little in our search for truth. Right? So then, our universally applicable definition cannot be expanded beyond that which we stated before: feminism is the project for increasing the power of women.
Source: The above excerpt is from Adam Kostakis’ essay Pig Latin.