10 Terms Every Feminist Should Know

10 Terms Every Feminist Should Know

Feminism is everywhere today, it’s unavoidable – as it should be. Most people I know call themselves feminist, many of them very involved in the movement: going to protests, donating, organising a meetup, all of that stuff. It is knowledge of the theory behind the movement that some people aren’t aware of, but the theory can really change your understanding of feminism and help increase the success while also seeing any flaws. If you haven’t read my post Feminism Today… What Exactly Is It? I recommend doing so first because it works like an intro to this post. These are the 10 terms I’ve learned from studying feminist and queer theory that I find the most important and applicable when it comes to feminism today:

These are the 10 terms I’ve learned from studying feminist and queer theory that I find the most important and applicable when it comes to feminism today:

  1. Gender Performance: This term was coined by Judith Butler in her book Gender Trouble and refers to the idea of people performing their gender, i.e. babies perform no gender because society isn’t forcing them to, as they get older society forces people to perform masculine or feminine because it expects them to segregate into one category.
  2. Male Gaze: Some people have probably heard this term before, it refers to the idea of a masculine point of view objectifying and sexualising women when directed towards one. This term was coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.
  3. Scopophilia: The term arises from a translation of Freud’s term schaulust and literally means deriving pleasure from looking, however in Mulvey’s essay mentioned above she links the idea to voyeurism and the male gaze, adding the creepy, sexual nature to the idea.
  4. Phallocentrism: This term comes from Ernest Jones when he debated with Freud (everyone hates Freud) about the phallus and it’s role in childhood – mainly the lack of a phallus causing deep-rooted issues in women and castration anxiety in men. Phallocentrism refers to the idea that the phallus is the centre of sexual and social development.
  5. Intersectionality: This is another term that has gained more popularity in the third wave of feminism, as it should. The term was coined by Crenshaw and refers to the idea of social categories crossing over and relating, i.e. race, gender, and class are all related at certain points. This idea is critical to the success of feminism since feminism is about the equality of all, not just white, middle-class women.
  6. Homosocial: Popularised by Sedgwick, homosociality is the idea of there being an underlying attraction between two men disguised by the woman who both men are competing for, her acting as simply the conduit for their relationship. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the men are interested in other men sexually, but that there’s a repression on how men can express their bonds with each other.
  7. Heteronormative: Again quite a popular term, made popular by Michael Warner, it refers to the belief that humans fall into one of the two genders of either male or female and are all heterosexual, ignoring other genders and sexualities. This is one of the biggest obstacles the LGBTQ* movement is trying to overcome, and therefore since feminism is an intersectional movement and includes women who are part of the LGBTQ* movement it is an obstacle as well.
  8. Écriture Féminine: Coined by Hélène Cixous, the term literally translates to feminine writing, but that’s not what it is exactly. It refers more to the idea that women have been repressed in the patriarchal society and so have their voices, so Écriture Féminine would encompass a writing style that is real, unrepressed, incomprehensible, and threatening to masculinity, but it doesn’t belong to women – anyone can write from the feminine perspective.
  9. Hegemony: This is used in any cultural theory as it means domination of one group of people or nation by another and so we can see how it is applicable to feminism as the patriarchy is the ruling group in society and is the main cause of the repression of women.
  10. Gender Essentialism: Probably the most important term in feminism to know, I think the best way to summarise the problem with it is by quoting Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. Gender essentialism refers to the belief that there are specific qualities that one possesses from birth that are essential qualities of a gender. de Beauvoir’s quote is my personal favourite because it discredits the idea of gender essentialism and instead implies that womanhood – femininity – is determined by situations, one’s upbringing. There’s no way to state what someone will be until they become it.

So there you go, those are the 10 terms I think every feminist should know. There’s a high chance you’ve seen some if not all of these before, and know what they mean, but the issue is that not everyone is aware of the theories behind the feminist movement, but it’s those theories that really drive it.

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