Feminism is both an ideology, and a political movement centered on this ideology.  For our purposes, I will be focusing on the ideology, as opposed to the movement, because adherence to ideology is what should, in my view, distinguish “feminist” from non-feminist. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy1:

a Liberal approach […] might define feminism (rather simplistically here) in terms of two claims:

  1. (Normative) Men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect.
  2. (Descriptive) Women are currently disadvantaged with respect to rights and respect, compared with men […in such and such respects and due to such and such conditions…].


There are variations and sub-classifications within feminism (e.g. eco-feminism, anarcha-feminism, liberal feminsm, etc.), but all of them appear to be predicated on the belief that women, as a class, are disadvantaged relative to men, as a class. In fact, it’s this belief which distinguishes feminism from simple gender-egalitarianism (which would simply involve the normative claim, without the descriptive claim). Those variations may disagree on how women are disadvantaged, but they don’t disagree that women are disadvantaged.

Susan James, in the Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2000), describes feminism as follows 2:

Feminism is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified.

All of this would appear to suggest that the only solution to the problem of women’s disadvantage is to advantage women and/or remove the advantages of men.  With that in mind, I believe the following to be a fair definition of the ideology of feminism:

Feminism is the belief that women are disadvantaged relative to men, and that, in order to achieve equality, women must gain advantage and/or men must lose advantage.


1 – Haslanger, Sally, Tuana, Nancy and O’Connor, Peg, “Topics in Feminism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/&gt;.

2 – Concise Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy. (London: Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0203169948), 275