Front Page Titles (by Subject) Varieties of Feminism - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Varieties of Feminism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Varieties of Feminism
“Freedom and Women.” Ethics 85(April 1975):243–248.
The “women’s liberation movement” is a misnomer, as it suggests a unified philosophy and strategy of feminists pursuing social and political equality. In actuality, the movement contains a myriad of divergent views of political philosophy.
William T. Blackstone analyzes these views into four basic positions within the feminist movement. (1) The traditionalist stance should hardly be classified as a feminist position, but it constitutes one of the parameters on this issue. The traditionalist believes that women are different from men, and interprets this difference as one of inferiority. Women are passive, submissive, and destined to perform certain roles. Sex stereotyping in opportunities and roles is not oppressive, but actually necessary to fulfill women’s nature and to achieve family and social cohesion. True freedom and equality for women are found within these restrictions, and the state should not interfere with natural conventions in any way.
(2) The liberal feminist contends that social injustices do exist because of sexrole stereotyping, and that political and social reforms should be adopted to correct these maladies. However, the liberal does not require abolishing all traditional sexroles or family values. Women, just as men, should be judged as individuals and on their ability.
(3) The radical feminist argues that freedom and equality of women is possible only with the complete overthrow of the political system. The “political system” is interpreted in very broad terms and the institution of marriage is judged as a political creation. The options of marriage and a family must then be dissolved since these maintain the oppression of women.
For the radical, the only valid method of reversing inequalities must be a complete eradication of the capitalist system. “In a society in which money determines value, women are a group who work outside the money economy. Their work is not worth money, is therefore valueless, is therefore not even real work,” states Margaret Bengsten, a radical leftist feminist.
(4) Radical feminists who do not adhere to Marxism must also be given a place on the spectrum. This sub-movement believes oppression of women extends beyond economic and class struggles, but to biological differences of physical strength. Liberation for women is possible only by overcoming the “weakness” of females by technology. True freedom requires the abolition of the whole sex-role system (including childbearing, marriage, and the family). Contraception and “artificial reproduction” will free women from their biological inequalities, and thus from their political and social inequalities.
In his conclusion, Blackstone chooses to examine the more philosophically controversial stance of the extreme radical feminist movement. He argues the falsehood of the presupposition that childbearing is a restraint. “In our world, the key factors responsible for oppression are not biological traits but social, economic, political, and legal options or choices. . . if freedom could be purchased only at the cost of one’s sexuality—this would be a terrible price to pay. Rather than desexualize or asexualize our world through technology (if indeed this is possible), we need to change social and legal systems which discriminate irrelevantly on the basis of sex.”
The position of the radical feminist thesis regarding “freedom from sexual classification altogether” is unrealistic, says Blackstone. There is no possible way to rule out differential treatment with respect to gender, because one can not determine if all the facts, characteristics, or circumstances are independent of gender.
Thirdly, Blackstone contends the stance that freedom for women requires utter abolition of the traditional roles of marriage and family is mistaken. There is no doubt that these institutions have oppressed women and continue to do so, he states, but a free society must allow the traditional roles for women as a possible option. By precluding them, (if technology ever permitted mass artificial reproduction, etc.) the ruling out of traditional options decreases freedom to that extent. “Marriage and role divisions within marriage are not inherently exploitive and oppressive, though they may be oppressive if predicated on psychological, social, and economic oppression, and exploitation.”
Thus, Blackstone suggests, there is no necessary conflict between freedom to choose from a range of options, including traditional roles, and equality or social justice for women.