"Let's see, you're both naked, you're both ball gagged, you're both butt plugged, and you're both in wrist-ankle bondage, and you both call yourselves feminists, but one of you is an equity feminist and one of you is a gender feminist. Fortunately, I have this paddle." Image source: WhippedAss.com.
You know something is happening when a group that has a well-known, iconic label that has served them well finds that label being fractured and modified. Well, that is what is happening to "feminism" right now. I coined the term "anti-sex feminists" years ago to describe those feminists who were generally opposed to heterosexuality, often of female homosexuality, that didn't fit their opinions on what was politically correct. I wrote about the origin of this group and the deep schism that they created among feminists in my article on the Sex Wars.
But I'm not the only one who's felt it necessary to find more apt descriptions of feminists. Some feminists have adopted the terms "gender feminists" and "equity feminists" to describe themselves. Gender feminists are feminists who see the feminist cause as a struggle between the sexes, with one side gaining at the other's expense. It's described by the inventor of the phrase as a "gynocentric" and "misandrist" element of feminism, due to its "us vs. them" approach, no doubt.
Equity feminists believe, basically, in equality between the sexes. They want equal pay for equal work, no glass ceilings in the workplace, that sort of thing. Sure, they want to end sexism, but they see the result as a benefit for both men and women.
A lot of feminists have started using this terminology, including a few who'd fall into the camp of the gender feminists, which is surprising, because the term was invented by an equity feminist (scholar Christina Hoff Summers), and gender feminists are definitely the villains in this terminology, with equity feminists the heroines.
Here's the thing though. Gender feminists are also called neofeminists and (by me) anti-sex feminists. People are creating these terms for a reason … they don't think that the set of beliefs and behaviors that the feminists they call “gender feminists” are or should be those shared by all feminists. But it's not just people who have thought about feminist issues.
There is a famous phenomenon called “I am not a feminist but” in which women, often women who are notable or have done notable things, say "I am not a feminist, but" and then go on to say they believe in treating women as the equals of men, or that they believe it's all right for them to do their thing that's so notable, or something to that effect. Feminists tend to dismiss such statements as the products of ignorance.
I think just the opposite. I think that most of these women are either explicitly or implicitly identifying themselves as equity feminists ("I am not a feminist, but I believe in equality between men and women" is exactly a description of an equity feminist, except for the "I'm not a feminist" part). And they are distancing themselves from some other perceived feminists. What sort of feminists?
Gender feminists, of course! Those man-hating, patriarchy-believing, porn-censoring, women as victims portraying people, that's who!
But why, if there are gender feminists and equity feminists both, do notable people believe that feminists are by and large gender feminists, and not equity feminists?
Because the leadership of feminists mostly consists of gender feminists, of course. And gender feminists are not popular because they are backing a lot of actions and ideas that most people don't care for at all … that whole “men are rapists by nature” thing, and spreading lies about sex trafficking, and opposing porn, and generally being over the top and beside the point where most Americans are concerned.
When a notable woman says, "I am not a feminist but" she is trying to avoid the feminist label because it's widely associated with gender feminism and not equity feminism.
Gender feminists generally do not self-identify as gender feminists, they simply consider themselves "feminists." They have every reason to do so. They of course wish to claim the mantle of feminism generally, and may honestly believe that equity feminism does not represent feminists or women. But I'm sure there are others who realize that by calling themselves feminists they are getting the good-will mantle that traditional feminism ... i.e., equity feminism ... has earned, even though much of what they advocate is not what would be considered equity feminism.
The thing to know now is, there really are two kinds of feminists: equity feminists and gender feminists. The vast majority of women who call themselves "feminists" have not given it that much thought and assume that everyone understands that they are equity feminists, which is what they assume themselves to be. There is a smaller group of feminists who HAVE given it a lot of thought and consider themselves equity feminists with complete understanding of what they are talking about. There is a much smaller group of gender feminists, mostly in academia, who call themselves feminists, too, but basically they are all about hating on men.
Both sides call themselves feminists, but it behooves you to know the difference, because one is basically benign, and one is basically malign, in terms of advancing human freedom. And the gender feminists have once again hooked up with the moral conservatives. This relates directly to my earlier post on the new wave of censorship. More about that later.