Gender feminism and equity feminism sometimes crop up in discussions of feminist thought, causing confusion to people who are not familiar with these terms. One important thing to know is that many feminists do not use these terms, and in fact they are more commonly used in anti-feminist rhetoric. Knowing this may frame your interpretation of these terms when you next encounter them.
The idea of gender feminism and equity feminism was coined by author Christina Hoff Sommers in her book Who Stole Feminism?. In the book, she claimed that feminists break down into two main categories: gender feminists and equity feminists. Equity feminists are those concerned primarily with equal rights and treatment, while gender feminists question traditional gender roles and the role which society plays in these roles.
In an anti-feminist context, equity feminism is often painted as the “good” feminism, in the belief that everyone supports equal rights, making equity feminism a difficult thing to argue with. Gender feminists, on the other hand, are “bad” feminists, because they question the fundamental rules of society. You may hear gender feminism described as extreme or fringe feminism with the goal of discrediting the ideas behind it.
The truth, as it often is, is a bit more complicated. There are indeed many different types of feminists, some of whom may identify with one or the other side of this dichotomy. Some feminists dislike this simplistic categorization of the women's movement, however, and they believe that the arguments of equity feminists may ultimately undermine the women's movement by refusing to recognize that women's rights are entangled in a complex social and cultural web. Gender feminism and equity feminism often come up in straw man arguments that lead women to reject feminism because they say that all they want is equal rights for women, not realizing that achieving equal rights can be a complicated and bumpy road.
Under equity feminism, the idea that women should be stay at home mothers and men should be breadwinners is not questioned, for example, and the sexes are viewed as fundamentally different. In gender feminism, these ideas are questioned, and the goal is to help build a world where girls and boys can grow up to be whoever they wish to be. This goes a step beyond a basic desire for things like equal pay and equal treatment under the law, and delves into the reasons why gender roles develop at an early age and how negative gender stereotypes could be combated. Gender feminists support a de facto abolishment of sexism, while equity feminists tend to focus on de jure, or legal, issues.