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What is the Difference Between Gender Feminism and Equity Feminism?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1002275 — On Oct 12, 2019

The notion that gender is a social construction designed to repress women is really a strange concept.

By anon951806 — On May 18, 2014

There have been two separate feminist campaigns to draft women. Both were organized and led by the National Organization of Women in America, and both were defeated when old men decided it wouldn't be appropriate.

By anon943920 — On Apr 04, 2014

Even those who call themselves "equity feminists" are often huge sexist hypocrites and are actually against real gender equality. Most of them only want to fix the disadvantages women face but leave the advantages alone. I've never seen a feminist campaign to draft women or for more women working the crappiest, harshest jobs which are done for 99 percent by men.

A lot of these Western feminists often live privileged lives without realizing it. The government caters to their every whim and they still aren't happy. I'm sick and tired of the self-victimization of these types of women. It's time for another sound. These women have to be confronted because it's getting ridiculous.

By jessiwan — On Oct 29, 2013

Oh and, girls/women should have equal right to education. This is very important. Knowledge empowers.

By jessiwan — On Oct 29, 2013

I think if I were ever to call myself a feminist, I would be the second kind mentioned in the article, i.e., the equity kind.

I think women should be paid equally for equal amount of work she does, and she should be given the right to vote as well as to possess properties, etc., etc. The list goes on and on, but essentially my point is, women should be treated equally under the law.

Also, to that poster who said she doesn't like to be called the weaker sex, supposedly because she is such a physically overpowering woman, I just want to say that unless you are one of those freakish women who grew to over seven feet tall and you have an abnormally high blood level of testosterone, you will never be able to take on a man physically. This is a biological fact.

Men and women are different, I don't know why this concept is so hard to grasp for some people. Also, to that other poster who said if there are fewer women in the world of wrestling than men (paraphrased), it's due to "oppression" from men. I just want to say this is a very simplistic, not to mention divisive stance to take. You think you can blame all observable differences between men and women on men's supposedly sexist/oppressive attitudes women.

This is over simplifying things. You are also trying to drive a wedge between men and women, albeit in a very subtle, insidious way. Shame on you.

By anon305626 — On Nov 26, 2012

"My bet is they will work harder than any man on the same crew and do a much better job."

So you're mad at men for saying that they're better than women at something, but you're free to state that women are better than men at something? I'd be shocked by the hypocrisy if it wasn't present in every gender feminist I've ever met.

If you think women are really as strong, fast, etc., as men, then you're one of those feminists whose profound ignorance of biology undermines the entire movement. Go look at the world record for every athletic endeavor ever. Don't just look at the number one in the world. Go look at the top 1,000. Women don't show up on any of them. Sexual dimorphism is an incredibly widespread and common feature across the vast animal kingdom, including the most highly evolved species.

I don't know why gender fems think they'll win the war on science, but it just makes them harder to take seriously when they do make good points.

By anon280833 — On Jul 20, 2012

One poster mentioned women are a weaker sex. Yikes! I'd like to meet some of these people so I could knock them into next week for calling me a weak woman.

I've applied for jobs in construction, and been turned down. Recently, I sent three women to the site and they also got turned down. Maybe it is the men with your opinion working the site. Lose your attitude and give women a fair shot. My bet is they will work harder than any man on the same crew and do a much better job.

By anon152176 — On Feb 13, 2011

as far as Gender feminist issues go, women do tend to be physically weaker than men. otherwise you would see more women in hard labor positions. and as far as the "glass ceiling" goes, it's true, but women tend to leave higher positions (and others) at a higher rate than men, often because of pregnancy and other family issues.

In Canada, women enter universities at a higher rate than men, but do not finish in higher numbers than men. mental health issues regarding the feminine demographic are also a demonstrated concern.

politically, this demographic can be viewed in part as somewhat "radicalized." Again, in the work place, it is helpful to remember that your boss (he or she) is a capitalist. As a capitalist, your boss doesn't care if you are man, woman or beast. If you do your job, make money for the company and don't cause problems, you are likely to succeed. If you don't bring politics (feminist or otherwise) into the work place, and you don't fail to come to work, then pregnancy or other priorities of your choice than this posture will usually put you on the same footing as anyone else. the proof of this is in the many women who do succeed, sacrifice with no excuses.

By anon97752 — On Jul 20, 2010

Gender is a grammatical term. Sex is the correct term. This is a big part of the problem. Hijacking words and concepts defines the ideologue. Equity feminism is a moral position and "gender" feminism is empirical position that is not supported by the evidence. --

J.H. McCann

By anon37814 — On Jul 22, 2009

Article says:

"Gender feminists, on the other hand, are “bad” feminists, because they question the fundamental rules of society."

This is a bit misleading, as Hoff Sommers (nor other feminists of the opposite side)... do not define gender feminism as bad because it questions fundamental rules of society.

This is deceptive, and it implies that equity feminists would be against this type of questioning.

The main point of this classification is simply this (this is how equity feminists define the classification):

Equity feminists: Men and women are different but equal and we should judge equality by equality in opportunity.

If women and men are given the same chance in a field, they're equal, regardless of who achieves what, because men/women could have different goals.

If 20% of wrestlers are females, it *can* mean women are less motivated to wrestle or it can mean they're discriminated against. We need to investigate more closely before we jump to a conclusion.

Gender feminists: Men and women are the same and all differences except physical are learned. We should judge inequality by differences in outcome.

If in any field the ratio of men and women isn't 50/50, then it means that there is a gender inequality. If 20% of wrestlers are females, than that is the only proof you need that there is systematic oppression of females within wrestling. Case closed.

By anon32560 — On May 23, 2009

Awwwww... Quit your griping and get back in the kitchen!

By ellefagan — On May 23, 2009

Thanks for the update on the terminology. Very helpful!

New terms usually share slightly evolved meaning - not just different words for the same thing, so I think it's important to update my understanding.

I am odd lady duck, sometimes, on women's issues.

May-born, I can be almost the female chauvinist - since girlhood, I love my family, fashion and interior decorating and am a pro artist. "I enjoy being a girl!"

I tend to see my men as heroes.

But then, it gets "interesting". I have my own dichotomy to deal with.

However we feel about feminism, we have come along quite a bit.

Mother was one of only half the women on the block with decent paperwork/ID, money and property of her own, and a great driver.

And so my easy path was easier and being an oldest, I seem to be able to self-direct more easily, without so much noise - and I have done just that, for upgrades in college, business and personal issues, and all in fine health at 62 tomorrow.

My "men as heroes" is not silly in source or expression: it comes from a loving Sci-Tech Father and Wonderful late Husband, whose Grandmother had been a Suffragette. Both men were great partners and team players and encouraged the women to be involved and share their thoughts and desires.

My husband's Mother was educated and careerish too - he never spoke poorly of the roles of women or men, and never impeded my initiatives - never - not even in the way many of even the happiest men still do, as an expression of their own confusion on the issues - so subtle and yet so profound!

I closed my mouth and observed in awe, as my daughter, more easily found her path in career and personal life, as she grew up - she would not begin to be able to understand why I might be concerned. What issues? :-)

For the rest...

"There is no answer - seek it lovingly!"

By Diwiyana — On May 23, 2009

As an old lady who grew up with the women's movement, I would have put it a little differently. I would say that equity feminism is the old-fashioned feminism, in which we were saying we ought to be able to choose whether or not we wanted to stay home as mamas and homemakers or go to work, back in the day when working wasn't yet so common. Then, as working became more and more common and more and more necessary for the average family to make ends meet, the problems of pay and promotion inequities grew into bigger issues, so the issue of choice dropped from the picture.

Then in the new feminism, the very notion of distinct gender roles was questioned more and more since that was what men usually used to prevent women from getting the good jobs, the good promotions, and equal pay. It's because we're weak, we're stupid, and we're hysterical, apparently. It ain't so, but we still don't have equal rights, not really, not de facto and not de jure.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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