10 Key Terms That Define The Feminist Movement

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You might be wondering why feminism is so powerful a subject because it doesn’t seem to have much impact on your personal life! But since you stumbled upon this post, you might as well educate yourself with what is potentially one of the most mighty movements of the 21st century

Besides being social media’s most targeted topic off late and for quite some time now, what is the significance of this topical term? Why are there protests, rallies, debates, emotions, tattoos and voices emerging around the Feminist Movement so persistently, day after day? 

If you’re reading this, chances are 

  1. a) You’re new to the concept and wish to familiarize yourself with all those buzzwords hanging the feminist movement that you simply can't seem to comprehend while in a conversation (courtesy, the media) ;
  2. b) You don’t entirely get WHY feminism is so powerful a subject because it doesn’t seem to have much impact on your personal life


  1. c) You stumbled upon this post and you might as well educate yourself with what is potentially one of the most mighty movements of the 21st century

Either way, before we get into some of those complex terms in a feminist’s dictionary, it is imperative that you fully understand who a feminist is, rather than declaring yourself to be or not be one. (weirdly tempted to continue with … that is the question) 

WHO is a feminist? 

Let's detangle this once and for all. A feminist is an advocate of women’s equality. They stand for women having equal rights as men and wish for all genders to be treated the same, despite any biological differences that they may possess. So don’t go assuming that only women can be feminists. You don’t have to be a person of colour to identify the atrocities of black suppression, and you most certainly don’t have to be a woman to want equal rights for them. If you believe in equal pay, look down upon objectifying women, and truly believe that the right to decide what’s best for a woman’s body is solely her own - you are a feminist. (even if you didn’t claim to be one up until now) If you call yourself an “Equalist”, you are in all true meaning, a feminist. 

Now that you sort of understand who a feminist is, you probably think it’s silly to have an entire movement around the cause because in reality, isn’t this the bare minimum of co-existing as an entire species? Equality? It is embedded in our constitutional rights, employment agreements, HR policies and textbooks - why is this not obvious already? 

Here’s why. The thing is in a patriarchal society like ours, it is almost impossible to shift the mindset of individuals to collectively incorporate textbook concepts into everyday lives. For them, this is like the shattering of an entire belief system. But it is a belief system that is wrong nonetheless and has to be called out for its inanity. It is hence that a movement so powerful that goes against this age-old belief system of patriarchy with full force needs to be given way to. It is AS essential as feminists make it to be, if not more. 

10 key terms that define the feminist movement (that you may stumble across and may very well be left astray if you don’t know their meaning) :

  1. Feminism Definition

Even though you’re probably already well-equipped with the meaning of this term by now, it's imperative that you know what true feminism means. But before this, there are two things you must closely look at. Gender Equity and Intersectionality. Sound Complex? They’re not. Stay with me. 

Gender Equality Vs Gender Equity

While it may seem friendly and palatable by design, the term equality doesn’t do full justice to feminism. Here’s an example. If there are 2 participants in a 200-meter race and one of them is already located at the halfway mark of the race track, would it be fair for the two to compete against one another? Equality just goes until here. The end goal is equality, yes, but how do you get there? Now assume that the participant who was at a disadvantage, is given a head start to catch up with the other, and then a judgement is made. Wouldn’t this seem only fair? It is. This is equity. Equity is a means to get to the end goal, aka, equality. And this is no different for gender equity. It is no secret that women are at a current disadvantage in social strata. True feminism is the advocacy of gender equity to attain gender equality, eventually. 

What is Intersectionality? 

In very simple terms, intersectionality is the idea that social injustices (racism, sexism, casteism, etc) are often interrelated and tend to influence one another. You couldn’t possibly separate these layers of oppression and focus on just one issue while disregarding another. Let me elaborate. A white woman might face sexism at her workplace, a black woman could experience sexism and racism and a transexual black woman in the same scenario could experience racism, sexism and transphobia. 

Intersectionality is the idea that you can't just focus on sexism and leave out the other two simply because “it doesn’t concern you” - that's not true feminism

All in all, true feminism comes from being aware of gender equity and intersectionality as both of these are key components of a feminist mindset, not just gender equality. 

In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw, a lawyer and civil rights advocate who coined the term intersectional feminism, “If you see inequality as a “them” problem or “unfortunate other” problem, THAT is a problem. 

Emma Watson’s 2014 speech on gender equality calls upon men and boys to help end the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally.

Understanding Radical Feminism

You might have heard the term “radical” before feminist one too many times by now. Radical feminism is a philosophy that emphasizes on the roots of sexism, aka patriarchy instead of the gender (male) involved. A radical feminist is interested to demolish the structure of patriarchy instead of the laws that hold it. So to equate radical feminism to man-hating is to assume that men and patriarchy are politically and psychologically, inseparable...

In the simplest language, they don't hate the player, only the game. 

2. Patriarchy 

Traditionally speaking, patriarchy refers to a society where men are considered to be the dominant gender. A structure that divides gender into male and female and hands over power to the former. Such possession of power can be witnessed in a household, workplace, social groups or the ruling party government. We’ve all been witnesses to the patriarchy for years now. History is evidence that men who were older, wealthier and white (in many countries) had the most power. All other categories of individuals gained voting rights and citizenship much later. 

Not only does such a structure position the male gender on a pedestal, but does so at the stake of putting women at a disadvantage - structurally and systematically. You might disregard this as an age-old tell-tale, something that belongs to history. You might have proof in support of your arguments, proof being mothers that head households today, females running large companies, but women in power are still, subconsciously seen as amusing diversions from the norms. 

When someone asks a child to think of a doctor or a lawyer, they immediately think of a male. Outspoken men are seen as strong personalities but powerful women are cold or bossy. Gender is binary. Both genders have fixed roles and responsibilities. The opinions of men hold more weightage than of a woman. All of these instances are the consequences of a patriarchal society. 

3. Sexism

Sexism by definition means the discrimination of one gender by another or a belief that because men are genetically superior to women, the discrimination is justified. A belief like this is not only bad but also scary because it happens to be an unconscious one, more often than not. 

Kate Millett, the author of Sexual Politics says “It is interesting that many women do not recognize themselves as discriminated against; no better proof could be found of the totality of their conditioning” 

Like racism, in sexism, the differences between two genders are visualised in a way that one is superior to the other. The act of being sexist towards women is the act of viewing them as inferior and a method used to maintain male domination in a patriarchal society. 

The discrimination or oppression can take many forms: economic, political, social or cultural and the acceptance of this oppression by women is more frightening than the oppression itself. 

Journalist and Author Caitlin Moran has a way of solving this problem. She says “I have a rule for working out if the root problem of something is, in fact, sexism. And it is this: asking 'Are the boys doing it? Are the boys having to worry about this stuff? Are the boys the centre of a gigantic global debate on this subject?”

And if this isn’t handy enough a tip, her brilliant views on feminism are not to be missed in her finest piece of work: How to be a Woman

4. Mansplaining

You’ve probably already heard of this one since it's all over the internet. Every woman has witnessed if not experienced a man explain a concept to her in the most condescending of ways, and thanks to Rebecca Solnit, author of the book Men Explain Things to Me, we now have a word for this absurd act. Don’t get me wrong, free gyaan is always appreciated, but when it comes with a combination of false assumptions, condescendence, inaccuracy and overconfidence, that’s when there’s a tad problem that arises. 

No one could explain this better than Kim Goodwin in his flowchart that went viral (and for good reason).

On behalf of all women, we sure do owe you one, Kim.

After gaining popularity, mansplaining gave rise to a whole different set of words (that aren’t in the news as much, but still worth a laugh or two), including “Whitesplain” - which is white people explaining things (again, out of context and unnecessary) to people of colour and “Manterrupt” - which is a word used to describe the act of men interrupting women in conversation.

5. Misogyny 

An ingrained prejudice against women to the point of deep dislike or hatred for the gender - That’s misogyny. How is this different from sexism? Sexism is structured. It’s a belief that men and women have different roles to play.

While there is the creation of a significant disadvantage to one gender by a sexist mindset, a misogynist is plain blunt toxic. They are usually men who are subject to toxic relationships in the past, either with their mother, a girlfriend or sister, that makes them a subconscious hater of the opposite gender. A Misogynist will tend to reinforce stereotypes against women and will get off on this discrimination.

The worrisome part about one is that you can't spot a misogynist at first sight, but thanks to Psychology Today’s article on 12 ways to spot a misogynist- you can attempt to clear all and any doubts on the subject.

6. Misandry 

Misandry is one of my favourite concepts to highlight primarily because it brings out the true meaning of feminism. People often confuse feminism to be “hatred of the male gender”. This is far from the truth. Misandry, on the other hand, comes close. The word was probably invented to clear the air about feminism being a righteous act, not one of spite. The right word choice to describe a man-hater is a misandrist. 

Misandry is basically the hatred for or prejudices against men or boys that manifests itself in many ways. This could include defamation of men, violence against men or any act of sexual discrimination against men. Just like how misogynists stand by patriarchy, a misandrist strongly believes in a matriarchal structure, one that completely switches all power over to women. 

There are debates on why misandry and misogyny should not be treated the same. 

Katherine Young’s novel Sanctifying Misandry is the work of a genius, to say the least where she challenges an influential version of modern religion, one that undermines sexual equality and promotes hatred of men in the form of misandry - the sexist counterpart of misogyny.

7. Hostile Sexism

Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical framework that divides sexism into two components - hostile sexism and benevolent sexism

Hostile sexism is openly misogynistic. This means that a hostile sexist is likely to picture a woman as a manipulative, weak and unworthy being. They also view feminism as an attack on men and traditional values and are against it in full force. With overtly negative stereotypes about women, hostile sexism is highly dangerous to the female gender. 

8. Benevolent Sexism 

Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is a more subtle form of sexism (still highly damaging, nonetheless) where men view women as innocent, fragile, nurturing beings that need to be taken care of. They aim to keep women beneath men in the social hierarchy but with the aim of protecting and preserving them. This is sometimes worse than hostile sexism because it can easily be confused with friendly behaviour if not identified. It’s what most people would casually call “chivalry”. Sorry to burst your bubble ladies but if he insists that it's his “duty” to get the cheque all the time, you’re most definitely dating a sexist. 

9. SWERF, TERF and White Feminism


Short for Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist, a SWERF is someone who supports the empowering goals of radical feminism and calls herself/himself a feminist, but doesn’t extend this support to sex workers primarily due to the belief that sex work (including prostitution and pornography) tend to objectify women and go against everything that feminism stands for. 

TERF (Short for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)

As the name suggests, a TERF, similar to a SWERF is spotted as someone who identifies with being a radical feminist, but disregards transgender women and are of the belief that they belong to the male gender. Since they’re convinced that trans women are men who cant coexist with their feminist ideologies, they don’t include them in their beliefs. In fact, TERFs are sometimes so unaccepting of the transgender, they believe that they shouldn’t have any rights at all.

The abbreviation TERF went more viral than ever, once J.K.Rowling tweeted something that left her fans shocked

White Feminism

Think of the feminist movement. Now exclude all women of colour from this movement. That’s basically what white feminism is. Advocating for the rights and struggles of only white women and alienating women of colour, intersex, trans, queer, lesbian and all those who belong to a cultural minority resembles the virtues of a white feminist.

The issue with white feminism though, for the longest time, has been the unintentional nature of its practice. White feminists aren’t exactly racist, they just tend not to take into account the struggles and experiences of women of all backgrounds for the different types of inequality they face. And this isn’t true feminism, is it? Feminism can’t be exclusive. It has to be intersectional to be true. 

These terms were coined to express how integral a role intersectionality plays in defining true feminism. A white feminist, A SWERF, a TERF or any other similar term that shoots up in the near future (courtesy, social media & social activists), that indicates exclusion of an individual in feminism based on their caste, colour, religion or sexual orientation - are NOT true feminists. 

10. Toxic Masculinity 

Toxic masculinity: A traditional masculinity ideology or social science that stereotypes men to behave a certain way and belittles the ones that don’t. “Be Macho”, “ Be Red-blooded”, “Be a man”, “Men will be men” are the most obvious of the terms that we get to witness within the four walls of our homes, on advertisements and billboards, in schools, at workplaces and inside most male-female relationships. The idea that associates masculinity with negative personality traits like aggression, violence, unemotional, sexually dominating is harmful, even to the male gender. 

The most common outcomes of toxic masculinity witnessed in a man’s behaviour include hiding emotions, using violence to indicate power and putting on a hard front at all times. The problem with toxic masculinity is that it is so deep-rooted into our lives, that we’re sold on concepts of “Gillette: The best a man can get”, “Durex: Time’s Up”, Imperial Blue: Men will be men” and I could go on, but you get the point. It is one thing for men to biologically have a broader build than women that make them more able for laborious tasks and another to infiltrate generations upon generations with the subconscious idea that men are always, at all hours, undefeatable. This is mighty frightening. 

While this article covers pretty much all you need to know about feminism and the keywords surrounding it, there’s never enough perspective you can gather around a subject that you’re truly in awe of, right? 

If you feel strongly about feminism, you’re going to want to put these books and movies on your “Must Watch/Read list”:

Some of the Best Books Written Around Feminism:

  1. Feminism is For Everybody by Bell Hooks
  2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  3. Men Explain Things to me by Rebecca Solnit
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  6. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
  7. Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm
  8. Women, Culture, & Politics by Angela Davis

Movies that are unapologetically (and beautifully) Feminist:

  1. Set It Off (1996)
  2. Hidden Figures (2016)
  3. The First Wives Club (1996)
  4. Roma (2018) 
  5. Nine to five (1980)
  6. The Color Purple (1985)
  7. Frida (2004)
  8. Little Women (1994)

Quotes written on feminism that never fail to give you the heebie-jeebies: 

  1. “I'm tough, I'm ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” 

― Madonna

  1. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” 

― Cheris Kramarae

  1. “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” 

― Gloria Steinem

  1. “She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city” 

― Roman Payne, The Wanderess

  1. Life is not a competition between men and women. It is a collaboration.

― David Alejandro Fearnhead

  1. The only thing required to be a woman is to identify as one. Period. End of story.

― Amanda Lovelace

  1. What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Of course you are.

― Caitlin Moran

  1. I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.

― Audre Lorde 


Q1. What is meant by feminism waves?

The history of feminism waves can be divided into several waves depending upon the time period. Currently, the world has experienced three feminism waves - first in the nineteenth century, second in the early twentieth century and the third one from the 1970s to the present day. 

Q2. What is the definition of feminism and what are the types of feminism?

The most generic and literal definition of feminism is the advocacy of the rights of women to prevent any discrimination or gender inequality. 

There are 4 types of feminism- 

Liberal feminism, socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, and radical feminism.

Q3. What is the feminist movement?

Feminist movement in general refers to the series of social incidents, happenings, reforms, etc. The feminist movement in India started in the mid-19th century. 

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