On Feminism

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West.

This article will try to give a brief explanation of feminism. I will take a look from its ontological roots as well as presenting the differences contained between them. This explanation is very important so that people understand about how feminism gain its meaning, the point of departure of its very foundation, and also the way that feminism might attempt to explain social science in general. Furthermore, I will present the concerns that were brought by feminist theory at the first place. By presenting this issue, I hope that the reader will understand about what feminism tries to offer. Only then that I could move on to the last section, that is the types of feminism.

Feminism: The Point of Departure

It is indeed easy to misinterpret feminism. One could argue that it is a concept of promoting equality, and the other could say that feminism is an idea to achieve progress. Unfortunately, there are also many sections within the society that only assume feminism as in instrument to reduce men’s hegemony over women. This part of the society oftentimes argue that feminism is only about asking where is the role of women, hence leaving the question about the role of men. Thus, one fundamental question arises: what is feminism?

No, honey. It's not just 'boys'.
No, honey. It’s not just ‘boys’.

For one to know what feminism is, it is important to understand the ontological point of departure of the theory. Feminism is an outcome of both positivist and post-positivist’s approaches in social theory. The fundamental beliefs of positivist tradition is that there is a reality out there waiting to be found. In order for it to be found, an observation should be done. This observation shall be conducted through a set of standards. Positivists adopt their approach mainly from natural sciences. The impact, obviously, is that positivist has to work within the existing tangible framework, because it needs to depart from somewhere in order to observe about something that is practically visible. Anne Bryan said that one context of positivism is that ‘only certain topics are worthy of enquiry, namely those that exist in the public world’.[1] On the other hand post-positivism believes that the existing social structure is not given; it rejects the argument that ‘it is what it is’. It questions on why such structure exists at the first place, why is it being maintained, what are the factors that initiated it, and so on and so forth. In accordance with such logic, therefore, post-positivist believes that reality is socially constructed: a book will only be called ‘book’ through some construction of meaning by multiple parts of the society. Hence, a world dominated by men could only be so if the society allows it, and an equal role between women and men could only be realized only if the society allow it to be fabricated. The important thing to be kept in mind is that difference on ontological (as well as epistemological) foundation on viewing feminism will lead to a different type of feminism I will later ono present.

The Problem of Perspectives and Structures

So, what is feminism concern about? There are plenty of things that feminism offer in social studies, so it is not merely about criticizing the superior role of men and he marginalized role of women. Feminism concerns about how people understand the world. From time to time, dating back from the ‘invention’ of religions, people are told that it is the duty of men to feed his family by working while women stay at home and take care of the kids and the dishes. For example, Islam stated in the Qur’an, surat An-Nisa, that ‘Men are in charge of women by (right of]) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (for maintenance) from their wealth’.[2] The Qur’an continues to address this issue by saying ‘So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard’.[3] Another example comes from the Holy Bible. In Christian tradition, it was that ‘I (God)[4] do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man’.[5] By seeing the fact that both Islam and Christianity are two most adopted religion in the world, I assume that their values on women are widely known by the society. The most important is that such values are also being manifested by their disciples. Therefore, this is the first issue that being addressed by feminists in order to challenge the existing popular dogma.

Another concern that feminism raises is about the role of structures. Here, the context is ranging variously from linguistic structure, cultural structure, the mode of production, political structure, decision-making process, and so on. For example, in terms of the structure of language, feminism is trying to oppose the use of term such as ‘mother nature’. Embedded in such term an objectifying meaning toward women – the mother – because the use of the term somehow correlates with an obligation of the people to treat the environment as their own mother. Therefore, it is substantial for them to protect it. So where is the problem with such statement? For feminist, the problem lies on what the treatment and protection imply to women’s ability to defend themselves. By saying that mothers – or women in general – need to be protected, is similar to say that the presence of men will always be more important and therefore the possibility for women to live independently is even more reduced.  Another argument could come up when feminists are faced with different circumstances. But basically, the fundamental idea is similar: that structural oppression toward a particular gender should be eradicated.

Two Types of Feminism

After we understand what feminism brings to the table, that is their concern on how people understands the world, as well as the importance of the structures of social order, only then that I could present the types of feminism.[6] As far as I know, there are two types of feminism. First, there is rationalist feminism. For me, rationalist feminism departs from a positivist point of view because this type of feminism believes that gender is biological. It is a status given by natural calculation that could and should not be opposed. It also believes that state holds the majority of shares in politics: state is one of the main actors in politics. Only by realizing it, that one could locate the minimum role women had in politics. Therefore, one of the effort to fill in the loopholes is through the inclusion of women in any existing structure. But is this type of feminism critical enough? The question will lead us to the second type of feminism: standpoint feminism. I believe that this type of feminism derives from the post-positivist perspectives. Fundamentally, it argues that gender is merely a social illusion; it is a socially constructed term that distinguish men from women. It also questions the androcentric system of the state, or in a simpler term, standpoint feminism argues that state is not supposed to be controlled only by men. The enhancement of female experiences is important in order to bring social justice.


Basically, one could only understand feminism through firstly understand its ontological positions contained within the theory itself. Understanding the differences between positivist tradition and post-positivist tradition have made a clearer understanding of feminism be possible. Furthermore, after we understand the roots of feminism, the next important thing is to understand their initial concerns when the movement came into being. It concerns on how people see the world and how structure – if any – could preserve the existence of a false paradigm, mainly the androcentric identities. Lastly, departing from these concerns, there are multiple – but I could only present two of them – alternative solutions that has been offered by feminism. The first one is the rationalist proposition, and the second one is the standpoint proposition. Hopefully, after this brief explanation of feminism, the misunderstanding towards this theory could be solved.


[1] Anne B. Ryan, ‘Post-Positivist Approaches to Research’, Researching and Writing for Your Thesis: A Guide for Postgraduate Students, MACE, page 15.

[2] ‘Surat An-Nisa (The Women)’, quran.com, http://quran.com/4/34 , accessed on March 14, 2015.

[3] ‘Surat An-Nisa (The Women)’, quran.com, accessed on March 14, 2015.

[4] The brackets are added upon the assumption that it will help readers to comprehend more easily on what the Holy Bible said, as It uses the personal pronouns.

[5] ‘1 Timothy 2:11-15’, biblegateway.com, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+2:11-15 , accessed on March 14, 2015.

[6] Laura McLeod, ‘Feminism’, presented in Graduate Seminar in International Relations course, University of Manchester, on November 20, 2014.


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