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Enlightenment Liberal Feminism vs. Cultural Feminism

According to Josephine Donovan Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism (New York: Continuum, 1985),
American Feminism has been dominated bytwo interrelated but often conflicting propositions: that women should be treated as the equals of men,
and that feminine qualities deserve to be revalued and their power in society acknowledged. In practice, conflicts between
these two argumentative positions contributed to divisions within the woman's rights movement, even though many
feminists used the two ideas coordinately.


Enlightenment Liberal



Based on natural rights extended to women

Based on Romantic, organicist individualism

Donovan 8

Faith in rationality

Stresses the role of the nonrational, intuitive


Belief in faculty equality

Stresses the differences between men and women, affirming feminine qualities


Belief in education as entrée into previously masculine reserve

Belief in separate development for women outside male sphere of influence


Individual as a "rational, independent agent whose dignity depends on such independence"

Matriarchal vision of a society led by women and guided by essentially feminine concerns and values


Demand for political rights

Women's rights as stepping stone to larger social reform


Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century


Lucretia Mott, "Discourse on Woman"

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland


Seneca Falls Declaration

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible


Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes

Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State


"Surely she has not an immortal soul who can loiter life away merely employed to adorn her person, that she may amuse the languid hours, and soften the cares of a fellow-creature who is willing to be enlivened by her smiles and tricks, when the serious business of life is over." Wollstonecraft

"Women must leave off asking [men] and being influenced by them, but retire within themselves, and explore the groundwork of life till they find their peculiar secret. Then, when they come forth again, renovated and baptized, they will know how to turn all dross to gold." Margaret Fuller


"There is a vulgar persuasion that the ignorance of women, by favoring their subordination, ensures their utility. 'Tis the same argument employed by the ruling few against the subject many in aristocracies; by the rich against the poor in democracies; by the learned professions against the people in all countries." Frances Wright, 1829

"The masculine and feminine elements, exactly equal and balancing each other, are as essential to the maintenance of the equilibrium of the universe as positive and negative electricity, the centripetal and centrifugal forces, the laws of attraction which bind together all we know of this planet whereon we dwell and of the system in which we revolve." Elizabeth Cady Stanton


"I…claim to judge for myself what is the meaning of the inspired writers, because I believe it to be the solemn duty of every individual to search the Scriptures for themselves, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and not be governed by the views of any man, or set of men." Sarah Grimke

What we hope… is to bring thousands upon thousands of women—women of international mind—to dedicate their new political power, not to local reforms or personal ambitions, not to discovering the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, but to ridding the world of war. Crystal Eastman.

Source: Donovan, Josephine. Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism. New York: Continuum, 1985.