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In looking at the history of feminist theories, the first argumentation in favor of women’s rights, according to available sources, is now designated as liberal feminist theory. This episode reiterates the main contributions of the key figures, presenting them placing them historically, from the 18th century (Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe de Gouges) through the 19th century (Harriet Taylor Mill, John Stuart Mill) and, finally Betty Friedan, as the main representative of liberal feminism the 20th century.

All demands of liberal feminism are focused on political rights and are based on a claim that women are equal to men. In its beginnings, the voices of liberal feminists articulated a strong request for women’s right to vote. This political demand was also stated to have equal participation in the public sphere, in the decision-making processes. In order to be thus included, liberal feminism from inception requested that women have access to education.

Importantly, this episode highlights Nancy Fraser’s warning that when second-wave feminism privileged identity claims over issues of economic justice it uncritically allowed for feminist convergence with neoliberal capitalism. Moreover, looking into this threat, politically engaged feminist theorists and activists especially underscore the dangers for women that the advance of feminist neoliberalism is bringing.

This episode was written and read by Daša Duhaček

References for further reading:

Olympe de Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, 1791.

Zillah Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1986.

Catherine Rottenberg, The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism, Cultural Studies, 28:13