Multiple Feminisms

(Tom French)

There are multiple feminisms that are effectively acting in the world today, rather than simply one feminism. I take multiple feminisms as so many creative movements that each in their own context act ‘on behalf of women,’ in a critique of their domination. In other words, I take them as movements that not only criticize current societies but also invent new ways of life and new relationships, on the level of socio-political and economic practices but also of narratives, beliefs and dreams.

During the last twenty years, the postmodern, liberal and Marxist – justified – criticisms on the dangers of identity politics created a climate in which feminisms’ creative and transformative aspects could not come to the fore. I argue for a re-appraisal of the innovative elements of feminist movements, without taking on board a purist type of identity politics.

New alternatives for selves and societies

Feminisms offer resources and repertoires that comprise a diversity of new alternatives for selves and societies, and for the world. This is best articulated in my view with the aid of some concepts of Michel Foucault. I am especially interested in his final work i.e. between 1976 and 1984, especially in his critique of today’s neoliberal societies, and his concepts ethical self-fashioning and ‘freedom practices’ that involve alternatives for current neoliberal and other constraining models of self and society.

‘Freedom practices’ comprise – relative autonomous – vocabularies that offer self-techniques, exercises, narratives and models of the self, to create one’s ‘ethos,’ i.e. an ethical way of life visible in one’s actions and behavior. Foucault in this respect refers in The Hermeneutics of the Subject (2005) to several philosophical schools as well as to some religious groups in antiquity. Elsewhere he speaks about social movements in similar terms.

His concept ‘freedom practices’ interestingly synthesizes the individual and collective aspects of our construction and invention of new ways of life. We can never develop our personal ethos strictly on our own: we need vocabularies, and preferably friends and peers. Feminisms comprise exactly such collective settings, that offer vocabularies, self-techniques, models of the self, and peers, thus enabling women to invent new ways of life in a critique of constraining life scenarios.

We need vocabularies, and preferably friends and peers. Click To Tweet

In contrast to the (neo)liberal concept of freedom as autonomy, Foucault’s concept of freedom practices is a cross-cultural one1. A Foucauldian perspective articulates the diversity of critical creative freedom practices of women, each in their own cultural setting. We can moreover differentiate between women’s freedom practices that are explicitly critical of women’s domination and speak on behalf of women—in that case we deal with explicitly feminist practices—and others that are implicitly critical of women’s domination, comprising individual ways of life of women that break the mold in many ways.

The latter type of women’s freedom practices comprise a lot of repertoires and resources for women, and for feminist movements, to get their inspiration from. In my new book2, I discuss examples of women’s freedom practices throughout times and cultures, that Foucault never imagined.

Real changes require new societies

In The Second Sex3 Simone de Beauvoir argued that real changes in the relations between men and women require new societies. From this perspective, we need critical creative feminisms—or feminist ‘freedom practices’—that comprise alternative scenarios and idea(l)s for societies. De Beauvoir, in her lengthy chapter on ‘myths,’ discusses how deeply rooted stereotypical dreams and beliefs about women still exist in ‘the hearts of all people’. She on the one hand dealt with myths as ‘false’ beliefs, but on the other hand suggested that we need new myths concerning the relation between men and women.

In my book, I discuss various practices and debates from the latter perspective, ranging from discourses of Islamic feminism, to the reception of the Twilight Saga by girls and women, and other media hypes. Next to proposing new guideposts for a global feminism, my book aims to articulate some of the new dreams and beliefs that women already have invented, comprising self-techniques, narratives and models for women’s freedom practices.

Contra state- and market-‘feminisms,’ i.e. global emancipatory programs that strive for women’s assimilation to neoliberal models of personhood, conceiving of feminisms in terms of freedom practices allows us to once again recognize feminism’s critical creative potential, as well as its diversity.

A global feminism from such a perspective comes down to political coalitions between multiple feminist freedom practices, and their mutual support and endorsement.



  1. Cf. Vintges 2004; 2017
  2. Vintges 2017
  3. Or. 1949
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