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Cultural feminism developed from radical feminism. It is an ideology of a "female nature" or "female essence" that attempts to revalidate what cultural feminists consider undervalued female attributes. It is also a theory that commends the difference of women from men.
Its critics assert that because it is based on an essentialist view of the differences between women and men and advocates independence and institution building, it has led feminists to retreat from practicing public politics to a focus upon individual "life-style". Alice Echols (a feminist historian and cultural theorist), credits Redstockings member Brooke Williams with introducing the term cultural feminism in 1975 to describe the depoliticisation of radical feminism.
Cultural feminism commends the positive aspects of what is seen as the female character or feminine personality. It is also a feminist theory of difference that praises the positive aspect of women. Early theorists like Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman argued that in governing the state, cooperation, caring, and nonviolence in the settlement of conflicts society seem to be what was needed from women’s virtues.
Josephine Donovan argues that the nineteenth century journalist, critic and women's rights activist, Margaret Fuller, contributed to cultural feminism. She says that Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845) initiated the cultural feminist tradition. It stresses the emotional, intuitive side of knowledge and expresses an organic world view that is quite different from the mechanistic view of Enlightenment rationalists.
"Man has said that woman can be defined, delineated, captured, understood, explained, and diagnosed to a level of determination never accorded to man himself, who is conceived as a rational animal with free will".
While cultural feminists argue that the traditional role of women provides a basis for the articulation of a more humane world view, other contemporary feminists do not believe that this transformation will happen automatically. They do not believe that the differences between women and men are principally biological. Alcoff makes the point that "the cultural feminist reappraisal construes woman's passivity as her peacefulness, her sentimentality as her proclivity to nurture, her subjectiveness as her advanced self-awareness".
Because cultural feminism is based on an essentialist view of the differences between women and men and advocates independence and institution building, it has, say its critics, led feminists to retreat from practicing public politics to a focus upon individual "life-style".
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