Terminology

  • Feminism - While many forms of feminism and feminist ideologies exist and the definition of "feminism" has changed with the passage of time, the most common understanding involves a movement to promote women's rights and raise them up socially, politically, and economically. (See waves of feminism at the bottom of this page.)
  • Privilege - An advantage a person has or embodies based on certain identities or statuses that grant them power and agency within a social structure. Having one or multiple privileged identities/statuses does not mean a person will have no problems in life, but rather that those particular identities or statuses will not be the reason for their problems. In American society, privileged identities/statuses include being male, cisgender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, middle class or higher, formally educated, etc.
  • Intersectionality - The understanding that identities and systems of oppression are connected and overlap. For example, all women do not share the same experiences as their lives as women can be affected differently by the intersections of race, class, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. A black woman for instance will experience both racism, sexism, and a blend of the two i.e. statements like "You're pretty for a black girl."
  • Essentialism - The insistence that things, even people, have certain innate characteristics that make them who they are. Gender essentialism posits that men and women have natural physical and personality traits that define their gender, i.e. men are strong and confident, women are weak and self-conscious, men have penises, women have vulvas, etc.
  • Socialization - The process of being taught, both tacitly and explicitly, culture and beliefs from others.
  • Constructionism - The theory that our understandings of the world are built through interaction with others.
  • Agency - The ability to make personal choices within a certain environment.
  • Structure - In relation to women's and gender studies, a structure is an intangible organization of the relationships between people.  
  • Patriarchy - A societal construction where cisgender men hold the majority of power, are seen as the center of society, and are seen as the default gender/sex.
  • Androcentrism - The act of placing male experiences as the default or center of all human experience. 
  • Gender - A personal label used to denote how a person identifies on a feminine to masculine spectrum. Gender identities include but are not limited to female/woman, male/man, nonbinary, genderfluid, bigender, and agender. Most often infants are assigned one of two binary genders at birth (male/boy or female/girl) based on genitalia. A person's gender assigned at birth may be the same or different than the one they personally identify with. 
  • Gender Expression - A person's outward presentation including clothing, hair style, cosmetics, speech patterns, body language, etc. that is understood to display feminine, masculine, or androgynous characteristics based on a given culture's ideas of gender roles and expression. A person's gender expression may not always "match" their gender identity. 
  • Cisgender - An adjective used to describe a person whose gender assigned at birth is the same as the gender they identify with. This is often shortened to and can be used interchangeably with "cis." Correct usage: That woman is cisgender; She is a cisgender woman.
  • Transgender - An adjective used to describe a person whose gender assigned at birth is not the same as the gender they identify with. This is often shortened to and can be used interchangeably with "trans." Some transgender people elect to undergo a partial or complete physical transition involving hormone replacement therapy and/or surgery. Correct usage: That woman is transgender; She is a transgender woman.
  • Cisnormativity - The prevailing social atmosphere that enforces the idea that being cisgender is the normal and default way for humans to feel and exist, with all other gender identities and behaviors being deviant.
  • Cissexism - The perpetuation of gender essentialism and cisnormativity, sometimes used interchangeably with transphobia.
  • Sex - A label applied to a body based on biological determinants i.e. genitals, chromosomes, and hormone levels. The main three categories are female, male, and intersex.
  • AFAB/AMAB - Acronyms that stand for "assigned female/male at birth."
  • Intersex - A sex category that encompasses bodies that do not naturally fall within male/female binary parameters. This includes people born with ambiguous genitalia, internal sex organs that do not "match" their outer genitalia, sex chromosomes other than XX or XY, etc.
  • Sexual Identity/Orientation - A personal label used to define the categories of people someone is physically attracted to. These include but are not limited to straight/heterosexual, gay/lesbian/homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual.
  • Romantic Identity/Orientation - A personal label used to define the categories of people someone is romantically attracted to. These include but are not limited to straight/heteroromantic, gay/lesbian/homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic, and aromantic. A person's sexual and romantic identities may not always "match." Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community adheres to the split attraction model that separates sexual and romantic attraction.
  • LGBTQIA - An acronym for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual community. This is often shortened to LGBTQ+, LGBTQ, or LGBT and is understood to encompass all non-cisgender, non-straight identities. 
  • Queer - A label used to describe a wide variety of sexual and/or romantic identities within the LGBT community. Although there has been a recent trend of using it as an umbrella or replacement term for LGBT, queer has a history of being used as a homophobic slur against members of the community and thus should only be used to describe people who explicitly express this as their identity.
  • Heteronormativity - The prevailing social atmosphere that enforces the idea that heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships are the norm and default way for humans to feel and behave, with all other identities and behaviors being deviant.
  • Heterosexism - Biases, prejudice, and/or discrimination against non-heterosexual identities as a result of heteronormative views.
  • Sexism - Bias, prejudice, and/or discrimination against a person sexed or perceived to be sexed female, or who identifies as female or a woman, with those identities being inherent in the reasoning behind the bias, prejudice, and/or discrimination. Feminism adheres to a sociological definition of sexism in which power is inherent to the action, hence sexism against men/males does not exist.
  • Misogyny - Fear or hate, and the active perpetuation of that fear and hate, against people who identify as women or female on the basis that they are inferior to men and males due to their gender or perceived sex categorization.
  • Misogynoir - Fear or hate, and the active perpetuation of that fear and hate, experienced specifically by black women at the intersection of their race and gender.
  • Transmisogyny - Fear or hate, and the active perpetuation of that fear and hate, against specifically trans women at the intersection of being female/women and their status of being transgender.
  • Objectification - The treatment of a person as something to be owned and/or acted upon rather than a sentient being capable of individual action and agency; literally thinking of and treating a person as if they were an object. 
  • Subjectivity - The idea that opinions and judgment are individual, defined by internal feelings, and vary from person to person.
  • "Mind/Body" Split - A philosophical theory that a person's consciousness and physical body are separate entities and can exist independent of each other even as they act on one another. This can be used in feminism and sociology to explain the difference between sex and gender.
  • Embodiment - The tangible representation of an idea; in feminist theory usually in reference to literal human bodies.
  • Appropriation - Borrowing an item, idea, or element from a group and claiming it as one's own to use with impunity. Generally this term is used to refer to cultural appropriation and goes hand-in-hand with racism and other prejudiced behaviors. For instance, Indian women who wear bindis may not be seen as fashionable or may experience racism or xenophobia with their bindi being a marker of outsider status, but white people will wear them as a fashion trend. 
  • Refusing to take the path of least resistance - A conscious decision to be critical of your society, culture, and institutions while actively working to promote positive values that may not align with the mainstream. It's easy to not question our societal structure. It is more difficult to resist and question it.

As a society we have a tendency to use the word "normal" to describe characteristics of people that are the most average or typical. However that implies a framework where all deviations from the norm are "abnormal," a term which holds heavy negative connotations. In honing your understanding and usage of the above terms, you can form a more inclusive and descriptive vocabulary and way of speaking about the human experience.

Waves of Feminism

In your WGST classes, it will also be helpful for you to think about how you can apply your knowledge of the "waves" of feminism to help organize events, ideas, activists, theorists, events, and methods for activism (particularly when talking about contemporary U.S. feminist movements).

  • First Wave Feminism - A late 19th and early 20th century feminist movement which held the main goal of achieving women's suffrage. The focus was on improving the lot of white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle class women. 
  • Second Wave Feminism - A movement that began in the 1960s and lasted until the late 1970s to early 1980s. Mainstream feminism focused on challenging gender roles in the home and workplace and promoting reproductive rights. Again, this mostly focused on the needs of white, middle class, heterosexual, cisgender, women. Biological essentialism was characteristic of this wave. Many splinter groups such as womanists and radical lesbian feminists formed to address the needs of women of color, LGBT+ women, lower class women, etc. 
  • Third Wave Feminism - Starting in the 1990s and extending to the present day, Third Wave Feminism introduced intersectionality into the way we think about oppression. Gender theory and the idea of sex being different from gender grew out of this wave and advancements in sociology. With racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. seen as feminist issues and further attention being paid to minority groups, the movement has become more cohesive and continues to evolve.