- 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,
- Socialization - The process of being taught, both tacitly and explicitly, culture and beliefs from
- Constructionism - The theory that our understandings of the world are built through interaction with
- 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, generfluid, 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.