Jane S. Jaquette
Noting that few feminist theorists today define themselves as liberals, the chapter begins by defining liberalism and reviewing the development of Western feminism within a liberal frame. With particular reference to the US experience, it discusses the impact of women’s political mobilization on the content of liberalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It then examines the debates among “second wave” feminists, from divisions between liberal and radical feminists to the rise of “difference” feminism, the challenges from post-colonial and decolonial feminisms, and anti-neoliberal critiques. The chapter looks at the work of feminist critics of liberalism, including Carol Pateman and Jean Elshtain, and the counterarguments of scholars like Martha Nussbaum, Susan Okin and Jean Hampton who write in liberalism’s defense. It concludes by arguing that feminists should recognize the need to defend liberal democratic values in an era of increasing populism and authoritarianism.