The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion There’s a difference between liberal and radical feminism


Kate Cohen attempted to define the difference between feminism and sexism in her Aug. 19 op-ed, “Sorry, but these choices aren’t ‘feminist.’ They’re sexist.,” but she was just defining the difference between liberal and radical feminism.

She brought up the example of women shaving their legs. Sexism says that women must shave their legs to conform to men’s ideal of female beauty. Liberal feminism says that women should be free to decide whether to shave their legs. But radical feminism, as expressed by Ms. Cohen, says that a woman must never shave her legs, regardless of what she thinks she wants, because “the reasons she wants to shave are deeply compromised.”

Like all radicalism, radical feminism replaces one form of conformity (one must accept all existing norms) with another (one must reject all existing norms). Only liberalism trusts people to make up their own minds.

John Shea, Ellicott City

Whether any woman changes her name or shaves under her arms is really no one’s business. But Kate Cohen tried to make it our business by saying that if women don’t model what she considers to be true feminist behavior, other women won’t be empowered to take a similar stance. If a woman is so swayed by what other women do, if a woman does not have the courage or strength or confidence to do what she wants without reference to what other women are doing, then that woman has a lot of work to do. It has nothing to do with feminism.

If a woman wants to be treated equally, she must first figure out how to be her own person and to not be influenced by what other women think or by standards set by others. As an example, some women like to wear three-inch heels. I don’t. I could argue they are a vestige of men’s views on what women should look like and akin to foot binding. Whether I believe that or not, I don’t wear those shoes because they are uncomfortable. If others want to mangle their feet and suffer back problems, that is their business.

Let’s get to that point for all women. Have confidence in your choices. Do what you want — not because you are role modeling but because you are doing what is best for you. Then we can talk about what to do about being treated equally to men.

Marsha Kostura Schmidt, Burtonsville