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5: Feminisms

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    Learning Objectives

    • Outline the origins and history of Chicana/Latina feminist thought and activism.
    • Explain the relationship between Chicana/Latina feminisms and U.S. Third World feminism. 
    • Summarize and evaluate Chicana/Latina feminist issues and movements.
    • Outline the features of Chicana/Latina studies, including the field’s origins and attributes.


    What or who do you imagine when you hear the word “feminism?” You might be surprised to learn that there are numerous strands of feminism even among racialized groups, which is why we use the plural “feminisms.” In particular, Chicana/Latina feminisms constitute a multifaceted artistic, intellectual, and political project and movement invested in personal transformation and social change. First and foremost, Chicana/Latina feminists are committed to confronting and disrupting patriarchy as it intersects with multiple systems of oppression such as white supremacy, neoliberal capitalism, and imperialism- illustrated in Figure 5.1.

    Key Term: Patriarchy

    Patriarchy is a system of gender-based control and domination where women and gender non-conforming people are subordinated to men through legal and extralegal measures. Patriarchy “includes cultural ideas about men and women, the web of relationships that structure social life, and the unequal distribution of power, rewards, and resources that underlies privilege and oppression.”1

    These systems structure our everyday lives––from our intimate interpersonal relationships, the economic and educational resources we have access to, and even the ways knowledge is constructed. Chicana feminist and professor María Eugenia Cotera defines Latina feminism this way: 

    Latina feminism offers an intersectional approach to understanding and combating the relations of domination and subordination that structurally disenfranchise Latina/o communities, broadly conceived. Like the Latinas who developed its primary conceptualizations, theories, and practices, Latina feminism has been shaped as much by experiences of colonization and U.S. imperialism and of diaspora and border-crossing, as it has been by day-to-day lived experiences of heterosexism, racism, and classism in the United States. Indeed, contemporary Latina feminists—from academics to community organizers—have charted a genealogy of praxis that reaches beyond national borders and deep into history, recuperating a set of feminist practices that articulate the complex intersections of identity and subjectivity.2

    As you will learn, there are multiple ideologies, expressions, tactics, and modes of Chicana/Latina feminism that have been deployed since the late 1960s. These modes are regularly evaluated and debated wherever Chicana/Latina feminist discourse is taken up––in homes, grassroots community organizations, cultural production, and academia. In other words, Chicana/Latina feminisms are not static. They are constantly evolving, providing us with new knowledge, theories, and insights to this day. This chapter provides a primer on Chicana/Latina feminisms, introducing readers to the origins, early issues, ongoing movements, and activist causes, the founding of Chicana/Latina studies as an academic discipline, fundamental theories and major debates within the discipline, and tools and strategies Chicana/Latina feminisms offer those of us interested liberation and freedom.

    A poster with repeated symbols of smashing oppressive systems with an iron, with the phrases: “white supremacy,” “transphobia,” “borders,” “rape,” injustice,” and “patriarchy.”
    Figure 5.1:Smash” by Josh MacPhee, Justseeds is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

    • 5.1: The Roots and Routes of Chicana/Latina Feminisms
      Section 5.1 considers the various ways that Chicana/Latina feminist activism, writing, and art have challenged patriarchy and repressive gender roles in their intimate relationships, within their organizations and movements, and in U.S. institutions. This section also underscores the tensions Chicana/Latina feminists faced in the Chicano and women’s liberation movements and the coalitions they developed with other U.S. Third World feminists.
    • 5.2: Fighting for Economic Justice
      Chicanas and Latinas have an extensive history of working to improve the material conditions of their communities through their participation as both rank-and-file workers and leaders in the ongoing labor movement, illustrated by the Farah Manufacturing Strike in the 1970s. Another arena where Chicanas and Latinas were actively involved in economic justice efforts was the movement for welfare rights, as described in this section.
    • 5.3: Reproductive Justice
      Section 5.3 examines women of color’s expansive standpoint on reproductive justice, accounting for the historical context for their local grassroots and formal national-level organizing.
    • 5.4: Cultural Activism
      Chicana feminist artists and scholars have long-challenged gender oppression during and since the Chicano Renaissance of the 1970s. The focus of this section is the work of Chicana feminist artivists who have challenged the patriarchal ‘mujer buena/mujer mala’ dichotomy by reclaiming and redefining cultural archetypes that structure women’s and girl’s everyday lives.
    • 5.5: Disrupting Sexism and Homophobia en La Familia
      Women’s participation in El Movimiento transformed their relationship to the family and to gendered expectations, providing a space to critique Chicano heterosexism and disrupt romanticized notions of la familia.
    • 5.6: Activist Scholarship and Chicana and Latina Studies
      In this section, we explore stories of the trailblazing activist-scholars who fought to include a feminist and queer agenda within Chicano studies and establish the field of Chicana/Latina studies.
    • 5.7: Conclusion


    1 Allan Johnson, “Patriarchy, The System,” in Mapping the Field: An Introduction to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, eds. L. Ayu Saraswati, Barbara Shaw, and Heather Rellihan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 27.

    2 María Eugenia Cotera, “Feminisms,” in Keywords for Latina/o Studies, eds. Deborah R. Vargas, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 64.

    This page titled 5: Feminisms is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .