The word “feminism,” just like almost every other word in the English language, has more than one meaning. So when somebody tells you that she (or he) is a feminist, you are being given almost no information unless you are also told what kind of feminist. In the USA today, there are at least five kinds. (Each of the later kinds on my list, I should note, includes the earlier kinds.)
Equal-opportunity feminism. This kind holds that women (and girls) should have equal opportunities with men (and boys) in all areas of work, play, education, etc. Almost all Americans are now feminists in this sense of the word (“We are all feminists now”) — although some who generally believe in equal opportunity make exceptions when it comes to women in the infantry or to female priests, ministers, and rabbis.
Career-first feminism. This kind holds that a woman’s first duty to herself is to find a career rather than to find a husband. This kind has no objection if you’d like a husband and children, but before that you should educationally prepare for and commence an occupational career. There is a great divide here: many women agree with this, and many other women disagree.
Sexual-liberation feminism. According to this kind, unmarried girls and women should feel morally free to go to bed with whatever men (or women) they like. This kind, however, doesn’t endorse sexual infidelity — at least not wholeheartedly. Feminists of this kind strongly believe that government should see to it that women receive free-of-charge contraceptives and morning-after pills and that our laws should provide, not only a legal right to abortion, but taxpayer support for it. On this kind of feminism too there is a great divide: many women, especially young women, are great believers in it; yet many other women, especially married women with children, violently detest it.
Man-hating feminism. Our society, says this kind of feminism, is a patriarchal society in which all men (and boys) benefit from “male privilege” and are therefore, unless they repent and take up the feminist banner, the enemies of all women. The relationship between men and women is like (according to the Marxist idea) the relationship between capitalists and proletarians or like the relationship between masters and slaves: the former partner in the relationship is an oppressor, the latter a victim. Feminists of this kind focus on trying to protect women in what these feminists believe to be dangerous institutions — for example, college life, where almost all female students stand in imminent danger of rape; marriage, where men very often beat up their wives; and Super Bowl Sunday, which, combined with beer, causes men to send their wives and girlfriends to emergency rooms as these men lose control over the violent impulses that are inseparable from a patriarchal culture. Many feminists of this kind are lesbians, though non-lesbians of this kind strongly approve of lesbianism, since lesbians demonstrate that a woman can live without a man. (“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”) Nowadays this kind of feminism has very few supporters among grown-up women — but it gets an awful lot of attention in the mainstream media (and from the President of the United States, who endorses the greatly exaggerated college rape statistics), so much so that many people imagine that this is the one and only kind of feminism.
Quasi-religious feminism. If you’re a leftwing feminist, you almost certainly despise traditional religion, which you regard as profoundly patriarchal and anti-woman; and you are very probably an atheist. Does this leave you, then, without a religion and without the moral and psychological satisfactions that religion gives? No, for the feminist movement can become your “religion,” giving you many of the satisfactions that conventional religions give their members. Feminism gives you a purpose in life, an ethical code, and a quasi-sacred community of fellow-believers, namely, all the other radical feminists in the world. Thirty or forty years ago there were many feminists of this kind, but this quasi-religion hasn’t worn well with time, and now there aren’t many left. But if you look hard enough, you can still find them here and there, especially among the faculty and students in Women’s Studies departments of colleges and universities.