Feminist Terms Glossary

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger

We didn't all get degrees in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and that's okay. You can still educate yourself on feminist words and terms so that you can further immerse yourself in the women's rights movement and better understand what it is that you're fighting for.

Understanding feminist discourse will allow you to have more meaningful conversations, make stronger arguments and propel the agenda forward.

Here are 66 feminist words and terms you should know.

1. Feminism

Feminism is nothing more than the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes, and it's manifested in organized activity on behalf of all women's rights.

2. White Feminism

White feminism describes feminist ideals that focus on the struggles of white women while ignoring the distinct forms of oppression that minority women face, which actually negates the definition of feminism.

3. Womanism

Womanism is a word that renowned feminist Alice Walker coined when she was referring to African American women’s need to create a movement centered on their own needs since white feminism fails to include them.

4. Intersectionality

Intersectionality refers to "a form of feminism that aims to include all women and recognize that race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and class all influence how much and in what ways women are oppressed," according to Fem Magazine. Intersectional feminism is the only form of true feminism.

5. Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy is a concept that was first created by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992. She used the word to describe her theory of "interconnected, interacting and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others," according to Belle Brita, a feminist lifestyle blog.

6. Essentialism

Essentialism is the assumption that people have a fixed “nature,” such as the notion that all women are emotional.

7. Naturalization

Naturalization is the social construction of gender as “natural” or innate.

8. Feminist Theory

Feminist theory observes gender in its relation to power often within a social structure at large. "Feminist theory is a major branch of theory within sociology that shifts its assumptions, analytic lens and topical focus away from the male viewpoint and experience and toward that of women," according to ThoughtCo. "In doing so, feminist theory shines a light on social problems, trends, and issues that are otherwise overlooked or misidentified by the historically dominant male perspective within social theory."

9. Social Constructionism

Social constructionism refers to sociological and psychological theories that social phenomena develop in particular social contexts.

10. Diaspora

Diaspora is defined as the dispersion of any people from their original homeland, such as Africans from Africa or Jewish people from Israel.

11. Gender Roles

"Gender roles are sets of culturally defined behaviors such as masculinity and femininity," according to Encyclopedia. "In most cultures this binary division of gender is roughly associated with biological sex — male or female."

12. Sexism

Sexism is any prejudice or discrimination based on sex.

13. Ableism

Ableism is any discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.

14. Homophobia

Homophobia refers to the irrational fear of, aversion to or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.

15. Racism

Racism is defined as "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race," according to Merriam Webster.

16. Institutional Racism

Institutional Racism refers to "societal patterns that have the net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race or ethnicity; in the United States, institutional racism results from the social caste system that sustained, and was sustained by, slavery and racial segregation," according to ThoughtCo.

17. Bigotry

Bigotry is defined as "obstinate or intolerant devotion to one's own opinions and prejudices," according to Merriam Webster.

18. Discrimination

Discrimination refers to the act, practice or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually. Learn more about discrimination here.

19. Oppression

Oppression is the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power over an individual or, in this case, a population of people such as women.

20. Resistance

Resistance refers to the variety of techniques that oppressed people employ as a reaction to their oppression, ranging from social critique to open rebellion.

21. Exoticization

Exoticization is the process of sexualizing a group, such as women, and reducing it and its members to "other."

22. Objectification

Objectification means reducing a human to an object for one's gaze or pleasure. This is done when a person is defined by his or her sexual attributes, for example, and their character and overall existence is disregarded.

23. Penis Envy

Penis envy is a term that Freud developed as a primary characteristic in the psychology of girls. Freud’s perceptions of women arguably distorted perceptions of gender in the field of psychology for generations.

24. Performative

Judith Butler coined the word "performative" to describe gendered behavior as a performance.

25. Androgyny

Androgyny is "the quality or state of being neither specifically feminine or masculine — the combination of feminine and masculine characteristics," according to Merriam Webster.

26. Androgynous Mind

Virginia Woolf introduced the term "androgynous mind" in A Room of One’s Own (1929) to suggest the mentality that partakes of both masculine (andro) and feminine (gyno) qualities.

27. Heteronormative

Heteronormative means that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.

28. Gender Identity

One's gender identity is their subjective sense of oneself.

29. Sexual identity

One’s sexual identity refers to how they perceive their sexual orientation since sexuality is fluid and not a fixed concept. 

30. Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to one’s predisposition and sexual attraction toward others. Learn more about sexual orientation discrimination.

31. Fluid

Fluid is the notion that neither identity nor sexuality can fall into rigid, fixed categories. Both are a spectrum.

32. Binary

Binary refers to a two-part system, such as male or female, gay or straight.

33. Cis/Cisgendered

A cisgendered person has a gender identity that corresponds with their sex at birth.

34. Pansexuality

Pansexuality, also known as omnisexuality, refers to the sexual or romantic attraction towards others regardless of their sexual or gender identity.


LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and more.

36. Allyship

Allyship refers to the state or condition of being an ally or, in other words, a supportive person for another person or group. Male allyship has become a popular talking point and group movement in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

37. Cultural Humility

 Cultural humility is "an approach to engagement across differences that acknowledges systems of oppression and embodies the following key practices: (1) a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique, (2) a desire to fix power imbalances where none ought to exist and (3) aspiring to develop partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others on a systemic level," according to the LGBTQIA Resource Center.

38. Herstory

 Herstory refers to the feminist efforts to rewrite “history” with often-neglected women's voices so that it includes women and their importance in the narrative.

39. Hierarchy

A hierarchy is a value system of ordering people’s roles as superior to others in a descending order to those that are considered inferior.

40. Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation refers to "the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture," according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

41. Marginalized

A marginalized group is relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society.

42. Patriarchy

Patriarchy, in short, refers to "control by men of a disproportionately large share of power," according to Merriam Webster.

43. Rape Culture

"Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture," according to Marshall University Women's Center. "Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety."

44. Purity Culture

Purity Culture refers to "the view of any discussion of things of a sexual nature outside of the context of heterosexual marriage as taboo," and the "adherence to a strict heteronormative lifestyle that forbids most physical contact with significant others, as well as engaging in self pleasure, or holding lustful thoughts about another person that is not a spouse," and including an insistence on female modesty and responsibility to shield boys and men from sexual temptation," according to Grand Rapids Community College glossary.

45. Slut Shaming

Slut shaming refers to defaming a woman for the presumed frequency of her sexual activity.

46. Fat Shaming

Fat shaming refers to the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight.

47. Privilege

A privilege is, simply, "a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people," according to Merriam Webster.

48. Misogyny

Misogyny refers to the dislike of, contempt for or the ingrained prejudice against women.

49. Misandry

Misandry refers to the dislike of, contempt for or the ingrained prejudice against men.

50. Hostile Sexism

Hostile sexism refers to "an antagonistic attitude toward women, who are often viewed as trying to control men through feminist ideology or sexual seduction," according to Understanding Prejudice.

51. Benevolent Sexism

Benevolent sexism refers to "a chivalrous attitude toward women that feels favorable but is actually sexist because it casts women as weak creatures in need of men's protection," according to Understanding Prejudice.

52. Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is when a victim of a crime or any wrongful act, such as rape, is held at fault for the harm that befell them. Women are often victim blamed and slut-shamed at the same time.

53. Complementarianism

Complementarianism refers to "a theological view that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership and elsewhere," according to Grand Rapids Community College glossary.

54. Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling is a barrier that women and other minorities face, holding them back from advancement usually in their profession.

55. Wage Gap

The wage gap refers to the difference between the amounts of money that women and men who perform the same work at the same skill level receive.

56. Wealth Gap

The wealth gap refers to the unequal distribution of assets among men and women. Learn more about the wealth gap here.

57. Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is "an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education," according to Merriam Webster.

58. Toxic Masculinity

Toxic masculinity is "a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression," according to The Good Men Project. "It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly 'feminine' traits — which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual — are the means by which your status as 'man' can be taken away."

59. Male Gaze

The male gaze is the act of depicting women in mass media as sexual objects for the pleasure of male viewers.

60. Manterrupting

Manterrupting refers to an epidemic of men interrupting women. Learn more about manterrupting here.

61. Mansplaining

"Mansplaining is, at its core, a very specific thing — it's what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does," according to the Merriam Webster dictionary.

62. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tactic that people use to gain more power by making a victim question their reality. It's a "hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality," according to Psychology Today.

63. First-Wave Feminism

First-wave feminism was a period of time during the 19th and early 20th century in the Western world, when feminists focused on legal issues such as gaining the right to vote.

64. Second-Wave Feminism

Second-wave feminism was a period of time that began during the early 1960s and lasted about two decades in the United States (and quickly spread across the Western world), when feminists aimed to increase equality for women by gaining more than just enfranchisement.

65. Third-Wave Feminism

Third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s United States and continued until about 2012. Third-wave feminists embraced individualism and diversity and sought to redefine what it meant to be a feminist; this is when intersectionality really started coming into play.

66. Fourth-Wave Feminism

Fourth-wave feminism refers to the resurgence of feminism that began around 2012 thanks, in large part, to social media. The fourth wave focused primarily on justice for women, especially with regards to to sexual harassment and violence.

67. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF)

The subset of radical feminists who believe that gender and sex are the same. TERFs do not accept transsexual women as women, and many TERFs express a desire to keep women-only spaces as spaces for women only, by which they mean only for cisgender women.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.