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date: 28 September 2023

Feminist Macro Social Work Practicefree

Feminist Macro Social Work Practicefree

  • Cheryl A. HydeCheryl A. HydeTemple University


Feminist macro practice is based on principles derived from the political and social analyses of women’s movements in the United States and abroad. As a practice approach, feminism emphasizes gendered analyses and solutions, democratized structures and processes, diversity and inclusivity, linking personal situations with political solutions, and transformative actions. Feminist practice is in concert with a multisystemic approach; it complements and extends strength-based social work. It requires that the practitioner be relational and open to other ways of knowing and understanding.


  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Macro Practice
  • Populations and Practice Settings
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Social Work Profession

Updated in this version

Content and references updated for the Encyclopedia of Macro Social Work.

Feminist macro practice focuses on organizational, community, and policy initiatives that are broadly informed by the ideologies, knowledge, and skills generated by the various women’s movements in the United States and abroad. Feminism provides a critical lens through which to understand, and then work to ameliorate, the concerns and issues primarily of women and those for whom they care. Further, feminism offers frameworks for analyzing gendered roles and identities, which is particularly important for comprehending and addressing the challenges faced by individuals and communities who transgress traditional gender expectations. Feminist movements intersect and partner with other social movements, engaging in collaborative strategies to address human rights, environmental justice, anti-racism initiatives, LGBTQA+ rights, and other collective actions that pursue social justice. These insights, processes, and outcomes are the building blocks for feminist macro practice.

Defining Feminism and Its Scope

Although there is considerable debate within feminist scholarship as to what constitutes feminism, there are several themes common across most definitions. First, it is assumed that collectively, women have been and continue to be denied societal power and privilege because of gender norms, roles, responsibilities, and assumptions. Second, it is also assumed that structural inequality shapes the position and standing of women, not personal actions or individual circumstances. Third, it is inherently activist in orientation, concerned with “challenging women’s subordinate (or disadvantaged) status in the society at large and in their own community” (Gluck, 1998, p. 34; see also Arredondo et al., 2003; Hewitt, 2010; hooks, 1984; McCammon et al., 2017; Reger, 2012; Thompson, 2010). In this sense, feminism dovetails well with macro practice’s foci on collective action and empowerment.

Feminism is not, however, a monolithic ideology, perspective, or movement (see Table 1 for historical and current waves in the United States). The first wave of feminism, specifically in the United States and United Kingdom, brackets the work of activists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who focused on suffrage and legal rights such as property ownership, though largely limited to benefiting White women (McConnaughy, 2017). The reemergence of the women’s movement in its second wave in the 1960s in the United States gave rise to several ideological streams. Within each, different visions, assumptions, processes, strategies, and outcomes were articulated and, to varying degrees, integrated into social work theory and practice (Dominelli, 2002, 2019; Finn et al., 2013; Kemp & Brandwein, 2010; Mehrota, 2010). Table 2 summarizes the most widely recognized perspectives—liberal, radical, socialist, cultural, and womanist—that dominated feminist thought particularly in the 1970s and 1980s (for an excellent account of the historical development of these feminist streams, see Echols [1989]) and set the groundwork for current feminist praxis. Variations of liberal and cultural feminism had the greatest influence on feminist practice within the third wave of feminism (1990s–2010), with particular attention to self-expression, inclusivity, and sex-positive expression. The developing internet was embraced as a platform for a more democratized dissemination of essays, videos, and manifestos. Current, or fourth wave, feminists engage in various strategies, especially tactical social media use, to challenge sexual violence (e.g., the #MeToo movement), support fluid gender roles and sexual identities, examine connections between gender and other forms of oppression, and counter the suppression of reproductive rights along with the expansion of focus to broader reproductive justice issues (Aronson, 2017; Luna, 2009; Luna & Luker, 2013; Reger, 2012; Zavella, 2020). Fourth wave feminists seem more cognizant of global feminist efforts and the need to deconstruct dominant Western feminist narratives (Rademacher & Fallon, 2017).

Table 1. Feminist Movement Waves and Primary Foci from the United States

Wave and Time Period

Primary Foci

First Wave – 19th and early 20th centuries

Women’s suffrage

Basic legal rights (e.g., property ownership)

Second Wave – 1960s to 1980s

Range of issues, particularly violence against women, reproductive health, Equal Rights Amendment, and equity legislation in education, employment, and financial matters (e.g., credit)

Establishment of various women-centered organizations such as feminist health centers, sexual assault centers, domestic violence shelters, women’s bookstores, women’s credit unions, and women’s art spaces

Third Wave – 1990s to 2010

Individual self-expression

Promotion of diversity

Sex-positive initiatives

Fourth Wave – 2013 to present


Reproductive rights/reproductive justice

Violence against women, especially sexual harassment through the #MeToo movement

Gender fluidity and trans rights


Strategic use of social media as a tool of feminist education, outreach, and organizing

Global feminism

Table 2. Perspectives, Primary Causes of Women’s Inequality and Oppression, Strategies, and Macro Examples from Second Wave Feminism


Primary Causes of Women’s Oppression


Macro Practice Examples


Denial of access and opportunities due to sex-role stereotyping, structural barriers, or both

“Let us in”—integration of women

Legal remedies to secure and extend women’s rights

Legislative and legal advocacy on employment and education equity, reproductive rights, affirmative action, credit and finance

Promotion of feminist candidates for office

Emily’s List

Women’s Equity Action League


Concept of “sex caste”—women subordinated because of male supremacy and cultural patriarchy

Modeled after Black Power movements


Collectivist or consensus orientations to power

Politicized approach to alternative services

Feminist health movement including health centers

Violence against women movement including “take back the night” marches, domestic violence/ sexual assault centers

Lesbian rights

Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

Boston Women’s Collective (Our Bodies, Ourselves)


Intersection of gender and class, specifically in disparities resulting from labor market and other economic structures

Social protest – emphasis on economic issues especially for poor and low-income women

Partnerships with labor unions

Community development

Economic co-ops

Coalition of Labor Union Women

National Welfare Rights Organization

Nine to Five

National Council of Neighborhood Women


Societal denial and repression of women’s inherent, and superior, ability to nurture

Create and sustain separate spaces and own culture that promotes female biology as the basis of women’s power

Maternal or caregiving feminism

Entrepreneurial ethos that promotes “women as women”

Women’s music and art festivals

Women’s bookstores

Women-centered businesses

Greenham Peace Camp


Intersection of race and gender, emphasis on unique “double jeopardy” of women of color

Unique oppression of women of color because of intersecting cultural identities

Combination of strategies that address needs of women of color

Critiques of racism within feminist analyses and practices

Articulation of intersectionality as a framework for understanding oppression

Combahee River Collective

Black Women’s Health Alliance

National Institute for Women of Color

National Black Women’s Justice Institute

National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum

MANA National Latina Organization

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

An important theoretical development that began as a critique of feminist analysis and is now central to analytical frameworks is the concept of intersectionality—a praxis grounded in the interaction and multiplicity of cultural identity components. Informed by womanist perspective theorists (see Collins, 1990; Combahee River Collective, 1981; hooks, 1984; Smith, 1979), critical race legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw argued that gender oppression was shaped by racial hierarchies such that women of color experience a duality of oppressions that White women do not and that only or primarily focusing on gender oppression marginalizes the experiential subordination of women of color. She termed this analytical construct “intersectionality” (Crenshaw, 1989). Other scholar-activists further delineated this concept such that intersectionality now focuses on the complex, interactive matrix of structural oppression, meaning that gender, race, class, sexual identity, and other dimensions of cultural identity interrelate in ways that shift the causes and consequences of societal power, privilege, subordination, and domination (Collins & Bilge, 2016; Livingston, 2018; Roth, 2017).

Intersectionality informs much of current fourth wave feminist activism as well as other movements such as Black Lives Matter, queer and transgender efforts, and human rights initiatives. Critically important writings by Black women activists illuminate the promise of and challenges to racial justice while simultaneously synthesizing gender, class, and sexual identity into their analyses (Abrams, 2018; Carruthers, 2018; Cooper, 2018; Garza, 2020; Jones, 2019; Taylor, 2017). Scholars and activists have built upon and enriched these writings, particularly by focusing on intersectionality as it manifests for other racial and ethnic groups (Cho et al., 2013; Chun et al., 2013; Gurr, 2012; Zavella, 2016). These works expand macro practice by offering strategic lessons on inclusive collective action that responds to systemic oppression.

Dovetailing with this ever-developing intersectionality paradigm is the growth of (for lack of a better term) “global” or transnational feminism. Efforts to decolonize the academy have impacted feminist thought by shifting attention away from Western perspectives to the scholarly and activist work of women throughout the world (Mohanty, 2003; Moyo, 2021). This body of knowledge explicitly concentrates on the work of women and allies in the Global South and African diaspora with focus ranging from grassroots community development to mid-range microfinancing endeavors to nation-building movements (Dominelli, 2019; Drolet, 2010; Rodriguez et al., 2015; Visvanathan et al., 2011). Further, citizenship status, as well as the lived experiences of immigrants and refugees, becomes centered in narratives and analyses that inform mobilization and policy initiatives (Park, 2019). This focus on the impact of colonialism is also relevant in understanding the historical and contemporary treatment of and support for Indigenous people (Gurr, 2012; Simpson, 2017; Weaver, 2009). Lessons culled from these initiatives challenge the often privileged assumptions embedded in Western feminist work and extends the reach of feminism globally.

Although feminism is “pro-woman,” it should not be equated solely with women working with other women on issues of concern only to women (Aronson, 2017; Hyde, 1996, 2005, 2020). First, female-dominated organizations or activities are not feminist when they impose or support patriarchal gender norms and values. Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum (United States), for example, a largely female membership organization, sought to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and further solidify traditional male and female roles (Hyde, 2008a; Rohlinger & Claxton, 2017). Similarly, Women’s Auxiliaries in the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist organizations reinforce traditional gendered mothering in service to White supremacy and illustrate the intersections of patriarchal and racist hierarchies (Blee & Yates, 2017; Perry, 2004). Second, men as well as women can be proponents and beneficiaries of feminism. Recent gender scholarship, influenced significantly by feminist theory, focuses on the constraints of stereotypical male roles and the high price that men pay when they step outside the confines of these expected roles (Connell, 2005; Messner et al., 2015; Okun, 2014). Finally, the issues that are addressed do not have to be quintessentially feminist ones (e.g., sexual violence, pay equity). Women have been and continue to be involved significantly in social change campaigns that concern neighborhood safety, environmental racism, public education, or labor; it is the empowering processes and outcomes of such collective actions, as well as the centering of women’s voices and experiences, that make them feminist (see Hewitt, 2010; McCammon et al., 2017; Reger, 2012). This is particularly evident on the global stage in community development, microfinance efforts, electoral campaigns, environmental justice initiatives, and public health projects (see, e.g., Dominelli, 2019; Drolet, 2010; Finn et al., 2013; Visvanathan et al., 2011).

Regardless of perspective, feminist practice addresses myriad issues that affect women differently than they do men. These include sexual violence, education and employment equity, child and elder care, reproductive and sexual health, pension and retirement benefits, poverty and income maintenance, mental health access, and the rights of sexual minorities (see Hewitt, 2010; McCammon et al., 2017; Peterson & Lieberman, 2001). The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown disproportionately impacted women as they struggled with work, childcare, and family health concerns. It is believed that women, particularly those who are heads of households, work in low-wage jobs, or live in economically depressed areas, will emerge from the pandemic with substantially impaired education and employment trajectories (Badri, 2020; Bateman & Ross, 2020).

Even though women have made substantial gains in recent decades, critical issues and problems remain. Consider these facts about women in the United States, all of which necessitate macro practice responses:

Women are more likely than men to be in or near poverty, with the risk significantly increased for single mothers, older women, and women with no postsecondary education.

As of 2015, women earned 79 cents to every male dollar; for African American women it was 60 cents and for Latinas it was 55 cents. If equal and comparable pay equity was achieved, the female poverty rate would be cut in half.

Women are 58% of all Social Security beneficiaries 65 and older, and 71% of all beneficiaries 85 and older; Social Security makes up 55% of older women’s income, compared with 39% for older men.

A woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds; daily, three women are murdered by their intimate partners. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, and incidents rose during the pandemic lockdown. It is estimated that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence, and men who witnessed this as children are more than twice as likely to abuse their intimate partners.

Access to legal abortion has steadily eroded. In 2018, 87% of all counties had no abortion provider; national legislation (as well as in many states) limits later-term abortions even if the woman’s life is endangered; a number of states are considering or have implemented measures that criminalize women who experience miscarriage or stillbirth. The Planned Parenthood Federation was forced to withdraw from Title X funding because of new federal regulations prohibiting abortion referrals; this will result in hundreds of thousands of low-income women and their families losing basic health services (Belluck, 2019). Attacks on the Affordable Care Act would result in significant loss of reproductive health services.

Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act addresses sex discrimination in education. Yet girls in public schools, especially those who are pregnant or parenting, are often denied access to education and support services. Girls, particularly Black females, are at higher risk for disciplinary actions and suspensions even for minor infractions. Female students are susceptible to sexual harassment and bullying, with lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students at heightened risk. Transgender and gender-nonconforming female students are subjected to legislation that prevents them participating in various school activities, specifically athletics, and in some cases subjects them to “genital” inspections to confirm they are “truly female.”

Women of color have significantly higher maternity-mortality rates and have experienced sharp increases in sexually transmitted disease and HIV infection rates; they also contend with more limited access to reproductive health services (Domestic Violence Statistics, n.d.; National Organization for Women, 2006; National Women’s Law Center, n.d.; U.S. Congress, 2016).

To place the United States in an international context, a recent Reuters survey ranked the country as the tenth most dangerous nation for women and the only one that would be considered a Western democracy (CBS News, 2018). In the nine countries placed above the United States, women contend with profound levels of sexual violence; economic inequities; human trafficking; lack of health, education and welfare programs; and restrictions on access to public life. These and other realities for women inform the development and implementation of feminist practice (Finn et al., 2013).

Core Principles of Feminist Social Work and Application to Macro Practice

Feminist practice transcends all arenas of social work intervention, from micro to macro. Indeed, many feminist principles foster the integration of micro and macro social work. Approaches to feminist macro social work are rooted in the theories, models, and skill sets delineated by numerous scholar-activists. Paralleling the explosion of feminist scholarship in the 1980s and into the 1990s, feminist macro practitioners laid the groundwork for new ways of engaging in organizational, community, and policy practice (Brandwein, 1981; Figueira-McDonough et al., 1998; Gutierrez & Lewis, 1999; Hyde, 1989, 1996; Kemp & Brandwein, 2010). These writings offered gender-based analyses and underscored the marginalization of particular groups of women, including working-class and low-income women, women of color, lesbians, women with disabilities, and older women. As this body of literature coalesced, it stood in contrast to the more traditional, and often confrontational, approaches found within macro social work.

Now there are well-developed feminist approaches for organization, community, policy practice, and collective protest methods (see, e.g., Abramovitz, 2006; Butler-Mokoro & Grant, 2018; Dominelli, 2002, 2019; Finn et al., 2013; Hyde, 2005, 2008a, 2008b; Jones, 2019; Kemp & Brandwein, 2010; King & Tedmanson, 2016; Mizrahi, 2007; Mizrahi & Lombe, 2007; Weil, 1986, 1998). Gender issues and gender-based oppression are woven through the Social Work Grand Challenges (see, e.g., Edleson et al., 2015). The feminist journal Affilia, founded in 1986 as a “dedicated space for feminist women’s voices, underrepresented in mainstream social work journals,” suggests the wide range of issues and actions under the umbrella of feminist social work, including macro theory and practice.

Based on this body of work, as well as historical and contemporary efforts to address the concerns of women, core principles of feminist social work practice can be identified (see Dominelli, 2002, 2019; Figueira-McDonough, 2013; Finn et al., 2013; Foster, 2018; Hyde, 1989; Kemp & Brandwein, 2010; Mehrotra, 2010; Peterson & Lieberman, 2001). These core principles are as follows:

Gendered lens: An understanding that societal dynamics and relations shape, and are shaped by, gendered roles and responsibilities. With respect to practice, this means that the status and experiences of women need to inform the identification, analysis, and solution of problems, as well as the processes used. It is tempting to think that since women are the majority of social work practitioners and clients, the profession automatically incorporates gendered analysis into interventions. This principle, however, speaks specifically to understanding the power dynamics generated by gendered norms, expectations, and behaviors, not merely women working with women.

Personal is political: One of the most well-known slogans of the U.S. women’s movement, this principle links the individual experiences of women with broader societal structures and trends. In order to understand and make this connection, the seemingly “mundane” aspects of what it means to be female and male, and how these roles are socially reproduced, must be deconstructed. This examination then informs the change process. One strategic implication of this is the demystification of knowledge—that women are “experts” in their own lives, and problem analysis is built on shared experiences. Narrative development and consciousness-raising are primary tactics in understanding and examining societal problems and concerns, and the impact that these concerns have on individuals. Practice is centered on facilitating and acting on these understandings.

Democratized structures and processes: Within feminist practice, the ways in which a goal or objective is achieved often is considered as important as the actual achievement. Attending to the process of practice, from a feminist perspective, means facilitating collaborative styles such as consensus decision-making and delegation or rotation of tasks. Structures, such as collectives or “flattened” hierarchies, are put into place to support such cooperative processes. While this principle has greatest relevancy for the development and maintenance of programs and organizations, it also pertains to the broader dynamics of networking and relationship building as central components in practice. The value of egalitarianism as critical to feminist social work is underscored. Commitment to this principle necessitates attention to process as well as product. This, in turn, can result in a tension between how a project unfolds and the outcome of the effort.

Inclusivity and intersectionality: While understanding the gendered dynamics is essential in feminist analysis and practice, it is not the singular factor in comprehending the patterns of subordination and oppression in the United States and other countries. Feminists, particularly within the liberal and cultural wings, have been critiqued for insufficient attention to race, class, sexual identity, (dis)ability, age, and other dimensions of cultural identity. Western feminists have been challenged to decenter their foci and assumptions and embrace a more globalized analytical framework such that the knowledge and strategic skill building articulated by feminists in “developing” or Global South countries are not just recognized but are fully promoted. Increasingly, feminism has committed to the elimination of all forms of oppression and the facilitation of full participation by bridging differences. This decentering necessitates working toward the understanding of social problems and solutions through perspectives other than that of White, middle-class women. It also requires close examination of the ways in which various forms of privilege are manifested in practice efforts (no matter how well-intentioned the efforts are) and to understand that an action or intervention that works for one group could have a deleterious impact for another.

Care and caregiving: Because so much of women’s lives focus on providing care and support to others, feminists place relationships and caregiving at the heart of decision-making processes. Thus, relational responsibilities are factored into interventions and program development (e.g., the provision of childcare at protest rallies). The “bottom line” is not fiscal or utilitarian in nature but is instead based on how relationships are protected and facilitated. This nurturing dimension of feminism can be incorporated into all aspects of practice.

Transformational: Recognizing gender subordination does not mean that women are merely included in status quo arrangements, which are then left unaltered. Feminist practice seeks, and contributes to, basic structural and cultural changes in terms of gender roles, norms, and status. Moreover, it challenges the manifestation of other oppressions, such as racism, homophobia, agism, or classism, and thus is “transformational because it involves a vision of a society that does not exist and sees social, political, and economic change as necessary for that vision to be realized” (Martin, 1990, p. 184).

These principles can have a powerful influence on macro social work practice, as the following examples suggest:

A feminist agency director would promote organizational structures and procedures that supported team building, participatory decision-making, open governance, and minimized or flattened hierarchy. Initiatives that facilitated shared leadership, collective consciousness-raising, and mutual aid with attention to gendered communication patterns and roles would be implemented and encouraged. Mentoring programs and other supports to enhance opportunities for members of subordinated groups (e.g., women, people of color, and people with disabilities) would be instituted. The authentic inclusion of community stakeholders, particularly organizational clients or consumers, would be pursued. Organizations that embody feminist principles have inclusive, supportive environments in which all members are accountable to the collective or the whole. These organizations would align with and support relevant community actions and social movements.

A feminist community organizer would emphasize empowerment-oriented processes, promote democratic and inclusive developmental strategies, and enable leadership development particularly among underrepresented or marginalized group members. Initiatives would be centered on the voices and experiences of community members rather than the practitioner, who helps facilitate but does not control or own the process. Efforts would be rooted in connecting community member stories to broader political, economic, and social dynamics. The building of relationships and networks would be fostered. As needed, the practitioner would seek out skill building opportunities for community members in, for example, participatory action research, public speaking, using the media, or conflict resolution. Community initiatives that manifest feminist principles are ones that foster the empowerment of members by challenging oppressive structures and processes (internally and externally) to promote the collective good. Connections would be made to broader social movements to weave together various local initiatives under a common umbrella.

A feminist policy analyst or practitioner, in the institutional arena, would help reveal the gendered realities of social problems, such as the feminization of poverty or the many ways in which the state attempts to regulate the lives of women, and would help articulate the connections between personal problems and broader structural trends so that a political solution could be generated. The experiences and circumstances of women and other oppressed groups would drive the strategies and actions. Much as a feminist organizer would do, the feminist policy practitioner would work with constituent groups and organizations, essentially serving and facilitating their goals and objectives. As needed, the practitioner would help those impacted by a particular issue develop their narratives and perhaps prepare them to give legislative testimonies or pursue other means of disseminating their stories. Through research and activism, the feminist policy practitioner promotes policy initiatives that support the lives of and expands the opportunities for women and those harmed by restrictive gender norms and rules.

Essentially, feminism can shape all forms of macro practice. Consider Rothman’s three basic modals of community intervention: social action, locality development, and social planning, with the attendant organizational types of Green Peace, Peace Corps, and municipal health departments, respectively (Rothman, 1996). Corresponding feminist examples are the Congressional Union and Lesbian Avengers for social action; the Women’s Self-Defense Council and the L.A. Women’s Building for locality development; and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Femocrats for social planning (Hyde, 1996, p. 133; see this article for a complete list of feminist examples for all of Rothman’s mixed community interventions). Feminist practice, even if more implicit than explicit, also can be seen in the work of myriad notable social work activists including Senator Barbara Mikulski, Dorothy Height, Nancy Humphries, Betty Reid Mandell, Maryann Mahaffey, and Representative Jeanette Rankin. Feminist macro social work also lays claim to and continues to learn from the contributions of women outside the profession including Frances Perkins, Ida B. Wells, Dolores Huerta, Gloria Anzaldúa, Rigoberta Menchú, Cherríe Moraga, Grace Lee Boggs, State Representative (MN) Kaohly Her, Yuri Kochiyama, Amanda Koonjbeharry, Representative Patsy Mink, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Winona LaDuke, Suzan Shown Harjo, and, perhaps most notably, Jane Addams. Currently, some of the most insightful and thought-provoking analyses and strategic plans are provided by women in various Black or racial justice initiatives such as Black Lives Matter (Abrams, 2018; Carruthers, 2018; Cooper, 2018; Garza, 2020; Jones, 2019; Taylor, 2017). Macro practice would be much richer by integrating the lessons from these women.

Current and Future Trends in Feminist Practice

Feminism is dynamic, and as such, feminist practice is continuously evolving. The inherently reflexive nature of feminism has resulted in an ability to respond to new situations, including threats, as well as the revising of analyses to better reflect the historical and contemporary realities of all women (Hyde, 2008a, 2008b; Mohantry, 2003). Three recent trends can be identified as having particular relevance in the further development of feminist macro practice.

First, feminist practice (as does social work in general) continues to grapple with the inclusion of race, class, nationality, and other social categories into gendered accounts. Feminist theory risks reifying gender, without careful attention to other social and cultural milieu. Yet to fully understand the dynamics of gender means attention must be paid to the ways in which all cultural attributes shape, and are shaped by, one another. This goal of becoming more multicultural or inclusive cannot be the task of lesbians, women with disabilities, working-class women, or women of color; all feminists need to embrace this by developing multicultural efforts and conceptualizing multicultural practice frameworks (Butler, 2013; Fernandes, 2010; Thompson, 2010). The aforementioned contributions of Black women activists provide essential grounding in this enterprise, as does the work of other scholars and organizers. For example, anthropologist Patricia Zavella has examined the intersection of culture, ethnicity, and class among Latina factory workers (Zavella, 1987) and documented the often-overlooked role of women of color in pursuing reproductive justice (Zavella, 2016, 2020). The scholarship on intersectionality greatly advances the multicultural and global perspectives within feminist social work particularly as it pertains to family constellations, migration and resettlement, and educational and employment pathways (Collins & Bilge, 2016; Fernandes, 2010; Mehrotra, 2010; Park, 2019).

Similarly, and arguments of American uniqueness or exceptionalism aside, the conditions of U.S. women need to be decentered and placed within a broader global context so that more robust theoretical frameworks on the status and progress of women can continue to be delineated (Basu, 1995; Dominelli, 2019; Finn et al., 2013; Mohantry, 2003; Moosa-Mitha & Ross-Sheriff, 2010; Moyo, 2021; Newell, 2000; Rodriguez et al., 2015). Scholarship on the Global South and the decolonization of knowledge, even if not explicitly focused on women’s initiatives, serve as foundations and frameworks for furthering feminist analysis. Efforts need to be extended to sustaining international feminist efforts through education, advocacy, coalition building, and mutual aid in ways that honor the work of Indigenous leadership and communities. Interventions pioneered in societies and countries other than the United States and Western democracies need to be understood and embraced. Some of the most insightful work on trauma and resiliency, for example, is based on reconciliation, conflict resolution, and mediation initiatives in Africa (Ensign, 2014; Mama, 2012; Mbilinyi & Shechambo, 2015).

Second, feminist practice needs to continue the development of gendered analyses and actions, as opposed to limiting its scope to “women helping women.” While women are the primary practitioners and beneficiaries of feminism, a gendered framework can reveal how men who do not fulfill the masculine norms and dictates of society are penalized. This is clearly seen in the realm of social policy. When low-income or poor men deviate from the “breadwinner” role, they are marginalized by the welfare state. These men are not able to find services and often are subjected to public humiliation; the current welfare state is designed to keep these men subordinated. What Connell (2005) refers to as “the patriarchal dividend,” which privileges men, is available primarily to those men who enact traditional gender roles that often are reinforced by heterosexual, class, and race privileges (see also Messerschmidt et al., 2018; Messner et al., 2015; Okun, 2014). Conversely, men who enact nontraditional gender roles, such as stay-at-home dads or male childcare workers, elementary school teachers, and even direct practice social workers, are denied the full value of this “dividend.” More nuanced gender analyses, such as the scholarship that deconstructs binary gender designations and recognizes the fluidity of sex and gender identities, would enhance feminist practice (Aronson, 2017; McPhail, 2004). Feminists should continue to understand, learn from, and ally with sexual minority and trans communities.

Success on these two points will aid significantly in countering the third trend—the escalating political, economic, social, and religious conservatism in the United States and abroad (Abramovitz, 2006; Hewitt, 2010; Hyde, 2008b; Mohantry, 2003; Reger, 2012; Rohlinger & Claxton, 2017). Since the late 1970s, the evangelical Christian right has made steady inroads into political, educational, medical, and employment arenas in the United States, and currently it has joined with various nativist populist campaigns that often espouse White supremacy (Dunn & Fisher, 2019). In other countries, religious fundamentalists have seized power and installed their own regimes, with often brutal consequences for women (see Basu, 1995; Boonprasat-Lewis & Fortune, 1999; Newell, 2000). While women, especially in Western democracies, may seem to enjoy more freedom than women in earlier decades, far too many women locally and globally suffer under repressive conditions. In the United States, for example, access to reproductive health services has been and continues to be denied and dismantled. Legislation and court decisions make it increasingly difficult to gain redress in matters of employment discrimination. Despite the claims of public officials, welfare “reform” has had devastating consequences for many poor and low-income women and their families (Abramovitz, 2006; Feldt, 2004; Hyde, 2008a). Sexual violence against, and the “honor” killings of, women continue, especially in war zones (Boonprasat-Lewis & Fortune, 1999; Newell, 2000). Economic globalization, particularly when accompanied by fiscal austerity measures, has continued old and created new forms of economic suppression and marginalization for women, especially immigrants and refugees without legal protections (Chang, 2000; Denzongpa & Nichols, 2020; Dominelli, 2019).

Feminist macro practice is a holistic framework that ultimately calls for the healing of all levels of society. It embraces and advances key elements of social change within social work, most notably empowerment and the elimination of oppression (Dominelli, 2002, 2019; Figueira-McDonough et al., 1998; Finn et al., 2013; Kemp & Brandwein, 2010; Peterson & Lieberman, 2001). Rather than being viewed as obsolete, feminist perspectives can enrich one’s practice while simultaneously calling on social workers to collaboratively address problems that impact most people in their communities and across their nations. Feminist social work, in its many forms, provides a powerful means to enact social work’s commitment to social and economic justice.


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