From the Enlightenment to Simone de Beauvoir, from Stuart Mill to the current feminist manifestations: the underlying idea that transcends time is that no biological condition can justify the hegemony of one collective over another in the network of social life.
Just as with other waves of thought, feminism can be defined in different ways.
A standard definition can be seen in the Dictionary of the Real Academia Española (RAE), stating that it is the “movement that fights for the effective realization in all orders” of the “principals of equal rights for women and men”.
A second definition, somewhat more substantive, although compatible with the former, states the idea that feminism is about the speech of vindication. In this way, the Spanish philosopher, Celia Amorós states that the “notion of equality [for which feminism struggles] generates vindications”. From a legal standpoint, to vindicate means to recover what belongs to someone and has been unfairly taken away. What has been unfairly taken away from women throughout history? The equal rights to exercise individual freedom. For example, the equality for political freedom, for educational freedom, for the right of property, etcetera.
A third definition, also complementary with the others, and on which I would like to spend some time, relates to the idea that biology -the corporal differences between women and men- does not justify, normatively speaking, neither the inequality of rights nor the consequential lack of individual freedom of women, in relation to men. In other words, and considering another frequent idea of feminism, these differences should by no means serve as an excuse for the system of domination -patriarchy- to which women have historically been submitted.
As a liberal, I must warn that I’m not against referring to her and him as collectives of human beings. Liberalism does not deny the existence of collectives; what it does reject is collectivism, which is the submission of individual ends for a unitary moral end, which would be necessary for community life. Furthermore, collectivism is usually configured from the consideration that there are inferior and superior collectives.
“As a liberal, I must warn that I’m not against referring to her and him as collectives of human beings. Liberalism does not deny the existence of collectives; what it does reject is collectivism, which is the submission of individual ends for a unitary moral end”
Having clarified this, I will look to demonstrate that the idea that biology is not destiny has been a constant in the history of feminism: a guiding principal bringing together all its waves, different branches and versions. In other words, I will attempt to demonstrate that the idea that biology is not destiny has been (and should continue to be) the minimum common denominator of feminism.
Because of this it can be said that when feminism moves away from this common denominator it ends up distancing itself from what it is, until it stops being feminism. This has happened (and happens) both with the assumed ‘feminisms’ of conservatives on the right, and with socialists on the left. Instead it can be said -and this is my second hypothesis-, that the branches of feminism that have most faithfully maintained this central idea, have been liberal feminism and radical feminism. Both, on the other hand, have had (and still have) communicative vessels between them, although they have also challenged each other.
The Beauvoir factor
In the conservative world it is often said that the separation between nature and culture in terms of human sexuality occurred with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, published in 1949, that caused a great impact particularly in Europe, serving a revival of feminism that, after the conquest of the right to suffrage, seemed to already be lacking in sense from a political point of view.
For example, in Chile Catalina Siles and Gustavo Delgado have divulged the idea that for Beauvoir in the context of Sartre’s existentialism, man is merely the result of the pure exercise of his freedom, lacking any kind of conditioning. They add that in this way Beauvoir’s ideas propose the liberation of the woman from maternity through birth control, including abortion. They state something interesting that has become commonplace within the conservative sectors, “The Second Sex marks the start of radical feminism that is progressively imposed during the second half of the 20th Century. This current, unlike the first wave of feminism at the end of the 19th at start of the 20th Centuries, no longer aims towards the equivalence of civil and political rights but also the complete functional equality between the sexes”.
For Siles and Delgado Beauvoir would, for the first time in the history of feminism, aim towards to separation of women from their biological nature (reproduction). For the first time it would be considered that women and men would not have different functions. This would be the “before and after” of the work of Beauvoir in the history of feminism.
But beyond that, we see here the sense of the celebrated phrase of Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. For this we can read the paragraph in which the French author formulates this idea “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilisation as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine. Only the intervention of someone else can establish an individual as an Other.
What is Beauvoir saying in this paragraph? Simply that women are taught to be such from earliest infancy and that from then on, the social conditions are built for subordination, of which they end up being victims.
Let’s go over only two examples of the many that the French philosopher contributes. The first is that during infancy the boy experiences a second weaning: the mother (and the father) stop spoiling him or at least in comparison to the girl: “Her father takes her on his knee and strokes her hair. She wears sweet little dresses, her tears and caprices are viewed indulgently”. On the other hand, he is told that: “A man doesn’t ask to be kissed… A man doesn’t look at himself in mirrors… A man doesn’t cry.” Parents teach a boy to be a man.
The second example is the following, and seems to be much more determining. The girl is taught that “to please she must try to please, she must make herself object; she should therefore renounce her autonomy”. On the other hand, the boy is taught to explore, on his own, the life that he wants to live. Beauvoir says: “Climbing trees, fighting with his companions, facing them in rough games, he is aware of his body as a means for dominating nature and as a weapon for fighting”.
This brings reality to the idea that appears in the introduction to The Second Sex: “She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other”. This means that women throughout history have not been able to live on their own, as individuals, but have had to be at the service of others, men.
The previous affirmation of conservatives (who consider Beauvoir to be the first thinker to question the biological determinism of women) is usually complemented with another, which also reductionist, according to which first wave feminism, in its liberal tendency, would have fought for the legal equality of women and men, but without problematizing the existence of a supposed feminine nature, which would destine her to reproduction and domestic life. Is it true that liberal feminism of the first wave was conformed with this?
“So-called radical feminism has assumed a step forward in the history of feminism because on one hand it has looked to explain the profound causes of the subordination of women and, on the other, it has provided new categories of analysis, such as gender and patriarchy. The latter as a medium for the former.”
Condorcet states: “Why should human beings exposed to pregnancies and to passing indispositions not be able to exercise the same rights that no one has imagined taking away from people who contract gout every winter and who easily catch colds?”. And further on he adds that between women and men, “it is not nature but rather education and social existence that cause this difference”.
Merely two years later in his The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft would say that: “A degree of physical superiority cannot, be denied -and it is a noble prerogative! But not content with this natural pre-eminence, men endeavour to sink us still lower”.
Are these statements by Condorcet and Wollstonecraft, protagonists of the first wave of feminism- not on the same line as that sustained, around 150 years later by Beauvoir? Neither of them denies the biological differences between women and men, but they refuse for them to be used to justify that women have different rights.
But let’s make a brief digression. Although, as Amelia Valcárcel states, feminism was “an unwanted child of the Enlightenment” that came about for not having included women into the pactum societatis of the first liberalism, ideas such as those of Condorcet and Wollstonecraft that prioritise equal freedom of women over a supposed biological destiny- demonstrate a fair rectification of the project of the Enlightenment. In this way it can be said that “Wollstonecraft is the daughter of the Enlightenment: of the historical moment in which individuality is reclaimed, along with autonomy of subjects and rights”, that had not been given to women. And a great question of the liberals, is the following: can we really think about the existence of legal individual rights such as freedom and equality, if barriers are put up before women because of supposed natural differences?
On the other hand, if it is possible to talk about a “consequent Enlightenment”, it is because it has not been the rule but the exception. An emblematic author that represents this rule is Rousseau, for whom the idea of equality, so vehemently advocated by him, does not reach women. For the Genevan, women can only be “the chaste guardians of traditions and the sweet links of peace”. And it is against the author of the Social Contract that Wollstonecraft writes when she affirms that “Rousseau declares that a woman should never, for a moment, feel herself independent, and [should be] made a coquettish slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chooses to relax himself”.
What is Wollstonecraft trying to prove to Rousseau? That nature would make equal freedom between women and men impossible, women being “condemned” to determined gender roles, that would be fundamental for social order. In this way for her, biology is not destiny, because: “Women are [either] by nature inferior to men, […] or their conduct should be founded on the same principles”.
Liberal feminism and radical feminism
We could keep going over the liberal first wave feminists that say more or less the same as Beauvoir, as in the case of Harriet Taylor in the 19th Century, but I think the previous examples are enough to highlight that early feminists did question the existence of supposed gender roles starting from biological differences.
I want to make the most of this final part to briefly develop the hypothesis -that for some can be provocative- according to which between liberal and radical feminism there are communicative vessels, precisely because both have defended the central idea that biology is not destiny.
In this way it is incomprehensible that people from the conservative realm who rant about feminism use the expression “radical feminism” to refer to feminism of the worst kind, extremist; and not precisely associated with its theoretic developments but rather to expressions that come from social movements that come about in the university world.
However so-called radical feminism (now not in inverted commas) has assumed a step forward in the history of feminism because on the one hand it has looked to explain the profound causes of the subordination of women and, on the other hand has provided new categories of analysis, such as gender and patriarchy. The latter as a medium for the former.
In order to discuss this, I will refer telegraphically to two canonical authors of radical feminism that arose at the end of the 60s: Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millett.
Although she was left-wing, Firestone firmly rejected the Marxist interpretation of history for feminism. She criticised Engels for “seeing sexuality only through an economic impregnation, and reducing all its reality”. For her, overcoming the oppression that has affected women will only be possible when they are able to assume total control over their bodies, especially their fertility. Because of this she puts all hope into the technological advances of human reproduction.
Kate Millett provides a definition of patriarchy from the Weberian concept of domination as “the possibility of imposing self-will over the conduct of other people”. This concept is similar to that of Friedrich Hayek, for whom “co-action has its place when the actions of a man are directed towards serving the will of another”. And Millet also rejected the economist interpretation of Engels on the situation of women, announcing herself to be in favour of that of John Stuart Mill. This British philosopher, incidentally, is also opposed to the idea of a feminine nature that can justify the subordination that affected women in his time: “What we currently call the nature of the woman is eminently artificial”.
What is certain is that both liberal feminism and radical feminism have collided in history with the common denominator of feminism. This generates the conditions for the possibility of working together, both in theoretic and political terms. And the main idea of feminism, that biology is not destiny, keeps -I believe- reclaiming this strategic alliance.
 Amorós, C. (1997). Tiempo de feminismo. Madrid: Cátedra, page 71.
 Siles, C. y Delgado, G. (2014). «Teoría de género. ¿De qué estamos hablando? 5 claves para el debate», documento de trabajo, Instituto de Estudios de la Sociedad y Comunidad y Justicia, Santiago. Page 5.
 Ibid. Page 6.
 Siles, C. y Delgado, G. (2014) «Teoría de género. ¿De qué estamos hablando? 5 claves para el debate», documento de trabajo, Instituto de Estudios de la Sociedad y Comunidad y Justicia, Santiago. Page 6.
 De Beauvoir, S. (1949). The Second Sex. London: Jonathan Cape. Page 273.
 Ibid. Page 276.
 De Beauvoir, S. (1949). The Second Sex. London: Jonathan Cape. Page 284.
 Ibid. Page 16.
 Condorcet, N. (1790). «Sobre la admisión de las mujeres al derecho de ciudadanía», en Puleo, A. (ed.). (1993). La Ilustración olvidada. La polémica de los sexos en el siglo XVIII. Madrid: Anthropos. Editorial del hombre, page 101. This book is an excellent recompilation of documents on the first feminism in the 18th Century.
 Ibid. Page 103.
 Wollstonecraft, M. (2005) . Vindicación de los derechos de la mujer. Madrid: Istmo. Page 49.
 Valcárcel, A. (2000). «Las filosofías políticas en presencia del feminismo», en Amorós, C. (ed.). Feminismo y Filosofía. Madrid: Editorial Síntesis. Page 116.
 Lois, M. (2005). «Mary Wollstonecraft: la fuerza de las ideas», en Wollstonecraft, M.  Vindicación de los derechos de la mujer. Madrid: Istmo, page 9.
 Rousseau, J.J. (1980) . Discurso sobre el origen y los fundamentos de la desigualdad entre los hombres. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, page 191.
 Wollstonecraft, M. (2005) . Vindicación de los derechos de la mujer. Madrid: Istmo. Page 74.
 Ibid. page 75.
 Taylor questions the fact that that maternity, which characterizes women in biological terms, should inexorably mark their destiny as, when incompatibility exists between maternity and work “she can solve the problem”, without having to be prematurely excluded from exercising her autonomy, for example of a professional character. See Taylor, H. «La emancipación de la mujer» (2000) , in Mill J.S. y Taylor, T. Ensayos sobre la igualdad de los sexos. Madrid: Antonio Machado Libros. Page 126.
 Simply put, radical feminism looks to overcome liberal feminism, based simply on formal equality, and socialist feminist sees the principal cause of oppression of women in capitalism (and not patriarchy). For a brief explanation, see Álvarez, S. «Feminismo radical», en Beltrán, E. y Maquieira, V. (eds.). (2001). Feminismos. Debates teóricos contemporáneos. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. Pages 104-115.
 Note that these concepts are older, but that only since radical feminist, particularly with Kate Millett, were they converted into useful categories for the explanation to which this paragraph alludes.
 Firestone, S. (1970) La dialéctica del sexo. En defensa de la revolución feminista. Barcelona: Editorial Kairos. Page 13.
 Firestone, S. (1970) La dialéctica del sexo. En defensa de la revolución feminista. Barcelona: Editorial Kairos. Page 20.
 Millett, K., Política sexual  (Valencia: Ediciones Cátedra — Universidad de Valencia). Page 60, footnote N° 3.
 Hayek, F. A. (1960). Los fundamentos de la libertad. Madrid: Unión Editorial.
 Millett, K. (1969). Política sexual. Valencia: Ediciones Cátedra — Universidad de Valencia). Page 236.
 Mill, J.S. (1869). «El sometimiento de la mujer» , en John Stuart Mill y Harriet Taylor, Ensayos sobre la igualdad de los sexos (Madrid: Antonio Machado Libros, 2000). Page 168.