sympathy http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sympathy "harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another. "
empathy http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/empathy "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. "
I've been reading a bit the feminist blog-o-sphere and something caught my attention, saying I could sympathize with another's oppression but I could never empathize. Since it's vicarious and requires use of my imagination I sure damn well can empathize. I can't say that I completely understand or that it's comparable to my personal experience, but I can empathize. Empathizing means trying to put yourself in another person's place and trying to understand how they feel. It doesn't say anywhere that I'm trying to correlate my oppression with their oppression. That by empathizing I'm downplaying their oppression or minimizing my privilege.
This definition of sympathy wasn't really what I was expecting. Not sure that it meant what that person thought it meant either.
Oh, you can be feminist without caring a whit about the semiotic ramblings of Foucalt, because his intellectual ramblings are just that intellectual ramblings. Show me where being able to determine semiotics of something prevented sexism, and I'll give you a dollar. Feminist Theory lost me with that nonsense in college.