Definition• Feminism is the belief that women should have equal rights to men. In consequence, the feminist movement fights for equal rights and opportunities for women.• There are many different kinds of feminism and feminists themselves tend to disagree about the ways in which women are disadvantaged and what exactly should be done to get equal rights. For example, ‘social feminists’ believe that women are exploited by the capitalist system both at work and in the home.
Improvements?• It can be argued that there have been real improvements in the way that women are now represented in the media possibly because of the increase in women working in the media, sometimes in positions of power. However, many would argue that women are still represented in a negative and stereotypical way and are still a long way from enjoying equal power in media institutions. Feminists would argue that this reflects and reinforces the unequal social, economic and political position of women.
The First Wave• 19th century and early 20th century UK & US• It won improved rights for women in marriage and property. Its biggest achievement was winning some political power. In the UK the Suffragettes and Suffragists campaigned for the women’s vote.• In 1918, women over thirty who owned property won the vote and in 1928 it was extended to all women over twenty-one.
The Second Wave• 1960s & 1970s• It extended the fight beyond political rights to education, work and the home.• In ‘The Feminine Mystique’ (1963) Betty Freidan argues women were unhappy because of the feminine mystique. She said this was a damaging ideal of femininity which she called, “The Happy Housewife” and it restricted women to the role of housewife and mother, giving up on work and education.
The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer (1970)• Greer argued women are ‘castrated’, the eunuch of the title, by society. In particular she attacked the nuclear family, romantic role and the limits on women’s sexuality. She argued that gender roles were not natural but learned. They conditioned girls to conform to a very restrictive femininity. The book has been criticised for not offering any realistic solutions to women’s oppression, because it proposed action by individual women rather than organised political action.
The Third Wave• 1990s – present• Widened the feminist movement and its ideas beyond middle class, white women, addressing the different disadvantages women experience because of, for example their race, ethnicity and class.• Some argue that seeing the history of feminism in just these three waves can ignore the fight for equal rights and the end to discrimination by women outside the large feminist movements in the UK and US, including working class women and black and ethnic minority women.
Post-feminism• 1980s – present• Includes a wide range of reactions to the feminist movement and is often critical of the feminist ideas. The word ‘post’ suggests that feminism isn’t relevant anymore because women have won equal rights. Other post feminists ideas argue that younger women don’t see feminism as relevant to them now. The may still believe in equal rights for women, but either see themselves as individuals, not part of a feminist movement or don’t want to use the word ‘feminist’. This has been criticised by feminists as a way of ‘manufacturing consent’ for the fact that women are still unequal, by getting women to accept their unequal position in society.
Angela McRobbie• McRobbie has written several books, especially about young women and the media. She argues that many feminist ideas from the past aren’t seen as relevant by young women now. Her first famous study was on the teenage girls magazine ‘Jackie’. Then in ‘Feminism and Youth Culture: From Jackie to J17’(1991), she came to a more positive conclusions about media representations of young women. She argued that there were some positive aspects to women’s magazines, with ideas that could empower their young female audience, for example how to enjoy sex or learning about their bodies.• In ‘The Aftermath of Feminism’(2008), she explored how the media encouraged women to consent to and play a part in negative media representations, for example lads mags competitions to appear on front covers or makeover programmes that ask the female audience to be critical of other women’s bodies.
What are the positive and negativerepresentations of women?
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf (1991)• Wolf argues that women are oppressed by the pressure to fit into a myth or false ideal of beauty. Feminism may have won new rights, but they are still held back by an obsession with physical appearance and a very narrow definition of beauty, for example to be white, thin and made- up. This beauty myth is socially constructed and helps to maintain patriarchy, where men still have power in society. Women buy into this myth, helping to create hegemony, where the values are accepted even by those that are harmed by them.
Why did the American public object to Liz Miller’s photo?
• This unrealistic body ideal has been accused of contributing to women’s negative body image and leading to physical and psychological problems, such as eating disorders. It has been argued that young women in particular use the media to construct their identity and are especially vulnerable. It is very difficult to prove a direct causal link between the media and audience behaviour and many audience theories argue against it.
• 1. Does the representation of women in the media lead to women having a negative body image?• 2. Is the representation of women’s bodies in the media one of the causes of eating disorders? What other contributing factors could there be?• 3. Is there an increasing pressure on men now to live up to a masculine body ideal created by the media?• 4. Are there alternative representations of women in the media or does one body type dominate to the exclusion of others?• 5. Why is it in the economic interests of the media for women to feel inadequate and insecure about their bodies?• 6. Do you think young women are especially vulnerable to the effects of the beauty myth or not?• 7. What could be the solution to the problem?
Raunch culture - Andrea Levy 2005• In her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Levy attacks the increasingly sexualised culture that objectifies women. She argues that women are encouraged to see themselves as objects and to see sex as their only source of power. This can be seen in lads’ magazine like Nuts and music videos of female artists like Shakira and Christina Aguilera.
• 1. Is Katie Price a good role model for young women? Is she a successful and wealthy business woman who uses her body on her terms? Or does she show that society only values those women who see and sell themselves as sex objects?• Zoe Williams in The Guardian in November 2009 argues, “She colludes with – no, encourages – the commodification of her body, values it out by the pound to whoever pays the most in whatsoever state of undress, and this makes her a very neat icon of raunch culture.”• In Media, Gender and Identity (2002), David Gauntlett argues that audiences are active and that role models “should not be taken to mean that a person wants to copy. Instead, role models serve as navigation points as individuals steer their own personal routes through life.”
• Feminists argue that sexualised images of girls and young women now saturate the media and are widely available in mainstream media, such as advertising, magazines and television. This damages women’s self-image and it also distorts men’s view of women. The internet has led to increased and easier access to pornography, whose message is that women are sexually available and their bodies are for sale.
Have we been desensitised tosexualised images of women’s bodies? Playboy 1960s