In “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), she argued that aims of freedom and equality were laudable, but that they were only being proffered to men. She argued that these rights should also be extended to women - focusing particularly on the need for universal education.
Her work was controversial, and attracted vicious criticism from the establishment of the time - but formed a crucial fundamental basis for later feminist critique.
The first organised wave of feminist protest occurred in the mid to late-nineteenth century with the activities of the Suffragettes and Suffragists . Both these groups aimed to introducing the right to vote for women, and both would utilise radical means to achieve it.
The two groups did, however, have differing views on the extent to which women's liberation should be achieved. The Suffragettes campaigned mainly for the introduction of the vote only for those women who owned property. Suffragists, by contrast, argued that partial enfranchisement would never be sufficient. For these activists, all adults - regardless of social class - should be entitled to vote at the age of 21. This position would mean the enfranchisement of women, but also for the small number of working-class men who were still unable to vote.
groups disbanded. However, this did not mean that women stopped writing and campaigning for change. During the 1960s, a new, second-wave of feminism began to gain momentum in Britain - influenced by three key social events;
In America, the success of the Civil Rights movement in securing new freedoms for black US citizens during the 1950s fuelled other social groups desire to express dissatisfaction with political systems as them stood.
New technologies, particularly the contraceptive pill (available in 1961) meant that - for the first time – women were able to control their own fertility, raising confidence that they could be play roles other than that of mother.
During the second-world-war, many women had entered employment to replace the male workforce which had been called to fight. Following the war, men returned to reclaim their jobs - but women had now tasted a life which could be more fulfilling that that they were expected to live.
In the 1960s and 70s, women's liberation groups began to appear. These groups aimed to fulfil a dual function.
Firstly, they engaged in consciousness raising - highlighting gender inequalities and arguing that women's lives should no longer be seen as trivial and unimportant.
At the same time, these groups began campaigning to bring about direct social change – for instance, organising protest marches, and more specific direct actions. In 1969, for instance, feminists famously infiltrated and disrupted the Miss World contest.
argue that equality can be brought about through legal reform. They therefore advocate attempting to change the existing system “from within” - lobbying and protesting to bring about change. The results of these activities include the 1970 Equal Pay Act and 1969 Divorce Reform Act
propose the notion that society is patriarchal - that it is inherently and structurally biased towards men; and that this bias is reflected in each and every one of society’s institutions. For advocates of this perspective, therefore, lobbying for legal change in the ways suggested by their Liberal counterparts is unlikely to bring about equality. If the system itself is patriarchal, changes to the position of women brought about by working within that system will always be within the terms agreed by men.
Black Feminism , which arose out of a concern that mainstream feminism only accounted for the experience of white women. Theorists argue that the effects of racism mean that black women faced a dual-oppression, and a new form of feminism was needed in order to explain their situation.
Similarly, Marxist-Feminists explain patriarchy as a product of capitalism. This school actually has its roots in the work of Engels - in particular his view that the male dominated family is necessary for capitalism, as it allows inheritance and the growth of private property. More recently, theorists such as Oakley and Rowbotham have highlighted the ways in which capitalism has produced the "housewife" role.
The starting point for this school is the notion - first outlined by dual-systems feminism - that it is difficult to describe the experience of all women as an homogenous group.
For instance, women of different ethnicities, localities, sexualities and (dis)abilities have different experiences - for which the broad-brush approach of traditional feminism fails to account. Postmodern feminists, such as Butler, therefore reject the notion of femininity as a “catch-all” - and instead argue that there are a range of different femininities. The research of postmodern feminists is consequently an attempt to sensitise the perspective to this diversity of experience.
Feminism has had a indubitably significant influence on the shape of contemporary sociology. According to Maynard (1990) , this influence is twofold:
Firstly, feminism has sensitised sociology to the experience of women in existing topics of research. For instance, the perspective has alerted the subject to the gender inequalities in arenas such as educational achievement and employment.
Secondly, the perspective has introduced new topics into the remit of sociology. Consequently, areas of study such as housework, motherhood, childbirth and sexuality have moved from being peripheral concerns to become some of the most important topics in sociology.
In addition to developing substantive topics of sociological investigation, feminism has also made important contributions to the way in which research is conducted.
Feminist researchers have levelled serious criticisms at the malestream methodologies traditionally adopted by sociologists.
They argue that conventional positivist research - consisting of a researcher studying their “subjects” as a distant and detached observer - establishes a research hierarchy which mirrors the power relationships experienced by participants in their everyday lives.
Feminists argue that studying marginalised members of society in this structured way, exercises control over participants (who are “used” to gain data, then discarded) – re-inscribing inequality, rather than combating it.
In response to these criticisms, a distinct type of feminist standpoint methodology has evolved - a movement which can be split into two branches;
On one hand, soft-feminist methodology views quantitative-positivist methodology as salvageable. Jayaratne , for instance, argues that - although large-scale survey-type research tends to be patriarchal - it should be taken and made as gender-neutral as possible. In doing this, the credibility attached to such methods can be used to further the position of women.
In contrast, hard-feminist methodology rejects the use of quantitative-positivist research completely. Instead, researchers such as Oakley advocate a more collaborative approach - for instance, conducting unstructured interviews in which the relationship between interviewer and interviewee is far more informal. Some researchers go even further in breaking down the researcher researched power dynamic, by giving participants co-authorship of finished research papers.
The contribution of feminism to sociology is substantial, and should not be understated. By challenging the androcentrism of traditional enquiry , for instance, the perspective brings to the fore the voices of 50% of the population who were previously unheard. The new topics raised by feminist researchers are also extremely important - and have become a central concern of academic sociology.
Furthemore, the methodological arguments put forward by feminists have been very influential. Whilst these approaches initially focused on research with women, awareness of the power-relationships between researched and researcher has influenced research on a much broader level. Many projects, particularly those involving marginalised groups (beyond those conducted directly by feminists), have therefore attempted to introduce an element of collaboration - and have an underlying sensitivity to the nature of power in the research environment.
However, as with any perspective, feminism has been criticised. Firstly, the schisms within the school result in a great deal of internal cricisism . Radical feminists, for instance, are critical of Liberals for “propping up” the existing patriarchal system by attempting to work with in it. In turn, Marxist feminists criticise Radicals for turning women against men, thus ensuring that the proletariat are split, preventing revolution - and so on.
Furthermore, much of the early feminist work reflected the concerns of white middle-class women , at the expense of other groups (how, for instance, is the “glass ceiling” a concern of working-class women?). Consequently, some have criticised feminism for creating what Derrida would call a violent hierarchy , in which women are made to feel guilty for playing the house-wife and mother roles. It should - however - be noted that the later development of dual-systems and postmodern feminism have begun to partly address this problem.
It has also been argued that, in focusing entirely on women, feminism has been far from even handed. It could be argued that - for any organic change in society occur - it is not just the nature of women’s roles which must change, but also those of men.
Again, it should be noted that the emergence of gender-studies has partly addressed this problem - and researchers have begun to explore masculine identities (see box below) as a substantive topic of sociological research.
Finally, critics have challenged the view that feminist methodology represents a distinct alternative. Ray Pawson , for example, argues that its principles are simply a reworking of interpretivist arguments which have existed for a substantial amount of time.
Furthermore, Hammersley dismisses the idea that power-relations can ever be removed completely from research, pointing out that even the most ardent feminist research tends to claim some authority by putting their name on theirresearch papers.
The feminist concern with gender identities has, in recent years, led to a matching concern with masculinity and the nature of changes to male identities. For instance, until very recently, Connell (1995) argues that British men were socialised into what he calls hegemonic masculinity - they were expected to be financial providers and authority figures in the home, to be individualistic, aggressive, risk taking and ambitious. However, Connell posits that, in contemporary society, masculinity is changing. He documents the emergence of three other forms of masculinity.
Complicit masculinity refers to those men who believe that men and women should share roles within families. Some sociologists have gone as far as to suggest that a "new man" has emerged, who is more in touch with his feminine and emotional feelings. It should be noted, however, that others have argued that this “type” is more of a media construction than a genuine trend in male-identity.
Subordinate masculinity is used by Connell to refer to homosexual men - he chooses the term "subordinate" as, although this identity is tolerated far more in contemporary society, it remains stigmatised.
Marginalised masculinity is a response to the fact that the traditional male identity is "under attack". This feeling comes not just from feminist-led reforms, but also because of economic changes - which have led to a drop in the availability of manual work, and its replacement with more "female suited" communication-based employment. The result is what Mac an Ghaill (1996) calls a crisis of masculinity;manifesting itself in a bleak view of the future, with knock-on effects on educational attainment and rising delinquency.