● defined as the advocacy of social equality for men and women, in
opposition to patriarchy and sexism
● This theory implies the advocacy equal rights for women and
men,accompanied by the commitment to improve the position of the
women in the society.
● seeks restoration of justice for women who remained deprived of equal
status and opportunities vis-a-vis men since earliest times
WAVES OF FEMINISM
WAVE of Feminism:
● 19th and early 20th century primarily focused on women’s voting rights.
● United States began in the 1840s
● women opposed to slavery, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott,
drew parallels between the oppression of African Americans and the oppression of
● sought equality in property rights and changes in the marriage relationship.
● mostly known for their efforts for suffrage or voting rights for women.
● Also referred to as the women’s liberation movement.
2nd wave of Feminism
● focused on the discrimination of women, and on cultural, social and political issues
● most influential works of the second wave are:-
○ The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (which was actually published in 1949 but
gained its popularity during this time),
○ The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
○ Sexual Politics by Kate Millett.
● accused of catering to the needs of the upper middle-class white women and, sometimes,
of biological essentialism.
● 1960s and 1970s also formed many strong partnerships, often allying themselves with a
diverse range of social justice efforts on a local grassroots level
● There were coalitions and alliances in which feminists and other activists
joined forces to address crucial social justice issues such as reproductive rights,
the peace movement,women’s health as well as alliances crossing boundaries
of race, class, political views, and sexual identity.
● In the 20th century, two names stand out in terms of their originality.
■ Simone de Beauvoir - The Second Sex (1949) and
■ Germaine Greer -The Female Eunuch (1970).
● Both are works of piercing subjectivity, literary feats of self-description whose
becomes over time, ever more artistic and less political.
● Greer believes that women can change their saga if they so wish to or they may
change their lives for the better
3rd Wave of Feminism
● begun in the 1980s or early 1990s continuing till present day.
● addressed feminism across class and race lines and has been grounded in culture
rather than biology.
● Reckoning plurality based on colour,ethnicity,nationality ,culture among women
and recognising role of these identities in their lives.
● Postmodernist feminists, with their interrogation of fixed categories like
“women” and “gender”, belong to the third wave.
● Issues addressed are:reproductive rights, sexual violence and sexual
harassemement in workpace, rape, unfair maternity leave, etc.
CENTRAL THEMES OF FEMINISM
● Sex-Gender differentiation
● Patriarchy and Violence
● Sex is a fact that one is born a male or a female. It refers to the
biological difference between the two sexes and implies that men
and women will be different in some respect (for example in
anatomy, task of reproduction).
● Gender distinction is a social construction.
● The biological function of reproduction of women has come to
characterise her rest of role and responsibilities in family and
● The reproductive and care ethics of bearing and rearing of children
has been projected as essence of women’s life.
● Feminist scholars have challenged these perceived ‘natural’
differences between men and women.
● The idea of binary oppositions such as reason/emotion, mind/body,
universal/particular, and objectivity/subjectivity nature/culture are informed
by patriarchal constructs.
● Judith Butler contends the notion that sex is pre given where as gender is
cultural inscription of the society. In fact gender as a way of thinking and as a
concept, pre-exists the body; it is gender that produces the category of
biological sex as a series of performance.
The Public/Private Divide :
● The public/private dichotomy is central to feminist movement
expressed in the slogan ‘The personal is Political’.(Carol Hanisch)
● Traditionally forged wall of separation between the political or the public sphere
consisting of state, government and the personal and private sphere comprised by
the family and personal relationships.
● It stands for the deliberate attempt of the patriarchal societies to exclude women
from the public sphere, the site of power and authority by restricting them to the
walls of domesticity.
● Feminists identify this divide as the root cause of most of the gender troubles and
● Feminists argue that most of the injustices, crimes and violence occur against
women within the confines of four walls. Relegating the domestic world
outside of the state purview can be seen as the act of collusion in patriarchy
by the state.
● The conventional understanding of family life as non-political is misleading.
● Feminists have widened the definition of politics itself by asserting that if
politics is about power and domination,
● than potentially all relations including that between spouses are political.
● Politics is not just confined to the public bodies and governments, but
governs all aspect of our existence, including our personal lives.
Cynthia Enloe in Banana, Beaches and Bases (2000) takes this argument
further ahead and powerfully declares ‘personal is international’.
It connotes that the ideas constructing the image of respectable woman and
honourable man is constructed very much by domestic politics which in turn is
mediated by gendered roles within the family.
Patriarchy and Violence :
● Patriarchy has pervaded mostly all human societies.
● It is hierarchal unequal system that oppresses and exploits women making them
● It propagates gendered division of labour and sexism. Whereas men are privileged and
immune, women work hard to cater to family without being recognised or thanked.
● Gerda Lerner in her analysis of patriarchy observes that the subordination of women
started with the appropriation of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities. There is
nothing natural about it and therefore it must be challenged.
● Patriarchy is made to appear natural but there has been centuries
invested in construction of masculine universe that always keeps women
at the periphery.
● The dominant social order gets reflected in cinema, literature, painting,
fashion, philosophy and religion thus reinforcing and reproducing gender
stereotypes and sexist culture.
● Patriarchal societies engage in violence of several kinds and degrees
● There are gender specific crimes like sexual harassment, molestation,
rape, marital rape, domestic violence, trafficking, forced prostitution etc.
● Crimes such as rape are more about power and domination of man over
woman than it is about sex. It is deliberate attempt to severely restrict
women’s access to public spaces.
BROAD STREAMS OF FEMINISM
Feminist theory has evolved into various schools of thought. Of these
three are particularly important:
(a) Liberal feminism,
(b) Radical feminism, and
(c) Socialist feminism.
● aims at the revival of the conventional feminist movement.
● It insists on absolute equality of opportunity for men and women in all
walks of life and complete removal of gender-based discrimination in
● Its programme includes equal pay for equal work, abortion laws reform,
increasing representation of women in parliaments, bureaucracy and
dignified professions, etc.
● This is the most popular stream of feminist movement, but it is not
considered to be very influential.
● Its chief spokesperson Shulamith Firestone (1945- ) in her celebrated work ‘The Dialectic of
Sex’ (1970) argued that women's subordination could not be understood as a symptom or aspect
of some deeper or more comprehensive system of domination, such as racism or class-based
division of society.
● Historically women constituted the first oppressed group; their subordination could not be
eliminated by the changes such as the elimination of prejudice or even the abolition of clas
● Kate Millett (1934- ) in Sexual Politics (1971) argued that the relationship between the sexes
was based on power and further sustained by an ideology.
● It was similar to the relationship between classes and races.
● it should be treated as a political relationship.
● Basing her analysis of women's subordination on Max Weber's theory of
domination, Millet argued that men have exercised
power over women in two forms: through social authority and economic
● The time had now come to smash these implements of man's
● Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millett are regarded to be the two pillars
of radical feminism, who exercised an enormous influence on
developing the Women's Liberation Movement in 1970s.
● Socialist stream of feminism represents a combination of patriarchal analysis
of radical feminism and class analysis of Marxism.
● It implies that capitalists as well as men are the beneficiary of women's
● Socialist feminists have particularly developed an analysis of labour, both
wage-labour, and domestic labour.
● They have also considered the role of culture and psycho-analytical aspects of
● Sheila Rowbatham (1943- ), the chief representative of this school advocated
a participatory, decentralized approach to social change that contemplates
linking of the struggles of all oppressed groups.
● In her best-known historical writings— Women, Resistance and
Revolution (1972) and Hidden from History (1973)— Rowbatham
tried to reclaim the past for women as a source of knowledge and
strength that could contribute to their present struggle.
● She continued this approach in The Past is before Us (1989). As a
Marxist, she maintained that the struggle for women's liberation is
essentially bound with the struggle against capitalism.
● She has shown from historical evidence that class exploitation and
women's oppression are closely linked phenomena.
● She argued that the success in these spheres can be achieved only
through combining these struggles.
Feminist Challenge to Mainstream Political Theory
● A basic task of feminist approach to political theory is the attack on
male-dominance and the ‘maleness’ of ‘malestream’ theories.
● Feminism attacks almost every political tradition especially liberalism and Marxism
for the gender bias internal to these theories whose fundamental proposition is
equality of all human beings.
● A dominant way in which this was pursued is by challenging the dichotomy
between the public and private.
● Mainstream political theory including Rawls’ theory of justice mainly addressed the
status of individuals in the public realm, ignoring the power dynamics in the private
(see Coole 1988; Okin 1981 ; Pateman 1980).
● Carol Pateman, for example, throws light on how social
contact theories including Rawls’ is primarily a contract between
men or male-headed families that are treated as ‘natural’ or
biologically determined; the contract therefore does not include
the sexual contract within families that is unequal.
● similarly contends that Rawls’ social contract behind the ‘veil of
ignorance’ is ‘genderless’; but the rules of justice do not apply to
the private realm, for the family’s sentimental ties are deemed
by mainstream theorists as incompatible with the traits of public
● Eva Kittay (1999) further points out how Rawls ignores the care
functions performed by women in family.
● Thus while early liberals like Mill explicitly denied application of
justice to sexual division of labour in the family, contemporary
liberals like Rawls implicitly assume the naturalness of this
division of labour.
● Liberalism by and large neglected family and accepted the division
of public and private spheres; equality is mainly a matter for
liberals and to a large extent for liberal feminism in the public
● Currently there are two broad views concerning equal rights for women
○ One view is that there is no difference between men and women as
regards their capabilities; hence they should be governed by the same
○ Another view is that women are essentially different from men-
biologically, culturally and socially; they should be given equal
opportunities to develop and apply their distinctive capabilities along with
● In a nutshell, Feminist perspective on justice calls for securing the overall
development of women, including improvement of their heath and education
as well as giving them adequate share in economic and political power.