Theory weekonefeminism


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Theory weekonefeminism

  1. 1. FEMINISMFeminism is a structural conflict theory. Like Marxists, Feminists think society is basedon conflict and a struggle for control and resources. However, rather than a focus oneconomic inequality, they focus on the different experiences of women and men.BackgroundThe campaigns for equality for women form the background to the arrival of feminismas a sociological theory. At the beginning of the 20thcentury women were campaigningfor equal rights to men in terms of education, marriage, employment and politics.Slowly during the 20thcentury more rights were achieved, particularly helped by theroles women played during the two world wars, when they demonstrated that theycould do the “men’s work” they had not been allowed to do in peace time. Today,although much has been achieved, women still earn on average 80% of male earnings,and they are seriously under-represented in parliament, on boards of companies, and inthe leadership roles in many professions. It is men who still make the majority ofdecisions about how society should be run.As women became more educated, and began to move into more senior roles within theUniversities, so research began into female experience and feminist theory started todevelop. It was not all easy; in the 1960s Ann Oakley had to battle with her malelecturers at London University to be allowed to research the experiences of full-timemothers/housewives for her doctorate. They did not want to take her seriously.Feminists discovered that sociology itself was constructed by men and focussed on maleexperience; they called it ‘malestream’ sociology.Feminist TheoryThe following quote is from a writer who was born male but in later life had anoperation to change sex. It describes just how profound gender differences are.“We are told that the social gap betweenthe sexes is narrowing but I can onlyreport that, having experienced life inboth roles, there seems to me no aspectof existence, no moment of the day, nocontact, no arrangement , no response,which is not different for men andwomen. The very tone of voice in which Iwas now addressed, the very posture ofthe person next in the queue, the veryfeel in the air when I entered a room orsat at a restaurant table, constantlyemphasised my change of status.James Morris Jan MorrisAnd if others’ responses shifted so did mine. The more I was treated as a woman, themore woman I became. If it was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, oropening bottles, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming. If a case was thought tooheavy for me, inexplicably I found it so myself. Women treated me with more frankness.
  2. 2. Men treated me more and more as a junior. I discovered that men prefer women to beless informed, less able, less talkative and certainly less self-centred than they arethemselves, so I generally obliged them” Jan MorrisThe above example is the starting point for feminist theory. Feminists argue that societyis not the same for women and men, the differences run very deep and are often verysubtle. Not only are men and women regarded differently, but throughout historywomen have been regarded as secondary or inferior to men. This general assumptionabout female inferiority has justified patriarchy, a society run by men that serves maleinterests.Feminists who have researched the development of ideas in society have found writingsdating back to the ancient Greeks that describe women as inferior to men. Because oftheir biology, women were associated with nature; and nature was described as raw,wild and emotional. Men were associated with culture; which was seen as civilised,controlled and superior to nature. These associations have been used over the centuriesto justify using women as second-class citizens. Women have not had equal rights withmen in most societies. They have had less access to resources and carried out most ofthe work.Feminists are interested in how this has come about, and how it is perpetuated. Theyargue that it is the result of patriarchy. Men have taken a controlling role in mosthuman societies. Once they were in control it suited men to develop ideas, ideologies,that supported their dominance, and to organise society in a way that maintained theircontrol. Ideas about women’s nature; eg: she has maternal instincts, she is a naturalcarer of the young, sick, elderly, she is not suited to aggressive competition, came to beused by men to limit women’s experience.Feminists argue that inequality is perpetuated through gender socialisation. In this,feminists and Marxists have similar views about the role of socialisation in society. Thestory of the ‘slaves in the mountain’ can be applied here also; except that the slaveswould be women and the guards men. When society has lived with inequality for manycenturies, both sides come to see it as ‘normal’ and may not question it. It took untilthe 20thcentury for enough women to question it, to really start a process of change insociety.Ann Oakley has researched the details of gender socialisation. This process is muchdeeper and more subtle that the act of giving girls dolls and boys trains, although that isalso significant. Research has shown that from the moment they are born babies arehandled differently on the basis of their gender. They are given different things, areencouraged into different activities, are spoken to differently and observe men andwomen in different roles around them. As children get older they are given very clearmessages about the differences between femininity and masculinity, differences whichare not about biology but to do with the cultural norms in different societies.As feminism has developed so feminists have draw from the understanding offered byother theories of the organisation of society. This has resulted in several feministperspectives. They all agree on the basic premise that life is different for women andmen, and women are disadvantaged compared to men, but differ in their explanationsand recommendations.
  3. 3. Marxist FeminismIn the 1970s a number of women began to draw on Marxist theory in order to explain theoppression of women. They showed how women serve the economy by re-producing andbringing up the labour force for no pay, and at costs to themselves, in terms of theirlack of freedom, their own personal development and often their mental health.According to Juliet Mitchell women’s lack of power in the economic sphere is‘explained’ in capitalist society by the supposed ‘need’ for them to be housewives.Radical FeminismRadical feminism is based on the analysis that patriarchy is the central issue to be facedby feminists. Kate Millett says that female disadvantage suits the interests of men. Mendo not want to give up their power and advantages so they maintain a society that givesinferior status to women, and defines femininity as weak and trivial. Millett believesthat women are so well socialised into this that they accept it as normal. ShulamithFirestone argues that the core of male domination is their control of female roles inreproduction and child rearing, which is expressed through the nuclear family, andwhich make women dependent on men. She advocated the abolition of the family. Sinceshe was writing in the 1970s, radical feminism has moved away from wanting to abolishthe family to wanting to create equality within it. Radical feminists have focussed ondomestic violence. When she was researching domestic violence, Jan Pahl said that thewomen she interviewed commented that “the mental battering was worse than thephysical battering”. Some radical feminists have concluded that women will onlyexperience equality when they keep their lives separate from men’s.Liberal FeminismLiberal feminism is less of a theoretical perspective than Marxist and radical feminism,and more of a political movement, that has grown out of the campaigns and actiongroups of the 20thcentury. Liberal feminism has been more likely to see genderdiscrimination as a matter of individual ignorance rather than built into the structures(the norms and values) of society. Liberal feminists, such as Ann Oakley, have focussedon research that has revealed the discrimination and disadvantage experienced bywomen, in order to raise awareness and change attitudes. In many areas they have beenvery successful; for example: Oakley has done a great deal to challenge ‘male’ attitudestowards child birth. Liberal feminists are more likely to argue that traditional genderroles have also been limiting for men.Black FeminismBlack feminism has developed out of dissatisfaction with other types of feminism. Blackwomen have been disadvantaged by patriarchy, capitalism and race, and they arguethat white feminists have not appreciated the difficulties caused to them by racialdiscrimination. Rose Brewer argues that black feminist theory must seek to understand“race, class and gender as simultaneous forces”.The main point all Feminists make is that society is not the same for women and men,and that gender differences need to be acknowledged.
  4. 4. CRITICISMS OF FEMINISM1. Functionalist criticismFunctionalists do not think that patriarchy is a structural characteristics ofsociety. They focus on the positive aspects of men and women having differentroles in society. Talcott Parsons emphasised how the male instrumental role andthe female expressive role complemented each other, and made the nuclearfamily an ideal functioning small group.2. Interactionist criticismSheila Rowbotham questions the structural assumption of ‘patriarchy’ that “allmen exploit all women”. She says patriarchy can not explain genuine feelings oflove between couples and within families. The broad ideas of Marxist and radicalfeminism do not seem to include the whole of female experience. She and otherfeminists prefer qualitative research that explores how women feel about theirsituations.3. Postmodern criticismThe postmodern view argues that women are such a highly diverse group, that noone can claim to speak for all women. The usefulness of terms such as ‘women’and ‘patriarchy’ are questioned. Postmodernists have rejected the approach thatthere is only one reality that can be discovered, and one theory used tounderstand the social world.
  5. 5. NOW fill in the answers to the following questions:1. What is the main focus of feminism?2. Which two events in the 20thcentury pushed forward women’s argument thatthey should have equality with men?3. On average how much to women earn compared to men?4. What had to happen in society before feminist theory could develop?5. What is ‘malestream’ sociology?6. What is patriarchy?7. How did the ancient Greeks explain female inferiority?8. What sort of ideas contribute to patriarchal ideology?9. What is meant by gender socialisation?10.List the four aspects of gender socialisation identified by Ann Oakley:ABCD
  6. 6. 11. How does capitalism oppress women?12.What does Firestone argue is the basis of female disadvantage?13.How do men maintain their dominance according to Jan Pahl?14. What is the focus of liberal feminism?15.For what reason do black feminists criticise white feminists?16. Explain three criticisms of feminism:ABC
  7. 7. 11. How does capitalism oppress women?12.What does Firestone argue is the basis of female disadvantage?13.How do men maintain their dominance according to Jan Pahl?14. What is the focus of liberal feminism?15.For what reason do black feminists criticise white feminists?16. Explain three criticisms of feminism:ABC