Key Ideas

  • Many types of feminism (listed by Trimble)
  • Key concepts: “sex”, “gender”, “masculine” and “feminine”
    • Sex: biological, physiological,
    • Gender: social construction of roles humans sexed male and female
      • “Determine a person’s social, economic, cultural, and political status”
      • Constructed discursively & materially
      • One gender is valued or superior
      • More than 2 genders (more than 2 sexes, also)
    • Masculine: characteristics or traits associated with, appropriate for, and considered naturally belonging to males/men
    • Feminine: characteristics or traits associated with, appropriate for, and considered naturally belonging to females/women
    • Creates political institutions and systems
      • Affect behaviour and decisions made by people, especially leaders
      • Provide a “logic” or rationale for certain institutions
      • Issue: valuing male/men/masculinity over female/women/femininity
  • Key issue = oppression > “power over”
    • Power assumed to be ‘power over’ (the problem)
      • Other ideologies: kings, nobles, citizens, aristocrats, workers
      • Men have exercised power over women (few women have also exercised power over men and women)
    • Power can be ‘power to’ — empowerment = feminist
    • Society can be based on power relations which do not involve domination but empowerment
  • Goals:
    • “Equality” among men & women
    • Opportunities and choice for women & men
    • Deconstruction and reconstruction of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ — gender
  • Arguments about “human nature” have reflected men’s understanding and claims about men’s human nature
    • Established men as the ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ to which women are measured against
    • Women’s “human nature” has been ignored, misunderstood, or degraded
    • Human nature is not essentially this or that
  • Society constructed on or constructed with women’s lived experiences may be different
  • Many thinkers due to diversity of paths of feminism, but also due to many influences on feminism

Liberal Feminism

  • Key idea: equality of rights
    • Men and women should have equal rights
    • Men and women should not be treated differently under the law
    • Legal barriers against women’s full participation in politics
    • Women have rights within the family as well
  • Key thinkers:
    • Mary Wollstonecraft:
      • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
      • “First” European feminist
      • Argued against Burke’s conservative view of the French Revolution incorrect
      • Supported the French Revolution’s egalitarian principles & wanted to extend them to women
      • Rights denied to women included voting, jobs, property, education
    • John Stuart Mill (Harriet Taylor Mill):
      • Subjection Women (1869)
      • Men and women should receive equal opportunity to develop their potential
      • Women’s participation in politics will be temporary
      • Natural division of labour: men = income-earners, women = take care of family
    • Betty Friedan:
      • Women should have the choice to have a fulfilling life outside of family and domesticity
      • Women need to have opportunities for full participation in politics
      • Family structures and society should make changes to ensure and assist women’s full participation in politics

Socialist & Marxist Feminism

  • Key thinkers:
    • Moral socialists
      • Fourier = social progress linked to progress of women; collective housekeeping and child-rearing arrangements
      • Owen = easier divorces
    • Marx:
      • State and community look after children
      • Roles and duties related to domesticity become activities for the whole community to perform
    • Engels:
      • Family is a microcosm of class struggle: husband = capitalist, wife = worker
      • Women need to be brought into public industry, and family unit as the basis of economy will be eliminated
      • Equality rights of liberals is essential but not sufficient
    • Many female thinkers also! > Maria Mies, Alison Jaggar, Iris Young, and Juliet Mitchell
  • Key ideas:
    • Capitalism produces family structures which perpetuate capitalism
    • Family is a functional economic unit of capitalism
    • Double burden/double day carried by women
    • Women’s work:
      • ‘pink-collar’ jobs
      • ‘feminization of labour’ (Guy Standing)
      • Unpaid labour necessary for society’s & economy’s functioning (Marilyn Waring)

Radical Feminism

  • Grew from Marxist/Socialist feminism
    • Socialist societies did not end subjugation of women nor the domestic work that women were required to do
    • Capitalism, socialism, etc., have all failed to liberate women from various forms of oppression
  • First set of feminist ideas deriving from women’s experiences and knowledge
    • Breaks with Marxist and Liberal theories and their derivative feminist approaches
    • Focussed on women as the key agents and center of analysi
  • Emerges in the 1960s
  • Key thinkers:
    • Kate Millet Sexual Politics
    • Germaine Greer The Female Eunuch
    • Shulamith Firestone The Dialectic of Sex
    • Adrienne Rich “Compulsory Heterosexuality”
  • Key ideas:
    • Patriarchy = men dominate social, political, and economic relationships
      • Normalized: male domination/supremacy as the natural order of society — women’s subordination is natural and functional
      • Institutionalized : the state & institutions, political systems, economic system, etc.
      • Historical: Precedes socialism, capitalism, feudalism, etc. — long enduring system in Western and many non-Western societies
      • Superior: Ideas or actions of men/masculinity are valued over women’s/femininity
    • Liberal’s public/private divide is part of the problem
      • Public sphere of activity = political participation, going to work, etc. = men’s domain — masculine traits required
      • Private sphere of activity = looking after family, taking care of kids, cleaning, etc = women’s work — feminine traits required
      • Men rule over women
      • BUT “the personal is the political” according to radical feminists
      • E.g. wife-abuse, child abuse, rape in marriage, prostitution, stripping
      • Political and economic institutions protect, perpetuate and promote patriarchy in the private sphere
    • Reproduction & sexuality
      • Marxist’s focus on production overlooks the fundamental production of people
      • Sexuality and reproduction have been historically controlled by men and for their purposes or pleasure
      • “Compulsory heterosexuality” — marriage as socio-political institution, criminalizing of other sexualities
      • Determined the “value” of women — beauty, childbearing, etc.
      • ‘Sex pays better’
      • Creates unequal relationship between men and women as women are “forced” to have children, look after children, but not provided support — relegated to a “secondary” issue of politics (e.g. daycare)
      • Men’s “sex right” in law and/or customs vs. women’s rights over their body
      • Lesbian became deviant
      • Relates to issues of abortion, sex, pornography
    • Overthrow patriarchy, BUT debates over strategy:
      • Lesbianism: sexual preference and political statement
      • Separatism: women live separately from men
      • Reproduction: scientific methods, abortion-on-demand
      • Many of the older 70s-80s strategies have been discarded in favour of egalitarian strategies
    • Goal: patriarchal political, economic, and social institutions need to be overthrown to create either an egalitarian or separatist society

Postmodern Feminism

  • Key ideas:
    • No single identity of ‘woman’ or ‘man’, or ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’
    • Focus = language — constructs who we are & who can be > we can change this
    • Gender is not just oppressive to women, but also to men
      • Need to understand how men are oppressed by gender — roles, sex, work, lack of family connections, etc.
    • Control over sexuality is critical to controlling people
    • Goal: androgyny = each person equally valuing and accepting their masculine and feminine characteristics
    • No political project or prescriptions

Feminism and Our Criteria

  • Human Nature:
    • We don’t know
    • Men’s and women’s experiences lead to different understandings of “human nature”
    • Differences between men and women may be biological, but gender constructions override our “nature” & biology and give us particular roles & identities to which we must conform
  • Nature of Society:
    • Patriarchy is an element of most societies and needs to be challenged and overthrown
    • Power relations between men & women embodied in gender constructions
      • Naturalized & institutionalized — from the family to the Parliament
  • Conception of Freedom:
    • Freedom from patriarchy, oppression, and gender roles
    • Men and women should be free to take on and change their gender identity
    • Understanding of Justice
    • Liberation from imposed gender roles
    • Equal rights for men and women, but also protection/regulation in areas that are considered “non-political”: marriage, family, sexual relations, prostitution, pornography
    • Provision of social services and assistance to support women’s full participation in politics, economy, etc.
  • State/government:
    • Perpetuates patriarchy & gender roles
    • Needs to better represent women, and not solely operate on masculine ideals
    • Should serve to assist society and facilitate full participation in politics

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