Category Archives: Feminism

Feminism : Entry 8 : My Opinion

I was going to delve into philosophy first however I wanted to do feminism since it is a topic I have recently read about. So my next entry will be about philosophy and I am open to any suggestions on what topics to do first.

Feminism

I will be looking at feminism and will be concluding if I agree with it or not.

Introduction

Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. [1] This is the common usage.

Feminism is a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. [2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.

The basic idea of Feminism revolves around the principle that just because human bodies are designed to perform certain procreative functions, biological elements need not dictate intellectual and social functions, capabilities, and rights.

History

Charles Fourier, a Utopian Socialist (Utopian socialists were seen as wanting to expand the principles of the French revolution in order to create a more “rational” society.) and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word “féminisme” in 1837. Fourier’s concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two senses: Education and the liberation of human passion. [3] The words “féminisme” (“feminisme”) and “féminist” (“feminist”) first appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872, Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910, and the Oxford English Dictionary lists 1852 as the year of the first appearance of “feminist” and 1895 for “feminism”

French writer Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430), the author of The Book of the City of Ladies and Epître au Dieu d’Amour (Epistle to the God of Love) is cited by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to denounce misogyny and write about the relation of the sexes [4]

Other early feminist writers include Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Modesta di Pozzo di Forzi, who worked in the 16th century, and the 17th-century writers Hannah Woolley in England, Juana Inés de la Cruz in Mexico, Marie Le Jars de Gournay, Anne Bradstreet, and François Poullain de la Barre. One of the most important 17th-century feminist writers in the English language was Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The Age of Enlightenment was characterized by secular intellectual reasoning and a flowering of philosophical writing. Many Enlightenment philosophers defended the rights of women, including Jeremy Bentham (1781), Marquis de Condorcet (1790), and, perhaps most notably, Mary Wollstonecraft. (1792) Mary Wollstonecraft was important because she wrote one of the earliest works on feminist philosophy in 1792

19th-century feminists reacted to cultural inequities including the pernicious, widespread acceptance of the Victorian image of women’s “proper” role and “sphere.” The Victorian ideal created a dichotomy of “separate spheres” for men and women that was very clearly defined in theory, though not always in reality. In this ideology, men were to occupy the public sphere (the space of wage labour and politics) and women the private sphere (the space of home and children). Queen Victoria herself disparaged (undervalued) the concept of feminism, which she described in private letters as the “mad, wicked folly of ‘Woman’s Rights” [5]

In Scotland, Marion Reid published her influential A Plea for Woman in 1843, which proposed a transatlantic Western agenda for women’s rights, including voting rights for women. Caroline Norton advocated for changes in British law. She discovered a lack of legal rights for women upon entering an abusive marriage. The publicity generated from her appeal to Queen Victoria and related activism helped change English laws to recognize and accommodate married women and child custody issues.

Due to varying ideologies, feminists were not always supportive of each other’s efforts. Harriet Martineau and others dismissed Wollstonecraft’s contributions as dangerous, and deplored Norton’s candidness, but seized on the abolitionist campaign that Martineau had witnessed in the United States as one that should logically be applied to women. Her Society in America was pivotal: it caught the imagination of women who urged her to take up their cause.

Feminists of previous centuries charged women’s exclusion from education as the central cause for their domestic relegation and denial of social advancement, and women’s 19th-century education was no better. Frances Power Cobbe, among others, called for education reform, an issue that gained attention alongside marital and property rights, and domestic violence.

Female journalists like Martineau and Cobbe in Britain, and Margaret Fuller in America, were achieving journalistic employment, which placed them in a position to influence other women. Cobbe would refer to “Woman’s Rights” not just in the abstract, but as an identifiable cause.

Campaigns gave women opportunities to test their new political skills and to conjoin disparate social reform groups. Their successes include the campaign for the Married Women’s Property Act (passed in 1882) and the campaign to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866, and 1869, which united women’s groups and utilitarian liberals like John Stuart Mill.

Feminists did not recognize separate waves of feminism until the second wave was so named by journalist Martha Lear, according to Jennifer Baumgardner. Baumgardner reports criticism by professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of the division into waves and the difficulty of categorizing some feminists into specific waves, argues that the main critics of a wave are likely to be members of the prior wave who remain vital, and that waves are coming faster [6]

Women entered the labour market during the First World War in unprecedented numbers, often in new sectors, and discovered the value of their work. The war also left large numbers of women bereaved and with a net loss of household income. The scores of men killed and wounded shifted the demographic composition. War also split the feminist groups, with many women opposed to the war and others involved in the white feather campaign (this was a movement promoted by the army which got women to go up to men who have not enlisted and were not wearing a military uniform by giving them a white feather which is a sign of cowardice, the purpose of this was to shame men into enlisting)

European women received the vote in Denmark and Iceland in 1915 (full in 1919), the Russian Republic in 1917, Austria, Germany and Canada in 1918, many countries including the Netherlands in 1919, Czechoslovakia (today Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1920, and Turkey and South Africa in 1930. French women did not receive the vote until 1945. Liechtenstein was one of the last countries, in 1984.

“Second-wave feminism” identifies a period of feminist activity from the early 1960s through the late 1980s that saw cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked. The ideas and efforts of this era continue to coexist with third-wave feminism. The movement encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and reflective of a sexist power structure. As first-wave feminists focused on absolute rights such as suffrage, second-wave feminists focused on other cultural equality issues, such as ending discrimination. [7]

The rise of the Women’s Liberation movement revealed “multiple feminisms”, or different underlying feminist lenses, due to the diverse origins from which groups had coalesced and intersected, and the complexity and contentiousness of the issues involved. Bell Hooks is noted as a prominent critic of the movement for its lack of voice given to the most oppressed women, its lack of emphasis on the inequalities of race and class, and its distance from the issues that divide women

Third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s in response to what young women perceived as failures of the second-wave. It also responds to the backlash against the second-wave’s initiatives and movements. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid second-wave “essentialist” definitions of femininity, which over-emphasized the experiences of white, upper middle class women. A post-structuralism interpretation of gender and sexuality, or an understanding of gender as outside binary maleness and femaleness, is central to the third wave’s ideology.

A fourth-wave of feminism is not currently acknowledged as a historical wave of feminism, but scholars have advocated for its existence due to the lack of activism in other waves of feminism regarding our current cultural issues. Waves of feminism are usually created as a partial response to the failures of the previous wave.

Theory

There are a number of distinct feminist disciplines, in which experts in other areas apply feminist techniques and principles to their own fields. Additionally, these are also debates which shape feminist theory and they can be applied interchangeably in the arguments of feminist theorists.

Body

In western thought, the body has been historically associated solely with women, whereas men have been associated with the mind. Susan Bordo, a modern feminist philosopher, in her writings elaborates the dualistic nature of the mind/body connection by examining the early philosophies of Aristotle, Hegel and Descartes, revealing how such distinguishing binaries such as spirit/matter and male activity/female passivity have worked to solidify gender characteristics and categorization. Bordo goes on to point out that while men have historically been associated with the intellect and the mind or spirit, women have long been associated with the body, the subordinated, negatively imbued term in the mind/body dichotomy [8]

The standard sex and gender model

The standard sex and gender model consists of ideologies based on the sex and gender of every individual and serve as “norms” for societal life. The model claims that the sex of a person is the physical body that the individual is born with, strictly existing within a male/female dichotomy giving importance to the genitals and the chromosomes which make the organism male or female. The standard model defines gender as a social understanding/ideology that defines what behaviours, actions, and appearances are proper for males and females living in society.

The contemporary sex and gender model corrects and broadens the horizons of the sex and gender ideologies. It revises the ideology of sex in that an individual’s sex is actually a social construct which is not limited to either male or female. This can be seen by the Intersex Society of North America which explains that, “nature doesn’t decide where the category of ‘male’ ends and the category of ‘intersex’ begins, or where the category of ‘intersex’ ends and the category of ‘female’ begins. Humans decide. Humans (today, typically doctors) decide how small a penis has to be, or how unusual a combination of parts has to be, before it counts as intersex” [9]

Epistemology

The generation and production of knowledge has been an important part of feminist theory and is at the centre of discussions on feminist epistemology. This debate proposes such questions as “Are there ‘women’s ways of knowing’ and ‘women’s knowledge’?” And “How does the knowledge women produce about themselves differ from that produced by patriarchy?

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is the examination of various ways in which people are oppressed, based on the relational web of dominating factors of race, sex, class, nation and sexual orientation. Intersectionality “describes the simultaneous, multiple, overlapping, and contradictory systems of power that shape our lives and political options”. While this theory can be applied to all people, and more particularly all women, it is specifically mentioned and studied within the realms of black feminism. Patricia Hill Collins argues that black women in particular, have a unique perspective on the oppression of the world as unlike white women, they face both racial and gender oppression simultaneously, among other factors. This debate raises the issue of understanding the oppressive lives of women that are not only shaped by gender alone but by other elements such as racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, disableism etc.

Language

In this debate, women writers have addressed the issues of masculinized writing through male gendered language that may not serve to accommodate the literary understanding of women’s lives. Such masculinized language that feminist theorists address is the use of, for example, “God the Father” which is looked upon as a way of designating the sacred as solely men (or, in other words, biblical language glorifies men through all of the masculine pronouns like “he” and “him” and addressing God as a “He”). Feminist theorists attempt to reclaim and redefine women through re-structuring language. For example, feminist theorists have used the term “womyn” instead of “women.” Some feminist theorists find solace in changing titles of unisex jobs (for example, police officer versus policeman or mail carrier versus mailman). Some feminist theorists have reclaimed and redefined such words as “dyke” and “bitch” and others have invested redefining knowledge into feminist dictionaries.

Psychology

Feminist psychology, is a form of psychology centred on societal structures and gender. Feminist psychology critiques the fact that historically psychological research has been done from a male perspective with the view that males are the norm. Feminist psychology is oriented on the values and principles of feminism. It incorporates gender and the ways women are affected by issues resulting from it.

Economics

Feminist economics broadly refers to a developing branch of economics that applies feminist insights and critiques to economics. Research under this heading is often interdisciplinary, critical, or heterodox. It encompasses debates about the relationship between feminism and economics on many levels: from applying mainstream economic methods to under-researched “women’s” areas, to questioning how mainstream economics values the reproductive sector, to deeply philosophical critiques of economic epistemology and methodology. [10]

Legal theory

Feminist legal theory is based on the feminist view that law’s treatment of women in relation to men has not been equal or fair. The goals of feminist legal theory, as defined by leading theorist Claire Dalton, consist of understanding and exploring the female experience, figuring out if law and institutions oppose females, and figuring out what changes can be committed to. This is to be accomplished through studying the connections between the law and gender as well as applying feminist analysis to concrete areas of law [11]

There are many, many other theories which feminism partakes in, however to keep the entry from being too long I will end here.

My opinion

I am happy that there is an alternative perspective on critiquing society. Movements like this enriches society, because it enables debate on the issue that is brought up.

It is a comprehensive movement which means different things to different people. It is not monolithic and any positive or negative actions cannot be attributed to the movement as a whole.

Just like in religion and in other fields, there will be sub-sects of feminism believing in different ideals which arises from experiences and through their learning.

So would I call myself a feminist? No. The reason being is because even though it has an egalitarian definition to increase female standing to equal the standing of men, it is a specified movement based on female’s needs and wants. So it would not make sense to prescribe myself as one since only a female can prescribe me as one.

So the question really is do I oppose feminism? Since I am not an ideologue, I am neither pro or anti-feminism. There will be things I disagree upon on both sides of the argument.

One being for the feminist side is that since it has the narrative that women are innately oppressed, that they are automatically victims. My problem with this is I don’t consider women to be innately oppressed since growing up most of my figures of authority growing up have been women and they have taken responsibility for their actions. So there is an oversight of theory over practise. (Keep in mind the key word here is innate)

And for the sake of clarification, one argument I disagree with from the anti-feminism side is someone like Paul Gottfried maintaining that the change of women’s roles “has been a social disaster that continues to take its toll on the family” My problem is that Feminists generally are not against the notion of families and that they advance the notion of both partners of being in an equal setting rather than man then wife.

References:

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/feminism

[2] Chris Beasley, What Is Feminism? Page 3, (1999)

[3] Goldstein, L (1982). “Early Feminist Themes in French Utopian Socialism: The St.-Simonians and Fourier”, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol.43, No. 1.

[4] de Beauvoir, Simone, English translation 1953 (1989). The Second Sex. Vintage Books. p. 105.

[5] Grayling, A. C. (2007). Toward the Light of Liberty. New York: Walker & Co. p. 212

[6] Baumgardner, Jennifer, F’em!: Goo Goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls (Berkeley, California: Seal Press, 2011

[7] Freedman, Estelle B., No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women

[8] Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight, p. 4

[9] ISNA.“Frequently Asked Questions.” Intersex Society of North America 1993–2008

[10] Barker, Drucilla K. and Edith Kuiper, eds. 2003. Toward a Feminist Philosophy of Economics

[11] Dalton, Claire, ‘Deconstructing Contract Doctrine’ in Feminist Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender ed. by Katharine T. Bartlett and Rosanne Kennedy

 

 

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