Feminism in relation to sociological theory Flashcards Preview

Sociology Unit 4 > Feminism in relation to sociological theory > Flashcards

Flashcards in Feminism in relation to sociological theory Deck (24)
Loading flashcards...

General feminist stance on society

Feminism involves a structural conflict theory in which inequality between men and women creates a patriarchal society where men are dominant and their oppression towards women ensures their subordination. .


Types of feminism and sociology

A 'first wave' of feminism appeared in the late 19th century, with the suffragettes' campaign for the right to vote. The 1960s saw a 'second wave' emerge on a global scale. Since then, feminism has had a major influence on sociology. Feminists criticise mainstream sociology for being 'malestream'- seeing society only from a male perspective. There are several feminist approaches, including liberal or reformist, radical, Marxist, dual systems, difference and poststructuralist feminism.


liberal feminism

liberalism is concerned with the human and civil rights and freedoms of the individual, believing that all human beings should have equal rights.
Liberal feminists believe reformism can help women progress towards equal rights. This is the idea that gradual change in society, without the need for revolution, is the most effective way of achieving equality. Liberal feminists have documented the extent of gender inequality and discrimination, thus legitimising the demand for reforming areas such as equal pay and employment practices.


Liberal feminists want cultural change

Liberal feminists also want cultural change because traditional prejudices and stereotypes about gender differences are a barrier to equality. For example, beliefs that women are less rational and more dominated by emotion are used to legitimate their exclusion from decision-making roles and their confinement to childrearing and housework.
Liberal feminists work for laws and policies against sex discrimination in employment and education. They believe this can secure equal opportunities for women


Liberal feminists distinguish between sex and gender

Sex refers to biological differences between males and females. Gender refers to culturally constructed differences between the 'masculine' and 'feminine' roles and identities assigned to males and females.
While sex differences are seen as fixed, gender differences vary between cultures and over time. Thus, what is considered a proper role for women in one society at one time may be disapproved of in another.


Liberal feminism is a critique of...

Parson's functionalist theory of gender roles. e.g. Parsons distinguishes between instrumental roles (male's domain) and expressive roles (female's domain) and see this distinction as biologically based.


Liberal feminists believe sexist attitudes and stereotypical beliefs about gender are culturally constructed and transmitted through...

socialisation. Therefore, we must change society's socialisation patterns, e.g. promoting appropriate role models in education and the family, and challenging gender stereotyping in the media.
Over time, liberal feminists believe, such actions will produce cultural change and gender equality will become the norm. Liberal feminism believes men and women are equally capable of performing the same roles; traditional gender roles prevent both men and women from leading fulfilling lives.
This approach is the feminist theory that is closest to a consensus view of society- gender conflicts are not seen as inevitable and can be changed.


Radical feminism

Radical feminism emerged in the early 1970s. Its key concept is patriarchy.
Patriarchy is universal- firestone argues that its origins lie in women's biological capacity to bear and care for infants, since performing this role mean they come dependent on males.
Patriarchy is fundamental- it is the most basic form of social inequality and conflict
All men oppress all women- All men benefit from patriarchy, especially from women's unpaid domestic labour and from their sexual services
Patriarchal oppression is direct and personal- not just the public sphere of work and politics, but the private sphere of the family, domestic labour and sexual relationships.


Radical feminists argue that the personal is political (sexual politics)

All relationships involve power and they are political when one individual tries to dominate another. Personal relationships between the sexes are therefore political because men dominate women through them. Radical feminists therefore focus on the ways in which patriarchal power is exercised through personal relationships, often through sexual or physical violence. For example, Brownmiller argues that fear of rape deters women from going out alone at night.
Malestream sociology regards sexuality as a natural biological urge and thus outside the scope of sociology. Radical feminists argue that patriarchy socially constructs sexuality so as to satisfy men's desires, e.g. the portrayal of women in pornography as passive sex objects.


Women's Liberation...Given the radical feminist view that patriarchy and women's oppression are reproduced through personal and sexual relationships, these must be transformed if women are to be free.

Separatism- some radical feminists advocate separatism-living apart from men and creating a new culture of female independence, free from patriarchy.
Consciousness raising- radical feminists argue for women-only consciousness-raising groups that may lead to collective action e.g. 'reclaim the night marches'
Political lesbianism- some radical feminists argue that heterosexual relationships are 'sleeping with the enemy' and that lesbianism is the only non oppressive form of sexuality.


Marxist Feminism

Marxist feminists see women's subordination as rooted in capitalism. Although individual men may benefit from women's subordination, the main beneficiary is capitalism. Women's subordination in capitalist society results from their primary role as unpaid homemaker, which places them in a dependent economic position in the family.


Functions for Capitalism according to Marxist feminists: Reserve army of labour

Women are a source of cheap, exploitable labour for the employers. They are a reserve army of labour- marginal workers who can be hired and fired to suit the needs of capitalism. They can be treated in this way because it is assumed their primary role is in the home. The Marxists feminist claim that unpaid domestic labour benefits capitalism may be correct, but this doesn't explain why it is women and not men who perform it.


Absorbing male worker's anger

This would otherwise be directed at capitalism


Reproduction of labour

Women maintain the current labour force by looking after their working partners, and provide future generation workers for the state through their sexual services. Because of these links between women's subordination and capitalism, Marxist feminists argue that women's interests lie in the overthrow of capitalism.


Ideological factors according to Marxist feminism

Some Marxist feminists argue that non economic factors must also be taken into account if we are to understand and change women's position.


The ideology of familism

Barret argues that we must give more emphasis to women's consciousness and motivations, and to the role of ideology in maintaining their oppression. In particular, the ideology of familism presents the nuclear family and its sexual division of labour (where women perform unpaid domestic work) as natural and normal. The family is portrayed as the only place where women can attain fulfilment.
Barret believes that the overthrow of capitalism is necessary to secure women's liberation, but we must also overthrow the ideology of familism that underpins the conventional family and its unequal division of labour.


Femininity and the unconscious

Mitchell argues that ideas about femininity are so deeply implanted in women's unconscious minds that they are very difficult to dislodge and even after the overthrow of capitalism, it would still be hard to overcome deeply rooted patriarchal ideology.


Dual systems feminism

Dual systems feminism combine Marxist and radical feminism in a single theory. The two systems are:
capitalism- an economic system
patriarchy- a sex-gender system
Dual system theorists, e.g. Hartmann, see capitalism and patriarchy as two intertwined systems that form a single 'patriarchal capitalism'


How do dual system theorists understand women's subordination?

To understand women's subordination, we must look at the relationship between their position both in the domestic division of labour (patriarchy) and in paid work (capitalism) because the two systems reinforce each other.


Criticisms of Dual system feminism

Walby argues that capitalism and patriarchy are inter-related but that the interests of the two are not always the same. Capitalism demands cheap, exploitable female labour for its workforce. But patriarchy wants to keep women subordinated within the domestic sphere.


Difference feminism

Difference feminists do not see women as a single homogenous group- differences of class, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. all lead to different experiences of patriarchy. Hence they emphasise diversity. Difference feminists argue that previous feminist theory has claimed a 'false universality' for itself: it claims to apply to all women, but in reality it is only about the experiences of white, western, heterosexual, middle class women.



Difference feminists claim that liberal, Marxist and radical feminists are essentialist. That is, they see all women as essentially the same. As a result, they fail to reflect the diversity of women's experiences and they exclude other women and their problems.


Poststructuralist feminism

Poststructuralism is concerned with discourses- ways of seeing, thinking or speaking about something. The world is made up of many, often competing, discourses, e.g. religious, scientific, medical and artistic.
Power to define- by enabling its users to define others in certain ways, a discourse gives power over those it defines. Poststructuralists argue that the Enlightenment project, with its talk of reason, humanity and progress, is simply a form of power/knowledge that legitimates the domination of western, white, middle class males over other groups.



Butler argues that the white, western, middle class women who dominate the feminist movement have falsely claimed to represent 'universal womanhood'- but women are not a single entity who all share the same 'essence'. There is no fixed essence of what it is to be a woman, because identities are constructed through discourses and there are many different discourses in different times and cultures. For example, womanhood in Saudi Arabia is constituted partly by Islamic discourse, womanhood in the west by the discourses of advertising and the media.
Poststructuralism enables feminists to 'de-construct' (analyse) different discourses to reveal how they subordinate women.