Feminist Theory: A Summary for A-Level Sociology
Posted onFebruary 3, 2017byKarl Thompson
Introduction – The Basics
Inequality between men and women is universal and the most significant form of inequality
Gender norms are socially constructed not determined by biology and can thus be changed.
Patriarchy is the main cause of gender inequality – women are subordinate because men have more power.
Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously.
There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.
Blames the exploitation of women on men. It is primarily men who have benefitted from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.
Society is patriarchal – it is dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class.
Rape, violence and pornography are methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. Andrea Dworkin (1981)
Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.
Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:
Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.
Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.
The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”
Capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries.
Women’s subordination plays a number of important functions for capitalism:
Women reproduce the labour force for free (socialisation is done for free)
Women absorb anger – women keep the husbands going.
Because the husband has to support his wife and children, he is more dependent on his job and less likely to demand wage increases.
The traditional nuclear also performs the function of ‘ideological conditioning’ – it teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.
The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production
They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together
In Communist society, Marxist feminists believe that gender inequalities will disappear.
Nobody benefits from existing inequalities: both men and women are harmed
The explanation for gender inequality lies not so much in structures and institutions of society but in its culture and values.
Socialisation into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women
Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities
Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.
The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.
Liberal feminists try to eradicate sexism from the children’s books and the media.
Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives – e.g. mainstreaming has taken place.
Difference Feminism/ Postmodern Feminism
Do not see women as a single homogenous group. MC/WC ,
Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)
Criticised preceding Feminists theory of being essentialist
Critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project
Postmodern Feminism – concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’
Helene Cixoux – An example of a postmodern/ destabilising theorist
Criticisms of Feminist Theories
1. Radical Feminists – ignores other sources of inequality such as sexual violence.
2. Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example.
3. The experience of women has not been particularly happy under communism.
1. Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.
2. Liberalism is accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.
3. Radical and Marxist Feminists – it fails to take account of deeper structural inequalities
4. Difference Feminists argue it is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.
1. The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.
2. Some critics argue that it focuses too much on the negative experiences of women, failing to recognise that some women can have happy marriages for example.
3. It tends to portray women as universally good and men as universally bad, It has been accused of man hating, not trusting all men.
Feminist Perspectives on the Family
Sources Used to Write this Post
- Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
- Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597495
- Robb Webb et al (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Book 2, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007921
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