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Vindication of the Rights of Women

Historical background
Ancient idea- Christine de Pisan Book of the City of Ladies Italy 1405 early version. First truly
modern text was Mary Wollstonecraft Vindication of the Rights of Women 1792. She argued
that as men and women were human beings, women were entitled to same rights and privileges.
JS Mill On Subjugation of Women (1869) Society should be organised according to principle of
reason and accidents of birth such as sex were irrelevant. By mid C19 first wave feminism
established in the west aim was political and legal rights- strongest in those countries where
political democracy was most advanced- women wanting same rights as husbands, fathers and
sons. Belief was key to end sexual discrimination and prejudice was the right to vote.
Second wave of feminism emerges 1960s/70s because political rights achieved in course C20,
first wave feminism had been weakened by right to win vote and growing realisation that political
rights did not mean equality.
Second wave a more radical concern with women’s liberation esp private sphere- Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique crucial importance (1963) highlighting unhappiness and frustration many
women experience as result confined to roles housewife and mother. . Also 2nd wave feminism inc
radical, even revolutionary Kate Millet Sexual Politics ( 1970) and Germaine Greer The Female
Eunuch (1970) push back frontiers arguing liberation could not be achieved by political reforms or
legal changes alone but far reaching even revolutionary process social change.
By late 60s early 70s feminism developed into a distinctive ideology. Feminists raise awareness
of importance social/cultural distinction between males and females as opposed to biological and
therefore ineradicable differences.
Until the rise of radical feminism seen as a subset of liberalism and socialism….
Core themes
Redefining the political
Traditionally a separation between public and private sphere- politics seen
as part of the former and family/personal relationships the latter.
Modern feminists take a much broader look at politics- Kate Millet argued a
power structured relationship where one group controls another. This could
apply to relationships within the family.
Traditionally the public sphere (politics, work, art, literature) male and
private ( family/domestic) female. If politics takes place only in public
sphere then role women and sexual equality little/no importance women are
effectively excluded from politics.
Feminists challenge divide between public man and private woman but
whereas radicals keenest opponents of idea politics does not stop at front
door the personal is political . Female oppression all walks of life.
Radicals focus on process conditioning in family, distribution domestic
responsibilities, politics of personal and sexual conduct- Some see the
break down of public/private sphere achieved by expansion state provision
e.g. child care. Socialist feminists link women’s role in conventional family
to capitalism. Liberal feminists, however, warn against politicising the private
sphere which is a realm of personal choice and individual freedom.
Means literally rule by the father often used to describe dominance men and
subordination women in society.
Feminists believe gender like class, race, religion a significant social cleavage,
radicals say the most significant.
Therefore sexual politics parallels with class and racial oppression.
The dominance of the father within the family symbolises male supremacy in all other
institutions, male dominance in the family reproduces itself in all other walks of life.
Millett described patriarchal government as that half of the populace which is
female is controlled by that half which is male . She defined patriarchy as
hierarchical society both in terms of gender but also generational.
Many feminists accept form and degree oppression varies between cultures and
times- e.g. more advanced west compared with practices in parts of developing
Feminist divisions- liberals believe problem patriarchy is under representation women
politics, senior positions etc…socialists the economic aspects patriarchy- gender
inequality a consequence of the oppressive class system- even rejecting the term
patriarchy as capitalism not patriarchy the issue. Radical feminists on the other hand
see patriarchy crucial as it highlights pattern male domination that characterises
society at large
Sex and gender
Feminists deny that biological differences (child bearing, menstruation, suckling) must
necessarily disadvantage women- women may be mothers but responsibilities of
motherhood not theirs alone- the link between child bearing and rearing is only
For feminists sex refers to natural and unalterable differences between sexes
whereas gender is a cultural term referring to different roles society ascribes to men
and women- such differences reinforced via contrasting stereotypes masculinity and
Human nature is androgynous i.e. sex is irrelevant all humans possess genetic
inheritance mother and female and therefore are a blend female and male traits. The
goal of feminism is genderless personhood.
Difference feminists argue deep and ineradicable differences between the sexes, this
is an essentialist belief in the primacy of biological factors in determine psychological
and behavioural traits..
Postmodernist feminists challenges categorisation the features of biological
womanhood which do not appear to women unable to bear children/unattracted to
men. Thus the categories of male and female become arbitrary/
Equality and Difference
Feminism aims at equality but disagree as to what this means…
Egalitarian feminism…
Liberals aim at legal and political equality- women should be able to compete on equal terms with men in public
Socialists argue equal rights that liberals aim for are meaningless without social equality which addresses issue
ownership wealth/pay differences/ distinctions between waged/unwaged labour.
Radicals – equality in family and personal life e.g. childcare, domestic responsibilities, sexual
More on egalitarian feminism…
Also known as equality feminism- despite differences, the above link difference to patriarchy seeing the latter as
manifestation of oppression/subordination- aim is to liberate women from difference
Difference feminists challenge egalitarian feminism…
Difference feminists warn against aim of equality with men, that it embodies a desire to be like men, whereas
liberation means fulfilment as women i.e. female identified
Pro-woman feminism adopts a positive image women’s attributes and propensities stressing creativity, caring,
human sympathy and cooperation. These contrast with aggressive/competitive nature of men and reflect deeper
hormonal and genetic differences. Women should therefore seek liberation through difference. An example is
cultural feminism which focuses on woman centred culture/lifestyle and repelled by corrupting/aggressive male
world political activism.
To sum up…
• Equality feminism
• Difference feminism
Human rights
Gender equality
Abolish difference
Sex/gender divide
Transcend biology
Men are redeemable
Engagement with men
Women’s rights
Sexual liberation
Celebrate difference
Sex equals gender
Embrace biology
Men are the problem
Feminist separatism
Feminist perspectives
Liberal Feminism
Begins C18 and C19
Philosophical basis lies in principle individualism i.e. all individuals equal moral worth.
They should be judged on rational grounds- content of character, talents, personal
worth hence all individuals entitled to participate in/gain access to public/political life.
Wollstonecraft argued that education should be open to women, JS Mill argued for
equal citizenship and political rights. The suffrage movement was based on liberal
Liberal feminism essentially reformist, aimed at open public life to equal competition.
They do not seek to abolish distinction between public and private sphere seeing
latter as matter of individual choice
Also on above assume women and men different natures and inclinations that
women natural leaning towards family and domestic life. Betty Friedan The Second
Stage (1983) discussed problem of reconciling possibilities created by broader
opportunities for women an work and public life with need for love (represented by
children) home and family. In the book Friedan warned that quest for personhood
should not encourage women to deny importance of children, home and family.
Demand for equal rights the core of liberal feminism attracted those whose education
and social backgrounds better able to take advantage wider career and educational
opportunities. It therefore reflects interests of white middle class in developed
Socialist Feminism
Prominent only from second half C20
Engels The Origins of the family, Private property and the State (1884) pre capitalist societies family life
communistic and mother right- property and social position inherited via female line-capitalism however based on
ownership private property by men overthrown mother right and brought the world historical defeat of the
female sex . Female oppression operates via the family which is (bourgeois family) patriarchal- property passed
by men only to sons. Undisputed paternity achieved by male insistence on monogamous marriage but which men
routinely abuse. Women are compensated by cult of femininity which is an organised hypocrisy to protect male
privileges and property.
Some socialists argued that under capitalism women constitute a reserve army of labour recruited easily when
needed and as easily shed. In bearing and raising of children, women provide next generation of workers, their
traditional role as housewives relieve men allow men concentrate on paid and productive employment and
traditional family provides male wage earners with incentive to find work against alienation as wage slaves. It
reinforces patriarchy as male breadwinners have high status and relieved of domestic chores.
Divisions among socialist feminists
Orthodox Marxists argues for primacy class conflict over all other conflicts therefore women’s liberation will be
achieved by overthrow of capitalism. The class war is more important than the sex war. Women should therefore
focus not on a separate and divisive women’s movement
Faced with disappointing progress women made in state socialist societies, where patriarchy continued, modern
socialists have argued that sexual oppression is as important as class exploitation. Juliet Mitchell argued that
women achieve emancipation in the four\key social functions areas of their lives: Economic role as members of
the workforce, biological role, nurturing of children, role as sex objects.
Radical feminism
Radical feminism developed feminism as a distinctive ideology separate from liberalism and socialism which failed to acknowledge the
primacy of gender among social divisions within society.
Eva Figes Patriarchal Attitudes (1970) patriarchal attitudes are prevalent throughout society, women are portrayed as inferior and
subordinate to men. Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch (1970) women conditioned to passive sexual role and true sexuality and
more active/adventurous sides of their personalities suppressed, in essence they are castrated and become sexless objects. She called
upon women to re engage with their libido. In Sexual Politics (1970) Millett the different roles of men and women origin in process of
conditioning from very early age. A process which takes place in family patriarchy’s chief institution. But also in literature, art, public
life and economy. She argued that patriarchy should be challenged via a process of consciousness-raising
Radical feminism holds as central sexual oppression is the most fundamental feature of society and other forms injustice such as class
exploitation, racial hatred etc.. Secondary.
For most radical feminists patriarchy is a system of politico-cultural oppression therefore female liberation requires sexual revolution to
overturn and replace these structures. It is based on belief that human nature is androgynous.
Different trends of radical feminism
Pro woman position – Esp strong France USA women should not seek to be more like men but recognise and embrace their sisterhood It
recognises (pro woman position) that women’s attitudes and values different from men’s and this implies superiority over men as they
possess creativity, sensitivity and caring.
Acceptance of deep and unalterable differences with men led some radicals towards cultural feminism- retreat from aggressive male
world political activism to woman centred culture and lifestyle.
In contrast to above, other feminists politically assertive even revolutionary. If sex differences natural then ALL MEN are\physically and
psychologically disposed to oppress ALL WOMEN Men now become the enemy. The female sex class becomes the universal victim.
Susan Brownmiller in Against Our\Will (1975) men dominate women through an ideology of rape- Men have the biological capacity to
rape and even those who do not rape benefit from fear and anxiety that rape provokes amongst women. Such feminists argue that sexual
equality and harmony with men is impossible because all relationships between men and women involve oppression. Heterosexual
women cannot realise their full potential and be female identified. Only women who remain celibate or choose lesbianism can reagrd
themselves as woman-identified women
Third-wave feminism
1970s a growing fragmentation of the feminist movement- new forms
emerged dubbed third wave feminism, new feminism, post feminism….
Term third wave feminism increasingly adopted 1990s+by younger
Unifying theme of third wave is more radical engagement with politics of
difference, with emphasis on differences between women. An attempt to
address the past focus on concerns white middle class in developed
societies to allow greater emphasis on low income, developing world. Black
feminism has called for focus on race as well as sex as linked systems
Third wave feminism is influenced by poststructuralism itself related to
postmodernism. Postructuralist/postmodernist feminists question idea fixed
female identity- third wave feminism rejects second wave feminist issues
and themes. Camille Pagia attacked tendency (1999) feminism to portray
women as victims. In Fire with Fire (1994) Naomi Wolf held that the
principal impediments to women’s social advancement was psychological
rather than political.
A global age
Is feminism a global ideology?- It has always had a global orientation, desire for
sisterhood by its nature is transnational and reflected in worldwide growth such
groups across the globe. 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women involved
189 governments and over 5000 representatives from 2100 non governmental
organisations. However, post colonial theorists argue that women’s rights essentially
western concept- from such a perspective sexual equality may be seen to devalue
women’s traditional roles home makers and mothers and to undermine traditional
roles and cultural practices- feminists would argue post colonial emphasis on cultural
rights over women’s rights a veiled form of patriarchy.
How should feminists respond to globalisation? Pro-globalisation theorists say it has
opened up opportunities for women in developing world through feminisation of
work e.g. Asian electronics industry, clothing assembly plants in Mexico. Developed
world also witnessed growth new feminised or pink collar jobs via expansion service
industries retailing, cleaning, data processing- giving women greater status and
financial independence. However greater exploitation- they are cheap and employed
in sectors where fewer workers rights and weak unions.. They have the double
burden of low paid work and still expected to shoulder burden domestic
responsibilities. In the advance of neoliberal globalisation often happens in context
reduced state support health, education and food subsidies. Many non liberal
feminists therefore now in anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist movements.
Germaine Greer- The Female
A full bosom is actually a millstone around a woman’s neck…Her breasts are only to be admired for as
long as they show no signs of their function: once darkened, stretched or withered they are objects of
Every human body has its optimum weight and contour which only health and efficiency can establish.
Whenever we treat women’s bodies as aesthetic objects without function we deform them and their
On sex all the vulgar linguistic emphasis is placed upon the poking element; fucking, screwing, rating,
shagging are all acts performed upon the passive female: the names for the penis are all tool names
The acts of sex are themselves forms of enquiry carnal knowledge: it is exactly the element of quest in
her sexuality which the female is taught to deny but in all her contacts from infancy onward so that when
she becomes aware of her sex the pattern has sufficient force of inertia to prevail over new forms of
desire and curiosity. This is the condition which is meant by the term female eunuch
On puberty for the boys it is a matter of adjusting to physical changes which signify the presence of sex
and genitality…For the girl it is a different matter. She has to aim at the feminine posture of passivity and
sexlissness. No sooner does her pubic hair appear than she has to learn how to obliterate it.
Menstruation must be born and belied. She has been so protected from accepting her body as sexual
that her menstruation strikes her as a hideous violation of her physical integrity.
Most women who have arrived at positions of power in a man’s world have done so by adopting
masculine methods which are not incompatible with the masquerade of femininity
Thoughts on the Female Eunuch
• The successful and active member of the
school community runs into trouble at home.
Out of school there is not the scope for team
activity and adventure that school
provides…many a teacher has discovered
that a good pupil arrives back from the
summer holidays beyond recognition
principally by the abrasion of her training at
home. As she grows older she finds her
activities more severely curbed; innocent
exertions are ruled out because she is too
big for that sort of thing now…
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