Other ideological traditions: Feminism (COMPLETE)

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Origins & Development
While the term `feminist' may be of recent origin, and indeed an organised women's
movement only in existence the last 200 years or so, feminist views can be traced back as
far as ancient civilisations such as China and found in the political thought of such great
thinkers as Plato in Ancient Greece. One major text that predates the rise of feminism is
Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies published in 1405, which aimed to provide
a historical record of famous deeds & contribution to society by women.
Despite this an organised movement did not take shape until the 19th Century, following the
publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), a text
seen by some commentators as a rebuttal to Thomas Paine's revolutionary pamphlet Rights
of Man (1791) and like political liberalism, early feminism was a product of the
Enlightenment. The primary goal of so called firstwave feminism was political and legal
equality, but it was not until the midnineteenth century that the movement began to grow at
a rapid pace. The aim, to secure women's suffrage, was inspired by the increasing
enfranchisement of working class men, which in Britain had been done by Conservative
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who introduced the Second Reform Act (1867) in
response to the demand for the vote to be extended to working class men by the growing
and militant socialist & labour movements.
Suffrage was the movement's original aim because they believed that all forms of inequality
would disappear if they were able to vote believing they would be able to elect more MPs
who were supportive of their campaigns, a factor which had proved vital in winning previous
victories such as the Divorce & Matrimonal Causes Act (1857) and the Custody of
Children Act (1839,) the first meaning that divorce could occur through courts instead of
Parliamentary Act ensuring it was less expensive and therefore more accessible for women
to initiate, and the latter which extended custody rights to the mother, who previous had had
no legal rights to their children in the event of divorce. Both of these Acts were early
victories that helped improve the social position of women.
The emerging movements were strongest where parliamentary democracies were already
well established, largely because there was already a large middle class of educated women
eager for more political and legal rights. The US' women's movement began at the 1848
Seneca Falls Convention, convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and inspired by the
abolitionist movement that was growing and active at the time. At the Convention, they
adopted the Declaration of Sentiments, a document that was deliberately modelled on the
language of the US Declaration of Independence, and in its wake was formed the National
Women's Suffrage Association (1869).
Following the growth of the movement in the `50s and the defeat of the first attempt to
introduce female suffrage, which had been an attempted amendment to the Second Reform
Act (1867) proposed by John Stuart Mill, the UK suffrage campaigners (who came to be
known as Suffragettes) became steadily more militant, particularly after the formation of the
Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, under the motherdaughter
leadership of Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst. They launched a sustained campaign of
violence against property, mass marches and other forms of direct action such as activists
chaining themselves to fences and even firebombings of houses. While they undoubtedly
helped get the plight of women in the UK recognised the WSPU has been criticised by other

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This could have been down
to Emmeline Pankhurst's otherwise conservative politics and her tight control over WSPU
policy, which led to the expulsion of Union members who advocated a shift to the leftwing,
such as Emmeline & Frederick PethickLawrence and even Emmeline's own daughter,
Sylvia Pankhurst, a left communist.
Feminism's firstwave ended largely with the achievement of women's suffrage, first
introduced in 1893 in New Zealand. The US followed suit with the Nineteenth
Amendment (1920) and the UK extending franchise in 1918.…read more

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Unfortunately, as with firstwave feminism there was two processes that followed the
resurgence of the secondwave. The first was deradicalisation, whereby there was a
drawback from previously uncompromised radical positions that had been widespread
earlier in the movement such as separatism and lesbian feminism. This process led the
adoption of the term postfeminism which argues that as feminist goals have been largely
achieved, the women's movement has moved `beyond feminism'.…read more

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Prior to the emergence and huge popularity of radical feminism in the 1960s, feminism had
been offsets of traditional ideologies such as liberalism and socialism.…read more

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A more specific example is that in the traditional
family women will do the majority of the housework but the husband/father will usually have
control over the household finances, thereby controlling the independence of other members
of the family to a large extent.…read more

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According to Kate Millet patriarchy is a hierarchical
society based on age and sexual oppression, where two principles exist: `male shall
dominate female, older male shall dominate younger male'
However, with the achievement in most Western countries of the vote, greater access to
education, more relaxed divorce laws and increased rights to safe abortion, it is hard for
feminists to argue that patriarchy is a particularly strong force in the industrialised West
anymore, considering that women in the developing world suffer barbaric practices such as…read more

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Radical feminists place huge stress on patriarchy as a
theoretical concept, believing it to be a pattern of male domination and female subordination
which is mirrored in public life from its origins within the family.
Sex and Gender
The primary antifeminist arguments, usually advanced by conservatives is that all the gender
divisions that exist within any society are `natural', due to our varying anatomical makeup,
and we merely slip into the social roles that are suited to this.…read more

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Establishing this concept of the difference between sex and gender was crucial in galvanising
feminist thought because it demonstrated that not only was identity constructed through
experience and social interaction, but that it could also be reconstructed to form a different
identity, or even demolished entirely. It also showed the groundwork of women's
oppression, how they are engendered to be subservient by patriarchal culture.…read more

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This would be at odds with some feminists who argue that the overthrow of patriarchy
would be to the benefit of men as well as women, in a holistic, eudemonic sense.…read more

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Conventional feminism however sees these movements as a contradiction in terms, reflecting
the belief that the public/private divide was beneficial for women, thus making women
accept and contribute to their own oppression.
Liberal feminism
Early feminism reflected the views that had grown out of the Enlightenment Era and in
particular political liberalism.…read more


Old Sir

A well-organised and comprehensive set of notes. In order to prepare for discussions aimed at developing assessment objective 2, (evaluation and analysis) students might want to research case studies involving feminist politicians and the actions of parties and legislatures aimed at facilitating and promoting proportionate female involvement.

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