Sociology - Feminism

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Content warning: these notes contain discussion of serious issues such as rape and sexual
violence, including description of one particular incident and it's aftermath to illustrate
feminist theory
Feminism, which has largely grown out of Enlightenment theories such as freedom and
equality have driven much of sociological research into gender inequalities, focusing in large
part on the subordinate positions of women in all almost all modern societies. Unfortunately
in their search for causes and adequate solutions to gender inequality feminists have often
been seen as marred by differences between them as they have split into many different
branches each with their own answers and with the spread of postmodernism within
sociology there has been a shift in focus to the desire to investigate gender differences rather
than providing answers to inequalities that continue to exist. While some feminists such as
Ann Oakley and Sylvia Walby can be seen as belonging to more than one branch at
different points of their research the categorisation of feminism into branches such a radical,
liberal, socialist and postcolonial/black feminisms can be useful in understanding the different
perspectives that feminists have taken and why these differences have come about.
Radical feminism
In the eyes of radical feminists men are seen as the primary oppressors and women as the
oppressed group who have `had to struggle for their own liberation' (Bryson). While some
radical feminists have tried to combine thus approach with aspects of Marxist feminism they
still see the divisions between men and women as the main divisions within society.
Instead of trying to help women become more like men radical feminists have tended to
emphasise the differences that do exist between men and women more than other branches
and this has been done through the doctrine of gynocentrism. In their view women are more
compassionate, creative and cooperative, which they believe to be contrasted to the true
nature of men as domineering and violent. To make a comparison between Marxist and
feminist definitions of social divisions, women are to feminists what the subject class is to
Marxists, and men are to be seen as the ruling class.
Radical feminists argue that from the moment we are born we are socialised into specific,
restrictive gender roles that suppress women's true nature. The family here is seen as the
main force of this socialisation process, with Kate Millet once describing it as `patriarchy's
chief institution' and they believe that was is needed is revolutionary change to dismantle
patriarchy that is found in all the structures of society which will result in women's liberation.
Again there can be obvious drawn with Marxists here who also believe that only the
remaking of society by the oppressed can lead to liberation.
Within radical feminism there has been differing opinions on the origins of female oppression
with some such as Shulamith Firestone believing that the answer lies in female biology and in

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Mary Daly believe that it is men's inherent aggression and
violent tendencies that lead to them assuming dominance over women and Susan
Brownmiller takes this a step further by arguing that there is a biological predisposition
among heterosexual males that lead to them using (the threat of) sexual violence such as rape
as a control mechanism and that even those who do not commit rape come to benefit from
the subordination of women that results from it.…read more

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Radical cultural
feminists on the other hand can be more clearly compared with separatist or supremacist
feminists who believe that women should indulge in the positive female characteristics like
creativity, compassion, community, bodypositivity and hostility to hierarchy.…read more

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While there have been some radical feminists
who have tried to reconcile aspects of Marxist and socialist feminism into their thought there
are now very few people who explicitly define themselves as Marxist feminists.…read more

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For liberal feminists it is rigid socialisation that leads to the inequalities that exist between
genders in society which is then propped up by legal discrimination, as well as our culture as
a whole.…read more

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Black and postcolonial feminism
Black feminism, a branch that has been more influential in the USA than the UK largely
developed as a separate form of feminism out of dissatisfaction that black women had with
the mainstream feminist movement, which they considered to be dominated and driven by
the interests of white and usually middle class women at the expense of their own.…read more

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Truth's speech highlighted for some the differences that existed between white and black
women. The majority of women's rights activists in the 19th century were white middle class
women who little experience of manual work and if they did have full time jobs these were
usually as governesses, tutors or teachers.…read more

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AIDs epidemic that stemmed from precolonial and colonial views of women's
supposed inferiority (3) the links between the development of capitalism in former colonies
and the exploitation of women in the labour market (for example women being used as a
form of cheap labour so as to save profits for transnational corporations).…read more

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­ it is as Kate Millet once called it `patriarchy's chief institution'.
The pleasure that some men gain from dominating women gradually developed into a greater
desire to have control over other men which gave rise to a system of economic classes and
led to the development of systems such as capitalism. For revolutionary change to occur
therefore there must first be the destruction of the sexual class system that provides the basis
for economic exploitation.…read more

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Some have criticised Ortner by arguing that she misinterprets the relationship between
culture and nature and that instead of being seen as less important than culture the fact that
there are so many attempts to control and curtail nature through religious rituals is testament
go the awesome and in some cases terrifying power of nature and that such rituals are not
attempts to harness this but merely to appease the more threatening parts.…read more


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