Feminist Perspectives

Summary, Radical, Marxist, Liberal, Key concepts, Malestream sociology, Criticism, Post-Structural 



Feminism emerged in the 1960s (at least its 'second wave' did) as a fundamental challenge to existing sociological theories.

The basis for this challenge has been a concern that all knowledge is gendered - gender divisions lie at the heart of society and consequently, at the heart of sociological knowledge as well.

The great and lasting achievement of feminism has been in re-orientating sociology towards issues that concern women (and men as well) that were largely being ignored. Whatever criticisms there may be of some aspects of feminisim, it can't be denied that the bias inherent in a lot of sociological research and theory has been substantially corrected.

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Radical Feminism

Gender divisions are present in every society.

Gender divisions are the fundamental forms of division in society.

Men dominate through seex, violence, control over reproduction etc.

The basis for male dominance and their oppression of women is in terms of reproduction and the female role as the childbearer.

Patriarchal relationships prevade all aspects of society.

Extreme solutions to this situation include removing men from the reproduction process entirely thus breaking the basis for their control. Other suggested solutions include men and women becoming more alike.

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Marxist Feminism

Links Patriarchal relationships to capitalism.

The origins of women's oppression can be found in the early days of capitalism which brought about the role of 'housewife' (Oakley). The factory system began to separate male and female employment, create restrictions on women's employment and later, a move to women having both paid work and unpaid domestic work responsibilities.

There are also difference between the situations of men and women that relate to social class. Whereas radical feminism sees gender as absolutely fundamental, this approach sees class as cutting across gender inequalities.

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Liberal Feminism

This approach sees both men and women as losing out because of gender inequalities.

The basis of female inequalities is cultural rather than structural.

Women as disadvantaged by negative attitudes, socialisation and discrimination. The solution is to gradually improve women's opportunities by legislative means and by education.

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Key Concepts


Patriarchy refers to the structured social, cultural and economic dominance of men.

Walby suggests six patriarchal structures exist:

  • Employment
  • Household/family relationships
  • Culture
  • Sexual relations
  • Violence towards Women
  • The State.
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Malestream sociology

Research methods - sexism in language.

Research methods - male methodology.

Choice of research issues.

Gendered concepts - e.g. definitions of social class.

Lack of focus on emotions/experiences.

Definition of 'knowledge'.

Major theories - lack of female sociologists.

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More radical feminist ideas of a 'male-free' society or removing men from the reproduction process seem fairly extreme and fanciful.

The divisions between the different strands of feminism lead to a freat deal of internal criticisim, for example, of radical-feminists by Marxist-feminist and vice versa.

Some postmodernist thought would reject meta-narratives of some feminst theory. 

The claim that there is a distinctive feminist methodology has been criticised.

Black feminists have argued that much (especially early) feminist work was focused on white, middle-class women and their concerns. Other criticisms have claimed that some feminist thought has also largely ignored other factors such as disability, age and sexual orientation.

It could also be argued that their focus on women is itself not even-handed and that issues relating to gender should also be examined men and the concept of masculinity. This has been taken on board by some contemporary feminists.

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Post-structural Feminism

A lot of feminist theory has been criticised from within the movement for essentialism, meaning they tend to see all women as essentially the same with the same life experiences.

Butler has aruged feminism has been dominated by one group of women who share the same characteristics (white, Western and middle-class) who claim to speak for all women.

Instead, she argues we need to understand that the experience of women vary greatly across and within cultures. It is important to recognise this and be able to describe the different situations women find themselves in.

Critics of this position claim that it risks dividing women into small groups which weakens their potential to change society. They argue there are essential features that women share such as male dominance and sexual exploitation.

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