- This type of feminism focuses on equality before the law.
- Individuals should be judged on their individual character not on their sex, "race" or ethnicity, social class, orientation etc.
- Therefore, liberal feminists wish to ensure that men and women have equal opportunities, pay, and rights to goods, services and jobs, etc.
- Liberal feminists commonly want to increase the representation of women in senior positions in politics and the law, and in public life more generally.
- Some examples of liberal feminist policies are the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, along with voting rights for women in the 20th century.
- Notable liberal feminists are Mary Wollstonecraft, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
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- Socialist feminists believe that the oppression of women is an aspect of more general social and economic opression.
- Economic opression of women occurs through male ownership of property & patrilineal family inheritance.
- Socialist feminists see womes as a 'reserve army of labour' while they are also vital to the capitalist economy:
- They provide the labour of child bearing and parenting to produce the next generation of capitalist workers.
- As housewives, so that men can spend their time working for capitalism - wages husbands earn are also for the wives at home.
- Husbands (workers for capitalism) are provided with emotional support and sexual services.
- When husbands abuse wives, women become 'takers of ****' for capitalism.
- The socialist feminist position means the emancipation (freedom from opression) of women should be as a result of social revolution and cannot be brought about by legal equality.
- The main division in society is social class and not gender.
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- Radical feminists object to the individualism that underpins liberal feminism as it undermines sisterhood/gender solidarity, or because it is based on a male model, so encourages women to be like men.
- They criticise the reformism of liberal feminism as it misdirects the energies of the women's movement and fails to address the issue of patriarchy (male dominated society).
- The liberal aim of equal access in the public sphere (as shown in campaigns for equal legal/political rights) is flawed because it fails to recognise that public inequality is merely a reflection of more significant gender oppression in the private/domestic sphere.
- Therefore radical feminists condemn the liberal idea of politics and declare that 'the personal is the political'.
- Radical feminists have noted that while the family is the main agent of the patriarchy, religion, philosophy, and culture generally portray woman as inferior to men, and subject women to a male stereotype of femininity.
- Patriarchy is reinforced by the process of conditioning girls and boys to follow gender stereotypes based on their parents.
- Therefore patriarchy should be challenged through cultural change and conciousness raising rather than liberal feminist legal/political reforms.
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Problem of Conservative Feminism
- It is difficult to reconcile conservatism with feminism for a number of reasons:
- By endorsing tradition, conservatives endorse the patriarchal institutions which feminists set out reforming or abolishing.
- Conservative belief in organic society means many conservatives regard the division of labour between 'public men' and private/household women' as natural and desirable, whereas many feminists reject the public/private divide.
- The conservative belief in hierarchy can support a hierarchical relationship between men and women, with men as head of the household.
- New Right conservatives have been explicitly anti-feminist by linking the rise of feminism to family breakdown (including rising divorce rates), and juvenile delinquency.
- Some may argue a from of conservative feminism is possible:
- Women and men are 'equal but different' based on biology or the idea of traditional social roles (note that 'equal' here is not used in the liberal/socialist sense)
- The neo-liberal belief in meritocracy - so equality of opportunity regardless of gender (this goes against trad/new right values)
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Androgyny Vs Essentialism
- Androgyny means the possession of both male and female characteristics.
- Feminists who believe in androgyny hold that women and men both have the same nature as human beings.
- This view accepts biological sexual differences, but insists they have no social, political or economic significance.
- Therefore gender divisions are politically/socially constructed through stereotypes that encourage 'masculine' males and 'feminine' females.
- As these identities are constructed, they can be demolished so people can achieve a genderless 'personhood'
- Essentialism is the belief that biological factors are crucial in determining psychological and behavioural traits.
- Therefore essentialists believe that gender differences are rooted in the unchangeable biological sexual identities of women and men.
- 'Personhood' is a myth because women and men are essentially different: men are biologically inclined to be oppressive and controlling and women caring and sympathetic. Therefore men are the problem, not patriarchy.
- Essentialist, or difference feminists therefore often support the position of women withdrawing from the fundamentally corrupt male society, and are critical of the pursuit of gender equality.
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- Sex refers to biological differences between males and females, drawing attention to physical and hormonal differences including the ability to bear children. Sex is inherited and 'given'.
- Gender refers to cultural and therefore socially produced differences between men and women and the different roles that society ascribes to men and women, usually based around ideas of 'masculinity' and 'femininity'. gender is 'constructed'.
- Feminists stress the distinction between sex and gender to explain how patriarchal oppression operates - patriarchal culture subordinates women by portraying them as weak, emotional and only suited to domestic life/work.
- Feminists also use the distinction between sex and gender to emphasise that gender equality is achievable - as gender is socially constructed, it can be challenged and overthrown, hence the feminist belief 'biology is not destiny'.
- Essentialist (or 'difference') feminists reject this distinction as they believe there are fundamental differences between men and women.
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- Patriarchy is a set of social relationships in which there is a male domination of social, cultural and economic activity.
- Patriarchy literally means 'rule by the father'.
- Radical Feminists use the concept of patriarchy to highlight the systematic, institutionalised nature of male domination, and suggest that this reflects the dominance of the husband/father within the family.
- Challenging gender inequality requires a sexual revolution through the overthrow of patriarchy in the private and public realms.
- Patriarchy is also an important feminist analysis because it highlights the extent to which relations between men and women are structured by unequal gender power. Feminist theorists view gender relations as part of the political institution of male power.
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The Public/Private Divide
- Feminists tend to agree that other mainstream ideologies ignore or downplay the private/personal sphere of life whilst stressing the public/political sphere.
- As women are commonly associated with the private sphere and men with the public, this means that women and women's issues are often excluded from the political debate. The public/private distinction is therefore gendered.
- A woman's role as "wife" and "mother" is seen as "natural" whereas it is actually socially constructed but has a hegemonic (realistic) quality.
- Men are seen as more rational and both physically and emotionally stronger, so are more suited to the public sphere.
- These distinctions prevent women from achieving equality with men.
- Radical feminists state that 'the personal is the politcal' because they believe that the gender division within the family or personal sphere directly affects the public/political sphere. This occurs through conditioning girls and boys to follow gender stereotypes based on their parents family roles.
- This implies that gender divisions can only be transformed through a revolutionary change in domestic structures rather than through piecemeal political/legal reforms
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