Another Feminism


Another Feminism Essay, Research Paper

Q.1(b) Feminist approaches to sociological theory have developed out of

historical sites of struggle for equality. Describe the strengths and

weaknesses of four (4) different feminist theoretical orientations.

Sociological theory is broadly concerned with structured forms

of social inequality. Therefore, sociologist generally attempt to approach

human behaviour and relations in terms of the particular social setting of

different social groups, classes and etc. However, feminist critics of

sociology have pointed out that sociological theorists have neglected gender

as a central principle of social differentiation.

Feminist sociologist argue that most sociological theory is

characterised by a ‘malestream’ view of the social world in which women are

either overlooked altogether or discussed as if they were identical to men.

The concept used most frequently to capture structured power relations

between the sexes is ‘patriarchy’. This essay will discuss the strengths

and weaknesses of four different feminist theoretical orientations.

Liberal feminism

Liberal feminists are the least ‘radical’ of all feminist

perspectives. The main aim of the liberal feminists is the creation of

equal opportunities, particularly in education and work. Probably the most

positive thing liberal feminism has for itself is the fact that it has

contributed to considerable social change, especially in relation to

employment opportunities and conditions, and social policy.

Liberal feminist themselves have not produced a clearly developed

theory of gender, but they generally rely on role theory. One of the main

strengths of liberal feminism is that they aim for gradual change in the

political, economic and social systems of Western societies which, it is

assumed, will in turn transform gender roles. This is considered a strength

because it is a reasonable and realistic accomplishment. Liberal feminism

is willing to take the appropriate time it may take to produce gender

equality. With this time liberal feminist pursue an aim through the

introduction of legislation and by attempting to change attitudes. They

encourage and support such measures as anti-discrimination and equal pay

legislation in the hope that they will help to end discrimination.

Liberal feminists do not seek revolutionary changes in society,

but rather reforms that take place within existing social and political

structures. If there are any weaknesses to he liberal feminists this may be

it. Other feminist may argue that the liberals are not aggressive enough

and rely too much on hope.

Radical feminism

Radical feminists turn their explanatory focus onto

heterosexuality as a social construction. Radical feminists thus often see

the social context of heterosexuality, family life, as central to women’s

oppression in modern societies. If men oppress women, then surely

heterosexuality constitutes ’sleeping with the enemy’; the slogan which

emerged in the 1070’s-’feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the

practice’-captures the essence of this perspective.

The radical feminism perspective is filled with weaknesses. The

largest weakness among the radical feminists comes from the separatist

feminist, who argues that women should organise independently of men. This

argument usually leads to the view that only lesbians can be true feminists,

since only they can be fully independent of men, which in turn downgrades

all other feminists. For the radical feminist the subordination of women is

seen primarily in terms of relations of dominance between men and women as

distinct social groups. Because men as a group are seen as being opposed to

women’s liberation by definition, many radical feminists reject any

cooperation with them in their struggle to achieve the social change they

seek. Looking at all men as a ‘group’ and then deciding to turn against

them is a serious weakness for any feminism. This would only suit the

lesbian feminist, and would hold no relevance for heterosexual feminist.

Another weakness in the radical feminist perspective is the way

they group. Radical feminists use patriarchy as the most important concept

for explaining gender inequality. They use this term to provide a detailed

explanation of how power operates within sexual relationships. They argue

that politics was not just an activity confined to political parties and

parliaments, but one, which exist in ‘all’ relationships. The radical

feminists go on to argue that rape and other forms of sexual violence are

ever-present possibilities and ways in which ‘all’ men intimidate ‘all’


Marxist and socialist feminism

Marxist and socialist feminists regard capitalism rather than

patriarchy as being the principal source of women’s oppression, and

capitalists as the main beneficiaries. Marxist/socialist feminists and

radical feminists have many similarities when it comes to what they see as a

problem, however, their solutions are not exactly the same. For example,

like radicals they see women’s unpaid work as housewives and mothers as one

of the main ways in which they are exploited. However, although individual

men benefit from this arrangement, it is especially capitalists who gain

from women’s work, since new generations of workers are reproduced at not

cost to them. Marxist feminists also place much greater stress on the

exploitation of women in paid employment. The disadvantaged position of

women is held to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and

subsequently their lack of ownership of the means of production, which in

turn deprives them of power.

The biggest strength of the Marxist/socialist feminism is their

ability and willingness to cooperate with the opposite sex, rather than turn

completely against them. For example, although they agree with radical

feminists that women as a group are exploited, particularly since the advent

of capitalism, they pay more attention to the differences between women

belonging to ruling-class and working class families. In this respect women

have interests in common with the whole working class, and Marxist and

socialist feminists often see greater scope for cooperation between women

and working class men than do radical feminists.

One major weakness to the solutions provided by Marxist and

socialist is that it may explain why capitalist exploit workers but not why

men exploit women.

One difference between the Marxist and the socialist is in

Marxist theories of class women tend to appear insignificant. Marxists have

a tenancy to sideline themselves when it comes to the struggle between

capital and labour. The simple explanation they give of capitalism is good

but it does not automatically explain patriarchy.

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