Feminism

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Feminism is the radical idea that women are people.
—Cheris Kramarae & Paula Treichler[1]
It is not women's inferiority that has determined their historical insignificance: it is their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority.
—Simone de Beauvoir

Feminism is a philosophy rooted in promoting the equality of women to men, particularly by focusing on issues of female rights, such as wage gaps (a difference in pay for people working the same job, same hours) between men and women, and female suffrage (as women were previously not able to vote). It also promotes reassessing the value of that which is conventionally perceived as "female." For example, women are for the most part associated with emotion, men with logic and rationality. In Western cultures, emotion is often dismissed, or even held in disdain, and had never been considered an important part of morality and ethics. Feminism questions both sides of that equation: that women are more emotionally driven, and that (therefore) emotion is somehow "less than." Serious scientific support of both problems has developed in such questioning from discoveries in neuroscience in the 20th century, which has revealed that rationality often depends upon emotionality.[2]

While modern feminist thought is largely rooted in the Western intellectual tradition, the ideology is gaining currency throughout the whole world. In many cases, the feminist goal of equality for women has helped push movements around the world to change the entire way private society is viewed, and in some cases even helped topple authoritarian governments.[3] In fact, one of the greatest vindications of feminism is the power women in Liberia showed when they ended the civil war and subsequently replaced dictatorship and chaos with democracy.

Feminism can be studied from the perspectives of the actual movements for equality or from the writings of both observer, commentator and participant addressing the underlying issues of why women have not been and are not seen as equal.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Precursors to feminism

Women's roles in society have long been debated. Plato's Republic suggests that in a true utopia women would be educated and would work beside men equally. Jesus, especially in extra biblical writings appears to demand that women be allowed to study with him beside the men. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, defends limited women's rights, encouraging them to participate in the religion and making exceeding a certain amount of abuse against them a crime.

However, most of this discussion was carried out by men. Feminism has the distinction of being a movement "of, by, and for women."

[edit] Beginnings

In the United States and Great Britain, feminism began with the demand for legal autonomy, such as the right to be seen as more than a man's wife or daughter, the right to hold property, or the right to have one's choice of husband. Later, women demanded to be allowed access to political systems, e.g. by being given the vote. Once women saw what that agency brought, they began to demand further measures of equality. Finally, once these measures of equality had been accepted (in theory, at least), some feminists broadened the scope of their challenges to systems on a civilizational scale.

The history of feminism is conventionally divided into three waves, each echoing a broader political movement of its era: the first wave reflecting the rise of liberalism, progressivism, and (towards the end) communism; the second, the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left; the third, identity politics in general.

[edit] The first wave: legal agency (19th–early 20th c.)

Ain't I a woman?
—Sojourner Truth
At the beginning of the 19th century in the UK and US, the agency of women was restricted on two different fronts: legal autonomy and the right to vote. In most countries women were considered property of their fathers or husbands. They were generally unable to enter into contracts or own land, and were legally seen in much the same way children are today.

Also, at the time, voting was largely by household, with only householders able to cast a vote. Hence, although there were comparatively few direct prohibitions on women voting, the restrictions on women owning property kept most of them disenfranchised. Later in the 19th century, when property qualifications for voting were eliminated, women became explicitly excluded from the franchise.

Hence, the feminists of the first wave set out to extend to women the assertion of Thomas Rainsborough during the Putney Debates: "I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government."[4]

First-wave feminists often joined other social movements, including abolitionism, the temperance movement (the Women's Christian Temperance Union, for example, was headed for many years by a feminist, Frances Willard), and the labor movement.

Some famous feminists from this era are Mary Wollstonecraft, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, Emmeline Pankhurst, Margaret Sanger, and Emma Goldman.

[edit] The second wave: The Feminist Movement (1950s–1990s)

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
—Simone de Beauvoir
Rosie the Riveter

During the two World Wars, with so many men leaving the country to fight, it became necessary to put women in jobs previously reserved for men only. Women quickly proved that they were more than capable of doing virtually all "men's work"; but when the war ended, women were pressured to leave their new jobs to make room for the returning veterans.

However, many women had found that they greatly preferred employment to the traditional female role of rattling pots and pans, changing diapers, and having to beg their husbands for pin-money; hence was born what was called the "feminist movement," or second-wave feminism.

While first-wave feminism had focused on removing the most overt legal disabilities for women and making them equal to men before the law, second-wave feminism tackled a wider range of social restrictions, advocating for women's full and equal participation in the larger social world.

Issues tackled by the second-wave feminists included:

  • Access to birth control. In the U.S., contraception was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut; eight years later, in 1973, abortion was legalized in Roe v. Wade.
  • Workplace discrimination, whether this meant excluding women from certain jobs altogether, or paying them less than a man doing the same work. In the U.S., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned sex discrimination in employment.
  • Spousal abuse. Second-wave feminists engaged in a good deal of legal advocacy on behalf of battered wives and started many women's shelters as safe refuges.
  • Marital rape, which was legal throughout the U.S. until a law against it was passed in Nebraska in 1973, and was not criminalized in all states until the 1990s.

Second-wave feminism is also distinguished by the first distinctly feminist academic studies and philosophical writings. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (published in 1953) is often listed as the beginning of second-wave feminism.

Like the first-wave feminists before them, second-wave feminists participated extensively in contemporary political movements, most notably the anti-war movement of the 1960s.

Some famous second-wave feminists were Helen Brown, Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, Betty Friedan (National Organization for Women), Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem.

[edit] The third wave: clashes of values (1980s–present)

I’m glad she didn’t want me to take her name.
Nelson Mandela on why he didn't care when his wife, Graça Machel, kept her surname

Like the first- and second-wave feminists before them, third-wave feminists are taking on numerous core concepts of the society they live in; and for this, like the first- and second-wave feminists before them, they are labeled "radical." However, third-wave feminism is sometimes considered more radical than the waves preceding it: for example, where in the first wave Sojourner Truth asked "Ain't I a woman?" as a rhetorical question, one major question in third-wave feminism is, "What is a 'woman'?"

To wit: Third-wave feminism is intellectually informed by postmodernism and poststructuralism, both of which challenge feminism to re-evaluate (and sometimes redefine) societal concepts including the notion of gender itself. They de-emphasize attacking women's second-class status directly in favor of attacking systems of religion, government, education, media, and even the family, all of which they believe are partly responsible for reinforcing women's second-class status.

Third-wave feminism challenges not only the status quo of women's roles within the abovementioned systems, but the systems themselves. This sometimes makes people who fully support the goals of second-wave feminism uncomfortable with the third-wave variety. Sex-negative feminism has also diminished in prominence within third-wave feminism, while there is a much stronger sex-positive element, as seen through works like The Vagina Monologues.

In many ways third-wave feminism, a far more intellectual and academic form of feminism, is less relevant to the average woman on the street than its predecessors — far more women are receptive to the idea of getting an honest day's pay for an honest day's work than are receptive to the idea of overthrowing capitalism or other huge systems designated as tools of patriarchy — but in other ways it is actually more relevant to many women. In its specifics, it contains numerous legacies of the struggles that gave it birth: third-wave feminists explicitly attempt to treat women's issues as larger than those of upper-class white women, highlighting the similar but distinct experiences of minorities in the First World, as well as women in other countries where different traditional roles have led to different kinds of discrimination that Western-style feminism may not adequately tackle. For example, female genital mutilation, a hot-button issue in Western feminism, is seen as a less pressing issue by a number of African feminists, especially considering the history of colonial opposition to the practice (seriously).

Feminism is ultimately about women's empowerment, and their right to make the choices that work for them, even when those choices may seem to conflict with basic ideals of equality. Thus, at least one modern feminist source has argued that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are feminists, although the pair rail against things most sane people feminists hold dear, specifically the right to abortion.[5]

[edit] Currently

There is something sexy about women in power. I like when you can see that a person believes in him/herself that much.
—Mikael Birkkjær

As with most movements against discrimination and inequality, feminism is still a long way from achieving its goals, with many prejudices and much bias persisting, which can mostly be explained by ignorance of the movement's actual goals. Women in the workplace find it difficult to earn the equivalent pay of their male counterparts, and many find that a "glass ceiling" exists in business and politics, preventing them from getting the promotions they might earn otherwise.[6]

But, on the bright side, the situation of women in general has been consistently improving, at least in the First World. The proportion of wealth held by women has risen significantly enough to prompt speculation as to the effect that the continuation of this trend would have on the economy,[7][8] and although large wage gaps remain in specific professions, in the general case the income gap is now almost nonexistent among the younger generation of women, especially in urban areas.[9] These developments led Hanna Rosin of The Atlantic to remark: "Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained—at least in part—by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment."[10]

[edit] Backlash

Because feminism demands that society re-evaluate how it views women and what roles women must and can take on, and because the core of feminism is the ultimate self-empowerment and self-realization of women (in no small cost to traditional male power and supremacy), many conservatives view feminism as an attempt to set up a castrating matriarchy, where Dianic Wicca reigns supreme and all women are lesbians.

Others feel that truly empowering women means that women should be able to choose to take on "traditional" feminine roles if that suits them personally. Some advocates for this broader approach to feminism argue that Western women are under pressure to do too much.[11]

Feminism, just like any other philosophy, has its vocal fanatics too.[12]

[edit] Political leaders

Conservatives often use a straw man depiction of feminists' support for abortion rights as an excuse not to take any of their other opinions seriously, turning complex arguments into one-liners like "They don't want to take responsibility for their (sexual) actions" or "They want to have their cake and eat it too."[13]

  • Mitt Romney has an on-and-off love affair with America's women. He loves stay-at-home moms and says that they are important role models for kids - unless they are poor women. Then they are teaching their children laziness!
  • In Newt Gingrich's 1995 "Contract With America" women and issues for and about women were fully absent.
  • Rick Santorum is a goldmine of hilariously sexist views against feminism.[14] He wrote a whole chapter of his book It Takes a Family[15] about women and feminism. Its memorable moments include:
The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness. [...] Radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace.
Respect for stay-at-home mothers has been poisoned by a toxic combination of the village elders' war on the traditional family and radical feminism's misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.
One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that's okay. Contraception's okay.’ It's not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be... I'm not running for preacher, I'm not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues.

[edit] MRAs

While nominally the men's rights movement claims to address what its proponents perceive as anti-male injustices, a vast proportion of de facto MRAs practically do nothing, or nearly nothing, about those issues, instead merely using them as talking points against feminism. According to these MRAs, women have used feminism to now exploit the menz, and have often framed their evidence in favour of evolutionary psychology woo. It is worth noting that most of the valid talking points which some of these MRAs address (domestic violence against men, female-on-male rape not being widely recognised, lighter criminal sentences for women, et cetera) are actually combatted (indirectly through combatting patriarchy) by feminism- not caused. For instance, during custody cases, feminists can criticize the bias against men because such cases assume that women are the traditional caregivers.

[edit] Religious response

Due to the social conservatism inherent in many religions, many churches are behind the times in gender equality, or even actively opposing it. This has made many religious communities a cornerstone of anti-feminist sentiment.

[edit] Media loons

Rush Limbaugh even invented his own pet derogatory term, "feminazis,"[16] He also stated in July of 2012 that "All of our problems began when women got the vote." He then tried to retract that with the "I was just kidding" defense.

[edit] Women against women

Concerned Women for America and Phyllis Schlafly have separately decreed that a woman's only place is in the home, and feminism destroys women. Some female wingnuts have stated a wish to abolish female suffrage due to feminism's attempts to free women from their traditional roles as servants to their husbands.

There are also many women who self-identify as feminists but have been highly critical of either the practices of modern and postmodern feminism or their underpinning ideologies (Marxism is a common target for this). These include Christina Hoff Sommers, Wendy McElroy, Camille Paglia, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Kate Fillion, Daphne Patai, and others. (Ironically, some of the aforementioned have said very loopy things as well.)

However, even in these academic cases, it is a simple case of women who are upset with a particular sub-theory of feminism, rather than the notion of feminism as a whole.[17]

[edit] Academic criticism

[edit] First world, middle class white, privileged point of view

Perhaps the most common and most significant criticism laid against modern feminism had been the privileged gaze of largely white, middle class writers working on the issues of, and focusing on the experiences of the white middle class, for a white middle class audience. Much of this criticism has come from within the feminist movement, as women of color and women who are from or work in areas of poverty have emphasized that what matters to a 25 year old white college girl, doesn't really cross the mind of a woman struggling simply to keep her kids fed.

Like atheist, humanist and skeptical movements, change is afoot, though slowly. More articles[18] appear in mainstream feminist sites about poverty, more discussions of Third World needs (3rd-world feminism), and writers from various backgrounds[19][20][21][22] are both included in the mainstream dialogue, and are writing about their experiences and needs,[23][24] targeting others with similar experiences and needs.

[edit] Seeing rape everywhere

Feminists both of yesteryear and today emphasise the importance of addressing modern rape culture (essentially, the manner in which society justifies, normalises or in other ways encourages rape). This goal is something that pretty much no one except the most aggressive anti-feminist types think is a bad goal. However, some academic feminists have made unprecedented observations of rape culture, finding "rape" in places that largely have nothing to do with sexuality or sex at all. For example, what later became known as the "Beethoven rape controversy" was ignited by this statement by feminist musicologist Susan McClary:

The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.[25]

Another example of this was Sandra Harding's declaration that Isaac Newton's Principia was a "rape manual."[26]

Andrea Dworkin, renowned anti-pornography feminist, believed the cesarean section surgical procedure intended to save a woman and fetus' life in the case a vaginal birth was not possible was rape, stating "the uterus of the whore [is] entered directly by the new rapist, the surgeon."[27]

These... unique viewpoints are unfortunately used in attempts to discredit the entire feminist movement. In some cases, similar quotes are either fabricated or mined. One of the most common is "All men are rapists" or "All sex is rape," usually misattributed to Catharine MacKinnon, Marilyn French, or some other feminist figure of your choice.[28] According to MacKinnon, the quote misattributed to her was "made up by the pornography industry in an attempt to undermine her credibility,"[29] and although Marilyn French did actually write the phrase attributed to her, what is usually not mentioned is that it was said in the person of a fictional character (based on Valerie Solanas) in French's novel The Women's Room.[30] Most feminists agree that all of these viewpoints are somewhat excessive, to say the least.

[edit] Feminism and neopaganism

See the main article on this topic: Goddess religion

There has been some cross-pollination between neopaganism and radical feminism, leading to various works of pseudohistory. This commonly involves goddess myths and portrayals of Wicca as the direct descendant of a vast, unified, and ancient goddess cult. It also tends to accompany pseudohistories of the European witch-hunts that massively inflate the number of deaths by witch-hunt and blithely ignore the fact that, while women were the victims in the vast majority of cases, men were often accused of witchcraft as well. Use of the phrases "Burning Times" or "patriarchal genocide" are usually a good sign you're reading one of these pseudohistories.

[edit] Feminism as a conduit for cultural relativism

Some have accused feminism, or at least some feminist schools of thought as dressing up cultural relativism in the garb of women's rights. While this is true of some feminist theory, other feminists have criticized cultural relativists for supporting female oppression so long as it is acceptable according to any one culture's norm.[31]

[edit] Marxist criticism of feminism

Marxist feminists have criticized liberal feminism, not because they oppose feminism, but because they believe many feminists define progress in female equality with men by their access to the capitalist and imperialist systems. For example, it's common to see women being allowed in combat or having places in the Forbes 500 cited as signs of progress by some feminists. Rather than criticizing feminism in general, something most Marxists support, they are criticizing bourgeois privileged, middle-class feminists who do not seem to care as much about working class and poor women.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Memorable Quotes is one of many sources.
  2. Antonio Damasio. The Feeling of What Happens. Orlando, Fl: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.
  3. Three differnet articles on women's roles in the Arab Spring
  4. Similarly, in Romer v. Edwards, the majority opinion found that there can be no claim to equality and liberty if you cannot be part of the system that is controlling you.
  5. http://thefeministwire.com/2011/09/palin-bachmann-and-the-political-feminism-of-the-right/
  6. Ahem, Reuters.
  7. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2109140,00.html
  8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/income-gap-women-make-more-men_n_1368328.html
  9. http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2015274,00.html
  10. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/
  11. How Dutch women got to be the happiest in the world
  12. E.g. Cathy Brennan, or this charming blogger
  13. And so what if we do, men have the remote and the TV too!
  14. http://thestir.cafemom.com/in_the_news/134547/rick_santorums_beliefs_about_women
  15. ISBN-10: 1932236295, It Takes a Family (2005)
  16. Considering he is saying it in the context of "militant feminists" allowing a 'Holocaust' of abortions, and the fact that Nazis were just as rabidly pro-life and anti-women as him, it may be the most ironic statement in American politics.
  17. Internal critics, incidentally, are a vital feature of any movement. When internal dissenters are ejected, censored, demonised as traitors, or otherwise silenced, the result is very likely to be groupthink and impaired reality testing, to say nothing of the consequences to loyal supporters who lodge criticisms in good faith, as part of an effort to strengthen the movement.
  18. Everyday Feminism discussing poverty
  19. Middle eastern feminism
  20. Middle eastern feminists
  21. Queer Asian women
  22. Feministing's Sesali Brown, for example
  23. black feminist
  24. The angry black woman
  25. She later danced around the comment. See the Wikipedia page for more info.
  26. Bruin Alumni Assoc.
  27. Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. 1989. The Andrea Dworkin Online Library. http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/PornAList.html.
  28. Andrea Dworkin did say something very similar, that men view all sex as rape, but the detractors do not really care about that.
  29. Rape seeded, Snopes
  30. Marilyn French: "Yes I'm Still Angry", The Independent
  31. http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Gend/GendMall.htm
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