Adapted from Scott Plunkett, Ph.D, Course Notes
Feminist theory/perspective reflects the thinking across the feminist movement that focuses on:
1. The inequality of power between men and women in society and in family life.
2. The feminist perspective – is about choice and about equally valuing the choices individuals make.
1. A recognition of women’s oppression
2. An examination of what contributes to the maintenance of that oppression
3. A commitment to ending the unjust subordination
4. A futuristic vision of equality
Women’s subordination appears in works of Plato, who believed that men were more virtuous by nature, and others who believed men had more intellectual and reasoning capabilities.
Following the industrial revolution, the women’s movement emerged in the 19th century.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton established the National Organization of Women (NOW).
Susan B. Anthony was chosen to represent the Suffragists because of her less radical views. By the 1880s there was widespread support for obtaining the vote.
Many believed women deserved the vote due to their maternal virtues while others believed women and men were equal in endowments.
A major accomplishment in 1920 was the right to vote
In the 1960s there was a resurgence of the feminist movement which grew from the movement for the rights of African Americans.
Major themes were:
who wrote The Feminine Mystique which described dissatisfaction and depression among American housewives, and
Simone de Beauvoir:
who formulated the idea that power is central to the social construction of gender in the book, The Second Sex.
In 1972 the ERA was approved by the U.S. Congress, however, it failed to become law.
Women are oppressed
Must focus on the centrality, normality and importance of women’s experience
Gender is socially constructed
The analyses of gender should include the larger socio-culture context
The term “family” supports women’s oppression because it contains class, cultural, and heterosexual biases
Social change and methodological approaches should be value committed
Women need to succeed and change the oppression.
There is no ONE feminist theory, although all of the theories share common assumptions and values.
1. Liberal feminists
believe gender should not be a barrier since men and women are endowed with the same rational and spiritual capacities.
Liberal feminists are committed to:
“social and legal reforms that will create equal opportunities for women” (Osmond & Thorne, 1993, p. 594),
ending sex discrimination. and
challenging sex stereotyping.
2. Social feminists
believe women are oppressed by capitalism.
The focus is on redefining capitalism in relation to women’s work.
3. Radical feminist theories
Insist the oppression of women is fundamental.
Radical feminists believe the current patriarchal system must be eliminated.
Attention is directed towards issues of the body such as:
men’s control over women’s sexuality and reproduction,
men’s use of rape and violence to violate women.
The hierarchical social structure through which men dominate and manipulate women (Avis 1986)
A person’s learned masculine or feminine status apart from ones biological male or female makeup.
Gender is analyzed in terms of the socialization process; gender identity; the social structure of the family, state, education, religion and other institutions; cultural or symbolic notions; and gender-power relationships.
The person is political
Women’s personal lives are an expression of their subordination within society (Avis, 1986)
The imposition of constraints by one group over another (Osmond & Thorn, 1993)
· Important values of feminism include:
democratic use of power
enjoyment of body and work
· Critiquing of other perspectives on families as ignoring or misrepresenting power structure and paying insufficient attention to socio-culture and historical contexts.
· Challenging the traditional approaches to the study of families
Focusing on gender as a theoretical construct instead of as a variable
Advocating the use of “household” as opposed to “family” due to the term family’s biases
Emphasizing the harmful effects of the traditional family roles, economic exploitation, and social inequalities
Refuting the stereotypes of the women as dependent and economically unproductive
Focusing on the influence of capitalism and patriarchy on the organization of work, including work within the family
Viewing motherhood as an experience as opposed to a role
Challenging the structure of heterosexuality as the norm
Recognizing the public-private dichotomy where men are recognized with public society and women with private family
emphasis on women’s experiences
focus on ending the subordination of individuals based on class, ethnicity, race, age and gender
Current feminism has a commitment to change (Osmond & Thorne, 1993)
Feminist research attempts to understand gender power relationships
A major feminist tenet, according to Walker (1993), is the need to deal with familial conflict, competition, and structural arrangements which increase the probability that family processes will be harmful
Feminism reveals harmful effects traditional family roles, economic exploitation, and social inequalities have on women’s general well being.
Are inextricably interwoven as demonstrated by the many efforts to apply feminism to political actions such as:
Can be applied to a broad range of issues
Provides valuable critique of other theories and perspectives
Research and practice are emotionally charged
Overemphasis on gender and power