Feminism is also a meta-ideology (it has internal debate). There are different schools of feminism, contradicting each other. However all feminists share the concern about the unequal status of women and aims to give a life of dignity.
Origin of feminism.
We can trace the origin of feminism in the western world to Plato, who believed that women do not suffer from any disqualification with respect to becoming the rulers.
Feminism has evolved in the form of waves.
1st wave. [Liberal and Socialist Feminism]
2nd Wave [Radical Feminism]
3rd Wave [Intersectionality emerges within feminism in 3rd wave (Internal differentiation – debates among feminists)]
1st wave. [Liberal & Socialist Feminism]
1] Liberal Feminism
Liberalism stands for civil and political rights. Hence liberal feminists believed that if women get similar civil and political rights like right to vote, right to stand in elections, their subordination will end. Mary Wollstonecraft is considered as the mother of feminism. She belonged to the time of French revolution. Like the charter of rights of men, she presented a charter on the rights of women. However the leaders at that time paid no attention. Later on, in Britain and in USA, Suffragettes movement started, demanding right to vote for women. The personalities associated with suffragettes movement include Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst. Her daughters Elizabeth and Sylvia. (Pankhurst family – English) Suffragettes were successful in achieving right to vote for women in western countries. The first country to give right to vote to women is New Zealand (1893).
2] Socialist Feminism
Marx has not discussed the issue of liberation of women. It was Friedrich Engels in his book ORIGIN OF FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND STATE discussed the subordination of women because of the institution of private property. He held that women should participate in communist revolution because once capitalism will end, women will be liberated automatically.
* Even Engels considered liberation of women as secondary and will happen automatically once communism comes.
Lenin had very progressive approach towards women. Lenin included a woman Alexandra Kollontai as a minister in his cabinet. There was very significant improvement in the status of women in USSR under Lenin in comparison to the western countries.
However, when Stalin came to power, he reversed the process in USSR. He started distributing medals with the title ‘mother heroines’ to the women which had given birth to more number of children.
In contemporary times, socialist feminists primarily focused on the economic empowerment of women. Their main agenda is the inclusion of the domestic labour performed by women in the calculation of national income. They stand for various social and economic rights of women like equal wages, maternity relief etc.
2nd Wave [Radical Feminism]
Note: when we use the term feminism, it primarily means radical feminism. The liberal and socialists feminisms are not considered as real feminists theory. Liberalism and socialism is considered as masculinist theories (written from men’s point of view), they are not considered as the feminist discourse in true sense, rather mechanical adoption of masculinist discourses on women conditions.
Radical feminists believe that women problems are different from the problems faced by men. They suggest to develop feminists terminology, feminists literature. Radical feminism revolves around the concept of gender, patriarchy, belief that ‘personal is political’ and differentiated equality/citizenship.
Important concepts in Radical Feminism
Sex and gender
Feminists make difference between sex and gender. Sex is a biological term, it only denotes that men and women are different, it has nothing to do with which is superior or which is inferior. ‘Men are superior and women are inferior, is not the natural distinction’, it is a social distinction. Thus the basis for inequalities and discrimination is not natural but social. To quote Simone de Beauvoir “One is not born women, one becomes women.” We live in a gendered society, the society which favors a particular sex over other sex.
Unlike Marxists, radical feminists consider patriarchy as the basic structure of the society. Patriarchy denotes male domination. There is a preference for males over females in many societies. The worst aspect of patriarchy is not just the subordinate status of woman but violence against woman. Violence against woman because of their sex, because they live in gendered society is the most important concern of feminism. e.g. There are some specific types of violence which only women face. e.g. female foeticide and infanticide in India, honour killings (a phenomenon very common in South Asia), Mutilation of genital organs at the tender age prevalent in many societies in Middle East and Africa (also bohra community in India), rape etc.
Personal is Political.
This is the fundamental phrase of radical feminism coined by Carole Hanisch.
Radical feminists highlight the neglect of woman perspective and concerns in the entire tradition of classical political philosophy with the rare exception of Plato and J.S. Mill.
The origin of neglect can be attributed to the Aristotle, who has been accorded the status of father of political science. It was Aristotle who made separation between personal and political i.e. between family and state. He deprived woman from the status of citizens. Confined woman within the four walls of family. It was assumed that women had no separate interest, and woman concerns can be taken care of by the master, the male, adult who is considered as citizen.
The tradition had continued in other philosophers. Hegel goes to the extent of suggesting that family is a sphere of ‘altruism’. Thus ignoring the fact that women face violence, exploitation, subordination not only outside family, but within family also. Till 20th century women were not having even right to vote. Thus women concerns were never given any separate attention, taken for granted. One of the consequence of separation of the personal and political resulted into the marginalization of women in politics or decision making institutions. Thus the separation ensured that not only theory of politics but the profession of politics continued to be dominated by men, remained most masculinist of all disciplines and professions. The lack of representation of women ensured that state also remains patriarchal. This is reflected in the laws made by state even when state make laws with respect to women. Catherine MacKinnon has analyzed the laws made by US state specifically rape laws. These laws are full of loopholes and it becomes extremely challenging to convict the criminal. Hence she says that when ‘she looks at the state, state appears male.’
Susan Moller Okin in her book GENDER JUSTICE AND FAMILY has given four interpretations to the phrase ‘Personal is Political’.
1] It leads to the assumption that family and state belong to different spheres. State has no right to interfere in the domestic sphere. State policies should be confined to the public sphere e.g. in India, there has been a debate whether state has right to interfere in the Muslim Personal Laws.
2] Though it is believed that the state does not intervene in family but it is not the fact, state does intervene in the family, make personal laws but the problem is that these laws are made from the perspective of men. Considering that women are hardly represented in the state.
3] Heterosexual family is the main institution which develops patriarchal values. Children brought up in such families observe the subordinate status of woman, when they go out of family and look at the subordination, exploitation, they consider it as natural or common sense. Hence homosexual families or single parent family is a better alternative.
4] Personal is Political results into the view that women should remain within the family. The domestic labour of women is not accounted. Some women who take up jobs outside family come under dual burden. Mostly they are employed in low-paid jobs. When women earns less then her status within family becomes subordinate. Thus personal is political highlight how patriarchy influences the life of women.
Scholar: Iris Marion Young
Liberal feminists demanded the equality of status for women. They believed that if women get equal civil and political rights, they will get equal status.
Radical feminists believe that the status will not be equal even when they have equal rights. The reason is we live in a gendered society. In gendered society, women need special rights. Hence they suggest the concept of ‘differentiated citizenship/equality’ against universal citizenship.
Differentiated citizenship expects state to realize the difference between the needs of women and men, and make special provisions in favour of women e.g. special compartments for women in trains. This special treatment is needed not because women are weaker sex but because only women are subjected to the specific type of violence.
Prominent scholars of Radical feminism.
Betty Friedan – FEMININE MYSTIQUE
Simone de Beauvoir – THE SECOND SEX
Kate Millet – SEXUAL POLITICS
Shulamith Firestone – DIALECTICS OF SEX
1] Betty Friedan
She belonged to USA. She has conducted an interview on ‘white American women.’ Her sample included married women belonging to well to-do families. She wanted to know the life of this segment and whether they are satisfied with their life.
In the survey, she found that despite coming from well off families, white and married yet they were not completely satisfied with their lives. Women felt that they are missing something in the life but they were not in a position to tell what is the problem.
Betty Friedan described the problem as, the problem which has no name. She came to the conclusion that patriarchy is the reason behind the lack of satisfaction. Thus even when equal rights are given to the women, they will not be able to get the similar level of satisfaction like men. The problem of women are different from men and hence require different solutions. Women require the end of patriarchy.
She has analyzed how patriarchy is perpetuated. Patriarchy is perpetuated in the society by creating myths with respect to women. These myths or so called essential women qualities are responsible for the perpetuation of patriarchy.
e.g. There is a myth that women loose attraction after certain age. Hence they should marry early. Because of the myth, women have to leave their studies. Hence they have lower skill sets. Hence when they enter into the job market, they can get low-paid jobs like secretaries, nurses, primary school teachers etc. The low paid job reinforce their subordinate status.
These myths are perpetuated through various means. She specifically criticizes women magazines. Women magazines portray happy housewife and the problematic life of career women.
Even myths are perpetuated through the so-called scientific discourses. Radical feminists are specifically critical of Sigmund Freud, the psycho analyst. He has established that the most important objective of women is to appear attractive to men.
Thus these myths are perpetuated in systemic manner and it becomes extremely difficult to challenge patriarchy. And even women find their happiness and comfort in patriarchy.
2] Simone de Beauvoir
She belonged to France and was influenced by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre has given the philosophy of existentialism. A philosophy of freedom or liberation. It goes beyond liberalism.
The famous statement of Sartre is “existence is prior to essence.” Existence is ‘what we are’, in this context, we are subject, having the consciousness of our own. Essence is the identity which is given to us by others. In this state, we are objects. Existence should have primacy over essence. Only then man can be free in true sense.
Sartre believes that religion is responsible for essentialism. In religion, it is suggested that the essence of men is different than that of women. It is decided by God. It reduced man to the status of the object of God. Religion also tells that God will punish if we do not act according to the God. It seems as if we are robots and God has remote control.
Sartre makes difference between ‘good faith’ and ‘bad faith’. Belief in God is ‘bad faith’, belief in self is ‘good faith’. Hence if we want to be free, believe in yourselves.
One is not born women, one becomes women.Simone De Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir was influenced by Sartre. She has incorporated Sartre view that “existence is prior to essence” in explaining the situation of women. According to her, one is not born women, but one becomes women.
Once the child is born, child becomes the object, others give that child the identity of either man or woman. Child does not have freedom to determine his/her own identity. Thus throughout life, society inculcates the norms which determine the gender of the person.
Simone de Beauvoir engages herself in the problems of women. To understand problems of women, we have to understand woman first. We have to define woman.According to her, women is provisional.
Women is provisional because women is always defined with reference to men. She is never defined independently. If our understanding of men will change, our understanding of women will change. Thus men are first sex, women are second sex. They are not only second, they are secondary. Men is primary, women is ‘the other’.
According to Simone de Beauvoir features of women are also determined by men, the so called essential feminist qualities. They are defined in the manner that it results into their subordination. According to her, there is no women problem, it is men’s problem.
Just like, there is no black problem, it is a problem of white. Similarly there is no Jewish problem, it is a problem because of anti-Semitism in Europe. Being women would not have been problem, had we been living in a non patriarchal society.
According to her, ‘being feminine’ has nothing to do with biology, psychology or even intellect, it is all the construction of civilization. Women suffer not because of nature but because of tradition. Just because women undergo different physiological processes like menstruation, pregnancy, lactation it does not become the reason for subordination. She has criticized Sigmund Freud for creating myths. Myths are created not just through culture but also through so called scientific discipline like medical science or psychology. According to her Sigmund Freud has constructed the myth that ‘women suffer from penis envy and men suffer from castration complex’.
She suggests that women continue to suffer dilemma between 1. Her existence as a human. 2. Her destiny as women.
Those who reject ‘eternal feminism’ are considered as abnormal, defective and unattractive. Society does not give opportunity to women to be free. Society keeps women in the state of immanence (stagnation), does not allow women to achieve transcendence (moving to the future, opening to freedom).
Thus women are projected as passive, secondary and non-essential. She suggests women to come out of the comfort of patriarchy, develop good faith. She believes that economic empowerment will lead to improvement in the status of women. Patriarchy is even bad for men. Hence men and women should work together against patriarchy.
She has also conducted survey among women and exploded certain myths e.g. she could conclude that it is a myth that women enjoy motherhood. Most of the women she interviewed considered the entire process of giving birth to a child and rearing of child as not pleasurable but horrible experience.
3rd Wave [Internal differentiation]
Scholar: Susan Faludi – BACKLASH
According to post feminism, women in western societies are sufficiently liberated. Hence radical feminism has lost relevance. Post feminists suggest that we should celebrate ‘womanhood’. They suggest that the agenda of feminist movement should be to celebrate womanhood and domesticate men.
New feminism is advocated by the Church. New feminism recommends mutual respect between men and women. Women have some essential qualities, women should enjoy motherhood, and both men and women should have mutual respect.
Scholars: Bell Hooks, Angela Davis.
According to them, there is a difference in the situation of white women and black women. Thus their concerns are different.
Post colonial feminism
Scholars: Chandra Mohanty Talapade, Sarojini Sahu
The problems of women in 3rd world countries are different from the western world. Women in these societies are under the oppression of not just patriarchy but also racism and neo-colonialism (exploitation of women by MNCs of western countries).
Scholar: Judith Butler.
According to her, gender is performative term. It denotes that there is no single method of defining women or no single method of dealing with the problems of women. Gender as a performative term implies that gender is construction of language. It depends on how we talk about it.
Basic premise: 1. Both nature and women are exploited by men. 2. Women are closer to nature, by nature. 3. Nature is woman. 4. Women are the worst sufferers of environmental degradation because their life is more dependent on nature. 5. Only women can protect environment. 6. For any agenda of sustainable development, empowerment of women should be at the center. This has been recognized in agenda 21 as well as agenda 2030.
Why women to be given centrality with respect to environmental protection?
i. Nature of women – men are consumerists and women are conservationists. ii. the life of women is more dependent on nature. It is to be noted that women have always been at the forefront in any environmental movement. Even Indian environmental movement has been started by women. (Chipko movement).
Exponents of eco-feminism: Eugene Dubois, Mary Daly (GYN ECOLOGY), Vandana Shiva.
Radical feminists criticize eco-feminist because they also base their thought in eternal feminism.
Test Your Knowledge!
1] The origin of feminism in the Western world can be traced back to?
Ans: b) Plato
2] The second wave of feminism is related to
a) Liberal Feminism
b) Socialist Feminism
c) Radical Feminism
d) Postmodern feminism
Ans: c) Radical Feminism
3] What is the main agenda of socialist feminist thinkers in the contemporary times?
a) Ensuring civil and political rights to women
b) Demanding reservation in legislative bodies
c) Giving women centrality with respect to environmental degradation
d) Inclusion of domestic labour performed by women in the calculation of national income
Ans: d) Inclusion of domestic labour performed by women in the calculation of national income
4] Patriarchy refers to
a) Male domination
b) Subordinate status of women
c) Violence against women because of their sex
d) All of the above
Ans: d) All of the above
5] Which of the following statements is correct about the concept of gender?
a) It is a social distinction
b) It is a biological distinction
c) It has nothing to do with who is superior or who is inferior
d) It does not favour any particular sex over other sex
Ans: a) It is a social distinction
6] Who coined the phrase ‘Personal is Political?
a) Carole Hanisch
b) Simone de Beauvoir
c) Betty Friedan
d) Susan Moller Okin
Ans: a) Carole Hanisch
7] Which of the following is not an interpretation of ‘Personal is Political’ by Susan Moller Okin?
a) It leads to the assumption that family and state belong to different spheres
b) State does intervene in the family, though it is widely believed that it does not
c) Homosexual family is the main institution which develops patriarchal values
d) It results into the view that women should remain within the family
Ans: c) Homosexual family is the main institution which develops patriarchal values
8] Which of the following is correctly matched?
a) Mary Wollstonecraft–Dialectics of Sex
b) Betty Friedan–Sexual Politics
c) Kate Millet–Feminine Mystique
d) Simone de Beauvoir–The Second Sex
Ans: d) Simone de Beauvoir–The Second Sex
9] Which of the following conclusions did Betty Friedan reach in her book ‘Feminine Mystique’?
a) Patriarchy is perpetuated in the society by creating myths with regards to women
b) One is not born woman, but one becomes woman
c) Gender is a construction of language–performative term
d) Both nature and women are exploited by men
Ans: a) Patriarchy is perpetuated in the society by creating myths with regards to women
10] Simone de Beauvoir is influenced by by which of the following philosophies?
Ans: b) Existentialism
11] Which of the following statements capture the philosophy of postmodern feminism?
a) Feminist movements should celebrate womanhood and domesticate men
b) The problems of women in the 3rd world is different from western world
c) There is no single method of defining women and dealing with the problems of women
d) Radical feminism has lost relevance as women in Western societies are sufficiently liberated
Ans: c) There is no single method of defining women and dealing with the problems of women
12] Which of the following is advocated by the church?
a) New Feminism
b) Post-colonial feminism
c) Postmodern feminism
Ans: a) New Feminism