Citizenship and Human Rights

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Why are human rights so difficult for Women to realise?

The “Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (1789) are, for women, arbitrary, innate, a document that speaks volumes in the silent exclusion of women. Women, in this document, are not accounted and therefore it must be assumed that women are not (at the time of printing) recognised as citizens and are without rights, at least the rights bestowed upon their brothers, fathers, sons and uncles. This blatant hierarchal placement of rights removes women from the public realm and their rights seemingly in to that of the private, the home, the woman’s domain where interestingly the role of the woman is still one of sub ordinance to men. The societal role of woman is vital in understanding why rights for women are difficult to realise. The rise of capitalism marginalised the mothering capability of a woman. The biological capabilities of a woman’s body, being able to carry a child and to lactate, ties women to their children, imprisoned by their womb as De Beauvoir would conclude. Men are able to continue to work in the public sphere where women remained in the private sphere resulting in women not only be tied to mothering but to the home, the private sphere where rights did not exist. The “seemingly natural connection between women’s child bearing and lactating capacities [assumes that it is] their responsibility for child care” (Chodrow:3) therefore the role of primary caregiver resides with the woman and is the socially accepted reality for a woman, to be that of care giver, nurturer and mother, regardless of their right to work. In this example it would be fair to say that the rights for women are somewhat performative. Human rights, although written as a standard right are not easy to attain due to societal pressure on women to rear children and be the primary care giver.

‘Woman has ovaries, a uterus: these peculiarities imprison her in her subjectivity, circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature….whereas he regards the body of woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it’. (Beauvoir, 1953:15)

Oakley argued though that gender “has psychological and cultural rather than biological connotations” (1972:158) enforced by psychoanalytic research. When studied alongside rise in capitalism it is evident that pre-industrialisation “mothering did not dominate women’s lives” (Chodrow:4), production took place in the home and although gender distinctions were enforced, the role of the woman and the man were of equal importance to the production of goods and ability to sustain the home and family. Industrialisation largely refers to the removal of production from the private realm to the public, taking men and boys outside to work but women, due to their assumed responsibility for childcare, remained in the home taking on the domestic role, unpaid, unseen and arguably unheard. The removal of production from the home removed women from a position of public importance. Commodity fetishism (Marx, 1867) and the importance attributed to the production of goods seemingly took precedence within society. The interest in owning ‘things’ and therefore producing ‘things’ overrode women’s rights and gave them limited access as they had little to contribute to this realm. Women were largely overlooked in the distribution of human rights. Women were not of public interest and the assumption that women’s ability to reason was lacking and due to the placement of caregiver, the emotional responsibility of a woman encouraged the idea that women were too emotional for the work place, to decision making and were to be protected. These assumed skills of women, those of care giving and nurture are not a commodity to be exchanged for financial gain and so women were further marginalised with in capitalist societies. Wollenstonecraft argues that “strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty” (Wollenstonecraft. 1998: 7) and although the woman is given...
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