Feminism comprises a number of social, cultural and political movements, theories and moral philosophies concerned with gender inequalities and equal rights for women. In its narrowest interpretation, it refers to the effort to ensure legal and political equality for women; in its broadest sense it comprises any theory which is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified. The basis of feminist ideology is that society is organized into a patriarchal system in which men are privileged over women. History:
Feminism is generally said to have begun in the 19th century as people increasingly adopted the perception that women are oppressed in a male-centered society. The feminist movement is rooted in the West and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The organized movement is dated from the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The discussion was focused on the social, civil and religious condition of women.
Feminism has five major concepts embedded into it:
Patriarchy - the dominance of men in society, and the oppression of women for men’s gain. Example: ‘The family is patriarchal because women must do housework without pay.’
Discrimination - unfair/unequal treatment of women i.e. by the law. Example: Women paid less than men until Equal Pay Act 1970.
Gender stereotypes - negative generalizations/misconceptions about women. These are perpetuated in the media, as well as the education system. Example: ‘Man are better drivers then women.’
Economic dependency - women giving up work to take care of childcare/housework responsibilities, thus becoming dependent on their husbands for money.
Emotional work - women are expected to do the majority of emotional care for their family, on top of their job and housework; the so-called ‘triple shift’.
1. Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie de Beauvoir, commonly known as Simone de Beauvoir, was a French writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist.
THE SECOND SEX
Simone de Beauvoir
De Beauvoir’s primary thesis is that men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is essential, absolute, and transcendent. She is inessential, incomplete, and mutilated. He extends out into the world to impose his will on it, whereas woman is doomed to immanence, or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her. This distinction is the basis of all de Beauvoir’s later arguments.
De Beauvoir insists on the impossibility of comparing the “character” of men and women without considering the immense differences in their situation, and in Book II, entitled “Woman’s Life Today,” she turns to the concrete realities of this situation. She traces female development through its formative stages: childhood, youth, and sexual initiation. Her goal is to prove that women are not born “feminine” but shaped by a thousand external processes. She shows how, at each stage of her upbringing, a girl is conditioned into accepting passivity, dependence, repetition, and inwardness. Every force in society conspires to deprive her of subjectivity and flatten her into an object. Denied the possibility of independent work or creative fulfillment, the woman must accept a dissatisfying life of housework, childbearing, and sexual slavishness.
In “Justifications,” de Beauvoir studies some of the ways that women reinforce their own dependency. Narcissists, women in love, and mystics all embrace their immanence by drowning selfhood in an external object—whether it be the mirror, a lover, or God. Throughout the book, de Beauvoir mentions such instances of females being complicit in their...
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