Feminism Essay, Research Paper
IS THERE ANY CONSISTENCY AMONG THE VARIOUS FEMINISMS OR IS FEMINISM INCOHERANT?
Without fear of contradiction one can successfully collate the feminist philosophy, both as a progressively forward-looking movement, and an evolving, multitude of openly pro-feminine theories. Indeed ‘core feminist theory’ dictates, that feminism should persist in the sole pursuit of “equality, amongst men and women, on political, economic, and social grounds”. This essay hopes to carefully outline the historical backdrop for the conception of feminist ideology. This essay shall subsequently endeavour to determine the likelihood of prevailing homogeneous issues, amongst a variety of feminist oriented viewpoints. Consequently the aim of this study shall be to accurately highlight possible consistencies and conforming arguments, within the aggregate feminist schools of thought.
Contrary to popular belief the historically ongoing and widespread restrictive practise against women, is not a purely modern concept. This rather inept and presently unacceptable form of severe discriminatory behaviour has its roots, as with many notable political issues, in Ancient times. In the Athenian Polis, for example, women were entirely and deliberately excluded from public life, confined instead to the traditional Greek Oilcos or household. The female role in the city-state was effectively predetermined to be that of irrelevance and thus, women attracted little in the way of recognition for matters not concerning the family. Textual literature of the time would further indicate an orchestrated attempt to legitimatise such activity, presenting the exclusion of women, as both rightful and necessary. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, for example, has also been attributed to the gradual and prolonged historical subjection of women. Through his testimonies of the “weak and inert matter of the female gender”, he related women to negative and unreliable ‘dualisms’, emphasising the need for form (man) to transcend matter (woman).
This fundamentally important Ancient patriarchy has laid a solid foundation for modern feminist discussion, which draws on the totality of oppression and exploitation, to which women have been subjected, from the very cradle of western political thought. The supremacy of men and the subjection of women in most if not all societies, has been a significant catalyst in the characterisation of feminist ideology, which acknowledges the different treatment of both genders, and strives to eliminate such vast differentiation. Holistically, feminist theory and practise is highly diverse with distinctive branches of opinion and interpretation, each pioneered by one or more leading political or literal figures, respectively. Liberal Feminism has long been considered the original feminist perspective, and before the emergence of other contentious schools of thought, this view was understood to represent feminism in its entirety.
A firm liberal-based argument stems from the work of Mary Wollstonecraft, who in 1792 wrote the first great feminist treatise, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. In this universally renowned text Wollstonecraft writes a substantial collection of liberally progressive sentiments, and addresses the legal, economic and educational problems for women per se. She writes that independence and social equality for women is a rare and virtually non-existent concept, and a woman who wants to overcome these challenges, has specific restrictions and obstacles to face. In an ideal world the absent equalities and rights of a woman would be fairly distributed and judicially upheld, but this is not an ideal world, she adds. Ultimately she argues that the equal rights that are applied to men should be extended to include women. An equally significant aspect of the book focuses on the responsibilities of a woman, first to herself (as a rational creature), and then to the state, as a citizen and as a mother. Wollstonecraft places a great of emphasis on a woman’s right to an education, especially since “the progress of all society depended on the fact that both sexes be equally educated”. She explains that women should move away from their traditional emotional stereotypes, and adopt education as the fundamental access to achieve a place in society.
Marriage is another unconventional yet constant theme throughout her book, which is not surprising as marriage during this period of history, would give the husband legal ownership of his wife, her property, and their offspring, and as such would go against Wollstonecraft’s philosophy. Wollstonecraft is against marriage and therefore far ahead of her time, especially since in the 18th century a good marriage was the goal of most women. For Wollstonecraft, however, independence is essential and true freedom could only be obtained from remaining unmarried. Marriage under law Wollstonecraft argued was nothing short of ‘legalised prostitution’. Targeting Rosseau and other male writers of the time, she criticises their belief that women should face severe restraint, i.e. within a traditional marriage, and be condemned to live as though they were property. She poses the question, why women should be bound in this way and face second class treatment in society in general. Promoting the potential capacity of all women she urges sensible and moral reform of the political, social, and legal aspects of women’s lives.
Wollstonecraft’s work remains a cornerstone in women’s rights and has laid the foundation for modern feminism, which sees education as the access to achieve greater economic, political, and social status. Moreover, it has fundamentally set the agenda for the liberal perspective, which genuinely supports the equalisation of society, for men and women. The late 19th century political writer and commentator J S Mill has further advanced such ideology, in his belief that in Great Britain, the continuing ’second class treatment’ of women, should be replaced by ‘perfect equality’, all in all making society more liberal. In his distinguished paper titled ‘the Subjection of Women’, Mill proclaims the so-called ‘weaker nature of women’, as a purely artificial thing, which has developed entirely, under the continuing repression of women by men. In fact, throughout his text Mill employs the phrase ‘artificial’ more than a dozen times, consciously stressing the sincerity of his argument. Mill equates the oppressive nature of men toward women with that of slavery, and questions the legitimacy to which such behaviour should be tolerated. He goes on to say that men generally seem to believe that society, requires the effective domination of women, and that subsequent discrimination is more a of necessary than voluntary practice. Mill also criticises the male gender (in general) for being too single minded, and unable to learn the lessons of history, arguing the apathy of change within society and amongst men, is disgracefully in favour of preserving the status quo.
On the most part Mill concurs with Wollstonecraft and implores a greater degree of change and maturity within society, to ensure fairness and equality for everyone. The liberally based attitudes, which they personify, are greatly respected for instituting a serious debate on the issues surrounding equality for men and women. Liberal feminism today accepts the basic organisation of society, but seeks to redress the balance of rights and opportunities internally, by providing sensible remedies to the problems faced externally. Liberal feminists would therefore see all people as equal and advocate that everyone should be treated as such. Sexism, according to them, for example, is dysfunctional because it deprives society of one-half of its creative work force. Although this view was widely adopted and socially accepted, another form of feminism started to find fault of many of the liberal fundamentals. Socialist feminism, which is also said to derive from Marxist political thinking, supports the greater reforms suggested by many of the liberally based arguments, but also encourages the elimination of the capitalist economy, which it suggests forms a major obstacle for feminism, in achieving its core objectives.
Engels wrote ‘The Origin of The Family, Private Property and The State’ in the latter half of the 19th century. He focuses greatly on early human history, following the disintegration of the primitive community and the emergence of a class society, based on private property. Engels looks into the origin and essence of the state, and concludes it is bound to wither away leaving a classless society. Marxist and socialist perspectives of feminism today specifically concentrate on patriarchy, and the wider oppression that takes places between women and society. They accept that early ‘matriarchal’ societies, which provided a great degree of individual freedom to women, went into decline. Marxists in particular make a point of historical change, advocating that the eventual merger of the family, private property, and the state, would mutually reinforce the need for men to identify their own children. In other words, as private property became a more of a significant factor in social evolution, the average male desired to acknowledge his heir and as such thoroughly campaigned to successively restrict the sexually liberal activities, of women. In doing so, argues Engels, one could successfully correlate the rise of the family with the demise of female independence. This social patriarchy was rooted firmly within the concept of private property and capitalism, and in the wider context, for segregation and discriminative practise against women to be ended, capitalism had to be dissolved.
This contradictory school of thought has thus far exposed, the intrinsic causes of male precedence, and related them to the failure of society to evolve adequately, to effectively disenfranchise such immoral variations. In addition the Marxist / Socialist approach adopts a far more extremist resolution, in calling for the collapse of capitalism. This fairly excessive solution however, according to Marxists, would ensure that the economic significance of women, rather than being confined to the family or domestic life, would generously supplement the overall productivity of the working classes. Female subordination would, strictly speaking, be replaced by equality of labour output and day to day workload. In other words, for Marxists and Socialist feminists, the idea that men and women should be equal is a mere stepping stone, for the gradual move to integrating this equality, into an almost communist-style social order.
A third major stream flowing into the river of feminism has been dubbed Radical Feminism and sees the oppression of women as the fundamentally important and most basic form of discrimination. This, together with all other forms of oppression, say radical feminists, stems from male dominance, in a highly conscious attempt to obtain psychological ego satisfaction, strength, and self-esteem. The answer, as it were, lies in male sexuality, argues Mackmon. Radical feminists tend to fully concentrate their efforts on bringing about change in the physical sense of the word. Men are naturally biologically geared toward aggression, and women have to substantially alter the way, in which they respond, to such dismal behaviour, comments Germaine Greer, a noted modern radical feminist. For radical feminists per se, the concept of patriarchy is utterly unacceptable, and the only effective way in which to eliminate it, is through the removal of gender differences, barriers, and ‘norms’. This movement is collectively intent of social change, change of revolutionary proportions, in fact. Radical feminism attempts to draw a line between biologically determined behaviour and culturally determined behaviour, to ‘free both genders’.
Today there are ever increasing variations in the feminist ideology ranging from Amazon feminism which holds the image of the Ancient female heroin paramount, to Separatist feminism, which isolates itself from men altogether, often wrongly accused of advocating lesbianism. Nevertheless, feminism shares at least two qualities with the sociological perspective: first, questioning of ones basic assumptions about social patterns; and second, an awareness of the relationship between ones personal experiences and society. There are intense differences of opinion among feminists, but most support five basic principles which include: the importance of change, expanding human choice, eliminating gender stratification, ending sexual violence, and promoting sexual autonomy. These would be the fundamental consistencies within various feminist ideologies today, which collectively form the feminist school of thought. In retrospect, one could also argue that the founding consistencies within feminism, those of equality, justice, and unity have become more and more conflicted throughout the 20th century.
As feminism gathered pace in the late 18th century women saw the need to adopt unity as a core principle belief, and considering the 150 years plus it took to achieve even the most basic equalities, one can understand why stern co-operation and consistency amongst women was a vital necessity. However, soon after the likes of Emily Pankhurst (leader of the suffragette movement in UK 1920’s) helped to acquire fundamental equalities such as the right to vote, more and more women began to form new ideas and greater targets for the feminist school of though. Thus one could also maintain that until the period of the early 1920’s, there was a far greater extent to which common goals and consistencies among feminists, united them in their sole pursuit for basic human rights. Not to dissimilar to a tree, the feminist philosophy soon began to develop and individual branches headed in various directions, with various extremes, each maintaining the basic core feminist values, but each devising newer and greater independent beliefs, for what it believed, would eventually deliver complete and total equality, freedom, and potential for women.