Feminism is the only ideology that believes that gender is a form of discrimination, if not the strongest of social boundaries compared to race, status, and nationality. For this reason feminists focus on gender inequality and the specific roles that men and woman lead in every day life as a result of gender discrimination. Feminism can be traced back to 1405 in the book by Christine de Pisan’s “Book of the City of Ladies”. This book contained the basic skeleton of thought that is present in modern day feminism, as it celebrates and highlights women and their contribution through out history, similar to cultural feminism.
This clearly shows that from long ago there has always been a demand for equal rights between the sexes. In the last century many schools of feminist thought have emerged as a result of this question of equality and many different remedies have also come as result. Today feminism is an ideology that has a very broad horizon, which is only normal for an area as vast and amorphous as gender. Liberal feminism emerged in the 1850’s and was the school of thought that dominated first wave feminism.
Liberal feminism is the belief that focussed on woman enjoying the same rights as men, and for this reason first wave feminism focussed on the public sphere of politics. Liberal feminists believed that the problem was in the political sphere of life, as woman at the time were literally not allowed in the public sphere of life. The British suffrage movement lead by mother and daughter Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in the 1903 organised many forms of protest that were aimed at achieving the goal of the female vote.
The feminists at the time thought that gaining the vote would be the most important right that women needed, and as a result the other gender divides in society would disappear. For this reason it is understandable to see why feminists at the time thought gaining the vote would solve inequality between the sexes as the external rights would affect everyday life, and internal affairs. Legislation was the only way that woman could gain the vote, and bring equality.
Once the bill had been passed than it would be the responsibility of the ruling body to implement and protect that laws and this would mean woman having the same protected rights as men, or so they thought so. The methods that the suffragettes used to achieve this ranged from handing out leaflets, chaining themselves to property, and even to the use of hunger strikes. These methods no doubt gained media attention, but not necessarily positive media attention. However these forms of protests did increase awareness among other woman, and also inspired others to join the movement as well.
The movement grew through out the 19th century, and had the clear focus of gaining the vote. Despite woman’s obvious contribution to society it was only until the start if the First World War when they could prove they were just as capable as men were. When the war was over and won in 1918, woman over the age of thirty were given the right to vote in 1920. This right to vote was given for many reasons, woman had proved that they could do the men’s jobs, and were just as capable. Also the government realised that as growing power in the world, the British workforce would be stronger if women were a part of the workforce as well.
The voting franchise was further extended to woman aged 18 in 1928. The goal of first wave feminism had been achieved, woman had the vote and but this caused the movement lose the impetus. But it was clear that inequality still remained between the sexes, gaining the female vote had raised the political status of women slightly, but failed to achieve the original goal of bringing equality between the sexes. . The feminist movement did not stop here, but instead the opposite happened, feminists had to look at the bigger picture and not just rely on one piece of legislation to solve inequality.
Where did inequality start? How is it maintained? But mostly, if gaining the vote didn’t end equality than what would? These questions were the main focus of second wave feminism, which emerged decades later in the 60’s. Second wave feminism aimed at achieving the goals that first wave feminism failed to achieve, and for this reason the movement this time was dominated by a more contemporary approach, radical feminism. In 1963 Betty Frieden wrote “The feminine mystique”, and the first chapter was called “The Problem With No Name”.
This problem was what most women were going through at the time. Trying to live up to the perfect images of a housewife, but at the same time feeling empty and not knowing their true identity. The problem with no name took the idea of true liberation for woman. If woman were liberated in their personal lives, and then this in turn would liberate in the public sphere. Betty Frieden stressed on the message that women should not coup themselves up at home, and should broaden their horizons through striving for true liberation.
Radical feminists like Kate Millett took this new perspective of focussing on woman’s everyday lives further, when the concept of patriarchy was discussed in her book “Sexual Politics” written in 1969. Patriarchy literally means rule by the father, but feminists use this term to describe men’s general dominance in society. Radical feminists believe that patriarchy is how men maintain the position over women in society. When looking at patriarchy radical feminists like to focus on everyday relationships between men and women.
For example when a woman irons her husband’s clothes, this can show how men for their own benefit use women and also how woman are confined to the house. It also shows that patriarchy starts from the home, and is built in the family structure “rule by the father”. Women are socialised into believing that they are inferior to men, they are socialised to be weak, and as Simone de Beauvoir said “Woman are not born they are made”. Thus the only way to get rid of patriarchy is summarised in the statement “The personal is the political”, meaning woman should liberate themselves in their personal lives as well.
Gaining the vote didn’t bring equality, because patriarchy starts from the family (the heart of society), patriarchy is maintained through socialisation, and patriarchy in turn shapes society. The radical feminist Shulasmith Firestone looks at how women are biologically weaker than men, and how this makes it possible for men to dominate women. She argues that woman have the ability to have babies, this links to menstruation, breast- feeding, and childbirth, which are all disadvantages as they limit what a woman can do in her life.
These biological characteristics also take away large amounts of freedom from women. One of the reasons why woman are mostly in low paid, part time work, is because they have other commitments at home. Most of the high well-paid jobs, are dominated by men, this may be because of the gaps in employment that woman take when pregnant and so fail to get promoted. Her solution to this is to defy women’s nature with the aid of modern technology. Ideally women should have complete control over their ability to give birth and this will mean that children will be born outside the womb.
However women taking control of their biology will only be the first step towards women being completely in control of every aspect if their lives. Radical feminism goes against Liberal feminism in one way, liberal feminists believe that the state and legislation is the solution to gaining equality. However radical feminists believe that the state is used as a tool that keeps women in an inferior position in society. Radical feminism also believes in the concept of sisterhood, and this is shown through how Shulasmith Firestone, stresses that the biological family is present in all societies.
Showing that all women are suffering, and weak as a result of their biology. This is why radical feminists believe that woman should all be united in their struggle, against men, and towards true liberation. Sisterhood is important to radical feminists, as it strengthens the movement, and woman will be able to seek strength in each other rather than rely on men. The other schools of feminists thought that have come about after the 60’s is Marxist feminism, which focuses on how woman are abused by the capitalist system.
Marxists feminists like Sue Sharpe states that women are used as a surplus labour force ready for to be used and disposed of easily. Also that women are drained of their energy and time, through maintaining the present workforce (their husbands), and also at the same time rearing the future workforce (their children). Marxist feminists stress on how woman are used and abused in both the home and the workplace, and men dominate both environments. Another school of feminist thought is ecofeminism, which looks at the link between nature and females.
Ecofeminists like Van Plumwood believe that the world would be a better place if women were in charge. The reason for this is that woman innately are more caring than men, they have they ability to raise children and nurture human life. Ecofeminists also focus on the state of the world today, pollution, global warming, the dumping of toxic wastes, and other environmental issues. But some feminists argue that this form of feminism is reactionary, meaning that it takes woman backwards away from progress, as it is taking the female role back to biology.
This is similar to pro-womnism that also focuses on the positive side about women’s role to reproduce. These two schools of thought would clash with radical feminist who believe that women are handicapped due to their nature. Black feminism is a school of feminist thought, which mixes race with gender. It is the argument that white woman dominates the feminist movement and political scene mainly. This may be true as it was the middle class women, that had the time and the money to involve themselves in politics, and they were usually white.
New feminism can be viewed as the third wave of feminism but it hasn’t really come crashing like the other two previous waves. Maybe because the movement has passed its use but feminists would argue that the movement still has its aims. New feminism believes in breaking the link between the personal and the political hence “the personal is less political”. This has been done because many women are put off by the obtrusive nature of the slogan. The statement shows that new feminism is trying to make women more comfortable with being feminists.
This is ideal for women who do not want the their public life to mix with their private life. New feminism also looks at issues like abortion, pornography, which are controversial and affect woman greatly. This shows that it is not the end of the line for feminism because women constantly face new problems in a modern growing society, and need organisations that will help them. The feminist movement has changed greatly through out the past century, and no doubt a great deal has been achieved.
Feminism by having these different stages has shown the world that it is almost evolutionary, and will be around for a longer time. Organisations like NOW are one of the biggest in America, and lobby a vast range of issues concerning women. Women today are still benefiting from the work of the past feminists, in areas of education, work, and politics. Overall the feminist movement has been a success, a remedy for true equality and liberation may not of been found yet. But instead many have been put forward, which have caused women to think further and also think for the future of “personkind” as well.
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