Examine the Contribution of Feminist Sociology Theory to the Sociological Understanding of Patriarchy Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

1960's sociological theory was dominated by male experts, professors, students and professors. This did not extend only to individual experts in the field. Most persons involved with professional organizations and associations regarding were also predominantly male. During the 1960's the movement known as the "second wave" of feminism began to challenge this paradigm, with considerable success in terms of increased female memberships in organizations. The leadership roles of women however, while increasing in number, were also disappointing. Whereas the first wave of feminism focused mainly on emancipating women from slavery and blatant exploitation, the second wave was then more subtle. It was focused on greater equality for women in the social, political and economic spheres. The first wave of feminism ended with the right of women to vote. This and other forms of blatant oppression ended with legislation. However, the danger of falling back into the biological determination of sexes gave rise to the second wave. The oppression of women had taken a more subtle form after women were given the right to vote. Women's and men's roles were still very segregated, with women spending most of their time in the home and with children, while men were the main providers in the family. Furthermore women were oppressed economically by earning less than men in similar professions. This is a manifestation of the perceived biological differences between men and women in the workplace. This brought about the concept of "patriarchy" delineated in the second wave of feminism. The problem here was however that there were many different directions that feminism could take. Radical, Marxist, Liberal and Black feminism for example all have different views on the important issues that feminism should address. These different viewpoints then also defined patriarchy in different ways and finding a balance among them was problematic. The attempt of second-wave feminism to base the movement upon only the experiences of the Western, white, middle-class woman during the 1960s and 1970s failed for precisely this reason. Women, being human, subscribe to a variety of different philosophies based upon their different life experiences. These necessarily depend upon class, race, culture and religion, and cannot be denied upon the strength of a single theory of feministic needs.

For the above reasons, it is therefore impossible to cultivate only one theory of feminism. Four distinct directions will then be described here, without making any claim for comprehensive discussion. Radical, Marxist, Liberal and Black feminism each has its own concerns and needs within the feminist paradigm. They therefore also see patriarchy in different ways, in keeping with their particular concerns. Radical feminism studies the state of society and the role of women in it. This direction researchers reasons for the state of women in society, the nature of male power, and subsequently actions that can be taken to transform society to a better ideal. This leads Radical feminists to the conclusion that oppressive patriarchy is at the root of social problems. One of these problems is violence against women for reasons no better than they are women. Some extreme forms of this direction are advocators of a complete separatism between male and female, both in society and culture. For this group, men are the enemy. Other groups within this kind of feminism again question the very nature and meaning of the concepts "male" and "female." The basis of this is the argument that all constructs related to gender differences, such as roles, identity and sexuality, are the result of society rather than observable biological differences. For persons adhering to this direction, feminism serves as a vehicle not only of female emancipation, but also of liberation for the entire human race, including men. The liberation is also not only from domination and oppression, but from social problems resulting from these practices. Socialist or Marxist feminism seeks to provide women with more equitable roles in society and the economy. In this way it is a form of feminism that actively seeks to change society to benefit women. The difference of Marxist feminism as opposed to the above-mentioned Radical feminism is that it uses existing social theories to improve equity for women whereas the other two have developed their own theories prior to their actions. Marxist feminism then liberates women through dismantling capitalism. Capitalism gave rise to inequality in social, political and economic terms. This has translated into the relationship between men and women, leading to the oppression of women. Rather than focusing only on patriarchy as the root of gender inequality, Marxist feminists thus blame the entire system of social class inequality and capitalism. The oppression of women is then seen not as an oppression related to the fact of their gender alone, but also to the fact of women as a social group in the same way as class and racial groups. This oppression is perpetuated by the ruling class, men in this case, because it serves their capitalist purpose. Liberal feminism on the other hand does not oppose men as a group, but attempts to use existing social structure for beneficial and equitable reform. Rather than opposing men as the instigators of patriarchy or social oppression, this group seeks to provide women with independence from men. In this way it is not as revolutionary as Radical or Marxist feminism, but at its root seeks the same outcome -- equality and freedom for women. It therefore does not seek separation from men, but rather a reconciliation of women and men as equals. Women are seen as essentially the same as men. Politics are conceived individualistically, and reform is focused on liberal practices in society rather than a wholesale reform of society in its entirety. Issues such as legalizing gay marriage and pro-choice issues are at the heart of this form of feminism. These issues rest on the question of self-ownership -- women and men alike are the owners of their own lives and bodies and should accordingly be given the right to make medical decisions for themselves. The criminalization of prostitution then is seen as repression resulting from patriarchy in society, because it women are deterred from making personal and business decisions. Black feminism is rooted in the continued struggle of the black American against oppression. It is on the one hand a reaction to issues of male dominance in society and on the other to the early paradigm of feminism that attempted to generalize the female experience in terms of white, middle-class women. There are therefore a number of issues specifically focused on the black female experience. This includes the establishment of an alternative social construct related specifically to the black woman; the struggle against race and gender inequality; understanding and recognizing the legacy left by past generations of black women; black female empowerment; and the interdependence of thought and action. This kind of feminism is thus very much focused upon the struggle for equality not only for the female, but also with the added construct of the black female and her particular political and social concerns. In black feminism then, the oppressive agent extends beyond the paradigm of a simple patriarchy enforced by men. This feminism then seeks to deconstruct social paradigms of oppression by means of their collective social actions for transformation and self-determination.

Several critics have highlighted the inadequacies of the Radical, Liberal, Marxist and Black accounts of feminism. Radical feminism has been criticized for its extremism and its paradigm of complete separation between the sexes. Critics such as Minogue hold that this is the most destructive form of feminism, as it seeks to undermine one of the very cornerstones of society: the reliance of men and women upon each other for the mutual benefit of both.

Liberal feminism is mainly criticized for its account of the feminine struggle as rooted in the experience of the white middle classes, as mentioned above. Critics such as Estelle Freedman have suggested that a view of the sisterhood idealized by Liberal feminism should rather be seen in the local context, with the particular concerns of the women in the local context. Another critic is the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises. According to this critic, the women's movement rests upon evolution rather than revolutionary changes. He furthermore argues that, far from deterring women, Capitalism secured gains for women. The feminist movement then serves only to enhance and further such gains. According to von Mises' analysis, women have gained more rights not because of a particular struggle to make it so, but due to the natural rise of paradigms such as classical liberalism. He uses the marriage contract to substantiate this claim. The marriage contract entails the ideal of partners in marriage, where neither partner has the right to oppress in any way the other. It is thus a mutual agreement by both parties to honor the contract through their lives together. He also uses the shortcomings of the 18th century marriage contract to argue against the paradigm of an oppressive patriarchy. The issue of patriarchy as feminists define it is…

Sources Used in Document:


Cowling, Mark. 2005. "Feminism, Socialism and Patriarchy."

French, Marilyn. 1989. "Feminist Criminology, Female Crime, and Integrated Theory. http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/301/301lect14.htm

Minogue, Kenneth. 2002. "Radical Feminism: How Civilizations Fall." http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/19/apr01/minogue.htm

Pollert, A. 1996. "Gender and Class Revisited; or, the Poverty of 'Patriarchy'." Sociology, Vol. 30, No. 4, BSA Publications Ltd.

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