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SO 3066 Feminist theory and sociology: a critique and overview

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1 SO 3066 Feminist theory and sociology: a critique and overview
Dr Rhoda Wilkie

2 lecture outline introductory comments about terminology
historical overview: first and second wave feminism explore why feminists have been critical of mainstream or ‘malestream’ sociology? e.g. sociological research on class to illustrate some of their criticisms feminist theoretical perspectives and the impact of the ‘cultural turn’ summary

3 introductory points: terminology (Freedman 2001; Pilcher & Whelehan 2004)
‘feminism’ originates from the French term féminisme in 1871 some claim the term ‘feminist’ first used in French medical text -‘feminisation of male body’ 1872 Alexandre Dumas (French Writer) – pamphlet - adultery ‘women with masculine traits’ the early usage of the term – associated with ‘gender confusion’ and it is also worth noting that the term ‘feminist’ was not initially used by women meaning changed - political position – change and improve the position of women in society retrospectively applied to recognise earlier attempts by women who were attempting to promote such changes

4 ‘first wave’ feminism 1880s -1920s pros and cons of ‘wave’ analogy
‘first wave’ feminism (Pilcher & Whelehan 2004; Summerfield in Cosslett et al 1996) e.g. Mary Wollstonecraft (1792); 1848 Seneca Falls Convention (USA); rise of women’s suffrage movements (UK and USA) ‘first wave’ feminism 1880s -1920s e.g. associated with ‘equal rights’ – struggle for vote – legislative changes but addressed other issues too important to note that there were splits within the movement in terms of focus and strategy pros and cons of ‘wave’ analogy

5 ‘second wave’ feminism
‘second wave’ feminism 1960s-1970s: - grass-roots activism - women’s liberation movement – radical? consciousness raising groups - ‘personal is political’ - ‘sisterhood’ moved into the academy women’s studies (now gender studies - debate) feminism is both theory and activism (praxis) – importance of experience

6 feminists critical of sociology (e.g. Abbot et al 2005: 9-10)
sociology has a history of conducting research on men e.g. use male only samples – findings derived from studies are unquestioningly generalised and assumed to be equally relevant to women – men taken as norm? issues and experiences of concern to women were at best neglected and at worst considered sociologically irrelevant e.g. domestic violence and labour if women incorporated into studies - tended to be quite simply misrepresented and/or represented in a stereotypical manner sex and gender tended to be naively and uncritically tagged on and stirred into research designs – little (if any) appreciation that the theoretical frameworks themselves were part of the problem

7 e.g. sociological research on class (Acker 1973)
Nuffield Mobility Study (1980) Register General’s Scale ( ) based on all male sample women classified indirectly – male head of household – women hidden from the figures Joan Acker – seminal paper – feminist critique of stratification literature

8 feminist critique of sociology. (see e. g
feminist critique of sociology? (see e.g. Abbott et al 2005; Marshall & Witz 2004; Stanley 1990; Smith 1987) ‘founding fathers’ were androcentric (male-centred) - this informed and fundamentally shaped ‘malestream’ research agendas and theoretical perspectives i.e. ‘sociology by men, of men and for men’ (focus on public sphere – political and economic changes) ‘natural woman’ (in contrast to ‘cultured man’) - women closely aligned with nature and their biology (reproduction) which explains and/or justifies their relatively devalued nurturing and caring roles in society (located in private sphere) the division of labour between men and women regarded as ‘natural’ and thus pre-social - not of concern to sociologists malestream sociology built on and perpetuated ‘patriarchal ideology’?

9 ‘Feminists argue that women’s position within society is not a natural phenomenon, but a social, political and economic product which is reflected and perpetuated by the bias of ‘science’’. (Harding, in May 2001: 19)

10 feminist theoretical perspectives (1) (according to Lengermann & Niebrugge-Brantley in Ritzer 2000: 443) are first and foremost woman-centered focus – situation(s) and experience(s) of women accessed - via the standpoint or perspective(s) of women political goal – ‘better world for women’ often draws on and informed by other academic disciplines and non-academic groups – interdisciplinary ‘double agenda’: integrate insights and findings into sociology – address ‘malestream’ bias – reshape disciplinary foundations and assumptions? critique of society to promote change – benefit everyone

11 Black and Post-colonial feminism
feminist theoretical perspectives (2) (e.g. Abbott et al 2005; Zalewski 2000; Jackson & Jones 1998; Tong 1990) attempt to explain women’s subordination in society – different perspectives - ask different questions and come to different conclusions: e.g. Liberal feminism Radical feminism Marxist feminism Postmodern feminism Black and Post-colonial feminism

12 liberal feminism equal rights and opportunities – challenge long held beliefs and ideas about women’s (in)abilities e.g. Wollstonecraft (1792) – ‘the feathered race’ humanism; emancipation; meritocracy sameness – ability to reason are human values equated with male values? reform - simply add women – perpetuate malestream bias? explain women’s inequality?

13 radical feminism ‘feminism in its “purest” form’ (Abbott et al 2005: 33) woman-centred and celebrates the differences between women and men patriarchy is central - ‘structural domination’ – ‘universal sisterhood’ ‘the personal is political’ – e.g. family; domestic violence; body politics separatist – women only organisations and critique of heterosexuality rediscover and promote knowledge from the experience and standpoint of women oversimplified understanding of patriarchy? claims to a universal and homogenous sisterhood – problematic?

14 Marxist/materialist feminisms
particularly influential during 1960s-70s explain women’s subordinated status in (capitalist) society feminists revised Marxist theory – blind to gender - tried to ‘fit women in’ to Marxism – relations of production and relations of reproduction - e.g. institution of the nuclear family – property and inheritance (Engels) – flawed thesis? ‘women’s work’ in public sphere devalued and poorly paid – ‘reserve army of labour’ – why women? domestic work – not regarded as real work - ‘domestic labour debates’

15 Marxist/socialist feminisms (see e.g. Jackson in Jackson & Jones 1998)
serve interests of capitalism and men? what about non-capitalist societies? capitalism and/or patriarchy debates – disputes over the location and explanation of women’s subordination? e.g. dual systems theory – e.g. Walby – shift from private to public patriarchy? exclusion/segregation convergence/polarisation but what about other factors and inequalities – e.g. globalisation and ethnicity?

16 reminder of postmodern thinking: ‘anti-everything’?
‘post-modernism is not a clearly defined theory, but a loose body of thought which draws on interconnected ideas around language, knowledge, reason, power, identity and resistance’ (Bryson 1999: 36) critical of Enlightenment project authoritative and objective status of scientific knowledge – reject ‘view from nowhere’ grand or meta-narratives – e.g. Marxism include (modernist) feminism too? claims to the truth reject idea of the subject anti-foundational contest and deconstruct stability – favour shifting, fractured, arbitrary nature of meaning and identities

17 ‘cultural turn’ and feminist theory
social science perspectives informed and shaped feminist theory but some argue that literary and cultural theoretical perspectives are now more influential since the 1980’s witnessed a cultural or linguistic turn: a shift from ‘things to words’ (Barrett in Kemp & Squires 1997) for example the focus moved away from materialist issues related to domestic labour, gender inequities in the workplace and domestic violence to issues related to language, representation and subjectivity ‘gender is understood to be shaped not just by social structures but by dominant discourses – forms of language that construct what it means to be a man or a woman’ (Abbott et al 2005: 358; my emphasis) misrecognise and take as ‘real’ what is actually linguistically constructed? how has this shift impacted on feminist theory?

18 e.g. Butler: gender as ‘performative’
language creates reality ‘woman’ is not a biological category ‘sex’ is socially constructed ‘sex’ is a linguistic category – no such thing as biological sex sexuality – cultural resource to resist patriarchal oppression and heterosexual hegemony?

19 postmodern feminism contest and resist categorisation – what ‘woman’ ought to be - the point is to deconstruct all attempts to fix identity – this in itself is a political act focus on differences between women not commonalities but what are the political implications for feminism if no basis for a collective identity? inaccessible and elitist? what about materialist issues and structural factors?

20 Black and post-colonialist feminisms: ‘margin to centre’
critical of ‘white elitism’ – prioritises and represents the experiences of white, middle class, heterosexual, affluent Western women diversity of women’s experiences – e.g. family how does gender intersect with other factors (e.g. class, ethnicity, disability) – should gender be given primacy over other aspects – hierarchy of oppression? can women oppress other groups of women and/or men? all women have ‘racialised identities’? notion of solidarity as opposed to sisterhood? (hooks 1984)

21 historical overview: first and second wave feminism
summary historical overview: first and second wave feminism explored why feminists have been critical of mainstream or ‘malestream’ sociology explored different feminist theoretical perspectives and considered the impact of the ‘cultural turn’ on feminist theory in the next lecture we will consider why feminists have been so critical of sociological research methods and we’ll consider their attempts to develop feminist informed epistemologies

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