WGST 1F90 September 26, 2013
Lecture Title: Feminist Theory
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that
ever has. – Margaret Mead Page |
Key Concepts: 1
Production for exchange
Production for use
Feminization of poverty
Introduction Why Theory?
1. Theory is a blueprint – a way to explain how and why the world functions.
2. Theories are developed discourses. General accounts of how a range of phenomena are connected.
3. Discourse: historically variable ways of specifying knowledge that links concepts into ideas—we write, speak,
think and act within discourses.
4. We need theoretical frameworks to address both the nuances of social/economic/political life and larger
5. Theoretical frameworks tend to focus on larger systems of power and privilege.
6. Example: Marxist theory examines capitalism -- the economic mode of production—in the West and hierarchy,
oppression and privilege.
7. Some focus on the individual – generalized to larger populations, example: Freudian theory.
8. Do not disregard theory. Make it work. Be critical of theoretical frameworks but offer solutions.
Why Feminist Theory?
1. Feminist theory seeks to explain women’s oppression.
2. Offers conceptual tools for explaining oppression. 3. Feminist theory seeks to provide solutions for how to end women’s oppression.
4. Solutions may be far reaching, politically/economically focused, or immediate and instantly accessible.
5. Example: second wave feminists recognized the need for safety and shelter for women experiencing violence—
6. Feminist theory differs in the explicit focus on praxis: putting theory into practice, making change, and
improving lives of girls and women.
Regardless of Which Theoretical Framework
1. Feminist theory is about doing – meaning feminist theory is a critical and political practice. (praxis).
2. Recognizes and addresses the ‘gap’ between theory and practice.
3. Must analyze systemic oppression, yet be attentive to individual specificities.
4. Should be accessible to a wide audience – women, men, those who do not have the privilege of a university
5. Intersectional: recognizes that oppression is not based only on gender – race, class, sexuality.
1. Evolved from liberalism (18 and 19 century philosophical/political movements).
2. Small “l” liberals believe in the human capacity to reason and to be rational.
3. Liberalism is a political philosophy based upon individual liberty, freedom of choice, and the belief that every
person is to be given equal opportunities and civil rights.
4. These rights were only really believed to be the inherent rights of men.
5. Early liberal feminists sought to rethink this equation which excluded women to the benefit of men.
6. Examples of 18th and 19th century liberal feminists:
7. Mary Wollstonecraft: defended women’s rights, supported coed education and denied any natural cause to
8. Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill: family life and work was a horrible thing for women. Marriage was an
arrangement that denied women their basic rights and was a system of brutality.
20 Century Feminism: Basic Tenets
1. Men and women are essentially the same but it has been socialization and sex roles which have divided the two
2. Believe in meritocracy; earn status/money by a job well done.
3. Believe in equal opportunity. 4. All rational beings should have freedom of choice.
1. Second wave liberal feminists focused on getting women into existing institutions (education, government, etc.).
2. Have not called for a dismantling of patriarchal structures such as the law, education and capitalism. 3
3. Understood paid employment as a form of independence for women. Opening doors and breaking the ‘glass
4. Called for modifications in such structures which blatantly discriminated against women.
Critiques of Liberal feminism
1. Based heavily on meritocracy; work hard and receive the fruits of labour.
2. Accused of being a white, middle class approach.
3. Notion of equality with men has not addressed intersectionality.
4. The “add women and stir” approach – will simply having more women politicians change things for all women?
Marxist and Socialist Feminism—Background
1. Marx and Engels offered a deeply theoretical account of class oppression and gender oppression.
2. Engels wrote Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884—explaining the rise of private property,
monogamy and women’s oppression.
3. Engels: women’s and class oppression emerged when state systems enforced private property.
4. Women’s sexuality became under male control when private property was enforced – legitimate heirs.
5. Marx: explanation of class and stratification – proletariat, bourgeois.
6. This structure was modified/employed by feminists.
1. Used Marxist concepts, ideas to explain the material and class oppression of women.
2. Women’s oppression is