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SOCIOL 2S06 - March 21 Lecture

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McMaster University
David Young

Feminist Theory Introduction to Feminist Theory A) What is it? -is a wide-ranging system of ideas about social life & human experience developed from a woman-centered perspective -woman-centered in 2 ways: 1) examines the situations & experiences of women in society 2)describes the social world from the viewpoint of women -differs from most other types of soc theory: is interdisciplinary (draws upon a variety of other disciplines --> sociology, psychology, political science, cultural studies, etc) B) The Concept of Gender -feminist theory distinguish between sex and gender. Sex is a biological concept and refers to physical differences between males & females. Gender is a social concept that refers to culturally-learned behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity -our culture defines competition to be "masculine" while defining cooperation to be "feminine" -in society, whatever is defined as "masculine" is valued in society. Whatever is defined as feminine is devalued in society. C) Some Types of Feminist Theory cultural feminism liberal feminism radical feminism socialist feminism The Theory of Cultural Feminism A) What is it? -is a branch of feminism that explores and even celebrates the distinctive social values of women -focuses on gender difference, more specifically, on how the social characteristics of women contrast with the social characteristics of men B) Theoretical Ideas in Cultural Feminism -associated with First Wave Feminism in 19th century. They pointed out that men & women had diff social values. Suggested that the social values of women were superior to those of men. Emphasized "feminine personality" (the positive social characteristics women have) -these early feminists also talked about the state. They argued that the state needed to adopt such positive feminine values such as cooperation and pacifism C) Empirical Evidence and Cultural Feminism -today, cultural feminists point to various empirical evidence that demonstrate that women do have social values that are diff from men's -present evidence that women have distinctive standards of ethical judgment, have a particular style of communication, have capacity for openness to emotional experience, have lower lvls of aggressive behaviour D) Evaluation of Cultural Feminism 1. Strengths -offers a positive assessment of women, their contribution to society, and the social values that are culturally defined as feminine 2. Weaknesses -while defines these differences, does NOT explain the origins of differences between the social values of men and women (why these differences exist) The Theory of Liberal Feminism A) What is it? -is a branch of feminism that emphasizes how women are disadvantaged by cultural & ideological processes in society -focuses on gender inequality on how the location of women in society is diff from men & less privileged than men B) Theoretical Ideas in Liberal Feminism 1. Basis for Gender Inequality -stems from the process of socialization -argue that we learn gender behaviour from agents of socialization-> family, education, media, etc -these institutions encourage boys & girls to adopt behaviours or to go into occupations that are gendered (ex. boys become doctors, girls become nurses) -historically, boys are encouraged to behave aggressive & independent and become doctors & corporate executives while girls are encouraged to behave submissive and dependent and become nurses -this type of socialization fosters circumstances in which males have more power than females 2. Eliminating Gender Inequality -solution focuses on changing the cultural ideas about masculinity & femininity passed on through socialization -point to the need to establish policies to prevent sex role stereotyping in TV programming, particularly children's shows. We also need policies to prevent discrimination when women are trying to get into male-dominated occupations C) Empirical Evidence and Liberal Feminism -great deal of empirical evidence that support liberal feminist ideas -show that media institutions reinforce gender inequality-> a study done in 2001 examined children's literature published 1995-1999. Researchers found that sex-role stereotyping was prevalent in the literature -research has been done on the reactions of children to Disney films, showing that children internalize the sex-role stereotyping in these films -educational institutions also found to reinforce gender inequality. Research done has found that high school guidance counselors still often students to pursue occupational goals considered appropriate for their sex. Research also found that many female high school students in
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