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Feminist Theory.doc

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McMaster University
David Young

Feminist Theory March-21-13 7:01 PM Introduction to Feminist Theory A) What is Feminist Theory? It is a wide ranging system of ideas about social life and human experience, developed from a woman centered perspective; Feminist Theory is woman- centered in two ways: 1. It examines the situations and experiences of women in society 2. It describes the social world from the viewpoint of women Feminist theory differs from most other forms of sociological theory in that it is inter-disciplinary, meaning that it draws on a variety of different disciplines, not just sociology but psychology, political science, and cultural studies among others. B) Concept of Gender - this is a key concept in feminist theory - Feminists distinguish between sex (biological concept referring to physical differences between males and females) and gender (a social concept referring to culturally-learned behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity) ex/ competition is considered, within our culture, to be masculine; on the other hand, our culture defines cooperation to be feminine --> series of dichotomies of behaviour, occupations, etc which are defined as either masculine or feminine within our particular culture - we have to keep in mind that whatever is defined as masculine is valued in society; whatever is defined/considered to be feminine is devalued in society C) Some Types of Feminist Theory 1. Cultural Feminism 2. Liberal Feminism 3. Radical Feminism 4. Socialist Feminism The Theory of Cultural Feminism A) What is Cultural Feminism? A branch of feminism that explores and even celebrates the distinctive social values of women; focuses on gender difference -- more specifically it focuses on how the social characteristics of women contrast with the social characteristics of men B) Theoretical Ideas in Cultural Feminism - developed in the 19th C - associated with some of the earliest, first wave feminists who pointed out that men and women had different social values --> went beyond this and suggested that the social values of women were superior to the social values of men --> they emphasized, what they called, "feminine personality" --> they also talked a bit about the state and how it needed to adopt such positive feminine values as cooperation and pacifism (non-violence) [they were arguing that they state needs to become less masculine and become more feminine and take on positive feminine characteristics] C) Empirical Evidence and Cultural Feminism - women have distinctive standards of ethical standards - women have a particular style of communication (men and women communicate differently) - women have capacity for openness to emotional experience (women are much more open than men about their feelings/emotions) - women have lower levels of aggressive behaviour - women have the capacity for creating peaceful coexistence 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 cultural feminism identifies these differences, it does not explain the origins of differences between the social values of men and women The Theory of Liberal Feminism A) What is Liberal Feminism? Liberal Feminism is a branch of feminism that emphasizes how women are disadvantaged by cultural and ideological processes in society; focuses on gender inequality -- more specifically, it focuses on how the location of women in society is different from men and less privileged than men B) Theoretical Ideas in Liberal Feminism 1. Basis for Gender Inequality - Liberal Fems argue that gender inequality stems from the process of socialization: we learn gender behaviour from agents of socialization which are important social institutions like the family, educational facilities, media, etc. --> these institutions encourage boys and girls to adopt behaviours or to go into occupations that are gendered (masculine or feminine depending on their sex) - historically, boys have been encouraged to be aggressive and independent -- occupationally, they were encouraged to be doctors or corporate executives / girls have been encouraged to be submissive and dependent -- occupationally, they were encouraged to be nurses or secretaries - this type of socialization fosters circumstances in which males have more power than females 2. Eliminating Gender Inequality - Liberal Fems see culture and ideology as the problem , the solution focuses on changing the cultural ideas passed on through socialization --> they point to the need to establish policies to overcome these problematic ideas; policies are needed to prevent: a)sex role stereotyping in television programming, b) discrimination when women are trying to get into male-dominated occupations C) Empirical Evidence and Liberal Feminists - great deal of evidence that supports lib fems ideas: - research indicates that media institutions reinforce gender inequality ex 1/ a study that was done in 2001 looked at children's literature (Books/storybooks) that was published between 1995-1999 and found that sex role stereotyping was prevalent in the literature ex 2/ research done on the reactions of children to Disney films (like beauty in the beast) do convey a lot of sex role stereotyping --> research shows that children internalize the sex role stereotyping [learning these stereotypes through watching these films] - educational institutions have also been found to reinforce gender inequality: research done in the last few decades has found that high school guidance counsellors still often encourage students to pursue occupational goals considered appropriate for their sex --> research done on female high school students has found that many of them in Canada still make traditionally feminine occupational choices (ex/ nurses, teachers, etc.) D) Evaluation of Liberal Feminism 1. Strengths (2 strengths) - Lib Fem usefully draws attention to the role of cultural and ideological processes, especially the process of socialization, in relation to gender inequality - Lib Fem is well-supported by empirical evidence 2. Weaknesses (2 weaknesses) - it has been argued that Lib Fem fails to identify the real cause of gender inequality --> other sociologists and other feminists have suggested that the cultural ideologies are only part of the problem... The question that isn't being answered is where these cultural ideologies stemmed from? The answer is the social structure and that is the real cause of gender inequality - it has been argued that the solutions proposed by Lib Fems are limited to reformism; i.o.w, Lib Feminists call for reforming aspects of our existing society -- all we have to do Is put in place these policies, tinker with social ideas and after se
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