SOCIOL 2S06 Lecture Notes - Cultural Feminism, Feminist Theory, Marxist Feminism

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Published on 22 Apr 2013
McMaster University
Feminist Theory
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
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C) Empirical Evidence and Cultural Feminism
- women have distinctive standards of ethical standards
- women have a particular style of communication (men and women communicate
- 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
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