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WS102 Lecture Notes - Bind, Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism

Women's Studies
Course Code
Tina Davidson

of 2
Introduction to Women’s Studies
Basic terms and concepts
*why it is so hard for women to break free of injustice?
*Women’s oppression is rooted in the structures (economic, political, geographical,
historical, social, educational, emotional) of a given society, neighbourhood, and
*The explanations, justifications, rationales for women’s oppression may be biological,
psychological, social, historical, etc but their effects and ability to influence
women’s lives occur and are reinforced on a very social level, which hides the
many ways “beliefs” are used to justify social practices. Oppression is not rooted
in individual strengths, weaknesses, or abilities nor from individual’s choices and
informed decisions, but rather from membership in a particular category.
*Certainly boys (and men) experience restrictions too. However, the cumulative effect
is not the same. In fact, the things that men tend to be told “men do not do” end up
being those very things that do not hold any elevated economic, political, socio-
cultural or national value.
Feminisms and oppression
*Different feminist theories approach the question of the roots of women’s oppression
from different angles.
*Liberal feminists would argue that women’s oppression is rooted in their lack of
equal civil rights, equal political representation, and equal opportunities of
education and employment.
*Marxist feminists concentrate primarily on capitalism as a male-dominated
economic system which relies on an hence is responsible for maintaining
women’s oppression.
*Radical feminists would argue that women’s oppression is continued because of
men’s inability and unwillingness to give up their male privilege.
*Radical feminism concentrates it’s analysis of women’s oppression on the following
1) that women were the first oppressed group historically
2) that women are the most widely oppressed group globally and historically
3) women’s oppression is the deepest and hardest to eradicate
4) that women’s oppression causes the worst suffering to its victims and yet
may be overlooked as part of the social order.
5) that understanding women’s oppression provides the conceptual key to all
other kinds of oppression.
The Double Bind and the “Birdcage” of oppression
*The root of oppression is “press”: being reduced, caught, restricted mobility.
*This is the DOUBLE BIND, a frequently used term in feminist theories.
*Feminism looks at the many ways that the very things that define her as a “good
woman” also serve to remove any power a woman might otherwise have. (ie body
image, the sexual double standard, working mothers, etc)
*For oppressed people, each barrier is not avoidable. Each is tied in to other
restrictions in a way that is systematic, and serves to completely limit their
freedom, much like a birdcage
*If you look at each separate limitation placed on women, they are inconveniences,
easily overcome, if the woman only chooses to do so. However, when they are
combined (poverty, unequal job opportunities, domestic ideals, sexual harassment,
dependence, sexuality, maternity, etc) Seeing the system of mutually reinforcing
and thus restricting forces at work means stepping back from arguing about
individual obstacles, and considering the ways that each restrictive force is
inextricably connected to others.
Women’s Studies
*Began in Canada in 1970
*Focussed on the way that existing academic knowledge was androcentric
*Developed in three stages (so far!)
*Recuperation: find the lost and hidden info about women, “add women and stir”
*Reconstruction: reconstruct existing academic knowledge, theories and values
to be more inclusive of women
*Reflexivity: be more self-aware (reflexive) about how Women’s Studies itself
can recreate marginalizations
*What are some reasons for people to be feminist today?