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SOCIOL 2S06 Study Guide - Final Guide: Second-Wave Feminism, Third-Wave Feminism, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Young David
Study Guide

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Feminist Theories
Introductory Issues and Historical Overview
What is Feminist Theory?
Feminist theory is a wide-ranging system of ideas about social life and
human experience developed from a women centered perspective. It is
woman-centered in two ways:
o 1. Examines the situation and experiences of women in society
o 2. Describes the social world from the viewpoint of women.
** Feminist theory is also interdisciplinary
o theory draws upon a variety of disciples other than sociology such as
psychology, political science, and cultural studies
The Historical Development of Feminist Theory
The historical development of feminist theory and feminist activism is often
understood in three waves:
o The First Wave of Feminism (1830s to 1920s):
First wave feminism began as an offshoot of the anti-slavery
movement and focused securing political rights for women,
especially the right to vote
there is considerable overlap between the first wave of
feminism and the beginnings of sociology
In 1830 that Auguste Comte coined the term “sociology”, and it
was in 1920 that Max Weber died.
between those years, three white European males (Karl Marx,
Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber) set out the classical
theoretical ideas that would come to dominate sociology
Despite the impact of the three classical theorists, there were a
number of early feminists who made important contributions
to sociology.
However, their contributions were completely overshadowed
by Marx, Durkheim, and Weber.
During this time, these early feminists were trying to establish
Feminist perspectives within the discipline of sociology
o Harriet Martineau was born in 1802 and died in 1876
o Martineau was critical of the contradiction that
existed between democratic ideas about equality (ex.
democracy) and the inequality experienced by women
(ex. exclusion)
o She argued that the “political non-existence of
women” was due to their lack of voting rights
o Also argued that women had narrow interests in being
wives and mothers only because of their general
exclusion from the political and economic spheres of

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o Martineau is clear that the inequality experienced by
women is rooted in social structures and practices
rather than individual characteristics.
The decline of feminism Feminism went into decline from the
1920s to the 1960s.
o There are two factors for this decline
o feminism had difficulty figuring out how best to use
their new political rights to effect further change
(political strategizing)
o Social crises got in the way of pressing for further
social change. (ex. WW1, WW2, The great Depression)
o The Second Way of Feminism (1960s-1990s)
Feminists started using their political rights for economic and
social equality
A lot of feminist theorizing key concept that came out of this
period was the concept of GENDER
Rise of “women’s movement” – along with a variety of other
social movements (60s was a push for social change, lots of
movements emerging and pushing for change)
o The Third Wave of Feminism (1990s to present)
The term used to describe feminist ideas that have been
developed by women of diverse backgrounds (e.g. working
class women, women of color, lesbians) in contrast to the
feminist ideas and associated with the first waves (which were
largely developed by middle class, white, and heterosexual
feminist ideas that have been developed by a generation of
women living adult lives in the 21st century
First Wave Feminist Theory
Key Issues with 1st Wave Feminism
1. Some first wave feminists theorized “difference” – concerned about how
the location and experience of women in society is in contrast to that of men
2. Other feminists theorized “inequality” – interested in how the location of
women in society is less privileged than that of men
First Wave Feminists
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)
o She noted that there was a contradiction between the democratic idea
of equality and the inequality of women
o Said that there was a political non-existence of women due to lack
of voting rights
o Focuses on how the inequality of women must be explained in terms
of social conditions (the exclusion from certain parts of social life)
nothing to do with biology… social world is impacting them

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman
o Known for her book Women and Economics (1898) developed the
concept of excessive sex distinction
Excessive sex distinctions- socially maintained differences
between women and men that go beyond the differences
dictated by biological reproduction
Concept became the basis for the later concept “gender”
Marianne Weber
o wife of Max Weber
o Published “Authority and Autonomy in Marriage” (1912)
argued that men enjoy autonomy and self-fulfillment through
marriage, but women do not
Suggesting that marriage is an institution in society that
primarily benefits men
o Focused on male-dominated institutions such as marriage, religion,
law, and the economy
Argued that male-dominated institutions constrain women and
generate inequality between the sexes.
Second Wave Feminist Theory
Key Issues in Second Wave Feminism
Continued to theorize inequality but other second wave feminism were
interested in theorizing oppression
o Oppression the power relationship between men and women,
where women are subordinated in society
Examined structural oppression
o Structural oppression subordination of women is shaped by class,
“race”, ethnicity, and other aspects of society
The Concept of Gender
Second wave feminists built upon Gilman and developed the concept of
Since the 1970s- distinction made between sex and gender
Sex is a biological concept referring to physical differences between males
and females
social concept referring to culturally learned behaviours associated with
masculinity and femininity
Masculine: males have been taught to exhibit behaviours that are socially
defined as masculine
o Aggressive, independent, competitive, etc.
Feminine: females have been taught to exhibit behaviours that are socially
defines as feminine
o Submissive, dependent, cooperative, etc.
Feminists see these behaviours as socially defined
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