Feminist Perspective in Sociology
Feminist Perspective in Sociology
“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place. ” — Margaret Mead I. Prologue At present, it is quite difficult to imagine how there was a time when women were not afforded the same rights and opportunities as men. Some of these rights and opportunities include the right and opportunity to pursue a college diploma and a career, and the right to vote.
At present, it is quite revolting to think how women were tagged and branded to remain at home and pursue the best interests of her family members, but not hers. It is quite difficult to imagine, but the truth of the matter is that there was such a time that all these unimaginable things and revolting things were happening, when women were to take the backseat to the men and when they were not regarded as equals. The goal of the first wave feminism was to correct all these notions and to try to achieve a position for the women when they do not take the backseat to the men, but stay beside the men as their equals.
Slowly, this was achieved. Hence, women were then are given the right and opportunity to pursue a college diploma and a career, and the right to vote, among all others. All of these things are remarkable achievements and should in and by themselves, be commended. However, it cannot be denied once again, that the struggle of women does not end with the first wave feminism, after all its not apt to call it the first wave if there is no second wave. The second wave devolved around the problems that the achievements of the first wave put to fore.
The sum of all these goals is ultimately for society treat woman not just as an object but as a subject — who has her own thoughts and who can speak through her own mind and with her own voice (Delmar, 2005, p. 32). The ultimate goal was to liberate woman from her reification. Thus, MacKinnon remarked: I say, give women equal power in social life. Let what we say matter, then we will discourse on questions of morality. Take your foot off our necks, then we will hear in what tongue women speak.
So long as sex equality is limited by “sex difference” whether you like it or don’t like it, whether you value it or seek to negate it, whether you stake it out as a grounds for feminism or occupy it as the terrain of misogyny, women will be born, degraded and die. We would still settle for that equal protection of the laws under which one would be born, live and die, in a country where protection is not a dirty word and equality is not a special privilege (1987, p. 45).
The issues and problems created by the first wave as manifested in the second wave led Bell Hooks to assert that [a]ll women are oppressed, and being oppressed means the absence of choices. The goal of this Paper then is to try to explain in a simplified but not in a simplistic manner what Bell Hooks meant when she cited the above-mentioned assertion through an exposition of some the writings during the second wave feminism. The Paper shall be divided into four parts.
The first part is the Prologue, where these paragraphs fall under, which shall discuss in general the background and the goal of the Paper. The second part shall discuss in general what Bell Hooks asserted through the reference materials. The third part shall discuss in specific detail how all women are oppressed, once again through the reading materials. The fourth part is the epilogue, which shall present the conclusion and personal thoughts of the writer of this Paper. II. The New Face of Oppression
Oppression presupposes two parties, one is the oppressor and the other is the object of the oppression, or oppressee, so to speak. During the first wave it is quite apparent that the oppressor is the patriarchal and machismo characteristic of society, or men in short, and the object of the oppression are women. In the second wave, one wonders how Hooks made this assertion given the fact that the men and women dichotomy and oppression were no longer as manifest. The answer is simple, while the first wave may have achieved equal rights and opportunities for women and men, there is still oppression.
It is only that the faces of the oppressor and the oppressee have changed. With the second wave, other women became the oppressors. According to most critics, this was an inevitable consequence of setting equality with males as the primary goal of feminism (Jhappan, 1996, p. 25). Jhappan expounds: [i]n reality, the positions of power and privileges enjoyed by white men have only been made possible by racism and sexism, they require hierarchy, skewed power relations, inequality and the subjugation of the majority (white women and people of colour).
It seems to me that white women’s “equality” with white men would only be possible of the race hierarchy were kept substantially intact since the privileges that white men enjoy depend upon a racially satisfied social system (p. 25). Simply, this means that with the goal of equality with men, women aimed for an equally oppressing position, where they are now the oppressors. While men were no longer tagged as the oppressors of all women, within the circle of women rose other oppressors in the face of fellow women who are of a different color.
This is what Angela P. Harrris discusses in her article, in relation to what Catharine MacKinnon discusses in hers. Generally, the idea of the latter is that there is a universal concept of a woman so to speak. This universal concept of a woman is what was oppressed by society through male domination and supremacy before. For MacKinnon, there is just one experience, culture, heritage, needs for all women, thus, their needs are all alike. As most feminists then were white women, most of what was pushed for were for the needs of the white women.
This is also known as the notion of a monolithic women experience (Harris, 2002, p. 384). Through this gender essentialism and worse, racial essentialism was likewise furthered (Harris, 2002, p. 384). Thus according to Harris, they reduce the lives of people who experience multiple forms of oppression to additional problems: “racism + sexism = straight black woman’s experience” or “racism + sexism + homophobia = black lesbian experience.
” Thus, in an essentialist world, black women’s experience is always forcibly fragmented before being subjected to analysis, as those who are “only interested in race” and those who are “only interested in gender” take their separate slices of our lives (p. 384). An example for Harris is what MacKinnon does when she reduces Black women to just worse forms of white women, and not as a separate and diverse woman apart from the white woman, but not an aggravation. MacKinnon imparts:
[b]lack is not merely a color of skin pigmentation, but a heritage, an experience, a cultural and personal identity, the meaning of which becomes specifically… and glorious and/or ordinary under specific social conditions. It is as much socially created as, and at least in the American context no less specifically meaningful or defective than any linguistic, tribal, or religious ethnicity, all of whom are conventionally recognized by capitalization. While women on paper, were liberated from their reification, what happened really was that white women were liberated from reification.
White women were no longer considered as objects —they became subjects. Black women, though they were women but because they were black, were not similarly liberated. This is because [w]hite feminists have exposed male essentialism only to replace it with another essentialism based on the notion of an essential woman. However, as it turns out, this generic “woman” is not only white, but middle class, and also able-bodied…Over the last couple of decades people of color have highlighted the silences of racists Eurocentric history and discourses which render all “others” invisible (Jhappan, 1996, p.
22). By virtue of the monolithic experience of women, women who did not fit the mold of the monolithic experience were oppressed in the sense that they were left with no choice. The choice was already made for them by the systems that were built in place respecting such monolithic experience. They were left with no choices as their needs were not addressed. The needs that were addressed were the needs of those who fit the monolithic experience of women. III. The Specific Instances of Oppression
The specific instances of oppression that are discussed in the reference materials are enumerated below. a. Oppression in Relation to the Family Through the idea of the family wage, women were oppressed with the fact that they were made dependent on the wage of their husbands. They were made dependent with the notion that “a working man should earn enough to support his family” (Gavigan, 1996, p. 237), and consequently, the place of the woman or the wife is at home (Gavigan, 1996, p. 237).
As the husband already earns enough to support the family, there is no more need for the woman to earn and augment the budget for the family. Thus, she is tasked by society to stay at home and address the needs of her family members. Such admittedly, does not require professional and personal growth. Thus, while the members of the family pursue different goals in their lives, the woman is stuck at home looking after the family members, sending them off to reach their dreams, while she stays in her place. In addition, if and when a woman earns, she is given minimum wage.
The notion of minimum wage was put in place to accommodate individuals who were single and who did not have dependents to support (Gavigan, 1996, p. 238). In this wise, women were oppressed with the fact that when they earn, what they earn is not even enough to provide for their dependents, if any. b. Oppression under the Law Under the law, heterosexual relationships are afforded more advantages and privileges, in terms of “tax benefits, standing to recover damages for certain torts committed against spouses, and rights to succession and insurance benefits” (Gavigan, 1996, p.
263). The same are not afforded to homosexual relationships; thus women are oppressed. Oppression of women under the law is manifested explicitly in Welfare Law. When women seek assistance under the welfare law, especially the solo parents, they have a hard time obtaining the assistance that the law provides because of the very stiff and stringent definition of “spouse” under the laws such as the Family Law Act, RSO 1990 and Canada Pension Plan Act : “spouse” means either of a man and a woman who (a) are married to each other or
(b) have together entered into, a marriage that is voidable or void, in good faith on the part of the person asserting a right under the Act x x x “spouses” means a spouse as defined in subsection 1 (1), and in addition includes either of a man and woman who are not married to each other and have cohabited (a) continuously or (b) in relationship of some permanence, if they are natural or adoptive parents if a child x x x “spouses: in relation to a contributor means’ (i) if there is no person described in subparagraph (ii), a person who is married to the contributor at the relevant time
or (ii) a person of the opposite sex who is cohabiting with the contributor in a conjugal relationship at the relevant time, having so cohabited with the contributor for a continuous period of at least one year (Gavigan, 1996, p. 266) When solo parents seek social welfare assistance, there were always resort to the courts in order to determine whether or not a particular relationship was sufficiently conjugal to warrant the characteristic as spousal and consequently to warrant the benefits provided by the social services (Gavigan, 1996, p. 266).
Also, the definition of the term “spouse” was too technical such that even in heterosexual relationships, there were always doubt as to whether a relationship is sufficiently conjugal to warrant the benefits granted by social services (Gavigan, 1996, p. 267). An example of the ill-effect of this law is the requirement that the spouse who should support the spouse (wife) and the children, must not live in a certain proximity; otherwise the latter cannot receive the benefits under the Welfare Law (Gavigan, 1996, p. 269). c. Oppression by Virtue of Race or Color
This form was already discussed in part two. However, in addition Jhappan tells us that for colored women, race rather gender has been the primary source of oppression. …while white feminists have theorized the male breadwinner dependent-female, post-Industrial Revolution family form of the West as a source of women’s oppression, different family forms persist in other culture even among those living in the diasporas, For many women of colour, in fact, state actions such as iimmigration and labour policies that have separated and distorted families have oppressed them more than gender relations (p. 23). d.
Oppression of Oneself by Oneself Women also admit that in and by themselves, they are oppressed. As there are women who are of different cultures, there are certain aspects of their identity that is rejected by another aspect, but which they ultimately have to deal with. For instance a woman who has both black and Caucasian heritage, the black heritage forsakes slavery while the Caucasian heritage promoted the same.
There may be instances in the life of such person when decisions have to be made favoring one aspect over the other, and in such instance, the woman is the oppressor of her own self as she is left with no choice but to decide in such manner, although contrary to an aspect of her identity. IV. Epilogue Delmar has pointed out that the problem of oppression within the circle of feminism is rooted on the fact that the very definition of feminism is monolithic and abstracted. The very definition of feminism forgets or averts from the reality that there exists a multiple consciousness of women.
With the realization that a multiple consciousness of women exists, then there may be the realization that there are various facets of oppression. Consequently, solutions may be afforded to these various facets in order to abolish, if not minimize the same. This is why at the beginning of this Paper a quote from Margaret Mead was stated. “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.
” With the realization that women are rich in culture, in contrasting values, then we can realize that there is a whole gamut of potentialities. With such variety, a less arbitrary social fabric may be established, and through such less arbitrary social fabric, each and every individual may find his or her own place without necessarily fitting into a monolithic mold. References Delmar, Rosalind. (2005). What is Feminism? Feminist Theory: A reader, 27-36. New York: McGraw-Hill. Gavigan, Shelley. (1996). Familial Ideology & the Limits of Difference.
Women and Canadian Public Policy, 225-78. Toronto: Harcourt Brace. Harris, Angela. (2002). Race and Essentialism in Legal Theory. Women, Law and Social Change, 4th ed. , 383-92. Concord, ON: Captus Press. Jhappan, Raddha. (1996). Post-Modern Race and Gender Essentialism or a Post-Mortem of Scholarship. Studies in Political Economy 51:15-58. MacKinnon, Catharine. (1987). Difference and Dominance: On Sex Discrimination. Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, 32-45, 240-45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 November 2016
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