Assessing the value of feminism's understanding of society
Best point out a few things before you start reading… this hub is not an outline of feminism, nor is it in support or against it (as a sociological theory anyway). All I have tried to do is put it in amongst ‘modern’ society and to see where it stands, what its supposed function is and if it is truly outdated (I also tried to include a little from other sociological studies).
N.B. I don’t suggest reading this unless you have a rough understanding of feminism already.
Feminism is a structural theory that explains society as a conflict between men and women. The men exploit the women in nearly every aspect of their lives. This is done through a culture geared towards the maintenance of a hierarchy where women are below men; patriarchy. Feminists define patriarchy as ‘a system of social structures and practises in which men dominate, oppress and exploit’.
Feminism has broken up into many different branches. The main four being radical feminism, Marxist feminism, liberal feminism and black feminism. Radical feminism says that the exploitation of women is due to exploitative family relationships. Marxist feminists say that the exploitation is due to capitalism; that the bourgeoisie culture contains patriarchal elements. Liberal feminists argues that although the exploitation is part of the culture it can be Equalised through reform. Black feminist theory has combined racism and sexism in society to explain exploitation for people from different backgrounds.
Radical feminism argues that exploitation of women in society is due to exploitative family relationships. In the family women are expected to do all of the childcare and house work. The radical feminists argue to solve this problem of exploitation shared childcare must replace the ‘traditional’ family roles. There is a Patriarchal society because of a patriarchal culture, so removing gender bias roles such as this changes the culture.
Liberal feminists argue that regardless of where the attitudes that lead to exploitation comes from they can only be equalised through reform. The exploitation damages society not just women so it makes logical sense that society needs to equalise their position with that of men. They argue to do this education and legislation are needed. It can be argued that this is a more plausible theory compared to others; it does not believe a cure all approach but deals with the problem practically. Counter to that does the oppression persist despite legal and attitudinal changes?
Marxist feminists have adapted the theories of Marxism so that it explains the exploitation of women. As with Marx’s theory Marxist feminists say the exploitation is due to capitalism. The Bourgeoisie culture that we are all socialised to contains patriarchal elements. This is arguable because the majority of the Bourgeoisie are males.
The theory of two workers for one wage is their main extraction from both feminism and Marxism. The women is the no waged slave of the waged slave, allowing for the bourgeoisie to be extra ‘cost effective’. The women are a reserve army of labour for when men are not available for the work or there is a flux is there amount of work that needs doing. But do the central concepts of Marxism and the concept of patriarchy effectively combine? The theory has lost validity after women became more part of the labour market, however they have tried to remedy this with the theory of ‘pink collar’ jobs.
Black feminists have combined theories of sexism and racism to give an explanation to the exploitation of people from different ethnic backgrounds. using this integration of racism and class into an explanation of black women’s place in society. This combination had led to more in-depth research into both racism and sexism, and together, and given an insight into the position of women within ethnic groups.
a little bit of other theory
Following a functionalism society is based on consensus and not on conflicting groups, so the basic assumption of feminism, that everything in society is in place to support men, is wrong because the structure and culture are there to benefit society as a whole. Merton would argue if women are exploited it is because the culture has developed that way and is in place to control us. Integration and pattern maintenance hold the hierarchy of men and women in society and up because it works, it has a function. Although through adaption this will eventually change.
From a Weberian viewpoint women aren’t exploited because of a patriarchal culture, because culture does not shape society but the interactions between people do. It can be argued that a Weberian view point does not explain why women start with a weaker bargaining position than men.
Following Marx, the feminists focus on the wrong conflict, the main conflict is between the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat not men and women. However, Marxist feminism has created an acceptable hybrid of the two theories.
Feminism as a theory is seen as out dated when being applied to British contemporary society, although hugely important during the early 19th century and in the 1960s with women’s rights movements. However, in a modern society feminists view points in sociology have been helpful in researching groups which would otherwise have been ignored by the more mainstream sociology. Marxist feminists have done research into the exploitation of women in the work place and black feminists into women’s positions, and often poverty, because of their ethnic group.
Hopefully this will have been an interesting read. Feel free to ask any follow up questions, disagree whatever. Ill be happy to reply.