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Are we still living in a patriarchal society?

Updated on March 11, 2017

Liberal feminists

Liberal feminists would agree that patriarchal assumptions that women should be the carers in a family lead to women being unequal in the workplace and in wealth creation. Oakley argues how the idea of the housewife is a social construction created by a male dominated culture in order to give men the higher status positions as breadwinners in society. Freidan would support such a view, describing the housewife stereotype as unfulfilling and alienating for women.

Liberal feminists see social policies as the way to achieve gender equality. Many of their ideas regarding paternity leave and anti-discrimination legislation for the workplace have led to some movement towards gender equality. However, radical feminists would disagree that this will create an equal society, free of patriarchy. Radical thinkers such as Firestone, Millet and Dworkin would argue that changes in social policy do not change the norms and values of a patriarchal culture enough. More radical reform is needed in order to oppose patriarchy such as freeing women from the role of pregnancy and banning all forms of sexual objectification of women in the media.

Marxist feminists

Marxists Feminists would agree that women are still unequal with men due to patriarchy but that this is not the only cause. Researchers such as Hartmann refer to a dual systems approach in which patriarchy works with capitalism to create gender inequality. Marxist feminists such as Ansley and Rowbotham argue that it suits the interests of capitalism to keep women in a subordinate housewife role. This is because the housewife provides unpaid care for both the current and future generation of proletariat workers. They create a family home in which the oppressed and exploited worker can return to each day, diminishing his urge for class revolution (Zaretsky). Marxists feminists also describe how the capitalist economy benefits from women as a reserve army of labour, filling the gaps of the economy when capitalism is in a “boom”, but being made unemployed in times of “bust”.

Black feminists

Black feminist thinkers such as Hill-Collins and Pheonix would argue that the previous three types of feminist explanations are ethnocentric: they do not acknowledge how the experience of patriarchy varies depending on the ethnicity of a woman. For example, they might argue that British Afro-Caribbean women are unequal to men, not because of patriarchy but because of racism in the culture and institutions of society

Opposing views to feminism - Hakim

There are many thinkers who oppose feminism and argue that we no longer live in a patriarchal society. Hakim would argue that this is one of many “feminist myths” and claims that social reforms such as employment laws, access to contraception and childcare support have freed women from the patriarchy of the past. For Hakim, women now have the level of agency (freewill, the power to make their own decisions) to make patriarchy redundant. She explains that any evidence of a glass ceiling or wage gaps is due to the choices that women make: they choose to prioritise family life over career development.

In recent times, Hakim has made an argument that in the modern workplace, women are actually more advantaged than men in making use of their “erotic capital” in using their charm, charisma and sexual attractiveness. This is in order to progress in work designed around these characteristics (movies, modelling) but also in everyday work situations (working in teams, in sales, interview situations etc).

Evaluation of Hakim

Many feminists have reacted to Hakim with some degree of outrage arguing that the social reforms to create more equality have not changed things far enough. For example, although paternity leave now exists, some statistics show that less than half of all new dads actually take this. In addition, her references to erotic capital for women, seen to be a return to judging women in work based on their appearance and sexuality. Adkins carried out research into how women in the workplace have to use their bodies as sex objects to work in certain roles (eg Hooters restaurants) and Stanko finds evidence of women in work having to put up with unwelcome flirtations from male colleagues.

Functionalists

Functionalist ideas would challenge feminist thinkers as they would see it as more functional for men and women to specialise in different gender roles. Parsons described how women were best at performing the expressive role in the family: the caring and homemaking, whereas men are more suited to the breadwinning role. For Parsons, this was an efficient specialisation of gender roles that are an extension of the biological differences between men and women. For feminists, this view reflects the in-built patriarchy of how gender roles have been seen for many years.

Conclusion

To conclude, the evidence of gender inequality it still so pervasive that we should argue that patriarchy still exists. The evidence of the wage gap, the low percentage of women in the rich list, the clear examples of workplace segregation still occur so that Hakim and Functionalist ideas still need feminist critique.

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