Feminist theory considers ways in which physical differences between men and women are used by culture and social structure to show that women are allocated inferior and degrading activities such as motherhood and secretary. They are subjugated to stereotypes, which portrays them as weak and emotionally dependent on men. Women are often excluded from public activities and relegated to private domain of the home. Finally, women are ascribed specific feminine qualities and identity through socialization so that women live in a state of false consciousness.
Position of Women in the Society
The critique of women’s position in society and culture goes back to the writings of Mary Wollonstonecraft in a publication entitled ‘a vindication of the rights of women, Stuart Mill “the subjugation of women” and Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels (1884) “the origin of private property, the family and the state” (Lise 11). Engels showed that women’s subjection began with the rise of private property.
Using Marx and Engels, feminist scholars view women subjection as a product of the overall exploitation and injustices that are found in capitalist societies (Rowbotham 25). However, radical feminist scholars view the oppression of women as inevitable in all male dominated societies.
Political and economic power is concentrated in male hands because there is substantial social differentiation between the sexes. Functionalists and feminists theories do conceive that it is impossible to change quickly the gender roles without revising the social structure. For functionalists, if there is change in the social structure, social disorder will be inevitable but for conflict theorists, no social structure is safe if it is maintained by oppressing a majority of its citizens (Rowbotham 71).
Women in History
From the pre-industrial epoch, men were powerful because of their physical strength and freedom from childbearing duties that allowed them to dominate women physically. Cultural beliefs support a social structure which puts men in dominant positions hence from early childhood children are socialized to accept traditional gender roles as natural and just. Using Marx class analysis, males are like the bourgeoisie because they own and control most of the society’s wealth, prestige and power.
Females are as the proletariat who are the subjects, work under the directives of the bourgeoisies (men), exploited and their culture is devalued (Brenner 43). This means that men’s work is valued and most of the women’s work, particularly in the home is devalued.
Feminist scholars have challenged the stereotyping of women and argued for a gender balance study of society in which women’s experiences and contributions are as visible as those of men are.
In a study of positions of men and women in paid labor, it was concluded that most workers are found in sex-segregated jobs meaning that certain jobs were exclusively for men or women. Such segregation is not natural but society is structured to channel people into occupations based on the gender and also to reserve positions of authority to men (Lise 20).
Feminist theory is a holistic theory mainly conceived with the nature of women’s global oppression and subordination to men. It aims at freeing all women from male supremacy and exploitation as well as confronting the sex-class system.
In feminism, there are several tendencies and groupings, each with a different focus. For example the Marxist feminist, female supremacy feminism, academic feminism, this for instance focuses on the lives of black women.
For white women, their concerns are equal pay, equal education and opportunities, free contraceptives and free abortion. Feminism has been associated more with white women’s culture. Radical feminism is characterized by the belief that patriarchy is the major and universal cause of women’s oppression.
Brenner, Johanna. “On gender and class in the U.S. labor history.” Monthly Review, 50.6(1998): 22-31.
Lise, Vogel. Marxism and the Oppression of Women: toward a unitary theory. Virginia: Rutgers University Press. Print.
Rowbotham, Sheila. The Socialist Register 1998: Letter from a Marxist Feminist. 1998. Web. July 6, 2011.