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Q.1(b) Feminist approaches to sociological theory have developed out of
historical sites of struggle for equality. Describe the strengths and
weaknesses of four (4) different feminist theoretical orientations.
Sociological theory is broadly concerned with structured forms
of social inequality. Therefore, sociologist generally attempt to approach
human behaviour and relations in terms of the particular social setting of
different social groups, classes and etc. However, feminist critics of
sociology have pointed out that sociological theorists have neglected gender
as a central principle of social differentiation.
Feminist sociologist argue that most sociological theory is
characterised by a 'malestream' view of the social world in which women are
either overlooked altogether or discussed as if they were identical to men.
The concept used most frequently to capture structured power relations
between the sexes is 'patriarchy'. This essay will discuss the strengths
and weaknesses of four different feminist theoretical orientations.
Liberal feminists are the least 'radical' of all feminist
perspectives. The main aim of the liberal feminists is the creation of
equal opportunities, particularly in education and work. Probably the most
positive thing liberal feminism has for itself is the fact that it has
contributed to considerable social change, especially in relation to
employment opportunities and conditions, and social policy.
Liberal feminist themselves have not produced a clearly developed
theory of gender, but they generally rely on role theory. One of the main
strengths of liberal feminism is that they aim for gradual change in the
political, economic and social systems of Western societies which, it is
assumed, will in turn transform gender roles. This is considered a strength
because it is a reasonable and realistic accomplishment. Liberal feminism
is willing to take the appropriate time it may take to produce gender
equality. With this time liberal feminist pursue an aim through the
introduction of legislation and by attempting to change attitudes. They
encourage and support such measures as anti-discrimination and equal pay
legislation in the hope that they will help to end discrimination.
Liberal feminists do not seek revolutionary changes in society,
but rather reforms that take place within existing social and political
structures. If there are any weaknesses to he liberal feminists this may be
it. Other feminist may argue that the liberals are not aggressive enough
and rely too much on hope.
Radical feminists turn their explanatory focus onto
heterosexuality as a social construction. Radical feminists thus often see
the social context of heterosexuality, family life, as central to women's
oppression in modern societies. If men oppress women, then surely
heterosexuality constitutes 'sleeping with the enemy'; the slogan which
emerged in the 1070's-'feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the
practice'-captures the essence of this perspective.
The radical feminism perspective is filled with weaknesses. The
largest weakness among the radical feminists comes from the separatist
feminist, who argues that women should organise independently of men. This
argument usually leads to the view that only lesbians can be true feminists,
since only they can be fully independent of men, which in turn downgrades
all other feminists. For the radical feminist the subordination of women is
seen primarily in terms of relations of dominance between men and women as
distinct social groups. Because men as a group are seen as being opposed to
women's liberation by definition, many radical feminists reject any
cooperation with them in their struggle to achieve the social change they
seek. Looking at all men as a 'group' and then deciding to turn against
them is a serious weakness for any feminism. This would only suit the
lesbian feminist, and would hold no relevance for heterosexual feminist.
Another weakness in the radical feminist perspective is the way
they group. Radical feminists use patriarchy as the most important concept
for explaining gender inequality. They use this term to provide a detailed
explanation of how power operates within sexual relationships. They argue
that politics was not just an activity confined to political parties and
parliaments, but one, which exist in 'all' relationships. The radical
feminists go on to argue that rape and other forms of sexual violence are
ever-present possibilities and ways in which 'all' men intimidate 'all'
Marxist and socialist feminism
Marxist and socialist feminists regard capitalism rather than
patriarchy as being the principal source of women's oppression, and
capitalists as the main beneficiaries. Marxist/socialist feminists and
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Feminist theory, Feminist movements and ideologies, Womens rights, Third-wave feminism, Socialist feminism, Feminism, Radical feminism, Marxist feminism, Lesbian feminism, Feminist views on sexuality
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