Feminism Theory

  • Two basic beliefs: women are disadvantaged because of their sex; this should be overthrown.
  • First stage – calls for female suffrage.
  • Second stage – “women’s liberation” can only be achieved by radical and revolutionary social change.
  • Third stage – moving away from the radical and being much more inclusive in the women that it involves. It was felt that the women were too middle class and white, therefore the need for greater diversity.

Core values




Public (political life outside family)/ private (family life) divide

Betty Friedan – reacted against excesses of radical feminist movement – women should be free to take up traditional roles of “love, nurture and home”.

Should be a clear divide between public and private.

Private – not political. People can choose freely to live in a certain way, and if this does no harm to others it is of no concern to anyone else.

Equality only needed in public arena.

If you sort out public sphere, private will follow.

Flexibility – no hierarchy but ability to be free and equal.

Removal of class inequality to allow female equality,

Private sphere – capitalism allow for exploitation of women – overthrow of capitalism would liberate women.

As men are more successful in the private sphere and dominate women, then they follow this through at home in private sphere – women expected to ‘stay at home’.

Simone de Beauvoir

Women are suppressed in private life through male domination.

Both public and private should be political.

Advocate all female communes – consciousness of women themselves must be altered; women should completely separate themselves from male culture in order to free themselves and take control of their inner being.

Kate Millett – androgynous society – and women should celebrate womanliness.



Equality in marriage laws, pay, employment. Iron out legal inequalities such as exclusion from certain activities e.g. politics and business.

Mary Wollstonecraft wanted equal education and opportunity.

Women must rise up against capitalism and move against gender exploitation.

Relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat is similar to gender struggle whereby women are oppressed by males.

Patriarchal capitalism needs to be transformed if women are to be liberated.

Engels – matriarchy came before private property.

Overthrow of patriarchy in society. Destroy male dominance.

Women would run country better and should be given better jobs – would fulfil these roles more.

Tendency of women to have part-time work in menial jobs ensures that women retain inferior status.

Psychological forms of exploitation – role of the father in family is a model for dominance of men in society.

Dwarkins – men like being dominant.

Millett – traditional family unit is source of female oppression.

Freestone – community of free women without the need for men.

Sex (biological necessity) and gender (shaped by culture)

Gender – should embrace differences – need for individualism. Don’t want to be homogenised as in radical feminism.

Women should be given choice and opportunity to determine gender roles, as well as total equality.

Greer – need to celebrate differences. Sexual differences should not be suppressed but restored and celebrated.

Need to abolish capitalism and then gender problems will iron themselves out.

Gender decided by the bourgeoisie and henceforth class inequality means that men dominate.

Gender is forced upon women – forced into childbearing and household work.

Concept of gender should be destroyed and women’s culture rebuilt from scratch. Move towards homogenised individual.

Millett – if there was androgynous society there would be no significant sexual differences between men and women.

Equality and difference

Champion equality and fairness.

When women granted equal status with men they will shed their own inferiority.

Political, legal, social, economic rights alongside total equality of opportunity.

JS Mill Harriet Taylor – everyone was born equal and this should not change.

Economic power – must address ideas such as unequal distribution of wealth.

Women’s position under capitalism means that women are reduced to the status of an exploited part of workforce.

Marxists claim that capitalism relies upon exploitation of women to make labour more available.

Men should take responsibility.

Should not differentiate.

There is natural equality and society should reflect this.

Aspiration of equality is limited – some see female culture as superior and would seek to place women in a superior position to men rather than merely an equal one. Millett


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