Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Feminism as an intellectual tradition

The first feminist was of course Lilith, who refused to lie underneath Adam. Apart from these mythical origins, the first stirrings of feminist thought appear in the Middle Ages with a treatise by Christine de Pizan cautiously arguing that women are just as good as men; and in the fourteenth century, women could practise trades (such as brewing) and learn Latin and so on. Unfortunately the Reformation was bad news for women, as many of our freedoms were taken away. But in the seventeenth century, a huge band of women marched on Parliament demanding the vote (sadly I think I don't have the book that described this any more, and can't find anything about it on the web).

In the eighteenth century we have Mary Wollstonecraft and A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), in which she argues that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. And of course her daughter arguably founded science fiction with her Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft was one of many women writers in the 18th century (not all of whom were feminists, however).

In the 19th and early 20th century, there was the first wave of feminism, primarily concerned with women's legal rights. Two important legal landmarks here: the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870 which said that a woman's wages were her own; and 1882, which said that a woman's property remained her own after marriage; and the granting of women's right to vote.

The second wave
refers to a period of feminist activity which began during the early 1960s and lasted throughout the late 1970s. Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on overturning legal (de jure) obstacles to equality (i.e. voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism successfully addressed a wide range of issues, including unofficial (de facto) inequalities, official legal inequalities, sexuality, family, the workplace, and, perhaps most controversially, reproductive rights. (Wikipedia)
Critics of second-wave feminism point out that it merely inverted sexist gender stereotypes and was essentialist in its view of gender. Some feminists claimed that women were naturally nurturing and men were naturally aggressive, but whereas patriarchy valued male aggression, second-wave feminism valued female nurturing.

Third-wave feminism points out that gender is a performance and the importance of biological sex is socially constructed. This wave is influenced by postmodernism, postcolonialism and queer theory. Critics have complained that it lacks a single issue to focus on, but so did the second wave. It has also been suggested that the third wave is more sensitive to women in other social contexts (different classes and countries), whereas the second wave was unintentionally colonialist in its universalising tendencies.

Another way of characterising the different strands of feminism is to divide it into subtypes:
Amazon · Anarchist · Atheist · Black · Chicana · Christian · Cultural · Cyber · Difference · Eco · Equity · Equality · Fat · Gender · Global · Goddess · Individualist · Islamic · Jewish · Lesbian · Liberal · Lipstick · Marxist · Material · New · Postcolonial · Postmodern · Pro-life · Proto · Radical · Separatist · Sex-positive · Socialist · Standpoint · Theology · Third world · Trans · Womanism

(Oh dear, now I am going to have to read all of these articles to work out what type of feminist I would be classified as. Isn't there a Facebook quiz for this sort of thing? I did one the other day which worked out what kind of anarchist you were - I was a post-structuralist anarchist. Aha, found a quiz on Quizilla, Which Western feminist icon are you, and I came up as Judith Butler (no surprises there, but I hope I write more comprehensibly than she does). And SelectSmart has a What type of feminist are you quiz, which classifies me as a liberal feminist.)

1 comment:

  1. I too completed the SelectSmart quiz and came out as a 'Radical Feminist', closely followed by 'Anarcho-Feminist' and 'Amazon Feminist'....