Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought A More Comprehensive Introduction 3rd Edition


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  I applaud the creative and schol-arly abilities of the feminists whose work I try to summarize, interpret, and share with as wide and diverse an audience as possible. The world is more fair, just, and caring thanksto the ideas not only of the feminist thinkers featured in this book but also the many feminist thinkers who, for lack of pen perhaps, have not been ableto write down, let alone widely publicize their ideas.


  First, I want to thank Lisa Singleton for the long hours she spent research- ing for me and the even longer hours she spent typing draft after draft of abook that seemed without end. I am gratefulto be a part of this effort and hope to remain a part of it until the day I die.

The Diversity of Feminist Thinking

  Somewhat unconvinced by the liberal and radical feminist agendas for women’s liberation, Marxist and socialist feminists claim it is impossible foranyone, especially women, to achieve true freedom in a class-based society, where the wealth produced by the powerless many ends up in the hands of 13 the powerful few. Not sure that dual parenting and dual participation in the workforce were up to changing the gender valences of the Oedipal complex, a new generationof psychoanalytic feminists turned to theorists like Jacques Lacan for more insights into the psychosexual dramas that produce “man” and “woman,” the“feminine” and the “masculine,” the “heterosexual” and the “lesbian,” and so forth.

Eighteenth-Century Thought: Equal Education

  On the contrary, her overall line of reasoning in A Vindication of the Rights of Womanwas remarkably similar to Immanuel Kant’s overall line of reasoning in the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals—namely, that unless a person acts au- 21 tonomously, he or she acts as less than a fully human person. In fact, Wollstonecraft dismissed the woman’s suffrage movement as a waste of time, since in her estimation,the whole system of legal representation was merely a “convenient handle 25 for despotism.”Despite the limitations of her analysis, Wollstonecraft did present a vision of a woman strong in mind and body, a person who is not a slave to her pas-sions, her husband, or her children.

Nineteenth-Century Thought: Equal Liberty

  He argued in “The Subjection of Women” that if women’srational powers were recognized as equal to men’s, then society would reap significant benefits: public-spirited citizens for society itself, intellectuallystimulating spouses for husbands, a doubling of the “mass of mental faculties available for the higher service of humanity,” and a multitude of very happy 39 women. In fact,Mill was so eager to establish that men are not intellectually superior to women that he tended to err in the opposite direction, by valorizing women’sattention to details, use of concrete examples, and intuitiveness as a superior 47 form of knowledge not often found in men.

Nineteenth-Century Action: The Suffrage

  Assessing the Seneca Falls Convention from the vantage point of the twentieth century, critics observe that, with the exception of Lucretia Mott’shastily added resolution to secure for women “an equal participation with 53 men in the various trades, professions, and commerce,” the nineteenth- century meeting failed to address class concerns such as those that troubledunderpaid white female mill and factory workers. Concerned that women’s rights would again be lost in the struggle to secure black (men’s) rights, the male as well as female delegates to an 1866 national Twentieth-Century Action: Equal Rights 23 Co-chaired by Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the associa- tion had as its announced purpose the unification of the black (men’s) andwoman suffrage struggles.

Twentieth-Century Action: Equal Rights

  Congress immediately pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution to provide that “Equality of rights under the law shall notbe denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” and that such then be immediately ratified by the several States. That the right of women to be educated to their full potential equally with men be secured by Federal and State legislation, eliminating alldiscrimination and segregation by sex, written and unwritten, at all levels of education, including colleges, graduate and professional schools, loans andfellowships, and Federal and State training programs such as the Job Corps.

Twentieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference

  As soon as a woman sees housework for what it is—something to get out of theway, to be done “quickly and efficiently”—and sees marriage and motherhood for what it is, a part of her life but not all of it, she will find plenty of time and 72 energy to develop her total self in “creative work” outside the home. Increas-ingly, she urged feminists to ask themselves whether women either can or should try to meet not simply one but two standards of perfection: the one setin the workplace by traditional men, who had wives to take care of all their non- workplace needs, and the one set in the home by traditional women, whosewhole sense of worth, power, and mastery came from being ideal housewives 74 and mothers.

Feminine Mystique was that women’s liberation hinged on women becoming

  Having convincedherself that women did not need to deny their differences from men to achieve equality with men, Friedan urged 1980s women to stop “aping the accepteddominant Alpha mode of established movements and organizations” and start using their “Beta intuitions” to solve the social, political, and economic prob- 85 lems that threaten humankind. It asks the law to treat women as “male clones,” when in fact “therehas to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the 87 ones who have the babies.”If the Friedan of the 1980s is right, then the task of liberal feminists is to determine not what liberty and equality are for abstract, rational persons butwhat liberty and equality are for concrete men and women.

Contemporary Directions in Liberal Feminism

  If a dual-careercouple has a child, an aging parent, or an ailing relative in need of care, chances are that the female member of the couple will be the person who slows downor gives up her career to lend a helping hand. (Recall that this list of traditional qualities probably needs to be modified, depending on the racial, class, and ethnic characteristicsof the group under consideration.) Other liberal feminists resist monoandrog- yny and instead advocate polyandrogyny—the development of multiple per-sonality types, some of which are totally masculine, others totally feminine, 103 and still others a mixture.

Critiques of Liberal Feminism

  On the contrary, they seem fully aware that reason and emotion, mind and body, are “equally necessary to 109 human survival and the richness of human experience.” Indeed, observedWendell, if liberal feminists lacked a conception of the self as an integrated whole, we would be hard pressed to explain their tendency to view androgynyas a positive state of affairs. Rather than encouraging each other to mimic the tradi-tional behavior of successful men, who spend a minimum of time at home and a maximum of time at the office, women ought to work toward the kindof society in which men as well as women have as much time for friends and family as for business associates and professional colleagues.

Some Libertarian Views on Gender

  She claimed that because readers typically tookLawrence’s, Miller’s, and Mailer’s descriptions of relationships in which women are sexually humiliated and abused by men as prescriptions for ideal sexualconduct, women tended to regard themselves as sexual failures, unable to emulate the sexual behavior of the characters in Miller’s Sexus, for example: “You never wear any undies do you? Genital sex, so important for the purposes of biological sex, would become just one kind ofsexual experience—and a relatively unimportant one—as people rediscovered the erotic pleasures of their oral and anal cavities and engaged in sexual rela-tions with members of the same as well as the opposite sex.

Some Cultural Views on Gender

  If we want to see the twenty-first century, said French, we musttreasure in our lives and actions “love and compassion and sharing and nutri- 30 tiveness [ sic] equally with control and structure, possessiveness and status.” 58 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism women embrace the historically feminine values of love, compassion, shar- ing, and nurturance just as eagerly as humans embrace the historically mas-culine values of control, structure, possessiveness, and status. Thus, Daly arguedthat the construction of the truly androgynous person cannot and must not begin until women say no to the values of the “morality of victimization.”Out of this no, said Daly, will come a yes to the values of the “ethics of per- 39 sonhood.” By refusing to be the other, by becoming selves with needs, wants, and interests of their own, women will end the game of man as masterand woman as slave.

Sexuality, Male Domination, and Female Subordination

  These feminists urged women to experiment with different kinds of sex and not to 61 confine themselves to a limited range of sexual experiences. In radical-cultural feminists’ estimation, because men want “power and orgasm” in sex and women want “reciprocity andintimacy” in sex, 67 the only kind of sex that is unambiguously good for women is monogamous lesbianism.

The Pornography Debate

  Although radical-cultural feminists, under the leadership of MacKinnon and Dworkin, were initially successful in their attempt to have antipornog-raphy ordinances passed in Minneapolis and Indianapolis, a coalition of radical-libertarian and liberal feminists called the Feminist Anti-CensorshipTaskforce (FACT) joined nonfeminist free-speech advocates to work againstMacKinnon and Dworkin’s 1980s legislation. In the movie, an attractive, upper-class woman and a brawny, working-class man are shown, during the first half of the film, as class 70 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism when they are stranded on an island and the man exacts his revenge on the woman by repeatedly raping her.

The Lesbianism Controversy

  To break the nuc- 95 lear bonding.” Thus, as a result of women’s giving up their monopoly on the power to give birth, the original paradigm for power relations was destroyed,and all residents of Mattapoisett found themselves in a position to reconstitute human relationships in ways that defied the hierarchical ideas of better-worse,higher-lower, stronger-weaker, and especially dominant-submissive. Indeed, confessed Rich, she herself felt out of controland alienated during her pregnancy: When I try to return to the body of the young woman of twenty-six, pregnant for the first time, who fled from the physical knowledge of herpregnancy and at the same time from her intellect and vocation, I realize that I was effectively alienated from my real body and my real spirit bythe institution—not the fact—of motherhood.

Libertarian and Cultural Views on Mothering

  AsOakley saw it, biological motherhood is a myth based on the threefold belief that “all women need to be mothers, all mothers need their children, all chil- 112 dren need their mothers.”The first assertion, that all women need to be mothers, gains its credibil- ity, according to Oakley, from the ways in which girls are socialized and frompopular psychoanalytic theory that provides “pseudo-scientific backing” for this process of socialization. Women do not naturally experience a desire to have abiological child, and there are no hormonally based drives that “irre- sistibly draw the mother to her child in the tropistic fashion of the moth 114 drawn to the flame” during and after pregnancy.

The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone suggested the desire to bear and rear children

  Thus, contracted motherhood need not be viewed as the male-directed and male-manipulated specialization and segmentation of the female reproductive pro- cess but as women getting together (as in the case of the postmenopausalSouth African mother who carried her daughter’s in vitro fetus to term) to achieve, in unison, something they could not achieve without each other’s 130 help. Increasingly aware of pregnant women’s power to affect the well-being of their fetuses during the gestational process, society ismore and more eager to control the pregnancies of “bad gestators.” If a preg- nant woman harms her fetus by drinking large quantities of alcohol or usingillicit drugs, concerned citizens will urge that she be treated, voluntarily or involuntarily, for her addictions.

Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural Feminism

  The history of essentialist arguments is one of oppressors telling the oppressed to accept their lot in life because “that’s just the way it is.” Essentialist argumentswere used to justify slavery, to resist the Nineteenth Amendment (which gave women the vote), and to sustain colonialism. But in Fer-guson’s estimation, depending on this woman’s “social context,” the woman may in fact be a “victim of false consciousness.” The “freedom” of an economi-cally dependent housewife to consent to S/M sex with her husband must be challenged; so, too, must the “freedom” of a teenage prostitute to consent to sex 144 with a man far older and richer than she.

Classical and Contemporary

  Over the years, I have becomeconvinced that the differences between these two schools of thought are more a matter of emphasis than of substance. They write in view of Russia’s twentieth-century failure to achieve social- ism’s ultimate goal—namely, the replacement of class oppression and an-tagonism with “an association, in which the free development of each is 1 the condition for the free development of all.” Post-1917 Communism in the Soviet Union and later in the so-called Eastern Bloc was not truesocialism but simply a new form of human exploitation and oppression.

Some Marxist Concepts and Theories

  These characteristics includea set of abilities, such as the capacity for rationality and the use of language; a set of practices, such as religion, art, and science; and a set of attitude andbehavior patterns, such as competitiveness and the tendency to put oneself over others. Because all commodities are worth exactly the labor necessary to produce them and because workers’ laborpower (capacity for work) is a commodity that can be bought and sold, the value of workers’ labor power is exactly the cost of whatever it takes (food,clothing, shelter) to maintain them throughout the workday.

Capital, a simple one: Employers have a monopoly on the means of production

  Building on the idea that in a capitalist society, human relations take on an alienated nature in which “the individual only feels himself or herself 18 when detached from others,” Ann Foreman claimed this state of affairs is worse for women than it is for men: The man exists in the social world of business and industry as well as in the family and therefore is able to express himself in these differentspheres. Inother words, a class analysis calls only for a general discussion of the respective roles of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, whereas a sexual division-of-laboranalysis requires a detailed discussion of who gives the orders and who takes them, who does the stimulating work and who does the drudge work, whoworks more hours and who works less hours, and who gets paid relatively high wages and who gets paid relatively low wages.

Women’s Labor Issues

  AHomemaker I, with 198 points and an average salary of $462, had the low- 103 est earnings of all evaluated jobs.” After reflecting on the Willis and As- sociates study, a federal court judge in Tacoma ruled that the state was inviolation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits dis- crimination by type of employment and level of compensation, and should 104 eliminate pay gaps within its systems. Because 105 61 percent of all poor families are headed by single women and because women are the primary recipients of food stamps, legal aid, and Medicaid, ifwage-earning women in female-dominated jobs were paid what their jobs are worth, these women might be able to support themselves and their familiesadequately without being forced, in one way or another, to attach themselves to men as a source of desperately needed income.

Critiques of Marxist and Socialist Feminism

  Mitchell observed that even Mao Zedong admitted that “despite collective work, egalitarian legislation, social care of children, etc., it was too soonfor the Chinese really, deeply and irrevocably to have changed their atti- 112tudes towards women.” As Mitchell saw it, attitudes toward women will never really change as long as both female and male psychology are domi- nated by the phallic symbol. Their next editorial ques-tioned the very category “women,” suggesting that there is no unity to“women,” or to “women’s oppression,” and that differing discourses simply 114 constructed varying definitions of “women.” Thus began the deconstruc- tion of “women” and the ascendancy of postmodern feminism, a type offeminism we will consider in Chapter 8.


  Itseems evident that the material foundations and consequences of institu- tionalized racism, the heritage of centuries of slavery, colonialism and im-perialism and the continued international division of labour are at least as important as culturally constituted difference. However exciting it may be for contemporary socialist feminists to probe women’s psyche from time to time, the fundamental goal of these feministsneeds to remain constant: to encourage women everywhere to unite in whatever ways they can to oppose structures of oppression, inequality, and injustice.

Sigmund Freud

  Were it not for the trauma of the Oedipus complex andhis fear of castration, the boy would fail to mature into a man ready, willing, and able at the appropriate time to claim the torch of civilization from his father. Character traits which critics of every epoch have brought up against women—that theyshow less sense of justice than men, that they are less ready to submit to the great necessities of life, that they are more influenced in their judge-ments by feelings of affection or hostility—all these would be amply ac- counted for by the modification of their super-ego which we have already 9 inferred.

Feminist Critiques of Freud

  Supposedly, the males of this species of fish are able to impregnate thefemales of their species only because the latter respond to their aggressive ad- vances with “awe.” Millett used this example to show, as Friedan might, thatthere is little sound evidence to support the theory that nature has deter- 18 mined men play first fiddle simply because they have a penis. Given his views about the powers of the creative self, Adler was able to provide nondeterministic explanations for why so-called neurotic womensuffer from a sense of inferiority and are plagued by “masculinity complexes.”Acknowledging that Western society is a patriarchal one in which women“are determined and maintained by privileged males for the glory of male 23 domination,” Adler hypothesized that as long as patriarchy exists, so-called neurotic women will exist.

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