Feminist Thinkers and Ideas

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935)

Feminist Thinkers and Ideas, figure 1

  1. Sex and domestic economics are hand in hand – for women to survive, they have to depend on their sexuality and body in order to please their husbands.
  2. Societal pressure – young girls are compelled to conform in society and prepare for motherhood by playing with toys and wearing clothes that are specifically designed for and marketed to them.

Gilman was an American socialist feminist. She experienced post-natal depression and was confined to one room by her husband when she actually needed freedom and stimulation. From this, she developed a critique of society. Women were dependent on their husbands to survive financially, so used sex to please their husbands and continue to be supported. From an early age, girls were encouraged to fulfil a domestic role, which is done through the family structure and the culture of society (such as ‘girls toys’). Therefore, women should achieve economic independence to be free from men, which could be achieved through communal living and changes to marriage laws.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986)

  1. Sex versus gender – ‘one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’.
  2. ‘Otherness’ – men are perceived as the ‘norm’ and women deviants from this norm.

De Beauvoir was a socialist who came to see that class struggle was not enough by itself to improve the position of women. She argued that women were not ‘born’, but ‘made’, meaning that femininity is a cultural construct which is taught to women through socialisation. The roles they were socialised into turned women into slaves, as they were only able to undertake domestic duties and nothing else. In addition, men’s views were seen as the norm, so women’s views, which may differ, are viewed with suspicion and seen as deviant or inferior (the idea of otherness). Women have been socialised to accept this otherness, so saw themselves as inferior to men. However, de Beauvoir did not see the idea of a ‘feminine nature’ as positive (unlike difference feminists), so women should not turn away from the ‘male world’.

Sheila Rowbotham (1943–)

  1. Capitalism – women are forced to sell their labour to survive and use their labour to support their family under the capitalist system.
  2. The family – not just an instrument for disciplining and subjecting women to capitalism but a place where men took refuge from alienation under a capitalist economy.

Rowbotham is a socialist feminist who argued that women’s oppression was the result of economic and cultural factors. She criticised the concept of marriage, arguing that it turned women into serfs, similar to a feudal system. In addition, the way to improve the position of women was to radically change the ‘cultural conditioning’ of humanity, for instance by overthrowing capitalism and changing views on child-rearing and the workplace. Women are disadvantaged by capitalism as they have to sell their labour, but also use labour to support the family which underpins capitalism. In addition, men are able to dominate their wives, which provides them with a relief from the alienation of working in a capitalist economy.

Kate Millett (1934–)

  1. Family – undoing the traditional family was the key to true sexual revolution.
  2. Portrayal of women in art and literature –patriarchal culture produced writers and literary works that were degrading to women.

Millett is an American radical feminist who argued in Sexual Politics (1970) that female oppression was political and cultural. Removing the traditional family structure would be the surest way to liberate women from patriarchy, as the family structure mirrored the patriarchal society. This is because the man dominates the family- traditionally, the wife was seen as part of the husband’s property, and the wife had no possessions of her own so was dependent on the man. Masculine authority is taught from childhood and reinforced through culture. Millett also argued that women are degraded in art and literature (an effect of the patriarchy), never having autonomy and being used as commodities for the gratification of men. This included the portrayal of romantic love, which needed to be overthrown in a sexual revolution.

Bell Hooks (1952–)

  1. Women of colour –cultural concerns of women of colour brought into the mainstream feminist movement.
  2. Intersectionality – the mainstream feminist movement had focused mostly on the plight of white, college-educated, middle/upper-class women who had no stake in the concerns of women of colour.

hooks used a pseudonym (her grandmother) and lower-case letters to empower her to fight against oppression, without the ego associated with names. She wished to bring the concerns of black women into the mainstream feminist movement, which had previously focused on issues of interest to white, educated, middle-class women. Women of colour had been doubly disadvantaged by their race and gender, and had been torn between supporting feminism (ignoring race) and the civil rights movement (ignoring gender). Therefore, there is a need to recognise the differences women of colour experienced in their treatment, and that there should be solidarity between gender, races, and classes.

The early form of feminism, developed in the mid-19th century.
First Wave
A pioneering feminist thinker who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
A social and cultural distinction between males and females.
Betty Friedan’s key feminist text, published in 1963.
Feminine Mystique
A form of feminism linking women’s exploitation to the capitalist system.
Socialist Feminism
The dominance of men and subordination of women in society.
This theorist argued that women are made, not born.
The Female ______, Germaine Greer’s book, arguing that women’s sexuality has been denied them by men.