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Using Feminist Theory to Study Families. What is feminist theory? . “An analysis of women’s subordination for the purpose of figuring out how to change it” (Gordon 1979) Includes theories about: the origins and nature of inequality the social construction of sex and gender

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what is feminist theory
What is feminist theory?
  • “An analysis of women’s subordination for the purpose of figuring out how to change it” (Gordon 1979)
  • Includes theories about:
    • the origins and nature of inequality
    • the social construction of sex and gender
    • Evaluative AND empirical
    • Often used in combination with other theories of families (e.g., exchange, life course).
where does it come from
Where does it come from?
  • Emerged from three waves of feminist (political) movements.
    • First Wave – (1840s)-1880s-1920s
    • Second Wave – 1960s-1990s
    • Third Wave – 1990s-present
  • Developed by scholars in a variety of academic disciplines (especially anthropology, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology).
what is it good for
What is it good for?
  • Helping to explain:
    • Power relations in families.
    • Division of labor in families and societies.
    • Meaning-making in (and about) families.
    • How understandings and assumptions about gender influence family dynamics and public policies.
three waves of western feminism
Three Waves of (Western) Feminism

Second Wave

1960s-1990s

First Wave

(1840s)-1880s-1920s

Third Wave

1990s-present

the first wave
The First Wave
  • Heavily influenced by Enlightenment thinking
  • Chief goals: Women’s suffrage (right to vote), access to education, family planning
  • Critique of women’s (restricted) role in the home

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (c. 1848)

&

Anna Julia Cooper (1893)

the second wave
The Second Wave
  • Liberal and cultural variants
  • Sought to expand access to education, types of paid work, equal pay for equal work
  • Focus on sexual liberation and freedom from sexual violence
  • Aimed to free women from excessive concern with beauty and appearance

Gloria Steinem &

Dorothy Pitman Hughes

the third wave
The Third Wave
  • Recognizes diversity among women across race/ethnicity, class, sexual orientation
  • Promotes breaking down/ playing with gender categories
focus and premises
Focus and Premises
  • Women’s experience is central
    • Can provide a basis for knowledge claims
  • Feminist theory has many voices
    • Because different women come from different social locations (e.g., by race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, age, nationality)
  • Feminist theory is emancipatory
    • In addition to trying to predict social processes, seeks to describe, evaluate, and prescribe social action
main concepts
Main Concepts
  • Sex and gender
    • Sex = biology
    • Gender = social and cultural
  • Three dimensions of gender:
    • Gender identity
    • Structural gender (social status)
    • Cultural gender (symbols and meanings)
  • Sexism
    • Harmful attributions made about everyone with a certain trait believed to be inherent or genetic (e.g., sex)
main concepts12
Main Concepts
  • Family and household
    • HH = coresidential units
    • F = prevailing ideologies about how/where/with whom people should live and divide labor
  • Public and private
    • Gendered spheres (c. 1830s onward)
    • Seen as artificial distinction that supports and maintain an inequitable gender system
propositions
Propositions
  • Gender structures our experiences.
  • Gender structures all societies.
  • Women as a class [sic] are devalued and oppressed.
  • As a result of sex, gender beliefs, and historical and continuing sexism and oppression, there exists a “female culture.”
propositions14
Propositions
  • The family is not monolithic.
    • In terms of organization and in terms of patterns by race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
  • The family is a central institution for the reproduction of oppression.
    • Via socialization and social expectations
    • In terms of support for work, etc. [not in book]
varieties of feminist theory
Varieties of Feminist Theory
  • Liberal Feminism
  • Marxist/Socialist Feminism
  • Cultural Feminism
  • Multicultural and Critical Race [and Third World] Feminism
  • Other variants: Lesbian, psychoanalytic, anarchist, etc.
liberal feminism
Liberal Feminism
  • Rooted in Enlightenment philosophy: “All men [sic] are created equal.”
  • Emphasis on equality of opportunity and removal of barriers (e.g., to education, work, leisure activities)
  • Mostly closely associated with first (and less-radical second) wave
marxist socialist feminism
Marxist/Socialist Feminism
  • Rooted in Marx and Engels’ writings
  • Who controls the means of reproduction (as well as the means of production)?
  • “Sex class” underlies other social divisions (e.g., race, SES)
  • Employers exploit women’s free reproductive labor, “cooperate” with male employees to limit women’s paid work (even though women might work for less)
cultural feminism
Cultural Feminism
  • Posits men and women as (inherently) different, seeks to revalue traditionally devalued feminine traits (e.g., nurturing, expressiveness)
  • Mostly closely associated with radical second-wave feminism
multicultural critical race and third world feminism
Multicultural, Critical Race, and “Third World” Feminism
  • Questions basic constructs like “women” & “female” (and “family”)
  • Focus on intersecting identities
  • Concern with exploitation of immigrant and poor women
  • Draws on poststructuralist and postmodernist theory
  • Associated with third-wave feminism
empirical applications
Empirical Applications
  • Understanding the gendered division of labor
    • Second shifts and the stalled revolution (Hochschild)
    • Equal vs. fair?
    • The role of ideology
    • “Capitalization” of housework (Ehrenreich)
  • Measuring Diversity in Feminism
    • Are different strands of feminism associated with age, social class, occupation, race, etc.?
practical applications
Practical Applications
  • Family policy reform
    • To reflect facts that families are diverse and that different family members may have different interests
    • Examples: Sexual violence & domestic violence, wage discrimination, day care, accounting for unpaid work
  • Family therapy
    • Revising traditional family therapy to acknowledge that conflict may be useful and good.
  • Family scholarship and the research process
    • Critiquing research that presumes families are private, neglects diversity of family forms, avoids gender analysis
    • Incorporating reflexive methods