The goal of this paper is to describe and analyze gender inequality, focusing on the history of feminist ideas. I will start with a basic overview of the entire feminist movement, and will then analyze feminism more specifically. In this analysis I will focus on the different types of feminism. Most notably of these types will be the main groups that consist of socialist feminists, liberal feminists, and radical feminists. I will describe the goals and ideals of these groups along with describing how a functionalist and conflict theorist looks at gender.
Feminism has been defined as the advocacy of social equality for men and women, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism. It is, historically, a very recent movement. It started in the 1840’s as women who opposed slavery, it morphed to include women’s suffrage and has developed into the modern feminist movement. There are five basic feminist ideas. The first being the importance of change, this means that feminism advocates change towards equality between men and women. The second idea of feminism is to expand human choice. They propose a means by which each human can develop all human traits. The third idea of feminism is to eliminate gender stratification, what this means is that feminists oppose laws and cultural norms which limit the education, income and job opportunities of women. The fourth idea of feminism is the ending of sexual violence. The fifth advocates promoting sexual autonomy, what this means is that feminism pushes women’s control over their sexuality and reproduction.
Socialist feminism evolved from the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This is probably because Marx paid absolutely no attention to gender in his arguments. From their point of view, capitalism increases patriarchy by concentrating the wealth and power in the hands of a small number of men. They argue that the family structure created by capitalism must change. They want to replace what they call their “domestic slavery” with a collective means of carrying out housework and child care. They feel that the only way that this goal can be realized is through a socialist revolution, which creates a state-centered economy which meets the needs of all. This basic transformation requires women and men to pursue their liberation together.
Liberal Feminism is based on the traditionally liberal feeling that individuals should be free to develop their own talents and pursue their own interests. They accept the basic organizations of our society but seek to expand the rights and opportunities of women. They also advocate reproductive freedom for all women. They respect the family as a social institution, but seek changes including widely available maternity leave, and child-care for women who want to work. With their strong belief in the rights of individuals, liberal feminists do not think that all women need to move collectively towards any one political goal. Both women and men, through their individual achievement, are capable of improving their lives if society simply ends legal and cultural barriers rooted in gender.
Radical Feminism finds that reforms of liberal feminists are inadequate, they also feel that a social revolution would not end patriarchy. Instead, they feel that gender inequality can only be reached by eliminating the notion of gender itself. The foundation of gender, they feel, is rooted in the biological fact that only women can bear children. Radical feminists, therefore, look towards new reproductive technology in order to separate women’s bodies from childbearing. If the idea of motherhood was on the demise, then the entire family system could be left behind, liberating women, men, and children from the “tyranny” of family, gender, and sex itself.
A functionalist looks at gender as a way to organize social life. They put out a theory, in which gender integrates society both in terms of what people do, and what people believe. Some of the basic problems with functionalism are that they do not share the same vision of society as everyone. For example, functionalists don’t look at the fact that some women have always had to work outside the home out of necessity, they look at the typical upper middle class family in which a woman most likely will not work outside the home. They also fail miserably in their thoughts on sexual equality, what they may describe as merely “gender complementarity” is little more than male domination.
A Conflict theorist looks at gender in a way that gender involves not only differences in behavior, but power. A conflict theorist will claim that conventional ideas about gender promote not cohesion, but tension, and division. In this, men seek to protect their interests while women attack the status quo. Conflict theorists analysis of gender bases itself on how society places the two sexes in unequal positions of wealth and power. It is, therefore, extremely critical of conventional ideas about gender. They claim that society would be better off with a minimization , or, perhaps, even an elimination of gender roles in the social structure entirely. Some claim, however, that there is a problem with how conflict theorists look at the traditional family, supposedly morally good, as a social evil. Also, many find trouble with how conflict theorists over look the fact that men and women can live quite happily together in the family structure. A third argument against the conflict theorists look at gender is their claim that capitalism fosters more patriarchy. Studies have shown that agricultural countries are typically more patriarchal than industrial-based countries.
Gender equality can be looked at in many different ways. A conflict theorist would look at it and say that capitalism is to blame for many of the faults of gender inequality. Functionalists, I believe, feel that there is, inherently, no real problem with the way things are in their day and age. Also, there are three different types of ways that a feminist would look a solving the evils of gender inequality. There are liberal feminists, radical feminists, and social feminists, with radical feminists being the most extreme.
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