Feminism And The Private Spher

By recognising that politics is a science not only

of the public realm but also of the private, feminism

shows itself to be an ideology that challenges

conventional thought. As the question rightly states, it

is feminists imparticular that oppose the division but

this view has influenced many others to think in such a

way about the public and private. In short, feminists

believe that the plight of women can only be eased if the

private sphere is opened up to political debate.

Feminists have stated on numerous occasions that the

main way in which they are oppressed is within the

private sphere. It is thought that men are able to stunt

the progress of women through psycologically degrading

them in the home. By doing this, in the private realm,

women do not have the confidence (or permission) to

perform a role in the public realm. Feminists argue that

wife-beating and rape within the home are common ways of

degrading women. The current division we have between the

public and private means that the state is powerless to

address the issue, seeing as it is an issue outside the

public sphere. Political intervention is essential for

this issue, hence the division needs to disappear.

It should be noted also that this hypothesis applies

to any weak groups within society, such as the disabled,

homosexuals and ethnic minorities.

Feminists also oppose the division between public

and private because of men s domination in the public

sphere. All state institutions in the UK are inhabited

overwhealmingly by men; the House of Commons has less

than a sixth of its members that are female. Art and

literature are still male-orientated disciplines. The

point is that when there is a time (like now) where

women are equal in name to men, it has very little

meaning to women as they are equal only in a male

designed world. The Greek playwright Euripides once

suggested that women would only be equal when they have

the opportunity to contribute to the arts. Feminists say

that women are unknowingly oppressed by men because they

have submitted themselves to live and think in male

defined ways.

Feminists add to this that if there were no division

between the public and private realm, it would allow the

achivements of women in the private sphere to be

acknowledged. Radical feminists state that women s

qualities like child-bearing, their emmotional awareness

and their compassion are qualities overlooked because

they are put to use only in the private sphere. In order

for women to be fully liberated, these achievements have

to be appreciated on the same level as men s

achievements. Hence, womens domination of life in the

private sphere should balance the domination of men in

the public sphere.

Feminists have advanced this viewpoint by

campaigning for wages for housework, a task usually

undertaken by women without reward, in the private

sphere. Feminists argue that a job done behind closed

doors is of value, just like a proper job in the public

sphere. This campaign is a good illustration of what is

possible once the division between public and private is

ridden of. Women, when they have a legitimately paid job

just like men, cannot be economically oppressed, that is

to say they would no longer feel dependent on men for


There are feminists though who have no problem with

the divide between public and private. Liberal feminists

believe that women are equally rational to men and

therefore, once enabled with equal rights, will be able

to work with men on an equal basis. Although liberal

feminism was the core of feminist thought in the 19th and

early 20th century, it is no longer. The leading

feminists of that time were middle class women who

egotistically paid little attention to women s oppression

in the home, seeing as they didn t have to put up with it

themselves, being women of high status.

Marxist feminists do recognise that women are

oppressed in the home, but do not see opening the private

sphere up to debate as being the solution. Men and women

are said to have a common humanity, and the only reason

why such oppression occurs is because of the economic

system we live in. Women in the capitalist stage are used

by men simply due to man s compulsion to fufil his

economic wants. Man is not predestined to act in this

way: it is the environment that he lives in that

determines his behaviour. In the next stage of society,

communism, man and woman will be complete equals and free

from the greed of capitalism, the mode of production that

spurs people to oppress others.

In conclusion, feminists find that the division

between the public and private spheres is wrong mostly

because of the psychological damage that men inflict on

women in the private sphere. Even though the proponents

of this view are labelled radical feminists it is fair

to say that the view has become the mainstream feminist

view. Since gaining equal rights in every legal aspect in

developed countries, feminists have found there to be an

obstacle preventing the advance of women. That obstacle

is the invisible private sphere.

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