WOMEN's OWN 

 all about women only

 
 

 

 
 

 

 The Cultural Designation of Feminism:   

  Theory and Praxis                    Nandini Sahu

 
 

 

 
 

 

Feminism is a vital area in contemporary intellectual literary discourse. This paper aims at an analysis of the impact of this theory that has given rise to issues like ‘men in feminism’, ‘feminism without women’, ‘the origin and the types of feminism’, keeping in view its fundamental significance and impact on literary studies during the second half of the twentieth century. Also, the paper discusses several major theories related to feminism as a whole, their origin and development across the years. Feminist theory can be compared with some major conceptual developments like Marxism and psychoanalysis. This theory helps one analyze and understand the major factors through which the two genders – male and female – have been constructed with specific languages and ideas in literature.

Chronologically, 1960s and 1970s helped theorize a woman’s discourse; in 1980s, feminism concentrated on changing the intellectual fields for women; and in 1990s it began and reached its culmination in playing a major role in directing women’s feeling of themselves as the other sex.

The word ‘feminism’ has so many meanings and directions in the current century that it is hardly possible to attribute it some precise definition. Janet Radcliff Richards observes: “women suffer from systematic social injustice because of their sex,”1 and a voice against this social injustice is the ideal of feminism. It is a common belief that feminism is a movement of women and men are not allowed into it which is rather a narrow definition. In fact, feminism is not concerned with a limited group of people to benefit their demands, rather it wants to eliminate social injustice, works in favor of the oppressed. Lisa Tuttle defines feminism thus: “the term feminism, taken from the Latin word ‘femina’ (woman), originally meant having the qualities of females. It originated in the perception that there is something wrong with the treatment of the females by the society.”2 The feminists attempt to analyze the reasons, dimensions of women’s oppression, and the remedies. Feminism incorporates both a principle of equal rights for woman (the organized movement to attain women’s rights) and philosophy of social renovation aiming to create a world for women beyond uncomplicated social equality. But feminism must distinguish for itself between women’s rights and women’s emancipation. Coming to the Feminist ,like feminism, there is not a single definition of feminist since feminists have many differing affinities – of sexual preference, class and race. In short a feminist is a woman who recognizes herself, and is recognized by others, as a feminist, as the one who has the awareness and knowledge of women’s oppression, and has a recognition of women’s differences and commonalities. Some feminists argue for a classification that is future oriented – that a feminist must have a notion of social change.

Some sources say that Viking women were the first feminists. Broka Aubur, one of Iceland’s legendary Viking heroines, attacked her unfaithful husband with a sword 10 centuries ago and defied social tradition by wearing trousers. Another Icelandic woman, Gudrid Porbjamadottir, helped lead the third Viking expedition to America early in the 11th century and gave birth to the first European child on the new continent. Since the origin of the American civilization, women were assigned a subordinate role within the family irrespective of wealth or talent and were denied the political and civil rights enjoyed by men; the feminine world was basically alienated from the masculine world. By 1870, American women challenged this restrictive view of family. Higher education gave women their most important opportunity to reject the traditional claims of male-female distinctions. During 1870s, Mrion Talbot and her mother Emily Talbot persuaded the Harvard University premises to open the doors for women. Dr. Edward Clarke, a former medical school professor and a Harvard overseer, opined that higher education would destroy women’s health, beauty and reproductive ability which the Talbot mother and daughter proved false with research and survey. This seems to be the first recorded attempts of the feminists to challenge male supremacy. Sam Shephard has said “The real mystery of American life lies between men, not between men and women.” 3 “Women’s movement and thinking has emanated from the urgency of the age,”3 says Helen Cixous, one of the pioneering feminists in France. Her writings challenge the male hegemony that exists in opposition to the prevailing ideology. She says, “When I started writing I instinctively felt an ethical obligation towards women and decided to take up cudgels on behalf of them. When I say ‘women’ I’m speaking of women in their inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal women subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history… we don’t need to be apart of men, we stand as entities by ourselves.” 3 She warns against the danger of confusing the sex of the author with the sex of the writing a man or a woman produces.

In an essay entitled ‘Women and Fiction’ (1929), Virginia Woolf speculated on the new colors and shadows in women’s writing after the English woman was transformed from a weak, fluctuating, vague character to a voter, wage-earner, a responsible citizen. Woolf considered that the relations of the new woman with the society will not only be emotional, but also intellectual and political. She described the woman’s world of cooking, child bearing as intangible, vague, anonymous, as if that were a dark country, which could be compared to Mary Wollstonecraft’s view in a ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (1722) that women were immured in their families, groping in the dark. The second wave feminists were just the followers defining women’s oppression as her imprisonment in the bourgeois household as a mother and unpaid servant. First-wave/second-wave feminism has been a long tradition of writers and thinkers who have criticized the position of women in western societies, but not until the nineteenth century did that critique inspire a mass movement. Between approximately 1880 and 1920, and beginning again in the 1960s, questions of women’s social, economic and political rights generated substantial popular support and public discussion, initially in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand and then, in the twentieth century on all continents .

Although the term feminism did not come into popular use until the 1910s, commentators since have termed the two movements ‘first’ and ‘second-wave’ feminism, likening the ebb and flow of the movements’ mass appeal to that of a cresting wave. The origins of nineteenth-century feminism lie in the changes that altered western societies in the early part of the twentieth century. Foremost was industrialization which undermined household production and established a hierarchy between the male-dominated public sphere and the female-dominated private one. At the same time, liberal-democratic ideologies, socialism, evangelical Protestant Christianity, and social reform movements, especially abolitionism and temperance, propelled a wide spectrum of women to challenge their exclusion from the public realm. The relative importance of each factor depended on the specific national or even regional circumstances, as historian Chiristine Bolt has observed, the story of first-wave feminism ‘is one of national distinctiveness within an international cause’. Feminist criticism is just one aspect of the cultural revolution in America in 1960s. In 1970s that was categorized as Black feminist criticism, Lesbian feminist criticism with women as the reader as well as woman as the writer. Some such books are Alice Jordine’s Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (1985), Noami Schor’s Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (1987), Tania Modeleski’s Study of Hitchcock: The Women Who Knew Too Much (1988) and Elaine Showalter’s Towards a Feminist Poetics (1979), where she coins a new world, ‘gynocritics’, making women conscious of “only what men have thought women should be”.4

Feminism has been classified under certain categories keeping in view its characteristics and dimensions. Liberal feminism refers to the tradition defined by John Stuart Mill in his book, The Subjugation of Women. It argues in favor of the basic liberty of women to determine their social role and to walk equal to man. Liberal Feminism confers upon the state the duty to ensure that every individual, both man and woman, has got the right to engage himself/herself in the competition to gain his/her self-interest. The state must ensure and enforce equality of opportunity. Liberal Feminism is the theory of individual freedom for women. Liberal feminism is one of the main streams of feminist political and social theory and has the most long-term history. Liberal feminism argues for individual fulfillment free from the strictures of highly defined sex roles. It limits itself to reformism, seeking to improve the status of women within the system but not fundamentally contesting either the system’s operation or its authenticity.

Contemporary liberal feminists espouse women’s rights in terms of welfare needs, worldwide education, and health services. For example, liberal critics point to unfair employment practices rather than attacking the society as a whole. The Classical Marxist Feminism states that women’s oppression is a result of our larger socioeconomic system. Man’s traditional responsibility to provide woman with the means of living makes him look down upon her. Women’s traditional position excludes her from participating in public production, confines her only to domestic works in the private world of the family. Thus, even if she takes maximum responsibility of the family, still she is not recognized by the society. This domestic slavery of the wife can come to an end only under socialism, in the Marxist feminists’ view. Because now the state will undertake food preparation, childcare, nursery and other major female activities within the sphere of public production by providing public sector services like childcare centers, hotels, hospitals etc. specially for women. After this man will no longer be the bourgeois and woman the proletariat. To the feminists, a woman should be provided with her basic rights in her own individual world. Elizabeth Cady Stanton has written, “In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider first what belongs to her as an individual is a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe, with his woman… on a solitary island.”5

Radical Feminism is a rather recent concept that argues in favor of the sexual liberty of women. The different forms of social oppression upon women are basically the outcome of the sexual oppression. Woman is generally accepted as the weaker sex, the second sex. It is a neo-Freudian theory; Fred believed that “The crucial problem of modern life is sexuality.”6 The heart of women’s oppression is her role as a child bearer and rearer. Writers as Ti Grace and Alkinson and Shulamith Firestone do not believe that woman’s oppression consists in her lack of political or civil rights. Neither do they support Marxists who classify women in the society in a lower class. Rather the radical feminists require a biological revolution for women, a liberation form fundamental inequalities in sex through developed technology and artificial reproduction. The prototype role of woman as a child production machine should be challenged, renovated by the state making her equal with the male. “The situation of a woman is that she – a free and autonomous being like all creatures – nevertheless finds herself living in a world, where men compel her to assume the status of the other.”7

Radical feminism argues that woman’s oppression comes from her categorization as an inferior class. Radical feminism aims to destroy this sex-class system. What makes this feminism radical is that it focuses on the roots of male domination and claims this all forms of oppression are extensions of male superiority. Radical feminism argues that patriarchy is the defining characteristic of our society. The other central hypothesis of radical feminism is the belief that the personal is political and that woman-centeredness can be the basis of an upcoming society. Cultural feminism is an approach to feminism thinking and action which claims that either by nature and/or through nurture, women have developed what society refers to as ‘feminine’ or ‘female’ characteristics. This set of characteristics, say cultural feminists, is to be compared and contrasted with the set of ‘masculine’ or ‘male’ characteristics which men have developed, also through nature and/or nurture. Cultural feminists fault western thought for its tendency to privilege ‘male’ ways of being, thinking, and doing over ‘female’ ones. Specifically, they argue that the traits typically associated with men – ‘independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war and death, - are no better, and perhaps worse, than the traits typically associated with women – ‘interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace and life’. Existentialist feminism draws inspiration from existentialists including Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. They see women’s and men’s lives as concretely situated and highlight concepts like freedom, interpersonal relations, and experience of lived body. They value the competence for fundamental change, but recognize that various factors limit it, such as self-deception, and anxiety raised by change and self-responsibility.

Feminism as a theory has very recently given rise to a new area in criticism, known as Feminist Literary Criticism. The motto of this literary criticism is to search for underlying, powerful female tradition in literature. The feminist literary critics attempt to uncover and interpret women’s writing from a symbolic point of view and to rediscover the lost works of women in the past. They aim at interpreting the works of the male writers from a feminist standpoint and to distinguish between the politics, style and language of the male and female writers. Feminist theory is a locale of writing which represents a critical and original contribution to current thinking. With increasing acts of physical belligerence towards women, there is an even greater need for feminist psychoanalytic theory which investigates sexual distinctiveness. Unique to feminist hypothesis is its insistence on the inextricable link between theory and practice and between the communal and private. Theory and experience have a very singular relationship within feminism encapsulated in its slogan ‘the personal in political’. Certain terms in contemporary theory are used to sum up what appear to be the key experiences of women. Among these are ‘work’, ‘family’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘sexuality’. These concepts reflect feminism’s effort to reveal nucleus social processes and to find what constantly reappears in various guises in the itinerary of women’s account. An elementary goal of feminist theory is to comprehend women’s oppression in terms of race, sex, class and sexual preference and how to revolutionize it. Feminist theory reveals the magnitude of women’s individual and collective experiences and their struggles. It analyses how sexual divergence is constructed within any intellectual and common word and builds accounts of experiences from these differences.

Feminism will always need an agenda within which it can travel around diversity. Feminist theory represents that prospective for a broader politics. Its vision and forms of practice constitute a major break with traditional definitions. The issues of feminist theory – ecological feminism, pacifism, anti-pornography, Third World affairs, sexuality debates – all focus on women’s specificity grounded in the sexual division of labor and reproduction. Most reservations are really misgivings about traditional theory and not about feminism. As Edward Said and others argue, the cult of this theory reduces continuation to elements in a self-confirming, intellectual maneuver. Feminist theory, on the other hand, enables women to recognize their interests and standing as historical agents. Feminism actively refuses the arrogant mystification involved in traditional theory which is often incomprehensible or abstract and has a inclination for losing contact with the world. Traditional theories have been applied in ways that make it complicated to understand women’s involvement in social life. Feminist theory is instantaneous, and urgently about the world of women.

As the goals of the women’s movement diversified, so too did its ideological underpinnings. Liberal ideals of political and educational equality, along with socialist principles of redistributing economic wealth, remained influential, but by the end of the nineteenth century, the rhetoric of maternalism was being deployed with increasing frequency. Maternal, also called domestic or social, feminism celebrated women’s superior morality as the justification for female participation in public affairs and for improved state services for mothers and children. Although some non-European women used similar rhetoric, maternalism often relied upon radicalized images and arguments to marshal support and to legitimate white women’s special ‘civilizing’ role in reform and missionary work. The fledging women’s right movement that emerged in the 1850s through 1870s advocated a single sexual standard for men and women, (primarily within marriage), dress reform, equal property and other legal rights, and higher education for women, especially in professions such as medicine and law. With the movement’s dramatic growth after 1880, concerns over the conditions and wages of working-class women gained prominence, as did a revitalized interest in temperance and a new commitment to social purity – protecting women from sexual ‘vice’. In the process, feminism became allied with numerous other social reform movements. By 1900, ideological differences were over-shadowed by the growing agreement amongst activities that success on key legal, educational and economic issues could not be gained without grater political leverage, and thus the vote emerged as a unifying objective for feminists of all persuasions and in many nations.

Adrienne Rich is an American poet and critic who, in Of Woman Born (1976), On Lies, Secrets and Silence (1980), creates a feminist theory which she calls her ‘Re-vision’ or rewriting of patriarchal customs. The term refers to a new feminist perspective which could link women’s culture to the realities of our past and existing history. Rich uses the technique in her own work to mix study and personal experience. Making a major contribution to feminism with her accounts of education, sexual politics, reproduction and ethnic identity, Rich argues that the English language and the intellectual tradition have been used as weapons of colonialisation and describes how a woman’s university and female-identified education could provide a substitute to this tradition. Rich rediscovers the concept of motherhood by distinguishing between a patriarchal institutionalization of motherhood and the joy and experience of motherhood. Similarly Rich redefined the concept of ‘lesbian’ and greatly expanded the boundaries of lesbian history and experience by distinguishing the historical existence of lesbian from lesbian ethnicity and Jewish identity. In all her writings, and in her gynocentric view of world history, Rich creates a new tradition of feminist scholarship. In this regard, some typical and very important phrases related to feminism, coined by Rich and other feminists, may be discussed in detail.

If we go on to give a historical sketch of Feminist theories, we have to discuss the origins of the ‘second wave.’ British feminist Juliet Mitchell characterizes feminism as “an ideological offspring of certain economic and social conditions”.8 Its radicalism reflects the fact that it comes to prominence at points of decisive change and envisages it with an imagination that goes beyond it. One of Freud’s most articulate pre-second wave feminist critics is Simone de Beauvoir, whose observation, “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman”,8 gives subsequent analyses of patriarchally constituted psychological and sexual femininity. Feminism itself, feminist film theory, feminist epistemology, the body, gender, feminist history, queer theory, women’s studies, black feminism, Chicano feminism, feminist theology--these are just some of the entries whose very headwords give evidence to the mark that feminist theory and practice have made on the shape and content of academic curricula.

Anarchist feminism is a theory that female subordination is determined as much by a system of sexual and familial relationships as by State controls, and that legal change cannot in itself provide equality without full psychological autonomy. Anarchist feminism would eliminate all social restraints and replace these with decentralized, organic communities of women. Early feminist anarchists, for example Emma Gldman and Voltarinine de Cleyre, believed that communal attitudes would grow organically into sexual and psychological freedom. Anarchist feminists argue that the State and patriarchy are twin irregularities. To obliterate the State is to destroy the major instrument of institutionalized patriarchy; to abolish patriarchy is to put an end to the State.

This theory is more avant-garde than radical feminism because it believes that any State is always illicit. Perhaps for this rationale, many feminist science fiction writers are anarchists. Anarchist feminists also believe that the means used to revolutionize the society must be the models of the future society in themselves. Therefore, women’s cooperatives and consciousness-raising groups can make a more momentous social and ideological input than their numbers or financial status might entail. Anarchist feminism refers to the inspiration feminists have gained from the concept of anarchy from the Greek word , literally, non-rule.

The foremother of anarchist feminism, Emma Goldman (1869-1940), opined that political ideas were meaningless unless they were acted on, and she was arrested numerous times for speaking out and advocating such action. As a nihilist, she knew that men and women are oppressed by authoritarian social structures, but she also saw that women are oppressed specifically as women. The convergence of feminist concerns with anarchism meant that no mere reform of hierarchical institutions would be adequate to the task of allowing women to live full lives. Thus, she spoke out against women’s suffrage because she saw it as merely a way to gain women’s cooperation in the maintenance of an essentially unchanged organization. Goldman was outstanding because she was able to draw one theory without being lured by it; while inspired by communism and anarchism, she insisted that their appliance should be elastic and adaptable, resisting any urge toward rigidity, uniformity, or essentialism.

Abolitionist Feminism is one of the main theories of nineteenth-century feminism. It takes the view that woman’s subjugation and liberation paralleled the struggle for Black liberation from slavery. The nineteenth-century faction to eliminate slavery in the USA preceded, and provided strategies for the development of feminism. The notion of alienation is vital to feminist theory. Women’s alienation has so many different elements and the feminists argue that a new theoretical framework can be used, but it must go past Marxism. It must connect women’s intimidation in the home, in culture and in sexuality, with our knowledge in wage labor. Even within wage labor, the sexualisation of women’s work and the sexual persecution of women generate a gender-specific form of women’s isolation. Socialist and Marxist feminists consent that the first stride is to eliminate the sexual allotment of labor in every area of life because while alienation reduces the woman to an appliance of labor within industry, it reduces the woman to an instrument for man’s sexual contentment within the family. Women are alienated from skill and scholarship, which presents a male-biased model of human nature and collective reality. These forms are interrelated. For example, the form taken by woman’s sexual estrangement results in an even more damaging alienation from her intellectual capacities. In addition, women’s participation in male-dominated opinionated activity might also be described as alienated.

The term Body Politics refers both to physical power relations and to the resistance against all forms of tortuous violence against women. Nancy M. Henley argues that the body language of existing culture is inherently sexist. Other feminists use the commencement of body politics to illustrate aggression against women embedded in other controlling and domineering relations like class and imperialism, as well as in the patriarchal institutions of family, medicine or education. Feminists writing about body politics share one main theme that there is the doggedness on the human essence of women, on our dignity, integrity and purity as human beings and a denunciation of women’s objectification.

Under Christian feminism, the Feminist theories of Christianity fall into three categories: those that challenge the theological view of women and the androcentricity of customary theology; those that challenge the theological laws that that bar women from ordination; those that weigh up the church as an organization and aim to promote the certified status of woman in the church. Feminist theologians clash the recurrent use of masculine terms to refer to God or the Holy Ghost. In research about the descriptions of women in the church and in Christian history, theologians reveal that there are only two images of women – the transgressor (Eve) or the virgin (Mary), which includes motherhood and obedience. They argue that this dualism, by creating a sense of the other, is inherently racist, sexist and could lead to the destruction of the planet. Feminist Christians are not antichristian but argue instead that Christianity has excluded transcendental biblical themes in favor of anti-women images.

Domestic labor is the way in which women regenerate labor power for capitalism by servicing the domicile and socializing their families. The scrutiny of domestic labor is a central hub of feminist theory has been the domestic labor dispute, in which feminist ideas confront the political concepts and theoretical positions of the traditional left. The domestic labor debate was initiated in 1969 by Margaret Benston in ‘The Political Economy of Women’. She drew awareness to the fact that housework must be taken seriously in many analysis of the workings of the economy, and not relegated to a marginal or non-existent status . Housework could be recognized both as productive labor and, simultaneously, as a locale of exploitation and a source for capital growth. At the centre of the debate is the issue of whether Marx’s theory of value could be applied to domestic labor or not. It is only within capitalism that men are able to exclude and marginalize household labor.

Escritoire feminine is the term for women’s writing in French feminist theory. It describes how women’s writing is a specific dissertation closer to the body and to emotions both of which are repressed by the social treaty. Writing and literature are crucial areas because literature reveals the introverted, the clandestine and unsaid and, in a force of the imagination, can be a space of aspiration and pleasure. Most feminists are actively creating a new women’s language while concurrently critiquing the old one. Black feminism is related to the theory of Black-defined women’s struggles. Black feminism has built on a tradition of leftist activism, adapting models of socialist feminism. Initially, Black feminism argued that meaningful change in a social order which represses both men and women could be accomplished by building a federation between women of color and progressive movements. Black feminists like Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Gloria I. Joseph, Gloria Hull or Alice Walker have created theories which meet the needs of Black women by helping Black women to stimulate issues that they perceive to have direct impact on the overall value of life. Black feminist theory examines the margin of sisterhood with white feminists in order to transact fully with the contradictions intrinsic in gender, race and class within the context of a racist society. Black feminists argue that all feminist theories must grasp imperialism and challenge it.

Essentialism refers to the succinct in unique female nature. Feminists defy assumptions that women are essentially weaker, whether biologically, emotionally, than men since these assumptions underline misogyny and favoritism against women. For example feminist historians show how discrimination against women in medicine and science is often based on a mythical essentialism. Alternatively, radical feminism believes that there are essential feminine modes of perception which can communicate female creativity and culture. This sometimes leads radical feminism to idealization which often underlies essentialist views of women. For example women are described as “finer pacifist beings”8 by some peace groups. But it is impossible to distinguish between ‘authentic’ and ‘obligatory’ feminine essentials. All feminists recognize that this theory should be thoroughly genderized and that women do have preoccupations which are essentially female - for example motherhood and female bonding - even if all women do not wish to mother or to affiliate with other women.

Female consciousness defines women’s recognition of how a particular class, culture and historical period create definitions of female. Female consciousness is not necessarily feminist but is an unconscious feminism, particularly when it occurs in women’s groups. Female consciousness promotes a shared vision embodying fundamental opinionated implications that feminist theory needs to address. Female ethic has three main features. It includes a critique of notion and a principle that female thinking is more tangible. It stresses that the values of compassion, nurturance and care are values of women. It stresses too that choices are in reality the hassle of situations. Female eunuch is a phrase coined by Germaine Greer in her book of the same name to describe the ‘castration’ of women by aspects of patriarchy such as ‘romantic love’ and by male antagonism. Greer used de Beauvoir’s concept of woman in order to squabble that women’s providence is to befall deformed and incapacitated by the disparaging action of male domination in existing society which deprives women of getting in touch with peripheral reality. Greer suggests that its significance is to make women inner-directed. Sexism is a phrase to define a social relationship in which males denigrate females. Contemporary feminism argues that sexist social beliefs and practices not only limit the activities of women, but are an impertinent way of making distinctions between the sexes, because they are not founded on evidence. A sizeable body of feminist research has documented sexism in the media. For example, it criticizes the use of sex-role stereotyping where women are always mothers and household workers. Feminist psychoanalysis argues that sexism stems from the configuration of gender identity as well as from contemporary culture.

Sisterhood, sometimes called sorority, includes the idea and experience of female bonding, and the self-affirmation and identity discovered in a woman-centered vision and definition of womanhood. Because sisterhood is based on a clear awareness that all women, irrespective of class, race, or nation have a common problem – patriarchy-- the term which is an important part of contemporary feminism. Radical feminism argues sisterhood is not at all symmetrical with brotherhood or male comradeship. Sisterhood has at its core the affirmation of freedom and is radically self-affirming. There are other definitions of sisterhood, for example Catherine Beecher’s idea of separate spheres for women. Sisterhood is also implied in the maternalists’ affirmation and celebration of the unique qualities of female experience as well as in Mary Daly’s vision of women-centered separatism. Bell Hooks and other Black feminists prefer the term ‘solidarity’ to sisterhood because sisterhood implies the erasing of difference. They argue that political solidarity must be the main feminist agenda.

Spiritual feminism, sometimes called myth feminism, is a growing area of feminist theory. The ecology of myth described by critics such as Carol Christ, Mary Daly and Charlene Spretnak involves the construction of cultural archetypes of power useful to women and psychological tools which can facilitate women to articulate desire through symbols and rituals. Defining Jewish feminism is difficult for feminists both because the language available to describe Jews as a racial group is insufficient. Characterizing Jewish feminism as a narrow version of identity politics has margins because anti-Semitism is not only an attack on identity, nor does it only affect Jewish women. Women stand in a particular relationship to Jewish culture. Adrienne Rich points out how Jewish women suffer a double disadvantage by being both a target of biological determinism and also invisible in Jewish history.

Gay liberation is a movement (which began in America in the late 1960s) for political, social and cultural rights for homosexual men and women. Critics argue that the women’s movement shares with gay liberation a common goal: a society free from defining and categorizing people by virtue of gender and/or sexual inclination. Lesbian feminism is rather epigrammatic that women-identified women, committed together for political, sexual and economic support, provide an alternative model to male/female relations which lesbians see as tyrannical. The theorists Charlotte Bunch, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Adrienne Rich argue that lesbian feminism involves both a sexual preference and a political preference because it rejects male definitions of women’s lives. In statements like “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice”9 the Furies and others made lesbian feminism a primary force in a radical women’s culture. Lesbian feminism attacks both the institution and the ideology of heterosexuality as being the centre of patriarchy. Radical lesbians were the first lesbian feminists to suggest that the concept lesbian should be reconstructed, but theories of lesbian feminism differ in their prominence on sexual or on political goals.

Feminist theory defines rape as an act and a social institution which perpetuates patriarchal domination and which is based on sadism, rather than specifically as a crime of violence. This definition is a major contribution to social theory. Feminist analysis proves that rape is the consistent conclusion of sexism. It is one of the most alarming forms of social duress because rape is a steady reminder to all women of their susceptible and vulnerable condition. Radical feminists like Susan Brownmiller, Susan Griffin and Andrea Dworkin, argue that patriarchy legitimizes rape by defining rape as ‘normal’. Under patriarchy, not only are women defined as sexual objects but men are thought to have ‘drives’ towards heterosexual intercourse. Because patriarchal culture defines women as being sexually passive and receptive. Adrienne Rich suggests that rape is one of the main means of reinforcing enforced heterosexuality. Consciousness raising groups reveal that women’s understanding of rape is not an isolated individual event but a symptom of a society-wide structure of power and powerlessness. Currently, feminist theory takes the observation that rape is a political act of terror against an exploited group.

Since the origin of humanity, male domination has been an accepted fact. Genesis symbolizes this by depicting Eve as made from a “Supernumerary bone of Adam”.10 Aristole believed “a female is a female by virtue of certain lack of qualities: We should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.”9 Plato thanked god that he was created a man, not a woman. St. Thomas considered a woman to be an “imperfect man”, an “incidental being.”9 St. Augustine declared, “Woman is a creature neither decisive nor constant.” The morning prayers of the Jews, “Blessed be God… that He did not make me a woman, “reflect the status of a woman as compared to a man. In the Bible it has been written that both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, both faced the fall. But God distinguished between their punishments. Adam was condemned to labor, and it is the male toil that results in the building of the civilization. Eve was relegated to the inferior, vulnerable, sexual status, as God said to her, “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. And thy desire shall be to the husband. And he shall rule over thee.”10

Femmenism which means men in feminism was introduced in a ground-breaking compilation edited by Alice Jardine and Paul Smith (1987) and refers to the rethinking of masculinity by male academics who have begun to absorb aspects of feminist politics and theory into their thinking, sometimes to the extent that they assert themselves feminists. While some of these male feminists have limited themselves to an admission of the complicity of men in perpetuating patriarchy and beg women to understand that not all men are oppressors, others explore what it means to be a man and the practices and discourses which shape masculinity in various social, cultural and historical contexts. At its best, ‘femmenism’ situates the study of masculinity in a gender/power framework, linking it to relations of power between men and women as well as among men.

Androcentrism means male centeredness, which is the assessment set of our prevailing customs based on male norms. Charlotte Perkins Gilman first used this term to draw attention to male favoritism . Any explanation which characterizes aspects of women’s lives as nonstandard is andocentric. Androcentrism affects the hypothesis, not only because universities and research institutions are largely male domains but more subtly in the preference of areas of research, research policies, theoretical concepts and research methods. Feminist literature establishes the idea that artistic creativity is a masculine quality.

Phallocentric is a term in feminist theory used to describe the way the society regards the phallus or penis as a symbol of power, and believes that attributes of masculinity are the norm for cultural definitions. The phallocentric fallacy in disciplines is the assumption that the term ‘person’ stands for male and therefore women’s experience has made no contribution to disciplinary methods or content. This perspective –also sometimes known as androcentric-- makes women unknowable. Some feminists argue that phallocentricism is a source of women’s oppression in education.

The main goal of feminism is to redefine, and change this age old dogma by discovering the subtle causes of woman’s subjugation. It is a way to making the entire culture conscious of the natural rights of women relating to unequal labor, unequal pay for equal work, marriage and divorce laws that make man the supreme authority, economic independence, division of labor inside the family, to think a woman’s income as extra rather than a support, and then to introduce reforms in the traditional social structures. Feminism conceives of a utopian world free of male privilege, chauvinism, hierarchy, authority. It is a movement to bring about a sociopolitical change to condemn the subordination of any sex, to rebalance the social, economic, political power between man and woman. It raises a voice against man’s claim to define what is good for a woman and what is not keeping in view his own selfish motives.

Feminists believe woman to be a mature decision maker. Protesting against the social institutions that denied women any other identity except that which they acquired through their men – that of a daughter, sister, wife, mother. Feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton dreamt of a world which guaranteed individual identity to a woman. In India there are many female writers/poets like Amirita Pritam, Meena Alexander, Mamata Kalia, Kamala Das, Anita Desai, Sashi Despande, Mrinal Pandey, Deepti Khandelwal and many more in whose writings a voice for woman’s identity can be assessed. Feminists intend to deconstruct all the indefinite identities of women opposing the binary oppositions between the male and the female. The society has cut a straight line between good and bad, black and white, dark and light, man and woman – feminism is a movement against this distinction, this binary opposition.

End Notes
Sushila Singh, Ed., Feminism: Theory, Criticism, Analysis; Delhi, Pencraft International, 1997; p. 22.
Ibid, p. 30.
Ibid, p. 101
Quoted in Asian Age, February 7, 1997, p. 21.
Ibid
Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences 1815-1897; New York: The Fisher Unwin, 1898; p. 89.
The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution; New York: Batam Books, 1970; p.31
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex; New York: Penguin Books, 1984.
Jardine, A. and Smith, P. (eds) Men in Feminism, New York and London; Routledge, 1987.
The Holy Bible, The Old Testament, Book
 

Source: WFS
 

Courtesy: Nandini Sahu