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Debate: Feminism

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Is feminism a justifiable political, philosophical framework?

Background and context

Feminism is relatively difficult to define, both because of the breadth of the movement, which includes a wide diversity of views and some vigorous internal debate, and because it is so frequently caricatured by its opponents. A fair description might be that it is a movement committed to the pursuit of equality, notably but not exclusively sexual equality, based on an analysis of inequality which roots it in the social transformation of sex (the real, biological differences between men and women) into gender (the various ways in which men and women are perceived as having different abilities and social roles), and the ways in which gender is implicated in unequal power relationships between men and women in many areas of life. The pursuit of equality is central to feminism; to put it another way, one can be anti-racist without being feminist, but one cannot be feminist without being anti-racist. Both the forms of ‘equality’ which feminists have pursued and the analysis of ‘inequality’ which it offers have come in for sustained criticism.


Mission accomplished? Has feminism achieved its mission?


  • Feminism has no more battles left to fight. Victories such as gaining the vote, the right to an abortion and the right to equal pay were important and worth winning. But given that sexual equality is now - rightly - enshrined and protected in law, there is nothing left for the feminist movement to do in most western countries, although of course it may still be useful in parts of the world where women still lack basic democratic and other rights.


  • Feminism has plenty more to achieve. In the UK, on average women earn 82% of men’s hourly wage; female graduates earn 19% less than their male counterparts; female pensioners live on 53% of the income of male pensioners.[citation needed] Also in the UK, one in four women suffers domestic violence, and an increase in the reporting of rape in the last thirty years has gone alongside a threefold drop in conviction rates. Worldwide, women do two-thirds of all work, earn one-tenth of all income and own one-hundredth of all property. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women. 300 million women have no access to contraception. More than 80% of the world’s 50 million refugees and displaced people are women and children. Every year, 2 million girls under 16 are coerced, abducted or trafficked into the sex industry. These are all real problems, on which feminists continue to campaign - as they should.[citations needed]
  • Feminism needs to re-evaluate itself as a cross-cultural and global movement. Feminism appeals to all women, but it has often been the domain of educated, upper-class white women. The movement has more to achieve in terms of addressing issues pertaining to race, class, and religion; specifically, feminism needs to build bridges and focus on issues pertaining to women of all ages, classes, races, religions, and cultures. On that note, contemporary western feminism often focuses on the historical development of the women's rights movement in the west, ignoring the fact that women's rights movements have existed in different parts of the world in different time periods, often pre-dating or co-existing with women's rights movements in the contemporary west. An understanding of the trans-historical and cross-cultural struggle for women's rights will enhance the feminist movement, especially in terms of more effectively handling hegemonic patriarchy.

"Natural" inequality? Is there a natural inequality between the sexes? Does feminism falsely prescribe that the two sexes should be equal, and is this element of its mission a dead end?


  • Feminism promotes an unnatural equality between the sexes. There is nothing wrong with sex-role differentiation. Men and women are biologically different, and these differences are what have led to women’s dominance of the private sphere, home life and childrearing, and men’s dominance of public life, the workplace and political authority. All of these are essential to a functional society, and the division of labour on the basis of sex is an entirely sensible principle of social order. Feminists fail to realize that men are stronger, smarter and more competent and capable than women. After all, all great inventions in history were created by men. All great civilizations were created by men. In fact, if men simply decided to enslave women, there would be absolutely nothing women could do about it. It's absolutely comical for women to claim they are just as capable as a man.


  • Aside from physical differences, there are few basic roles in modern societies that can't be performed by both sexes on an equal basis. Women have shown that they are just as capable as men of playing a central role in public life; men have shown that they are just as capable as women of looking after the house and bringing up children. Given this, the suggestion that the male/female public/private divide is biological, natural and right looks somewhat suspect. Feminists point out that the roles traditionally accorded to men are those which - by virtue of being public - involve the widest exercise of political power and influence, and argue that claiming that this is natural and inevitable is an effective way of naturalising male power over women. Claims that motherhood is more fulfilling for women than career success operate as criticisms of women who choose not to have children, and are therefore self-fulfilling prophecies; they tell us nothing about what women are really best at.

Negative impact? Has the effect of Feminist campaigns been negative in society?


  • Many feminist campaigns, on issues such as positive discrimination in employment, actually damage the women they claim to help. Feminists should recognise that in many professions the unequal representation of women reflects the fact that relatively few women want to work there in the first place, rather than the fact that women are discriminated against by employers. If employers feel pressured to accept women over better-qualified men this can cause resentment both among male competitors and among women who do not want to feel they have an unfair advantage. Campaigning for women in particular undermines the principle that women can compete on equal terms with men.


  • Campaigns on behalf of women in particular reflect the feminist contention that women have been unfairly discriminated against for years, and this is likely to continue without positive action. There are various reasons why many more men than women choose certain professions, one of which is that male-dominated professions can be unpleasant ones for women to work in irrespective of their ability, a problem which is likely to be self-perpetuating without intervention. Men who resent losing out to women (given the way employment law works, they are likely to be equally well qualified rather than better-qualified women) should reflect on the fact that women have been losing out to men for years.

Reverse discrimination? - Does feminism unfairly focus too much attention on female problems, while men, for example, suffer many injustices themselves?


  • By focusing on women and their problems, feminism fails to recognise that there are inequality issues in which men are the victims:
    • Boys are falling behind girls in academic achievement.[citation needed]
    • Far less money is spent on combating ‘male’ than ‘female’ diseases (the difference between the amount of research into breast cancer and prostate cancer is a striking example).[citation needed]
    • Single fathers are discriminated against over child custody and child support.
    • Fear of being accused of sexism is so widespread that it often leads to unfair discrimination against men.
These issues can only be tackled by recognizing that feminism has gone too far.


  • Women have suffered more inequalities and discrimination - not and that's the point of emphasize underlying feminism. Many of the ways in which men suffer inequality are relatively minor when compared to the ongoing subordination of women in many areas of private and public life such as pay, childcare and sexuality.
Second, where such inequality does exist, feminism possesses the resources to offer a distinctive and useful critique of the causes and consequences of sexual inequality, whether it is men or women who suffer as a result - men and women should be joining forces to offer feminist responses to discrimination, not blaming feminism where men suffer.

Right issues? Does feminism address the right issues for women?


  • Feminism unfairly represents a small, privileged constituency of middle-class white women, who can afford to worry about relatively insignificant issues like executive pay and body image. Meanwhile the problems suffered by women across the world, such as poverty, hunger and racism (none of which are exclusively female problems) are ignored.


  • Feminism could expand its mission, but this does not imply that its current focus is irrelevant or unimportant. The current focus of feminism could remain focused on certain feminist groups, while the mission expands to encompass other relevant issues mentioned in the affirmative. So feminism could become a wider movement against inequality wherever it is found, but this does not necessarily suggest that it is irrelevant in its current course.

Identifying feminist? - Are women decreasingly identify as feminist? Is this a sign of a decreasing relevance of feminism?


  • Many women no longer identify themselves as feminists., associating feminism with man-hating, sex-hating humourlessness, and seeing it as a relic of the 1970s. Modern women are perfectly capable of competing with men on equal terms, and they resent suggestions that they need special treatment.


  • Opponents of the feminist movement have always sought to stereotype feminists in order to reduce their support. That this enterprise is often successful is not an argument against feminism and its relavance.
  • Many of the women who dislike the label ‘feminist’ turn out to hold what would until recently have been seen as extreme feminist views, such as the belief that women are perfectly capable of competing with men on equal terms. Feminists have always argued that women are just as capable of men; they have campaigned against legal, cultural and social barriers which have worked against women, preventing them from achieving equality.

See also

External links and resources


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