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Feminist Theory: A Summary for A-Level Sociology

Introduction – The Basics

  • Inequality between men and women is universal and the most significant form of inequality

  • Gender norms are socially constructed not determined by biology and can thus be changed.

  • Patriarchy is the main cause of gender inequality – women are subordinate because men have more power.

  • Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously.

  • There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

5-feminism

Radical Feminism

  • Blames the exploitation of women on men. It is primarily men who have benefitted from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

  • Society is patriarchal – it is dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class.

  • Rape, violence and pornography are methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. Andrea Dworkin (1981)

  • Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

  • Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.

  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

  • The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries.

  • Women’s subordination plays a number of important functions for capitalism:

  • Women reproduce the labour force for free (socialisation is done for free)

  • Women absorb anger – women keep the husbands going.

  • Because the husband has to support his wife and children, he is more dependent on his job and less likely to demand wage increases.

  • The traditional nuclear also performs the function of ‘ideological conditioning’ – it teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.

  • The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

  • They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

  • In Communist society, Marxist feminists believe that gender inequalities will disappear.

Liberal Feminism

  • Nobody benefits from existing inequalities: both men and women are harmed

  • The explanation for gender inequality lies not so much in structures and institutions of society but in its culture and values.

  • Socialisation into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women

  • Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities

  • Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.

  • The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

  • Liberal feminists try to eradicate sexism from the children’s books and the media.

  • Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives – e.g. mainstreaming has taken place.

Difference Feminism/ Postmodern Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group. MC/WC ,

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Criticised preceding Feminists theory of being essentialist

  • Critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Postmodern Feminism – concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – An example of a postmodern/ destabilising theorist

Criticisms of Feminist Theories

Marxist

1. Radical Feminists – ignores other sources of inequality such as sexual violence.

2. Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example.

3. The experience of women has not been particularly happy under communism.

Liberal

1. Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

2. Liberalism is accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.

3. Radical and Marxist Feminists – it fails to take account of deeper structural inequalities

4. Difference Feminists argue it is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.

Radical

1. The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

2. Some critics argue that it focuses too much on the negative experiences of women, failing to recognise that some women can have happy marriages for example.

3. It tends to portray women as universally good and men as universally bad, It has been accused of man hating, not trusting all men.

Difference

  1. Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  2. Dividing women sub-groups weakens the movement for change.

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Sources Used to Write this Post 

  • Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
  • Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597495
  • Robb Webb et al (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Book 2, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007921
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Equatorial Guinea – High Income but Low Human Development (2017)

equatorial-guineaSince the 1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become one of the largest oil producing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it is now the richest country per capita in Africa. It ranks 43rd in the world for gross domestic product per capita.

However,  the oil revenue is distributed very unequally and most people see no benefit from the high GDP. the country ranks 144th on the UN’s 2014 Human Development Index.

What this means is that Equatorial Guinea fails to convert a relatively high income into high life expectancy and formal education for its people.

 

hdi-eq
Equatorial Guinea – High GNI per Capita, Low Human Development (1)

 

Equatorial Guinea – Why High Income but Low Human Development?

For starters – Equatorial Guinea has been ‘blessed’ with a natural supply of oil and gas.

Most of the country’s income comes from oil and gas exports, as the export tree-map below shows (2012 figures)

Equatorial_Guinea_Export_Treemap.jpg

However, the income doesn’t trickle down because of an autocratic government which controls the oil industry and uses the revenue to enrich itself and keep itself in power. 

The current president of Equatorial Guinea is Teodoro Obiang, he has been quite literally running the country for three decades. He has extensive powers, including naming and dismissing members of the cabinet, making laws by decree,  negotiating and ratifying treaties and serving as commander in chief of the armed forces.The anti-corruption lobby Transparency International describes Obiang as one of the world’s “most kleptocratic” living autocrats and has put Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of most corrupt states.

The advocacy group Global Witness has been lobbying the United States to act against Obiang’s son, Teodorin, who is vice-president and a government minister. It says there is credible evidence that he spent millions buying a Malibu mansion and private jet using corruptly acquired funds.

During the three decades of his rule, Obiang has shown little tolerance for opposition. While the country is nominally a democracy, elections have generally been considered a sham. According to Human Rights Watch, the dictatorship of President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country’s people. 

There’s also the fact that The U.S. Government and U.S. Corporations Support Obiang

Without the help of international oil corporations, it’s unlikely that Equatorial Guinea would have been able to drill for oil – think about it, drilling for oil requires heavy industry and lots of investment.

Exon Mobile, the USA’s biggest oil company, has been operating in Equatorial Guinea since the mid 1990s and controls a 75% stake in Equatorial Guinea’s most productive oil field, which produces 270 000 barrels of oil a day (the market value of oil is currently $50 a day, which means this one field returns a revenue of around $1.4 million a day, or around $400 million a year).

NB the government (which basically means Obiang’s family) only controls a 5% stake of this particular field, but this tiny stake from this one oil field returns them something in the region of $300 000 a day, and there are many more oil fields.

Despite his dismal human rights and corruption record, Obiang was recently invited (in 2014) to a U.S. African summit – along with a whole load of other human rights abusers on the continent. The general gist of the article is that the U.S. is tolerant of corrupt governments in Africa because if they don’t do business with them, then the Chinese will, there’s also the fact that they might be useful in combating Islamic extremism.

Related Posts (forthcoming)

This country case-study is also useful for illustrating how TNCs are not interested in promoting social development in other parts of the world.

(1) You’ll notice from the graph above that Cuba is a good example of a country which has a relatively high human development compared to its GNI per capita, more on that later.