Angry Wimmin, part two of the BBC’s series ‘Lefties’ is a good resource to use for teaching Radical Feminist Theory. Part 1 below is especially good for the families and households module for A-level sociology.
It involves interviews with real women who were involved with Radical Feminism in the 1970s, and you get to hear in their own words how they thought ‘men were the enemy’, although their views may have changed now as the documentary consists of women looking back 20 years later!
We get to hear about what it was like living in Feminists separatist households – women households, where men weren’t allowed – one woman goes into how she left a heterosexual marriage, taking their child with them to go live in a woman only household; another talks about how her brother wasn’t allowed in the house when he came to visit her – they had to have conversations in his car instead.
We also get to hear about some of the bizarre experiences of political lesbianism – where women became lesbians for ‘political reasons’, even if they weren’t gay. Once actual gay woman talks about odd this was for her – when one non-gay woman decided she wanted to sleep with her to become a ‘proper Feminist’.
NB – I don’t think these radical feminist views were every very popular, these are extreme, but this documentary at least shows that were really was a movement of women who practiced such things!
A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19 demands that the political response to the pandemic puts people, and especially essential-service workers, before the interests of capital.
Below I summarise an article from Spectre, a Marxist-Feminist journal, based in the United States, which outlines seven ways we should be responding to the pandemic.
I’ve re-worded some of the material to make it a bit simpler to understand, as it is written in typcically ‘Marxist’ language/ Hopefully I haven’t changed the meaning too much in translation
Better funding for life-making institutions
Social reproduction services such as the health care services and education have been undermined by years of cuts. The crisis has shown us how essential these are, and so we should maintain them at a higher level of funding going forwards.
Better pay for essential service workers
We need to recognize the real value of nurses, care workers, cleaners and the people who do the basic work of society. They need better pay and conditions
Bail out people, not corporations
The article suggests that some CEOs are sacking people while keeping their high salaries, we need to make sure bail-out money doesn’t go to the shareholders of companies who have cut jobs
Open borders, close prisons
This is the most contentious to my mind – but they remind us that migrants and prisoners are probably some of the most effected people in all of this – the former because their livelihoods are decimated with border closures, the latter because they are forced to be inside in crowded conditions.
Stand in solidarity against domestic violence
Governments need to make sure domestic violence services are funded appropriately to meet the spike in DV since coronavirus
Use solidarity against capital
Ordinary people all over the world are stepping up and voluntarily making sure their neighbours and the vulnerable are getting what they need during this crisis. The governments need to follow their lead in provided assistance – help the people, but take the lead from the people, based on need.
Use solidarity to change society
This moment can be the moment when the left push forward with a pro-people, anti-capitalist agenda, it needs to be dynamic and global.
A few thoughts on the above
IMO there’s little to disagree with in the above statements with maybe the exception of the borders/ prisons point.
I like the idea of building on the voluntary work and renewed (or just new?) respect key workers now have in the eyes of general public to really push forward an economic recovery agenda that emphasizes rebuilding society based on basic individual needs, a recovery which puts health, care, education, essential services at the center.
It will be interesting to see if this is going to be the case!
I read a very interesting article called in Dissent online magazine which seems to be a ‘Marxist-Feminist‘ analysis of the Coronavirus.
The article’s called ‘Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, and consists of a Q and A session with Tithi Bhattacharya, a professor of history at Purdue university and co-author of a book: Feminism for the 99%, which hints pretty strongly at her left-leaning and Feminist views!
I’ve included a summary below, but if you’d like to read the whole thing yourself, then I’ve included a link below.
Social repdoduction theory
Bhattacharya is a ‘social reproduction theorist’ – social reproduction theory sees the real source of wealth and value in our society as coming from human labour associated with ‘social reproduction activities’.
Social reproduction activities are those required for making and maintaing life, such as producing food, education, maintaing health, transportation, caring for people and various ‘domestic chores’ such as cleaning. The institutions associated with such ‘life making’ activities are the health-care sector, education and public transport. Typical ‘life-making’ jobs inlcude nursing, teaching, caring, and cleaning, sectors dominated by female workers.
Bhattacharya suggests that the capitalist system does not value ‘life-making activities’ because the capitalist system emphasises the importance of ‘thing-making’ and ‘profit-making’ rather than ‘life making’. Thus ‘life-making’ jobs such as nursing and teaching are undervalued and the workers poorly paid.
Social reproduction theory aims to analyse social events keeping in mind the fact that the really important work in society is ‘life-making work’, work currently done by women!
How Coronarvirus criticizes Capitalism
The coronavirus has been tragicially clarifying in two major ways:
It highlights that care work and life-making work are the really essential work of society – in lockdown we are keeping the essential services going such as nursing and refuse collection, no one is clamouring for stockbrokers or the leisure industry to be kept running.
It also highlights how incapable capitalism is when it comes to dealing with a crisis – once again we require the public sector to come to the rescue, the sector that’s been undermined by cuts for a decade.
Many of the jobs in America that are on the essential services list (the ones that are allowed to stay open) are paid at minimum wage, or $10 an hour, and many workers have no paid sick time or health insurance.
One suggestion is for ‘pandemic pay’ – pay these workers more as they are now being called on to risk their lives.
The uneqal response in India
Bhattacharya also focuses on the unequal response to the virus in India (her home country) – there is a lot of poor migrant labour in India, and because of lockdown closing public transport, millions of such workers are now literally having to walk home hundreds of miles to their home villages.
Meanwhile the Indian government allowed wealthy middle class Indians stuck abroad to come home on special flights, despite the borders being closed to everyone else.
She goes on to suggest that capitalist governments in the global south might well use the virus as a means to clear out the slums of the unwanted, i.e. just let it kill a lot of people.
Coronavirus and the domestic sphere
Battacharya thinks that this is a positive time for us to reconnect with families, and we might even see a rebalancing of domestic labour with men doing more housework than usual, but she also reminds us that there will probably be a spike in domestic violence for those unfortunate enough to be caught in absuive relationships.
‘War-footing’ not an appropriate analogy…
Some really interesting thoughts on why the ‘war footing’ isn’t an appropriate analogy:
Firstly, we need to ramp-down production rather than ‘ramping it up’ (like we normally would in a war) – because we need to think of minimising the social contact through global supply lines.
Secondly, we need to redefine ‘troops’ – they are not soldiers, but our care-sector and essential service workers.
Coranavirus and climate change
An interesting final thought – we need to deal with climate change with the same sense of urgency as we are dealing with this pandemic!
Radical Feminists emphasize the patriarchal nature of some mainstream religions such as Catholicism and Islam. They argue that such religions have developed in patriarchal societies and have been ‘hijacked’ by men. Men have interpreted religious doctrines in order to justify their positions of power.
Radical Feminists also believe that religion often serves to compensate women for their second class status within religion and society more generally. For example, by providing psychological rewards if they accept their role as mothers and limit their horizons to fulfilling that role well.
However, Radical Feminists do not necessarily see religion as inherently patriarchal. Historically, for example, Goddess religions have celebrated the creative and nurturing power of the feminine. It is really men hijacking religion and downplaying the role of women in the development of some religions over the past couple of thousand years which is the problem.
It follows that women can use religion to lead fulfilling lives, but need to fight oppression within mainstream religions organisations to do so, or even to develop their own unique, individual paths to a feminine spirituality.
The mind map above summarises the following Feminist perspectives on religion. Please click the links below for more details:
Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam questions and model answers
Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.
The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!
I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.
Carol Christ is critical of any religion which is based on the idea of there being ‘one true God’ or ‘one true interpretation’ of what religious practices people should engage in.
And although the Enlightenment challenged the authority of the church, Carol Christ is also critical of Enlightenment thought.
In the Enlightenment, knowledge was held to be something independent of the individual, and thus objective and true. The Enlightenment also championed the ‘rational man’, someone who was dispassionate and detached from the process of uncovering true knowledge.
However, Carol Christ believes that detached, objective knowledge is not actually possible, as it is always tied up with the values, beliefs and interests of the person who creates that knowledge.
In at least two significant ways, the Enlightenment attitude towards knowledge is similar in that of traditional religious organisations’: they both believe that the source of ‘true knowledge’ is external to the individual and yet within both traditions, knowledge is basically created by men and reflects male values.
An alternative to both is what Carol Christ calls ‘embodied spirituality’ in which
‘we think through the body, we reflect upon the standpoints embedded in our life experiences, histories, judgments and interests…. Embodied thinking enlarges experiences through empathy… Empathy reaches out to others, desiring to understand the world from different points of view.” (1997).
Carol Christ argues that through such knowledge, traditional theology (in which men interpret religion) can be replaced with a new thea-ology, which means ‘reflection on the meaning of the Goddess’.
She believes that if embodied knowledge is the basis of spirituality, then we can overcome dualistic ways of thinking such as rational and irrational and mind and body because The Goddess is found all around, in everything, forming a web of life which integrates all things into a universal whole.
Historical Representations of the Goddess
Symbols and statues of the Goddess have been found in a wide variety of civilizations going back 25000 years.
Mythical stories which pay tribute to an Ancient Mother Goddess whose fertility and abundance give nourishment to a culture date back to prehistoric times.
One of the earliest examples, from the Paleothic era, is the ‘Venus of Willendorf. She is fat, showing her abundant life-energy, and representing the nurturing and support which mother-hood offers.
Later examples from the Mesopotamian era are the clay figurines of the Ishtar (circa 2000 BC) in her characteristic breast-offering pose which suggests her function as the Goddess of all nourishment and fertility.
A more recent example is found in the Macha Earth Goddess – a fertility goddess who was worshiped in ancient Ireland by the Picts before the arrival of the Celts and adopted by them. She is associated with war, horses, and independence.
How individuals can find the Goddess
Carol P Christ believes that people need to find their own spiritual paths through personal experience.
Christ had something of a traumatic time discovering the Goddess for herself. As a student of theology, she became increasingly frustrated with traditional interpretations of God as male, with God always being associated with the father, with Kings, and even with war. This all built up to a head one evening when she shouted out
‘I want you to know how much I have suffered because you let yourself be named in man’s image’, after which she heard a female voice in her head that said ‘In God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering.’
Christ’s ideas on the Goddess were further developed by attending a workshop led by a woman called Starhalk who saw the Goddesss as Mother Earth, who was found in nature and in the spirit, emotions, mind and body of everyone.
Her understanding and spiritual awareness developed further in a women’s spirituality group called Rising Moon.
Carol Christ ultimately believes that personal experience has to be the starting point of valid knowledge. She believes that every woman on a spiritual path has a story to tell and their own spiritual journey to go on, but each finds a similar power through the Goddess.
In terms of Feminism, everyone can work together with other Feminists and valid spiritual knowledge can be co-created.
Evaluations of Goddess Religions
While it is hard to doubt the authenticity of Carol P Christ’s views (i.e. it is clear that she really believes what she saying), there are certain problems with this approach.
Firstly, It is difficult to evaluate an approach which rejects empirical research. It is difficult to assess its reliability or validity.
Secondly, it is difficult, if not impossible to make generalisations from personal approaches – for example, it is easy to find examples of religions which are not patriarchal.
Sources/ Find out More
Haralambos and Holborn (eighth edition) Sociology Themes and Perspectives
Feminist Karen Armstrong argued that women were central to many spiritual traditions in early history.
She pointed out that in early history, there were very few effigies of male gods, while symbolic representations of the ‘Great Mother Goddess’ were numerous. In the Middle East, Asia and Europe, for example, archaeologists have uncovered numerous symbols of the Mother Goddess. One common representation is of the mother goddess as a naked pregnant women, which seems to place fertility as central to early spirituality.
Armstrong argues that female figures began to be written out of religion with the acceptance of monotheism. She suggests that this process originated with Yahweh, the god of Abraham, and writes…
‘[this] God of Israel would later become the God of the Christians and the Muslims, who all regard themselves as the spiritual offspring of Adam, the father of all believers’.
This type of Feminist analysis seems to suggest that it is not necessarily religion itself that is patriarchal. Thus, unlike Marxist perspectives, we do not need to eradicate religion in order to achieve female liberation. Rather, we, need to ‘get back’ to more female centered spiritual traditions and develop a female-focused spirituality.
I actually did two surveys this week with the students this week, both on Socrative.
For the first survey, I simply asked students via Socrative, who did most of the domestic work when they were a child (mostly mother or mostly father – full range of possible responses are in the results below), with ‘domestic work’ broken down into tasks such as cleaning, laundry, DIY etc…
For the second Survey, I got students to write down possible survey questions on post it notes, then I selected 7 of them to make a brief questionnaire which they then used as a basis for interviewing three couples about who did the housework.
Selected results from the initial student survey on parents’ housework
These results were based on students’ memory!
Selected results from the second survey
based on student interviews with couples
Discussion of the validity of the results…..
These two surveys on the domestic division of labour (and other things) provided a useful way into a discussion of the strengths and limitations of social surveys more generally….we touched on the following, among other things:
memory may limit validity in survey one
lack of possible options limits validity in survey two, also serves as an illustration of the imposition problem.
asking couples should act as a check on validity, because men can’t exaggerate if they are with their partner.
there are a few ethical problems with the ‘him’ and ‘her’ categories, which could be improved upon.
Postcript – on using student surveys to teach A-level sociology
All in all this is a great activity to do with students. It brings the research up to date, it gets them thinking about questionnaire design and, if you time it right, it even gets them out of the class room for half an hour, so you can just put yer feet up and chillax!
If you want to use the same surveys the links, which will allow you to modify as you see fit, are here:
The topic of domestic abuse is relevant to the families and households and crime and deviance modules within A-level sociology, as well as providing some of the strongest supporting evidence for the continued relevance of Feminism more generally in contemporary society.
It’s also one of those topics that’s good to teach (sensitively) for more ‘humanistic reasons’ – raising awareness of the nature and extent, and underlying dynamics of domestic abuse could play a role in helping prevent today’s teenagers being victims (or even perpetrators!) of this crime.
Below I provide some ‘starting point’ resources which students can use to research the nature and extent of domestic abuse in England and Wales.
an estimated 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year
1.6 million of these were women and 713,000 were men.
5.7% of adults aged 16-74 experienced Domestic Abuse according to the CSEW (Crime Survey of England and Wales)
Only 43% of CSEW reported Domestic Abuse cases go on to be recorded officially as a crime.
There has been a decline in the number of cases of Domestic Abuse in recent years…
Infographic on Domestic Abuse
NB – this is based on the 2017 ONS stats, I will update soon!
Good sources for researching Domestic Abuse
Victim Support – Victim Support is an independent charity which supports victims of crime. Their section on domestic abuse is a a very accessible guide to the basic definition and different types of domestic abuse, as well as containing information about how to get support if your a Victim, or you think someone else is.
Women’s Aid – most of their research publications focus on the state of domestic abuse services (e.g. refuges) provided by the state and what happens to the survivors of domestic abuse.
The NSPCC – focusing on children and domestic abuse (which the ONS stats above do not cover). 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse – either as victims themselves, or witnessing it.
The Femicide Census – profiles of women killed by men – 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016 – 69% of them by their intimate partners, and only 8% by strangers. This 2017 publication by Women’s Aid outlines some of the grim facts of this crime.
A very useful website from the U.S. is The Recovery Village – It contains information on how to leave an abusive relationship, how to help a victim of domestic violence, and more. One of its key aims to empower victims of domestic abuse and their loved ones.
The above are really just some useful ‘starting point’ links…. Further Sources to Follow!
The Women of the World Festival (WOW), or to give it its full title – The Women of the World Festival for Women Who Can Afford a £20 Day Ticket, makes for a nice little day-trip for A-level sociology students, assuming they can afford the >£20 ticket for the day.
The Festival allows students to listen to talks and engage in discussions on all sorts of topics relevant to the A-level sociology syllabus, and this year’s agenda (focusing on the Friday) is especially relevant: with focus groups on both education and crime and deviance, not to mention a ‘gamalan’ workshop.
I would say see you there, but I let the two women I work with organise this trip, so you’ll see there if you fancy it! I’ve heard it’s a great day out.
Formula one is getting rid of its grid-girls: the scantily clad, typically young attractive women who hold up a card telling drivers where to start.
Most Feminist leaning commentators, such as Janet Street Porter, see this as progress for gender equality and women’s rights: employing women just as ‘eye candy for men’ or ‘set dressing’ is just another example of sexism in which women are ‘valued’ merely for their looks, and is thus just another example of the objectification of women. Also being given the boot is the leering and bum-pinching from male mechanics which goes along with the job, according to Beverly Turner who covered the sport between 2001 to 2003.
However, writing in the Sunday Times, Camilla Long criticizes middle class Feminists for effectively ‘slut shaming’ the grid-girls, and effectively dismissing their working-class sister’s right to choose.
Meanwhile, some of the grid-girls themselves aren’t particularly happy about their chosen careers being given the axe either: Rebecca Cooper, for example, argues that it’s their choice to do what they do, most of them are fans of the sport, and the whole cat-calling thing: you get that everywhere in life anyway.
Finally, it’s worth reflecting on where we stand on women using their sexuality to make money more generally: if we are in the camp which thinks sex-work and pornography are ‘empowering for women’, we are going to have to be pretty nuanced in our critique of Grid-Girls!
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