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.
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!
Where the highest incomes are concerned, there is an enormous disparity between the highest earning male and the highest earning female: Chris Evans is the top-paid male, earning between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000.
A recent edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored some of the moral arguments for and against this pay gap, focusing on the following questions:
Do these pay inequalities, between elite men and women at the BBC, actually tell us anything about gender pay differentials in wider society? Or is this sample of very high earning celebrities just so unique that it tells us nothing at all?
Why do women earn less than men? To what extent is the biological fact that women are the child-bearers explain the differences? To what extent is it sexism in wider culture?
What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities?
Finally, is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education?
In case you’ve never listened to it, the format of the moral maze consists of a panel who e start off by briefly presenting their views on topic under discussion, and then listening to evidence from a number of witnesses and critically questioning them, before summing up their views at the end of the show.
I thought it was useful to provide a detailed account of this episode of the moral maze because it includes summary of views of some of Britain’s best known contemporary Feminists and their critics on the issue of the pay-gap in the UK, an issue which is obviously highly relevant across the A level sociology syllabus.
It’s also probably quicker to read this rather than listen to the pod cast, and I thought it’d be useful to link it up too.
A summary of the views of the four person panel
Priest and Guardian pundit Giles Fraser – thinks that the fact that BBC appears to value men more than women is a moral outrage
Claire Fox, from the Institute of Ideas – describes Giles Fraser’s moral position as ‘tone deaf’ arguing that it’s ludicrous for a very high income earning women to see themselves as victims of Patriarchy, even if men in similar positions earn more them. She also says she finds it insulting to the memory of what fighting for women’s rights was all about.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies at Edinburgh University – disagrees argues that we should be comparing ‘like for like’ – if men and women are in a similar environment, they should be receiving the same pay and those women are right to fight for it.
Historian and Blogger Tim Stanley – elite celebrity presenters are all grotesquely overpaid and this issue is a distraction from the e world and serious violence women face in other parts of the world and the UK, and also some of the systemic problems facing young men today.
The Four Witnesses
The Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams – below I summarise their views on the gender pay gap at the BBC and more widely in the UK, along with their responses to the various questions asked of them by the panelists.
She argues that the pay of 96 elite people tells us very little about the issues of pay and inequality in wider society, because these 96 people are not doing jobs in which the pay is determined by standardised promotion and pay-scale procedures
She also points out that they are doing jobs which are not comparable – even where presenters co-present on the same show, one of them might well be doing additional presenting work elsewhere which could explain their higher pay.
The moral outrage over the gender pay gap at the BBC misses the point because the gender pay gap overall in the UK is at an all time low.
Giles Fraser responds to the above by suggesting that, irrespective of what’s going on in the wider society, where women are paid less for men in comparable jobs, this is a basic moral outrage. In response Williams says:
The real moral outrage is that other workers at the BBC (male and female alike) such as cleaners, editors, even producers, are earning so much less than these 96 ultra high-income earners.
These wealthy women have more in common with their wealthy male colleague and the focus on the ‘elite gender pay-gap’ is a distraction from the wider issue of social class.
She finds it nauseating that these elite women are calling for equal pay at the BBC, and claiming to do this for ‘all women – a campaign to equalize elite pay is going to nothing to help women lower down the pay scale – because at minimum wage level, there is no gender pay-gap.
Giles Fraser criticizes this view because it sounds like it’s blaming the victims of unequal pay.
Mona Siddiqui tries to make the point that what is going on at the top of the BBC does in fact reflect a problem found in workplaces across Britain – which is that if women don’t kick up a fuss about it, they will be paid less than men. In response to this Williams says:
The average pay gap at the BBC is 10% compared to 18% in the country as a whole, suggesting the BBC is actually a relatively good on equal pay where gender is concerned.
Where you look at men and women in comparable ‘ordinary’ jobs, the gender pay gap is practically zero.
Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s.
Mona Siddiqui wonders what we’re aiming for in all of this – do we want equal pay by gender, or a world of work in which women race ahead of men, in which case we just end up with another pay-gap issue. In response Williams says:
the real issue is social class – people at the bottom need to be paid more
by focusing on the gender pay gap, we distract attention away from the real problem in society which is pay inequality more broadly – and to get better pay, women in lower paid jobs need to work alongside their male colleagues.
Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party and argues that:
What’s interesting about the BBC Explodes the myth that if women try harder they can have equal pay. This list demonstrates that even the wealthiest, white, privileged women are still paid less men, and if they’re being paid less
One of the main aspects of the pay gap is occupational segregation which starts with boys and girls in school making gendered subject choices -because we teach boys that they are good at science and engineering and we value and pay those jobs highly; while we teach girls that they are good at caring and teaching and we value and pay those jobs lesson.
The ‘care burden’ within family life falls disproportionately on women – women in their 20s may well earn more than men, but later on in their working lives, women pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ – within 12 years of having children women’s pay is about 30% lower than the men they work with.
Tim Stanley rejects Sophie Walker’s analysis arguing that the pay gap is generational and is disappearing for the young. He cites a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the gender pay gap baby boomers is 16%, among women born between 1981 and 2005, it is 5%, and for women in their early 20s, the pay gap doesn’t exist, in fact women in this age bracket earn more than men. He also points out that women outperforming men in education, especially at university.
Ultimately, the two talk at cross purposes – they disagree about how we should be comparing men and women – Tim Stanley wants to take generations as the base for comparison and measure the pay gap by comparing what the same aged men and women earn doing the same jobs, while Sophie Walker wants to make a broader comparison, factoring in use the ‘typical jobs’ men and women do and the even how the social roles men and women fill influence the amount they earn.
Another reason they talk at cross purposes is that Stanley just sticks to the stats on pay for men and women in their 20s, Walker is imagining what’s likely to happen to the pay gap in later life, based on past evidence.
Claire Fox – asks if focusing on 96 elite women isn’t a distraction away from the the more significant problem of social class inequalities. Sophie Walker responds by saying that:
The advantage of looking at inequalities through the lens of gender shows that all women, of all classes, are underpaid compared to men.
She also argues that exploring class through the lens of gender is an effective way of analyzing pay injustice in society.
She also points out that there are different reasons for the pay gap at different class levels – for example at the top end, it’s maybe something to do with how men and women are treated differently by their agents; while at the bottom end, the fact that we have nurses (a female dominated profession) reliant on food banks is more to do with us not valuing women’s caring roles highly enough.
Claire Fox now turns to the question of why women earn less than men. She asks whether Sophie Walker thinks women are deliberately treated like second class citizens in today’s labour market. Walker suggests there isn’t conscious bias, but the following things might explain the pay gap:
Unconscious bias by white men who, when looking for the best candidate for a job, end up choosing not the best candidate.
Structural barriers, particularly lack of access to decent child care.
Ultimately Walker argues that such gender stereotypes and structural barriers harm men just as much as women, by effectively denying men the opportunity to spend quality time with their children – so closing the gender pay gap should benefit both men and women.
Emily Hill is the commissioning editor of the spectator and responsible for an article entitled ‘The end of Feminism‘.
She starts off by pointing out that she may have wrote that article, but someone else was responsible for the title, and that she does actually regard herself as a feminist.
Emily Hill subscribes to kind of Feminism developed by Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia
She has however have a problem with some younger, trendy columnists who have changed the agenda of feminism.
She suggests that what used to fight for equality and freedom has now become a fight for censorship and special treatment.
Women have won key battles such as they are doing better in school and university, and when they grow up she believes they will earn equal to men.
She does not believe that women today are victims of Patriarchy, which is thanks to previous Feminists having fought to overcome this.
Mona Siddiqui thinks the above view only applies to middle class white women, and women lower down the social class ladder are still victims of Patriarchy.
Giles Fraser backs up the idea that women are still disadvantaged through ‘everyday sexism’ – such as waiters handing the bill to men rather than women as default, and such things as harassment on the street, and especially social media abuse.
Emily Hill’s response to this is that women just need to get over these things, and she seems to be suggesting that these aren’t really systematic structural barriers to women’s progress.
Women need to stand up to men harassing them, and tell them to ‘F off’, knee them in the balls or just simply tell them their not taking it.
She suggests young women read Feminism and recommends looking at Germaine Greer putting down Norman Mailler.
In response to the view that women are more likely to get abused on social media, she cites research which suggests men are just as likely to suffer abuse, and stands against censorship, suggesting that satirizing offensive comments is the best way to deal with them.
Van der Gaag starts off by arguing that even in the UK structural discrimination against women still exists.
Claire Fox asks Van der Gaag what she thinks of the view that contemporary Feminism is ‘victim feminism’ – casting women as hapless, hopeless and in need of protection. Fox has a problem with the kind of Feminism that suggests that women in particular can’t cope with offensive words and ideas and demands that women have ‘safe spaces’ from offensive ideas and which no platforms (or censors) ideas they find offensive – she argues this kind of Feminism constructs women as people who simply can’t cope.
Fox suggests that when women in the west say they need protecting from offensive words in order to protect their mental health, this trivialises the much more serious problems some women in the west face, and which many women in developing countries face – such as being victims of violence and being treated like second class citizens.
In response Van der Gaag suggests that Claire Fox is the one trivialising mental illness, pointing out that women suffer severe abuse online, such as death threats (Even female MPs) and the effects on mental health are very real.
Giles Fraser now simply asks whether Van der Gaag thinks the disparity between men and women is a product of nature or nurture.
Together these two books suggest that about 95% of gender differences are explained by nurture, the other 5% by nature.
Reflecting on the 5% of natural differences Giles Fraser asks to what extent the biological fact of women being the child bearers explains gender disparities. Van Der Gaag responds by basically saying it’s got very little to do with it.
The problem women are still expected all over the world to do unpaid work on top of their paid work, and this is an issue all over the world including in the UK.
The solution is to value unpaid work as much as paid work, to redistribute it so that men do more unpaid work (which is happening with the younger generation), and to reduce the unpaid care, which machines can help with.
Either the gender pay gap at the BBC is symptomatic of wider gender disparities in British society, or it’s a nauseating distraction.
For Mona Siddiqui the real issue is how do we see women in terms of what value they bring to the work place?
Claire Fox finds the whole issue distasteful because the BBC gender pay gap took over some of the more socially relevant issues that we should be discussion – we should really be thinking about social class inequalities, not pay inequality between men and women at the BBC.
Giles Fraser thinks that The BBC gender pay gap touches a nerve because firstly we don’t think that people should earn that much, and secondly, we also find the idea of gender inequality unfair – the two things together – class and gender inequality offend our British idea of justice, and we can care about both at the same time (it is not a binary issue).
Tim Stanley reiterates his point that the gender pay gap in wider society is no longer really an issue – he argues that our whole take on it is 40 years old: male bosses no longer deliberately discriminate against women and technology has changed the nature of work, giving women more opportunities which they are taking.
Claire Fox points out that what no longer happens is that patriarchal bosses say ‘you’re going to have a baby, see you later’, but was does happen is that women take time off work when they have babies and go back to work part-time and lose income because of this. The problem is that there is not enough child care provision for working people, and given that women are the primary child carers this disadvantages them more than men where pay is concerned.
She also argues that overstating the gender pay gap is not helpful, what we should be doing is focusing on positive solutions to overcoming it.
Mona Siddiqui points out that prejudice may play a role – in that male bosses are reluctant to hire women in their early 30s because of the increased possibility of them having children in the near future, and the ‘hassle’ this will cause.
Giles Fraser suggests that the stereotypical representations of men and women in higher and lower paid jobs remains a problem for parents bringing up children.
There’s general support for Emily Hill’s view that thanks to Feminism, there have been huge gains in gender equality, and for the fact that contemporary Feminists blackballing people like Germaine Greer is a problem.
The last word goes to Giles Fraser who suggests that ‘power looks after itself’ and so we cannot be complacent.
Radical Feminists point out that Globalisation may actually be leading to new forms of exploitation of women, and that, despite globalisation generally improving the lives of women, there are still significant areas for improvement. Two examples of this include the emergence of the global sex-industry and the persistence of violence against women despite globalisation.
Globalisation and Modern Slavery
The most obvious example of globalisation opening up new forms of female exploitation is the rise of modern slavery, and especially the global sex industry.
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 2.5 million trafficking victims who are living in exploitive conditions and another 1.2 million people who are trafficked across and within borders. These numbers include men, women, and children who are trafficked into forced labour or sexual exploitation, and appear to be on the rise worldwide. Women account for more than 50% percent of all trafficking victims. Globalization has provided for an easier means of exploiting those living in poverty who are seeking better lives, it also has provided for dramatic improvements in transportation and communications with which to facilitate the physical processing of persons.
Women are generally lured into slavery through promises of employment as shopkeepers, maids, nannies, or waitresses in developed countries. Upon arriving, these women are then told they have been purchased by someone and must work as a prostitute to repay the enormous debt they suddenly owe. To ensure that these women do not flee, their “owners” often subject them to beatings, take their documents upon arrival, and keep them under conditions of slavery. These women then either physically cannot go to the authorities or are fearful of being deported, especially if they do not have their documents or the documents were fraudulently obtained through their trafficker.
One of the main contributing factors to this increase in trafficking has been the widespread subjugation of women. Often ethnic minorities or lower class groups are more vulnerable to trafficking, because these women and girls have a very low social status that puts them at risk. Another contributor to the increase in trafficking is political and economic crisis in conflict or post-conflict areas. The breakdown of society and the rule of law have made these displaced populations vulnerable to the lure of a better future or an exit from their current countries.
Trafficking flourishes because it is a lucrative practice, generating from 7 to 12 billion dollars a year. In addition, the highly clandestine nature of the crime of human trafficking ensures that the great majority of human trafficking cases go unreported and culprits remain at large. There are reports that many human traffickers are associated with international criminal organizations and are, therefore, highly mobile and difficult to prosecute. Further complicating matters, sometimes members of the local law enforcement agencies are involved in trafficking. Prosecution is made difficult because victims of trafficking do not testify against traffickers out of fear for their and their family members’ lives.
South-East Asia and South Asia are considered to be home to the largest number of internationally trafficked persons, with estimates of 225,000 and 150,000 victims respectively.
The Continuing prevalence of Violence Against Women
Radical Feminists also point out that physical and sexual violence against women also poses a significant threat to women’s health and safety.
In 2013, the WHO sponsored the first widespread study of global data on violence against women, and found that it constitutes a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions.’ Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women, and 38 percent of all women who have been murdered were murdered by an intimate partner. Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are also 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually-transmitted infection.
Some traditional cultural practices impose threats to the health of women, and may be more difficult to change through educational and preventative policies than unhealthy practices that are unrelated to culture, such as nutrition. The UN Human Rights Commission identifies the practices most threatening to women as:
Female circumcision, known as female genital mutilation to its opponents, which involves the excision of a woman’s external sexual organs
Other forms of mutilation, such as facial scarring
Traditional practices associated with childbirth
The problem of dowries in some parts of the world
The consequences of preference for male babies, such as parental neglect and infanticide of female babies.
Female genital mutilation is a special focus of many efforts to end violence against women, although the movement to view it as a violation of human rights meets some resistance to what some consider a violation of family and community sanctity. Amnesty International says,
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the cornerstone of the human rights system, asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It protects the right to security of person and the right not to be subjected to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment — rights which are of direct relevance to the practice of female genital mutilation. The traditional interpretation of these rights has generally failed to encompass forms of violence against women such as domestic violence or female genital mutilation.
Inequality between men and women is the most significant form of inequality
Anthropological evidence demonstrates that inequalities between men and women exist in every single society in human history, and in most of these societies women have an inferior social status to men. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex
Gender norms are Socially Constructed, not determined by biology and thus gender norms can be changed
Feminism is a set of ideas which criticises the discrimination experienced by women based on their gender. Remember, there are few biological differences between men and women at birth, but the social norms associated with being a “women” result in discrimination against females. Children are taught “gender norms” from a young age i.e. what it means to be a “women” in terms of dress, language, expectations, roles within the family, how they relate to men etc. Gender norms are learned in the family, but reinforced in the school, at work and through the media.
Note, boys also learn gender norms e.g. assertiveness, confidence etc, but more importantly for feminism they also learn the behaviour they expect from a “women” based on female gender norms. Many boys will grow up watching gender norms being played out in the family and will therefore replicate the same roles with their own partners.
Patriarchy is one of the main causes of female disadvantage
‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)
NB – the idea of ‘structure’ is central to the concept of Patriarchy – Women are inferior because men are superior – For example, women end up staying at home looking after the kids BECAUSE it is assumed that men are the breadwinners, thus men are the ones who go out to work. Similarly, women dress up in high heels, make up and short skirts BECAUSE they have internalised the idea that that’s what they need to do to attract men. The idea behind patriarchy is that men gain and women lose from socially constructed gender differences.
Feminism is a political movement
Feminists emphasise the importance of political activism in order challenge gender inequalities. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex. There is a lot of disagreement within Feminism over how to achieve this – strategies vary from doing research to highlight the extent of gender inequality, to having consciousness raising sessions with groups of women and men, to working with governments to create social policies, to more radical strategies such as political lesbianism.
Feminist Theory: A Criticism of Previous Sociological Explanations Gender inequality
Feminist theory arose as a reaction to the sexist, biological explanations for gender inequalities such as those of Talcott Parsons. Feminism actually sees sociology itself as sexist as all previous theories: Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism have failed to adequately explain gender differences in modern society. Feminism is a huge body of theory. Below it is simplified into four main perspectives: Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Liberal Feminism and Difference Feminism
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