Barbie lives in Barbieland, which for some is a feminist utopia in which women can do anything: be president, have highly professional careers (the entire Supreme Court are female) as well as wear high heels and throw all night parties.
However all is not well in Barbieland: Barbie starts having nightmares and thinking about death, because the people in the real world are sad. So Barbie, accompanied by Ken, visits the real world to find her human family and solve their problems.
In the real world, Barbie is shocked by ‘the patriarchy’. She finds herself subjected to objectification and harassment. When she finds her family, the teenage daughter thinks Barbie is nothing more than a professional bimbo who makes women feel bad about herself.
It turns out this teenage girl is the source of sadness. She has stopped playing with her Barbie dolls because she blames them for men hating women and women hating women.
Ken, on the other hand, feels empowered by ‘the patriarchy. In contrast to his emasculated life on the beach in Barbieland, in the real world He ends up thinking he can do anything just because he is a man. At one point he barges into a hospital thinking he can perform surgery, without any qualifications or experience.
Back in Barbieland Ken changes things. The Supreme Court are demoted to a cheerleading squad, the president ends up serving men drinks. Every night is a ‘boys’ night and every barbie exists just to be ogled for male pleasure.
When Barbie returns she eventually manages to rally the barbies to overthrow their oppressors. Ken and Barbie apologies and the Barbies accept that a new society needs to be established with better rules for kens.
In a hideous postmodern/ commercial twist Barbie meets with the spirit of the Mattel founder. She finds out she is uncertain of her role in the world because there is no set role. The film ends with Barbie returning to the real world: her story carries on ‘evolving’.
At one level this film is a feminist commentary in line with what we might call Bimbo Feminism. This holds that women can embrace femininity and succeed professionally.
It is also a criticism of Patriarchy and especially the manosphere. When Ken returns to Barbieland he convinces the Kens that their rights have been eroded by women. They adopt toxic forms of masculinity in order to reassert their power.
This is also a movie about male as well as female roles. It is about how Kens (men) struggle to cope with increasing female power, many falling back on toxic masculinities.
The movie is also a commentary on the uncertainty of gender identities and how they are open to interpretation.
It also maybe gets us thinking about what use masculinity is at all going forwards: perhaps the future is one of abandoning heteronormativity entirely?
Postmodern feminism criticises the discourse of heteronormativity: gender and sex are fluid!
Postmodern Feminists argue that both men and women need to be liberated from the idea of heteronormativity: the idea that heterosexual male and female gender identities are the norm.
Historically, the idea that there are just two simple binary heterosexual identities comes from men and is one of the ways in which male power over women is maintained, with everything male being linked to the public sphere and everything female being linked to the domestic sphere.
For postmodern feminists, there isn’t a simple divide between biological male = masculine and biological female = feminine. Rather, everything about sex, sexuality and gender identity are fluid, and all gender identities are equally valid.
However, the dominant binary heterosexual male-female discourse makes it difficult for people who don’t ‘fit’ into ‘normal’ gender identities to be themselves, and raising awareness of the oppressive nature of the concept of ‘heteronormativity’ and celebrating gender differences and diversity are two of the main focuses of postmodern feminism.
Postmodern Feminist Philosophy
Postmodern feminism can also be called poststructuralist feminism or ‘cultural turn’ feminism, reflecting the shift away from structural and materialist theories and towards post-structuralism and cultural theories more generally from the mid 1980s onwards.
It was developed mainly by academics in the humanities rather than social science academics or feminist activists and it is much more philosophical than previous feminisms.
Postmodern Feminism is associated with a radical social-constructionist position which holds that there is no reality beyond social construction: discourses (what is discussed) shape the ‘realities’ people experience.
For postmodern feminists discourses are created by powerful groups of males and it is possible to identify and expose male-centred discourses.
Five examples of postmodern feminist thinkers include Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Donna Harraway, Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous.
The central focus for these thinkers is the ways in which female ‘subjectivity’ is constrained by textual and cultural forms defined and dominated by men.
One of the main focuses of postmodern feminism was to challenge thinking in dyads such as male-female and challenge the stability of dualistic ways of thinking, which it sees as repressive and to posit instead a liberating condition of the instability of all categories and truth claims.
In the condition of post modern liberation, men and women are free to choose to be a man, woman, gay, straight, trans or anything else, and identities are never fixed, they are fluid, multiple and fragmented.
Postmodern Feminists are especially critical of science’s dominant role in contemporary culture and its drive to fix gender and sex categories, which is seen as oppressive because this limits people’s capacities to shape their own (gender) identities.
Because of its focus on diversity, Postmodern Feminism is critical of Liberal and Marxist Feminist notions that we need to focus on politics for social change, and of Radical Feminism’s claims that there is a universal sisterhood with shared interests. Rather, there are diverse people who each need to be freed from the tyranny of truth so they can decide on how to shape their own gender identities going forwards!
The rest of this post will explore the work of Irigarary, Butler and Harraway in more depth.
Luce Irigaray argues that all that is known in mainstream society and culture about women and sexual desire is known from a male perspective, resulting in a vision of women she calls ‘masculine feminine’.
One of Irigaray’s aims is to overturn this male perspective, so that women are seen in their own terms, or as the ‘feminine female’.
Throughout the history of Western thought, women have been depicted as not-men, as negative entities which are lacking.
Women’s identity and sexuality are represented in this way because of ‘phallogocentrism’ , the patriarchal view of the world expressed in and through language as defined by men, a vision which tries to ‘freeze’ the meaning of ‘female’ and represent it in negative ways.
The task of theory is to liberate women from seeing themselves in such a way, and to realise that their own sexualities have plural dimensions which have the power to change female identities and escape the grip of phallogocentric culture.
Judith Butler claims that there is no such as sex. More specifically, she means that the sex categories of biologically distinct ‘male’ and ‘female’ do not exist in the real world, these categories are just mental constructions, part of language (discourse), but not real.
In other words, ‘men’ and ‘women’ are just people who have been labelled ‘men’ and ‘women’ they are not, in reality, biologically distinct from one another. We just think these labels refer to real, distinct entities.
This goes beyond feminist theorising in the 1970s, when feminists such as Ann Oakley generally thought that sex and gender were two different things with biological sex being fixed at birth (male or female) and gender being the cultural norms. we attach to these two sexes (masculine-feminie). For feminist theory in the 1970s, liberation meant changing gender norms, but sex-differences were generally seen as something determined by nature, so not up for discussion.
Butler challenges these earlier feminist ideas , by arguing that the idea that there is a natural biological divide between men and women is also a construction of patriarchy.
For Butler, both sex and gender are not just attributes people ‘have’, they are what people ‘do’. People ‘perform gender’ through what Butler refers to as ‘stylized repetition of acts’ enacted through the most mundane day to day body language, movements and general deportment that when taken together give the impression of a fixed ‘gendered self’.
People become a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ through the acts they perform, they aren’t already a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ at birth.
Feminist criticisms of science
Donna Harraway criticises the patriarchal organisation of science and the gendered categories it produces, which are disseminated through society.
Harraway is critical of the positivist view that science is objective and value free, instead arguing it is a product of capitalism, militarism, colonization and male domination.
Scientific knowledge is no less ideological than other forms of knowledge (or discourse).
Harraway argued that scientific knowledge emerges out of social practices, and is influenced by the backgrounds of scientists, the knowledge created is contingent on them and would be different if constructed by other people in other societies.
She analyses a series of experiments carried out in seventeenth-century England, emphasising that those networks were made up almost entirely of white, European, upper class males, and the male bias within those networks influenced the connection of male to active and female to passive, ideas which have continued to be a central part of patriarchal culture ever since
She also examined how the scientific study of primates was a key development in the political ordering between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘male’ and ‘female’ and ‘science’ and ‘ideology’.
However, because science is social in origins, it is not inherently patriarchal, it could potentially be reorganised to assist in female liberation.
Evaluations of Postmodern Feminism
Much of Postmodern Feminism isn’t grounded: it is not based in empirical evidence, rather it is based on freewheeling philosophy.
Deconstructive methods are purely negative, there is little positive about what we should do beyond criticising dominant discourses.
A 44 year old mother of three was sentenced to 24 months in jail on Monday for using abortion pills to abort a foetus at just over 30 weeks, whereas the legal limit for abortions is currently 24 weeks.
She obtained the pills in March 2020 during Lockdown through the ‘pills by post scheme’ and lied to the authorities, saying she was under the 24 week limit. She got found out because she had to call emergency services having taken the pills, and the police were called by medical staff after she arrived in hospital.
She was prosecuted under the 1861 ‘Offences against the person act‘ which outlines a maximum possible life-sentence, but the judge residing stated she’d received the sentence for lying rather than the actual abortion, had she not lied he probably would have given her a non-custodial sentence.
Relevance to A-level sociology
You can apply victimology here. It seems to me that this woman is a victim of unfortunate circumstances and an outdated criminal justice system.
She got pregnant during lockdown, when access to abortion services would have been restricted, and came to a late decision to abort, by which time the only way she could do what she thought was right was to lie to the authorities.
She basically did this under extreme stress in the middle of lockdown with a lack of support, and apparently has suffered huge emotional trauma as a result.
I mean let’s face it: there are no legitimate arguments against this so this isn’t surprising. (Religious arguments aren’t rational thus not legitimate, because if they’re not rational they aren’t arguments, just faith-based opinions.)
There will obviously be a strong Feminist argument for changing the law here so such women can’t be prosecuted, I mean theoretically women can still go to jail for a life sentence for aborting a foetus at 25 weeks, and this is just overt state control over pregnant women’s bodies in modern Britain.
The fact that this law hasn’t been changed is a criticism of Liberal Feminism: clearly here social policy hasn’t been updated in so long that it’s not sufficient to protect such women when they need it!
Hopefully there will be an appeal very soon and this woman will get out of jail much earlier than 12 months (she’s serving half in jail), because her being in jail doesn’t serve any positive functions: not for society, not for her children and not for her.
Possibly the fact that this law hasn’t been updated for so long is because Parliament is still largely a patriarchal institution which is failing to adequately keep up to date with issues of gender justice.
I guess this also a test case for the Functionalist view that media reactions to laws will result in them changing, hopefully this will be the case here sooner rather than later!
Oakley argued parents socialised passive children into traditional gender roles, but her work is criticised by the newer concept of gendering.
Ann Oakley developed sex-role theory to argue that there are distinct gender roles that come from culture rather than biological differences between men and women.
These roles are learned through childhood and continue on into adulthood and tend to maintain male dominance and female subservience.
Socialisation and Gender Roles
Socialisation shapes the behaviour of boys and girls from a young age, with boys and girls learning that there are certain activities gendered: some ways of acting are appropriate for boys and others for girls. Oakley (1974) argued here are four main processes involved.
Parents start to manipulate their children into gendered identities from the very first days of their lives. For example, girls tend to be ‘cooed to’ and held more tenderly than boys who are more likely to be ‘bounced on the knee’ (albeit gently when they are very young) and hence treated a little more roughly.
Mothers will also pay more attention to a girls appearance, especially bonding through doing her daughter’s hair, and girls will be dressed at least occasionally in more ‘feminine’ dresses while boys will be dressed in more ‘masculine’ clothes.
Gender differences are reinforced through canalisation which involves the direction of boys and girls towards gendered objects, which is most evidence in the different toys available for boys and girls, which tend to reflect stereotypical future male and female roles in society.
Boys will be directed towards toys which encourage manual labour such as Bob the Builder toy tool sets, toy cars and trains which emphasise speed and excitement and even overtly violent toys which encourage aggressive behaviour such as guns.
Girls are more likely to be directed towards more passive toys such as arts and crafts, flower arranging, and those encouraging the house-wife and motherhood role like toy domestic appliances, dolls and prams.
Boys are more likely to be encouraged to engage in adventurous or risky activities, such as camping, climbing, going to adventure playgrounds, and physical sports such as football and rugby.
Boys are also expected to be naughty more than girls, with some parents even think it is more acceptable for boys than for girls to spend time playing football (for example) rather than doing their homework.
Girls are expected to play more of a role doing domestic chores and maybe even caring for younger siblings, and are generally expected to be more passive and less adventurous than girls.
One manifestation of these differences might be that boys are allowed to travel further on their scooters or bikes when out with their parents compared to girls.
Boys are less likely to be told off for being ‘deviant’ than girls while girls are more likely to be cautioned against such behaviours and praised for being good and obedient.
Girls are more likely than boys to be called ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’ which may explain why girls are more likely to worry about their appearance in later life compared to boys.
Boys are more likely to called tough or strong: ‘oh my, what a strong boy you are, look how fast you can run’ and so on.
Criticisms of Oakley
Oakley’s work has been very influential within Feminist sociology but she has been criticised for overstating the passive nature of gender socialisation and sex-role theory entirely fails to explain the increasing diversity of gender identities.
Sex-role theory does not explain power differences between men and women. It does not explain WHY it is men who are socialised into dominant positions and women in subordinate positions.
Oakley’s theory is based on the notion that there are clearly differentiated roles for men and women in society, whereas postmodern feminism suggests there is more of a diversity of roles.
It is a very passive theory of socialisation. It assumes that girls and boys simply soak up gender norms from their parents, whereas in reality boys and girls play a more active role in their own socialisation, and there are plenty of children who actively resist being socialised into traditional gender norms.
Gendering refers to an active process of individuals ‘doing gender’ and thus actively creating gender differences. It recognises that individuals play an active role in their own socialisation rather than it being a passive process in which their identities are simply determined by their social environment.
Individuals are influenced by their social environment but they actively engage and interact with it, and some choose to accept dominant gender norms and thus reproduce more traditional gender roles, but others choose to resist and challenge such norms creating a greater diversity of gender identities and changing the social environment.
Three levels of gendering
Harriet Bradley (2007) developed a theory of how gendering works, suggesting that that it operates at three different levels:
The micro level involves individual decisions by men and women
The meso level involves social institutions which rules about the expected behaviour of men and women: such as gendered school uniforms in school and sex-segregation in sports and prisons, for example.
The macro or societal level. The micro and meso level come together to form structural differences in gender norms and roles which are very robust and operate across the whole of society.
Gendering at the these three levels operates to limit the behaviour of most ordinary men and women in day to day life. One example Bradley gives is that men cannot usually choose to wear dresses.
There is always the capacity for individuals to break away from gender norms (gendering is an active process after all), but we tend to see this most in people with power who are removed from the ordinary duties of daily life. Pop stars, for example, are among those most likely to break with traditional gender norms, because they have more freedom to experiment with diverse identities than ordinary people who have to hold down a regular job and look after their children.
This material is primarily relevant to the Culture and Identity option which forms part of the first year A-level Sociology course (AQA specification)
Sources/ fiND OUT MORE
Anne Oakley (1974) The Sociology of Housework
Harriet Bradley (2007) Gender.
Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.
Andrew Tate is the poster boy for toxic masculinity – why did he get so popular in 2022 and why was he arrested?
Andrew Tate, the self-styled King of Toxic Masculinity was arrested in Romania on 29th December 2022 and is currently in being held in jail pending possible charges for human trafficking, rape and forcing women into pornography against their will.
Tate subscribes to an incredibly toxic brand of masculinity which holds that men are superior to women, and the main markers of successful masculinity are how much wealth a man has and how successful men are with women. He also believes that ‘strength rules’ – the only valid arguments are those that can be won with violence, and he has no time for weaker or poorer men – he doesn’t believe that depression is real and regards anyone who is poorer than him as not worth knowing.
He has a stated preference for sleeping with teenagers because ‘he can leave more of a mark on them’, despite the fact that he his very critical of women who are sexually promiscuous.
He has a penchant for radical freedom and conspicuous consumption and it was the later that triggered his recent arrest.
He took it upon himself to troll Greta Thunberg on Twitter…. goading her about how many gas-guzzling cars he owned.
Great’s response was one of the most popular tweets in 2022 and promoted a video response from the egoist Tate in which he had Pizza delivered and asked that ‘they not be recycled’.
The only problem with that was the Romanian authorities managed to figure out where Tate was staying because of the brands on those Pizza boxes and within just a few hours his house was raided and he is now under arrest, along with his brother and two Romanian nationals for allegedly sex-trafficking women to Romania.
A hideous individual, finally brought down by his own arrogant ego, hopefully!
Who is Andrew Tate?
Andrew Tate was a relatively little known figure until August 2022 when he managed to gain huge visibility on social media thanks to an army of followers who edited and re-posted his content using his name as a hashtag, successfully gaming especially TikTok’s content-ranking algorithm.
He was born on an estate in Luton, so he is British, and is an ex kickboxer who won international titles, he is also a chess-master. He gained some notoriety in 2016 when he was booted out of Big Brother after video footage emerged of him beating a woman with the buckle of a belt – he claims it was consensual but we don’t know this for certain.
He earns his money mainly through online pornography. He ’employs’ mainly Eastern European women to do cam shows and he takes a cut, claiming that at its hight his ’empire’ consisted of 75 women in five locations brining in $500 000 a month.
He moved to Romania a few years ago claiming that 40% of the reason for this was that it was easier for him to evade rape charges in that country.
Andrew Tate’s Toxic Masculinity
Andrew Tate is an anti-feminist who consciously defines himself as a misogynist. He has previously stated in online content that women are men’s property, that women should be controlled by men and that women’s best defence against rape is to not put themselves in risky situations. He believes that women who go out and get drunk are themselves responsible for being raped.
He regards women as inferior to men in every respect, having stated that all they want to do is post pictures of themselves on instagram to gain attention, and has questioned why women are allowed to drive.
He thinks contemporary masculinity is threatened by women’s equality and the feminist movement and runs a web site called ‘Hustlers University’ which claims to help men be more successful in life, ‘helping’ them to earn more money and be more successful with beautiful women.
A lot of this so-called help involves encouraging men to themselves adopt his own brand of toxic-masculinity which means not accepting women’s equality with men and has men firmly in control of women, and he has even suggested than male violence against women is acceptable to keep them under male control.
Andrew Tate – Why is he so popular?
Tate has been peddling his toxic messages for several years and has been banned from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
However, despite being cancelled he has become one of the most well-known social media influencers, with his popularity peaking in August 2022 when his name was searched more times than Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump.
There have been more than 12 billion views under his hashtag, TikTok being the platform guilty of giving him the most airtime.
Andrew Tate is popular because of at least three factors:
He has encouraged his followers to edit and repost his videos using his name as a hashtag – effectively he created a trend storm which successfully gamified social media algorithms, especially on TikTok
His content is presented in an entertaining way and it is shocking – so people tend to watch to the end, something which social media sites reward with higher rankings.
Unlike with Pick up artist culture he has a broader appeal – he is talking al ALL men, whether they have jobs or are in relationships, not just the single unemployed ‘losers.
He has become a kind of poster-boy for cancel-culture – despite being cancelled he has been invited onto chat shows and been the subject of newspaper articles, which has all helped to raise his profile, perversely.
The problem with Andrew Tate’s Toxic Masculinity
Tate talks about violence against women in such a flippant way that there’s a danger he’s helping to normalise violence against women.
And he’s not just anti-women – he is well networked with alt right – Alex Jones, Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, so his views align with their’s to an extent, and he’s a massive anti-environmentalist.
He basically has no social conscience at all.
Pretty much anyone under the age of 30 has heard of Andre-Tate, and he is very popular with young men, with teachers reporting increasing numbers of young boys mimicking him.
How to deal with Andrew Tate?
It’s impossible to ignore this guy as he is so visible on social media, but it’s also difficult to know how to deal with him.
A starting point would be to have more discussions around masculinity with young men, especially offline, because otherwise we are just leaving it to this guy and others like him to fill that void.
It’s also a wake up call about how little social media companies care about the content they display – yes he was cancelled, at least formally, but this didn’t stop him being able to game the search algorithms to remain one of the most visible and toxic personalities of 2022.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This material is most relevant to Feminism as part of A-level sociology – it reminds us that Feminism still has a lot to guard against.
It is also relevant to the sociology of the media, in terms of the power of spamming to keep even cancelled content visible.
Some Feminists argue that early sociology was ‘malestream’ – meaning it was mainly focused on studying boys and men and theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists (for example) was itself patriarchal. This post explores whether sociology is still malestream today.
Malestream sociology is a term developed by Feminist theorists who argue that early sociology was dominated by men and thus produced a biased male-centred account of the social world.
According to Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) early sociological studies and theories variously ignore or distort (through a male lens) the experience of women and girls altogether; fail to acknowledge that women are subordinated to men; and fail to take account of the fact that women’s experience of this subordination is an important factor in explaining women’s experiences and positions in the social structure.
The material below should be useful to students studying the the theory part of the theory and methods module and is summarised from the book linked and pictured immediately above.
Five Feminist Criticisms of Malestream Sociology
Abbot, Wallace and Tyler (2005) identified five main criticisms of ‘malestream’ sociology which have been developed by Feminists.
Traditional sociology was mainly focused on studying boys and men in most fields of study.
Studies using all male samples have been generalised to all people, including women.
Areas of social life which have traditionally been part of the female-domain were neglected in early sociology – for example there were no sociological studies on housework or childcare until the early 1970s.
On the rare occasion when women were the focus of sociological studies they were often theorised about in stereotypical ways. For example Pollack, who studied female criminals argued that women tended to commit more ‘devious’ (hidden) crimes such as murdering by poison (which often went undetected) because they were used to faking o*****s from their partners which made them good at hiding crimes.
Abbot et al themselves suggest that early theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists was kind of ideological. For example, Parsons developed his social systems theory in which ‘every existing role had a function that contributed to the maintenance of the whole’ – and women’s role within the family was to be the care-givers and domestic labourers.
In the final point above, what Parsons (and Functionalists more generally) failed to consider was that their conception of women’s roles in society was itself part of a patriarchal world view which itself contributed to maintaining that patriarchy.
Feminising Sociology – Differential Progress
Abbot and Wallace accept the fact that sociology has become less malestream since the 1970s, but progress towards including the study of women and the inclusion of women in studying society has been variable, depending on the general topic areas.
Some topic areas have been more fully reconstructed from feminist perspectives – such as cultural sociology, and the sociology of the body, identity and sexuality.
And then there are some areas where Feminism has not made much of an impact such as social theory and the sociology of class and stratification.
Dealing with MaleStream Sociology
Feminists generally agree that something needs to be done to make sociology less male-dominated, but disagree over what strategies to adopt.
Some Feminists emphasis an ‘integration‘ approach – suggesting that Feminists need to simply fill in the gaps of existing research. However Abbot and Wallace reject this approach, arguing that any Feminist research that is ‘tagged on’ to existing malestream sociology will be marginalised. In short, this approach does nothing to tackle the subordination of women within sociology itself.
Separatism supports a ‘sociology for women by women’ which argues that women need to break away from malestream sociology and conduct their own research completely apart from established sociology. Abbot and Wallace are more sympathetic to this approach but suggest there is a risk that such a separate Feminist sociology would still end up being marginalised by the dominant malestream established sociology.
A third approach, suggested by Abbot and Wallace is that of ‘reconceptualisation‘ – in which existing sociological studies and theories are reworked to fully incorporate the experiences of women; and any future research is to be rejected unless it can explain the experiences of both men and women fully.
In this final approach, the idea is to embed Feminism into sociology such that the discipline can apply to all genders, not just men, and while difficult to achieve Abbot and Wallace believe that progress is possible.
Is Contemporary Sociology still Malestream in 2022?
Abbot and Wallace made the observations above in 2005, almost 20 years ago now, so you might like to think about the extent to which their observations are still true today.
Certainly in A-level Sociology text books if you read through the social theories sections, the vast majority of the theories are by men, but this might just be because these text books are themselves dated and contain limited material from after 2010 themselves!
Certainly there are sections on sex and gender inequalities within every major topic area, so gender issues are firmly embedded within the specification but I am not convinced they are dealt with as thoroughly as other areas.
One area that is severely lacking IMO is the broader study of sexuality, beyond just men and women but looking at the experiences of LGBTQ individuals.
This is an interesting question for A-level sociology students to consider as they progress through their studies.
Sources/ Find out More
Part of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.
Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) An Introduction to Sociology, Feminist Perspectives
Birth rates have been falling for decades, in practically every country on earth. But not only are women having fewer children, more women are remaining childless for their entire lives.
15% of women in the United States now remain childless into their late 40s.
However, this choice to remain child-free isn’t one that comes easy.
The Guardian newspaper recently released some videos of interviews with women of various different ages who have chosen to remain childless reveal the fact that they often have to battle against the social norm that they should become mothers.
All of the women in this video explain that they were brought up with the norm that ‘normal’ women wanted children and would at some point have children.
They say that most of the subtle pressure to have children comes from their families, their own mothers and female relatives, but also their female friends and work colleagues.
If they tell a work colleague that they don’t want kids, the typical response back is that ‘you’ll want them one day’, as if the already-mothers or ‘pro-mums to be’ brush off their ‘not wanting kids’ attitude as temporary insanity, and thus to be disregarded.
One of the interviewees talks about how not having kids was never presented as a choice to her during early socialisation – it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she came across the idea that remaining childless was a legitimate choice for women.
She starts off pointing out the obvious freedoms that come with being childless – such as being able to pick up and move and switch jobs/ set up businesses/ go travelling whenever she likes, but she also says she has found freedom in a more profound sense – the freedom to be creative and to pursue and to develop her own career as she sees fit.
Finally, Neumann says that having remained child-free until her menopause has given her a fresh perspective on the whole status of childless women, and she presents a broadly radical-feminist that sees becoming a mother as the main event that locks women into traditionally gendered carer-roles , chained because they are mothers.
She also reminds us that all other things being equal it is much easier to free yourself form an abusive relationship if you have your own income, which is much more likely if you are not a mother!
There is a cost to remaining childless:
Women who remain childless have to pay for it:
Quite literally pay for contraception, and possibly abortions (she’s had two)
You have to be mentally disciplined enough to stick to a contraceptive routine.
You have to put up with the ‘too-personal inquiries’ in to why you’ve never had children (our female bodies are never our own),
And you have to suffer the loss of social status that comes with being motherless, as ‘mothers are the moral future of the nation’.
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!