Feminist theory is the academic discipline that extends the basic tenets of feminism into scholarly discourse, with the aim of understanding gender inequality in society. Through the examination of the experiences, social roles, and politics of women, feminist theory enters into a wide range of subjects, from literature to economics, and anthropology to philosophy.
Feminist Theory - Mary Wollstonecraft
Feminist theory can be said to have originated with Mary Wollstonecraft's 1794 tract, A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman. The work of 19th century suffragists is largely classified as antecedents to modern feminism, which emerged in the late 1960s. Many academics at that time began criticizing the patriarchal nature of capitalism. Since that time, feminist theory has spread to nearly every academic subject. Some of the major figures at the dawn of modern feminist theory include Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan.
- Feminist literary theory explores the nature of gender and subjectivity in literature, especially those works written by women.
- Feminist theory is psychoanalysis holds that gender is not a biological fact, but rather the psycho-sexual construction of the individual.
- Gender inequality in society is the result of early childhood experiences, experiences that teach men to be masculine, and women feminine.
- This social system, according to feminist theory, is maintained by a male-dominated society.
Political Movement - Feminist Theory
Feminism refers to the political movement based on the belief in equality of women and men that takes as its signal commitment, the elimination of gender-based injustice.Aside from this definition, there are many other dimensions and elements that have been added or taken from this belief in order to address a side to the argument that may not have been previously explored fully. Feminist theory also analyzes the dimensions of inequality, and social construction of femininity and masculinity that have shaped women historically and in diverse societies.
Although, in the popular imagination, feminism and psychoanalysis are sworn enemies, and many feminists continue to be hostile to Freud, serious feminist engagement with psychoanalysis began with post-1970 feminism in the work of the following:
- Juliet Mitchell
- Luce Irigary
- Dorothy Dinnerstein
- Nancy Chodorow
Feminists in philosophy turned to psychoanalysis in an attempt to understand what they perceived as the masculinism of philosophy and its attempt to exclude the feminine. Since psychoanalysis is specifically concerned with issues such as the formation of masculine and feminine identity at the level of unconscious, it provides a framework for arguing that rationality and knowledge are always unconsciously gendered, thus challenging the self-proclaimed neutrality and universality of philosophy, a claim which feminists had come to see as increasingly suspect.
There has been constant debate between considering women as equal to men in all aspects of life and continuing to see men as different and unequal based on social and biological differences. Both extremes do not allow for the positive qualities of either to be combined for the benefit of all. In addition, the feminist movement has never had 100% support from women even though it is for the empowerment of women because the initial movement did not take into account the differences between women. There have been failed attempts at fighting for the rights of women when within the group there are biases based on race, age, social status and sexual orientation that create a dichotomy within the movement for equality. Traditional feminism takes an "all or nothing" approach and does not want the uniqueness of women to be taken into consideration. Thus, rejecting programs such as, Affirmative Action which is the response to years of hoping that a male-dominated society would see the error of its ways and stop oppressing women.
Some argue that it may not be in a woman's best interest to be treated as men are because there are certain things that we can do that they can not, which would create a conflict of interest when those abilities are not taken into consideration.
If feminist ideas of equality are to be accepted wholeheartedly, there would no longer be any allowances made for the fact that most women have children. This would mean the abolishment of maternity leave and/or being able to maintain one's job while on leave. At the same time, currently, women are given consideration for the fact that most do become pregnant and need time to accommodate that. This has bred an even more unequal society by justifying paying women lower salaries for the same job that men do. This is determined at the point of hire and justified by employers who feel that either women do not have the same physical or mental capabilities as men as well as by the fact that it is likely that they will lose this person for a period of time or permanently when they decide to have children. Hence, there is a catch-22 in equality as well as in treating women differently.
From a legal standpoint, there have been efforts made to eliminate sex as a consideration for employment. It is difficult to prove that women are overlooked for promotions, etc., due to their sex so most cases that involve complaints of gender bias, do not end in a way that is favorable for the accuser. The purpose of this paper is to explore the arguments of the feminist psychoanalytic theory of equality and the origins versus the argument for the positive aspects of keeping women and men separated by their gender roles in society.