Humanity in Print

1815 June 10. "I cannot live without books."(TJ to John Adams, Cappon.2.443)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Walby, Sylvia. Theorizing Patriarchy.
Basil Blackwell. 1990

Why are women disadvantaged compared to men? Has this inequality been reduced in recent years? What difference, if any, does the increase in women's employment make to other areas of women's lives? Is this sexual double standard a thing of the past? Are contemporary forms of femininity as restricting as those in the past? Is it useful to talk of 'femininity' as if it had one form? Is the increase in the divorce rate a sign of women's independence or men's flight from family responsibilities?

This brings excellent argument. So often in Christian Right circles, the failures or trials of the family are pegged as women's responsibilities, and their refusal to submit to one particular lifestyle. What about men? What about the failures of men to live up to expectations and responsibilities. The book Theorizing Patriarchy covers six areas of focus: paid work, housework, culture, sexuality, violence, and the state.

In the United States, debate exists between radical feminism and liberal feminism. There has been an attempt to synthesize Marxist feminism and radical feminism in a dual systems theory.

Radical feminism is distinguished by its analysis of gender inequality in which men as a group dominate women as a group and are the main beneficiaries of the subordination of women. This system of domination, called patriarchy, does not derive from any other system of social inequality; for instance, it is not a by-product of capitalism. The relationship of patriarchy to class inequality and racism is addressed in different ways among radical writers

Radical feminist writers introduce a range of issues into social science which have conveniently not been considered to be part of an analysis of social inequality. Even personal aspects of life are seen as part of this as the slogan 'the personal is political' indicates. The question of who does the housework, or who interrupts whom in conversation, is seen as a part of the system of male domination.

There are differences between radical feminists over the basis of male supremacy, but often this is considered to involve the appropriation of women's sexuality and bodies, while in some accounts male violence is seen as the root cause (e.g., Brownmiller, 1976; Firestone, 1974; Rich, 1980). Sexual practice is seen to be socially constructed around male notions of desire, not women's. Further, sexuality is seen a sa major site of male domination over women, through which men impose their notion of femininity on women. Heterosexuality is socially institutionalized in contemporary society and organizes many other aspects of gender relations. Male violence against women, unlike the conventional view which holds that rape and battering are isolated instances caused by psychological problems in a few men.

The main problems that critics have raised about radical feminism are a tendency to essentialism, to an implicit or explicit biological reductionism, and to a false universalism which cannot understand historical change or take sufficient account of divisions between women based on ethnicity and class. This issue will be dealt with in detail within the examination of Firestone's account of reproduction in the chapter on household.

Marxist feminnist analysis differes from that of radical feminism especially in considering gender inequality to derive from capitalism, and not to be contstituted as an independent system of patriarchy. Men's dominations over women is a by-product of capital's domination over labour. Class relations and the economic exploitation of one class by another are central features of social structure, and these determine the nature of gender relations.

The critical site of women's oppression also varies between Marxist feminists. Often it is the family which is seen as the basis as a consequence of the need of capital for women's domestic labor in the home. (e.g., Seccombe, 1974). Other focus on the ideological rather than material level.

The family is considered to benefit capital by providing a cheap way of providing the day-to-day care of workers, such as food and clean clothes, and for producing the next generation of workers. It is cheap because women as housewives do this for no wage, merely receiving maintenance from their husbands. Thus capital benefits from the unequal sexual division of labor within the home.

Other Marxist feminists have argued for a less economistic analysis of both capitalism and gender relations (e.g., barrett, 1980O. Gender relations are seen as importantly constituted by discourses of masculinity and femininity which are not immediately reducible to the economic relations of capitalism.

Some Marxist feminists retain a materialist analysis of class relations and combine this with an analysis of gender relations in terms of ideology and culture.

The main problem raised by critics about Marxist feminism is that it is too narrowly focused on capitalism, being unable to deal with gender inequality in pre- and post-capitalist societies, and that it incorrectly reduces gender inequality to capitalism, rather than recognizing the independence of the gender dynamic.

Liberalism differs from both the above in not having an analysis of women's subordination in terms of such overarching social structures, but rather conceives this as the summation of numerous small-scale deprivations.

While there is no one basis of women's disadvantage, there are two major foci of analysis. Firstly, the denial of equal rights to women in education and in employment are often important concerns (e.g., Kanter 1977>. Women's disadvantaged position is related to specific details of prejudice against women. This is often combined with a second theme, that of sexist attitudes which act to sustain the situation. Attitudes are analysed as traditional and unresponsive to recent changes in real gender relations.

This approach has often generated empirical studies about gender relations which provide important information that can be analysed in a variety of ways. They provide extensive documentation of the lives of women. For instance, some of the major surveys of women's employment and the domestic division of labor might be considered to fall within this category (Martin and Robertts, 1984; Pahl, R.E., 1984)

Liberal feminism is often criticized for its faillure to deal with the deep-rootedness of gender inequality and the interconnectedness between its different forms. For instance, the origin or reasons for persistence of patriarchal attitudes are not systematically addressed. In short the absence of an account of the overall social structuring of gender inequality gives rise to a series of partial accounts.

This does not exhaust the forms of feminist argument. For instance, there are attempts both to synthesize different forms of feminist analysis, and to synthesize feminist analysis with other mainstream frameworks.