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Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

Women, once barely above the standing of slaves, have overcome vast obstacles. They have worked hard to achieve the rights to education, to vote and hold political office, and all the other constitutional rights as men. The barriers that have been crossed are insurmountable. There are still, however myriad issues more with which feminists are trying to overcome. Feminism is both a philosophical and a political ideology and that calls for the equality of all people. When looking at feminism as a political ideology, an irony (and an obstacle) can be seen in that the decision-making positions which feminists would like to fill in order to accomplish their goals are out of reach because they are women and still seen socially as unable to perform these male-oriented careers. In order to have any measurable political voice, one must have at minimum the power to vote. As Andrew Heywood states in the chapter on feminism of Political Ideologies: An Introduction, that is where feminist goals began. The primary goal of the initial US feminists was female suffrage, the right for women to vote (Heywood 231). Heywood also mentions that in countries where democracy was more advanced, womens effort was stronger (Heywood 231). Where womens voice was initially weak, the cry for help was loud. After the right to vote was won, however, there was uncertainty in where to go with the feminist movement. Their main focus had been achieved until Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mistique, strengthening feminist thought once more and the second wave began (Heywood 232). Social constructs put womens natural workplace in the home. Women are built for childbearing, and social constructs pushed them into child rearing. It goes one step further, also: because women are already home, they may as well do all the household work, too.

Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

Conservatives would say that this is where they belong because everyone is born into the position which they deserve to be in and that there are no such things as social constructs, because all constructions of society are organic and natural (Heywood 237). This puts women at one huge disadvantage in attaining any further rights. There is a distinction between the public and private spheres of life. The public sphere refers to political roles, and the private refers to roles inside the home/family. This insists that womens role in the world is private, because they have been pushed into the roles of home life, and thus insignificant to the public sphere. Feminists argue that sexual inequality has been preserved precisely because the sexual division of labour that runs through society has been thought of as natural rather than political. Traditionally, the public sphere of life [] has been the preserve of men, while women have been confined to an essentially private existence, centered on the family and domestic responsibilities (Heywood 234-5). Because of this social norm, women are unable to acquire a sizable number of decision-making, public positions. One feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, believed that women pushed themselves into these positions. She explains that women seek for pleasure as the main purpose of existence, while men seek success in their careers, pleasure being only relaxation for them (Wollstonecraft 358). She compares women to the rich in that they are looked at as beautiful creatures, happy with their inactivity in the work force. Wollstonecraft urges women to take a stand and stop being complacent with inactivity in the world. While it is very possible that these social constructs began as Wollstonecraft describes, with women choosing their own roles, that serves even better

Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

reason for women to be the ones to change them. If women chose to be put into these positions, they should be able to also choose to move out of them, just as one chooses a job and may choose to quit at any point. An opposing idea is that of the difference feminists. They discount the idea of equality because it suggests that the positions that men hold are more legitimate and more important. Difference feminists appreciate femininity and view other feminist ideas as devaluing femininity

(Fraser 100). This does make sense when thinking about the terminology that is used in
everyday life. We use the word mankind to describe people as a whole, and words like brotherhood and fellow also include women. If it were the other way around, womankind, or sisterhood, it would be hysterically laughed at and that says that femininity is viewed as a negative thing in our society. This brings up the patriarchal way in which society runs. This term, which means rule by father, is used to describe male dominated and male centered societies (Heywood 236). It implies that the best type of person you can be is one that is male. In Nancy Frasers article on Equality, Difference and Democracy: Recent Feminist Debates in the United States, Fraser argues that we must rid our world of this monocultural view that there is only one valuable way of being human (Fraser 108). She states that we must find a way to preserve multiculturalism while creating equality. The only issue here is that because of male dominance and social norms, change is difficult to come by. An issue that arises when explaining feminism is that many non-feminists think that all feminists hate men because they are the group which the social construct is centered around.

Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

This is not true. Feminists do not (generally) believe that men are the problem with the world, but society itself is the problem. In fact, it would be in the best interest to men, as well, to assist in attaining feminist goals of equality. Men, too, have gender roles that they have pushed upon them. If they have traits that do not fit into these norms, they must hide them or be forever persecuted for them because they are not normal in regards to the social constructs. Whats worse is that masculinity is the goal, but if women attempt masculinity, they are looked down upon and seen as unnatural or wrong. For example, if a woman is in a position of power (this is seen as a masculine thing that has slowly worked its way into the acceptable realm of society) and is serious or in any way bossy, she may be called names, such as a bitch. If a man is in a power position, he can get away with much more without being called names. A common argument among college students is that a woman who sleeps around is called a slut, while a man who sleeps around is seen as cool, or a player, or the ever popular mans man. Jenny Chapman in Politics, Feminism, and the Reformation of Gender, explicitly states that public policies are in favor of men due to the lack of women in positions of power

(Chapman x). With women having great opportunity for higher education, she questions why
the gender gap is still so wide (Chapman 7). Women should be making great strides, yet when looking at a U.S. report on 20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women 2010 Annual Averages, political positions are nowhere to be found. The majority of the jobs found on this list are pink collar jobs, fields in which women are expected to be in based on the gender

Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

norms, i.e. nurses, secretaries, elementary and middle school teachers, waitresses, retail associates, etc. (20 Leading). It is obvious that women need to have more involvement in politics, as well as other career fields that arent included in the pink collar arena if they would like to have a better chance at equal treatment. Based on all of this research and common knowledge of the way the world works, it is obvious that women need to have further involvement in the public arena. In order to focus public policies away from solely men, women need to take bigger part in positions of power. This idea, however, is a cycling issue, because in order to be put into a power of position, one must earn great public respect. Respect is not easily won by women in the public due to the social constraints placed on women and society. When looking at feminism as a political ideology, the obstacle of accomplishing significant political goals is in sight, but just out of reach due to the social constructs and the difficulty of becoming a woman of power.

Kirsti Clapsadle

The Irony of Political Feminism

Works Cited "20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women 2010 Annual Averages." The U.S. Department of Labor. The U.S. Department of Labor, 2010. Web. 25 Nov. 2011. <http://www.dol.gov/wb/factsheets/20lead2010.htm>. Chapman, Jenny. Politics, Feminism, and the Reformation of Gender. London: Routledge, 1993. Print. Fraser, Nancy. "Equality, Difference and Democracy: Recent Feminist Debates in the United States." Feminism and the New Democracy: Re-siting the Political. Ed. Jodi Dean. London: Sage, 1997. 98-109. Print. Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideologies: an Introduction. 4th ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 231-41. Print. Wollstonecraft, Mary. "A Vindication of the Rights of Women." Ideals and Ideologies: A Reader. By Terence Ball and Richard Dagger. Eighth ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2010. 355-59. Print.