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Feminist Legal Theory

What is Feminism?
In a very broad sense feminist philosophy of law is one put forward by women identifying the
pervasive and all-encompassing influence of patriarchy on all spheres of life be it public or
private, legal, political, social, cultural etc. It demonstrates the effects of patriarchy on the
material condition of women and girls and develops reforms to correct gender injustice,
exploitation or restriction etc.

The image below represents the image of society as seen by the feminists: one in which
patriarchy dominates almost all aspects of society thereby creating subordination of women
through the domination of men and creating other problems for them such as oppression.
Feminist Jurisprudence resolves to cripple the effect of patriarchy on society so that there
could be way for women emancipation. What feminism does is that it aims at redefining the
role between the individual and society.

PATRIARCHY:
– dictionary meaning
> A system of society or government in which the father or eldest
male is the head of the family and descent is traced through the male
line.
> It i s a system of society or government in which men hold the
power and women are largely excluded from it.

Patriarchy is the term used to describe the society


in which we live today, characterized by current
and historic unequal power relations between
women and men whereby women are
systematically disadvantaged and oppressed. This
takes place across almost every sphere of life but
is particularly noticeable in women’s under-
representation in key state institutions, in decision-
making positions and in employment and industry.
Male violence against women is also a key feature of patriarchy.

Bell Hooks, an American author, social activist and feminist has the following to say about
patriarchy:
Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to
everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate
and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological
terrorism and violence. When my older brother and I were born with a year separating us in age,
patriarchy determined how we would each be regarded by our parents. Both our parents believed in
patriarchy; they had been taught patriarchal thinking through religion.
[Note: Patriarchy is an important term here and no answer on feminism would be complete without it]

Deconstruction and Reconstruction


In the diagram above we noticed that the solution to the problem of patriarchy is to ‘redefine
roles between the individual and society’. This process is called ‘deconstruction’ and thus here
we can draw a comparison with feminism and critical legal studies since feminists are aiming
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at deconstructing whatever helps in creating patriarchal structures and in its place it
reconstructs the edifice for new beginnings starting from a female perspective. Within the
framework of deconstruction and reconstruction, feminist jurisprudence seeks to:

1. demolish the nature of ‘universal’ concepts or definitions in both in political and legal theory.
2. by demonstrating their patriarchal character
3. asserting thereby that important concepts such as power, freedom, authority, privacy, democracy
and citizenship are to rethought

What does feminism highlight?


These will be referred to as tactics as feminist writing revolves around these:

Tactic 1: Highlighting women’s injuries and actual harm This is about:


 preventing rape and other injuries
 treatment of rape victims

Rape is viewed as something that maintains women in a subjugated position and which has
largely been overlooked by the legal system.

Example 1: Mukhtara Mai – Pakistan (Case of rape) “Mukhtar Mai is a woman from a village in
the Muzaffagarh district of Pakistan. In 2002, she was gang-raped on the orders of a tribal council as
part of a so-called “honour” revenge. While tradition dictates that a woman should commit suicide
after such an act, Mukhtar defied convention and fought the case. Her rapists were never convicted, but
the story was picked up by domestic and international media, and she has become an iconic advocate of
women’s rights, despite constant threats to her life. She has opened a girls’ school and women’s crisis
centre in Muzaffagarh.”

Example 2: The example of Reyhaneh Jabbari – Iran (Personal injury and rape) “Jabbari (26)
was arrested in 2007 for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former intelligence ministry
worker. And was hanged in Oct 2014. The UN urged Iran to put a moratorium on all executions. A
campaign calling for a halt to the execution was launched on Facebook and Twitter a month
before her execution and appeared to have brought a temporary stay in execution. Amnesty
International said she was convicted after a deeply flawed investigation. (Source: BBC)

Example 3: The case of Asia Bibi – Pakistan (seen as a case of actual harm that involves
religion; in your exam connect it with how law becomes a tool to perpetuate oppression and
how religion acts as a catalyst) “Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is at the gallows. The charge against
her is blasphemy though all that had happened was that in a quarrel with other farm workers over use
of the same cup for drinking water, there was an exchange of words between her and the other women
in June 2009.

Other examples that can be used include Boko Haraams kidnapping school girls and selling
them off as sex slaves. ISIS enslaving women. Malala being shot by the Taliban and her aim
of sending all girls to school etc.

Now it behooves us to ask ourselves why is it important to highlight the injuries of


women?

The answer to this is that this is important for consciousness raising i.e women need to be
aware and awake to their surroundings. This is elucidated further by Rochelle Robinson, a
feminist and an activist who writes:
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Let’s appreciate the voice and courage of Latoya Henderson (a black woman who was raped and
she raised her voice against her perpetrator) and the countless others before and after her who dared
to come forward, to speak unspeakable truths, break silences, put shame to rest and in so doing,
challenge multiple oppressions caused by patriarchy, trans/homophobia, racism, sexism, even at the
risk of emotional and physical injury. For it is the telling that raises awareness and
consciousness, helps another victim-survivor to feel safe, and can create a path to affect change. It
propels us from the margins and places us in the center of our stories and experiences (where we
belong), and forces society to look in the mirror and see how ugly it’s become. It reminds us that,
regardless of society’s atrocities, we can be bold and beautiful and whole.

About this West says: “Just as women’s work is not recognized or compensated by market
culture, women’s injuries are often not recognized or compensated as injuries by the legal
culture… women’s gender specific suffering comes in various forms, but the outcome is
always the same: women’s suffering for one reason or another is outside the scope of legal
redress…”

In this capacity how does the law create barriers for women and act as a tool of oppression?

“There is no other crime I can think of where the victim is more victimized,” said Rebecca
Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University who for 20 years has been
studying what happens legally and medically to women who are raped. “The victim is always on
trial. Rape is treated very differently than other felonies.” So, too, are the victims of lesser sexual
assaults.

In 1991, when Anita Hill, a lawyer and academic, told Congress that the Supreme Court nominee
Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her repeatedly when she worked for him, Ms. Hill was
vilified as a character assassin and liar acting on behalf of abortion-rights advocates.

But even when there is DNA evidence of a completed sexual act, as there was in the Strauss-Kahn
case, the accused commonly claim that the sex was consensual, not a crime.

Victims may be reluctant to report a rape because they are embarrassed, fear reprisals and public
disclosure, or think they won’t be believed. “Victims often think they somehow brought it on
themselves,” said Callie Rennison, a criminologist at the University of Colorado in Denver. “Rape
is the only crime in which victims have to explain that they didn’t want to be victimized.” (Source:
NYTimes).

In Susan Estrich’s discussion of rape (Estrich, 1987, 1987a), she claims that the mens
rea criterion can be used to create either too much emphasis on the perpetrator’s intention, or
too little. In either case, she believes the focus on this criterion makes evident the law’s lack of
understanding of and concern for the harms women suffer. The law’s focus is to not wrongly
punish men, which is achieved at the cost of not protecting women.
Further, Estrich argues that the force criterion is understood from a patriarchal perspective:
force is seen as a matter of what “boys do in schoolyards.” This criterion figures force as a
simple matter of the straightforward use of physical strength, or the use of implements of
violence. But it ignores the kinds of force that are most frequently used in rape and other types
of harm to women, such as psychological coercion. If the courts expect women to resist
physical and psychological coercion in the same ways and at the same level that men do, then
the courts impose an unreasonable expectation on the “reasonable” woman.

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Tactic 2: A critique of the epistemology of jurisprudence
 assertions in this area have been carried out from the masculine school of thought i.e. everything is
seen from the males perspective
 some feminist scholars claim that such prevailing positions are not actually ‘objective’ but only
limited and biased
 Bottomley asserts: “… we are now asking if not only the practice of law silences women’s
aspirations and needs, and conversely privileges those of men…. the construction of our
understanding and knowledge of law is the product of patriarchal relations at the root of our
society.”
 all forms of dualism (the division of something conceptually into two opposed or contrasted aspects,
or the state of being so divided) are questioned by feminism, since women have generally been
regarded ‘other’ within sets of dualistically defined relationships.
They’re asking the government to become stakeholders in the interests of women.
Discrimination against women persists in both public and private spheres in times of conflict
and in peace. It transcends national, cultural and religious boundaries and is often fuelled by
patriarchal stereotyping and power imbalances which are mirrored in laws, policies and
practice.

Have any steps been taken?

An illustration is: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW), also known as the Treaty for Women’s Equality, is a landmark international
agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around
the world. CEDAW is a practical blueprint for each country to achieve progress for women
and girls. The CEDAW Treaty contains 30 articles that provide a practical blueprint to promote
basic human rights, achieve progress and overcome barriers of discrimination against women
and girls, while recognizing that it is up to each county to determine how best to bring their
policies and laws in line with ending discrimination against women.

Tactic 3: Asking the women question

 The ideals of Western rationality- Rule of Law etc distort and leave partial our understanding of the
nature of social relationships
 The issues that have dominated the task of governing and deciding upon new legislation have been
issues that most concerned men, the potentiality for an alternative woman’s perspective has been
systematically ignored.
 Gilligan”….. the claim that maleness is the organizing form of what is accepted as the ‘normal’ and
that most forms of equality legislation are not vehicles for a true equality between men and women
but rely upon making women as ‘men'”

Tactic 4: Listening to the ‘voices’ which have been excluded from the meta narratives
of modernity
 The silence on women ‘projects the female at the place of patriarchy’s ‘Other’ ( view or treat a
person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself)
 Patricia J. Williams uses reflections on personal experiences as the focus for exposing general
themes
 There exists a diversity among females and the minorities are least represented
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Tactic 5: A critique of essentialist functional categories
 In philosophy, essentialism is the view that, for any specific kind of entity, there is a set of
characteristics or properties all of which any entity of that kind must possess. Therefore all things can
be precisely defined or described.
 There exists a multiplicity of subject positions, not just the unitary notions of woman or female
gender identity.
 “In today’s world, women from all walks of life occupy powerful positions in the corporate world,
the media, government, and politics. It is nearly impossible for one to come up with a framework for
solidarity among women who are so vastly different.”

Feminists believe that the voice of women is not being refracted in society for the simple
reason that patriarchy dominates their lives. For instance Jane E. Brody writes in the
NYTimes- “Nearly every woman I know can recall one or more instances in which she was
sexually assaulted, harassed, threatened, inappropriately touched or even raped. Yet few told
anyone about it at the time, or reported it to the police.”

Morrison on Feminist Jurisprudence


Please introduce me to a world where I don’t have to miss myself –
Leslie Reese, a black feminist
Feminism is the greatest and most decisive social revolution of modernity. Unlike a political
revolution, a social revolution does not break out: it takes place. A social revolution is always a
cultural revolution as well. The feminist revolution is not just a novel phenomenon of Western
culture, it extend to a variety of existing cultures. Feminism is a form of praxis (practice in
oppose to theory) and includes elements like: demands for emancipation, equality and
liberation of women, later ideas stress the need for a social transformation of law, culture and
social patterns which release women’s potential. The purpose of feminism is to liberate
women. Make them stand on an equal footing with men and help them pursue styles of life
that give them freedom to express and feel. Professor Morrison says that feminism addresses
many problems but there are three self evident ones:

1. Domination: Concrete reality of oppression repeatedly legitimated by legal regulations. It is


undeniable that the legal position of women throughout history has been recurrently little better than
that of slaves, the legal property of their masters (eithers fathers or husbands) who protect and
control. Analyzing, highlighting and politically fighting the structures
of oppression and violence. Oppression and exploitation can take many forms, but the economic
statistics are startling. According to a UN report of 1980 ‘Women constitute one-half of the world’s
population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, receive one-tenth of the world’s income and
own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.’ | Feminist scholars point out that violence is
both open and latent. The ever-present background possibility of violence is the main mechanism by
which unequal power relations are sustained.
2. Patriarchy: The second is the issue of patriarchy, or the system of male authority which structures
the institutions and organizational rationality which constitute the oppressive and exploitative
relations which affect women. Analyzing the pervasiveness of patriarchy and engaging in strategies
to combat this. These range from consciousness raising to arguing that the ‘personal is the political’
and that there are no spaces beyond the reach of patriarchal oppression. The term ‘personal is
political’ was created to underscore what was happening in women’s personal lives–i.e. access to
health care, being responsible for all of the housework, possibly being sexually assaulted in our own
homes–was a political issue. This was meant to 1.) inspire women to be politically active in the issues
that affected their lives and
2.) make sure that politicians paid attention to women’s lives–and look at how the laws ignored
women.
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3. Women’s Sense of Justice: The third is the question of women’s sense of justice, or what sort of
‘truth’ is involved in the traditional male argument that women are different from men and have an
undeveloped sense of the abstract and impartial objectivity that justice requires. Analyzing the
question of justice. Traditionally women have been portrayed to have an underdeveloped sense of
justice. Even before classical Greece, mythology proved tales and images of women as irrational,
unpredictable, emotional and earthy, as opposed to the qualities of balance, reason and distance
which men seemingly brought to deliberations. Civilizations is seen as the work of men, while
women are essential to sustain it both through reproduction, child care and softening and mending the
rough edges of male creativity.
How does feminist jurisprudence seek to address these issues?
(Please note: These are similar to the tactics discussed above)
 Feminist scholars highlight areas where the law either legitimates oppression or the discrimination of
females perhaps by enforcing a separation in areas of life activities, or not taking the violence done to
women seriously. (Remember Saving Face?)
 Providing a critiques of epistemology of traditional jurisprudence and attempts are made to change
the way areas of law are traditionally viewed.
 Undercutting the structure of abstract masculinity which is depicted as the organizing force of a great
deal of social, moral and political thought. The desire is to restructure the masculine response which
is tied up with statements claiming that it is objective, logical, extroverted, realistic, mechanical and
pragmatic.
 Writers bring women’s experiences directly into both theorizing and the practice of understanding the
law in reality
 Feminist scholarship tries to understand the dichotomies imposed by theory on the analysis of life
and to reject as artificial those that claim a naturalness or universality which are based on masculine
preconceptions
 Feminist scholars resist accepted or commonplace perceptions of the normality of standards since
these may be created under patriarchy- false to the ‘reality’ which we should aspire to
 Feminist scholarship often makes problematic any simple reliance on law to resolve social disputes.
For feminist jurisprudence the law (and the state) is male in its structure of rationality, decision
making and forms of resolution; thus law cannot be the answer to the problem of creating ‘just’ social
relation (in the notions of the rule of law, equality, rights, justice). This raises the issue of going
beyond law (thus the solution to rape is not anything the law can provide but an issue of structural
inequalities)
 Feminist strategies seek to illuminate and define the wrongs done to women neglected by traditional
perspectives. This can be done through letting in the range of voices , experiences of women and
others (particularly ethnic minority women to redefine the wrongs suffered by women

Lloyd on Feminism
Lloyd says that feminism focuses on:

 the analysis of law’s relationship to oppression. In particular to patriarchy.


 Feminist jurisprudence like the critical legal studies aims at the “basic” critique of the inherent logic
of the law, the indeterminacy and manipulation of doctrine, the role of law in legitimating particular
social relations, the illegitimate hierarchies created by law and legal institutions.
 That it is also necessarily a development from the women’s movement more generally. This emerged
with the writing of Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millet etc. To a large number of women studying law
also had its impact as female studies began to question a curriculum which neglected issues of central
concern to women: rape, domestic violence, reproduction, unequal pay, sex discrimination, sexual
harassment.

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 Feminist jurisprudence is a house with many rooms: in this it reflects the different movements in
feminist thought. But what unites feminist legal theorists is a belief that society, and necessarily legal
order is patriarchal. It looks at ways in which this patriarchy can be undermined and ultimately
eliminated. Therefore it delves on women’s subordination; exploring its nature and extent.
 It seeks to analyze the contribution of law in constructing, maintaining , reinforcing and
perpetuating patriarchy and it looks at ways in which this patriarchy can be undermined and
ultimately eliminated.

Clare Dalton has written of feminism that it is a “range of committed inquiry and activity
dedicated first, to describing women’s subordination – exploring its nature and extent;
dedicated second to asking both how- through what mechanisms, and why- for what complex
and interwoven reasons – women continue to occupy that position ; and dedicated third to
change.”

To engage in feminist legal thought is to use feminism to concentrate this inquiry and activity
on the legal system. The inquiry is feminist in that it is grounded in women’s concrete
experiences: the personal is the political.

What is Feminism about?

Equality and Difference: The early push for feminists was equality with men. But increasingly
questions began to be asked: do women want to be treated like men? does equality require
different treatment? are there more important values than equality? MacKinnon and Littleton
are critical of the traditional approach to equality. This traditional approach is perhaps best
represented in a classic article by a liberal feminist, Wendy Williams. Williams had argued
that feminists have only two choices: either equality on the basis of similarities between the
sexes or special treatment on the basis of sexual differences. She favoured the former, since
difference always means women’s difference, and this provides the basis for treating women
worse as well as better than men. But an equal treatment approach only benefits women who
meet male norms and not those who engage in female activities, childbearing and rearing
most notably.
Catherine MacKinnon is probably the most influential of feminist legal scholars. In the extract
from ‘Feminism Unmodified’ she argues that feminists should concentrate on identifying
dominance. This treats gender equality issues as questions about the distribution of power,
about male supremacy and female subordination. It is dominance not difference that is central
to MacKinnon. This conceptualization enables Mackinnon to broaden the focus of inquiry
beyond the orthodox terrain of work conditions to take in violence, prostitution and
pornography. She claims that the dominance approach is the authentic feminist voice: the
difference approach, she argues adopts the viewpoint of male supremacy on the status of the
sexes; the dominance approach sees social inequalities from the standpoint of the
subordination of women to men. And therefore for changes in the law that will end power
inequalities, in such areas as sexual harassment, violence and pornography. MacKinnon’s
article is a clarion call for equal power for women. But are all women alwasy subordinate to
men or always dominated by men in the same way? Is this also the experience of lesbians?
Does MacKinnon’s view refuse to acknowledge the positive aspects of difference, for example
those such as caring that is associated with motherhood? Is MacKinnon’s answer to this
satisfactory that “women value care because men have valued [women] according to the care
[they] give them?” (Feminism Unmodified)

MacKinnon has been criticized for perpetuating a stereotype of women as victims and for
embracing a deterministic vision of male-female relations (Finley). Nor does she offer much by
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way of a blueprint as to how power should be used by women once they have acquired it, (K.
Bartlett) though her own work on anti-pornography ordinances may offer a hint.

Women & Ideology: The argument that women suffer from “false consciousness”, or that their
choices are unconsciously determined by gender ideology, has tormented feminist theory.
Public and Private: It has been said that the dichotomy (a division or contrast between two
things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different) between the public
and private is ultimately what the feminist movement is about.
Domestic relations are left undealt with. For instance distancing the private sphere from the
public sphere by talking of the family as “private”, one is referring both to its being (supposed)
outside the authority of the state , and outside the scope of market relations. Neither is true.
Since power is deemed to be situated in the public arena, power relations in the domestic
sphere can be ignored. It is as if they do not exist.

Power differentials which are so central in domestic relations are overlooked. The political
nature of the family, as a place where we learn (or learn in part) our gendered selves, is
ignored.

[Q. Why is there so much emphasis on gender?


A. Sex = male and female: with respects to biological differences
Gender = masculine and feminine: the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine
or feminine
So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex
means in terms of your gender role as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in society can be quite different cross
culturally. These ‘gender roles’ have an impact on the definition of roles of an individual in society.
In sociological terms ‘gender role’ refers to the characteristics and behaviors that different cultures
attribute to the sexes. What it means to be a ‘real man’ in any culture requires male sex plus what our
various cultures define as masculine characteristics and behaviours, likewise a ‘real woman’ needs
female sex and feminine characteristics. To summarise:
‘man’ = male sex+ masculine social role
(a ‘real man’, ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’)
‘woman’ = female sex + feminine social role
(a ‘real woman’, ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’)]
Women are depoliticized (removed from political activity or influence) and their lives are
marginalized-only in the last 25 years (M.A. Fineman and R. Myskitiak, The Public Nature of
Private Violence 1994) has domestic violence assumed any political importance or abortion
entered the political consciousness ( S. Sheldon, Beyond Control- Medical Power and Abortion
Law 1997). The emphasis instead is on “public” wrongs and women’s injuries are often not
recognized or compensated as injuries by the “public” legal culture (R. West 1987)

The private sphere is, of course, permeated by government. And as Anita Allen points out, “To
the extent that the government is infused with patriarchal, heterosexual, ideas, men and
women’s privacy rights are likely to reflect patriarchal, heterosexual ideas of a private sphere.”

Cultural Pluralism & Women’s rights: One problem that feminism has had to confront is
addressed in the extract from Susan Moller that the right of minority cultures “to live according
to their own value systems” when these cultures appear to Western feminists to be detrimental
to women. How should a Western legal system respond? For eg. To polygamy or female
genital mutilation? If it allows these practices it may legitimate gender inequalities. Much
cultural behavior takes place in the private sphere.

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Coleman cites disturbing examples to demonstrate the consequences of allowing cultural
practices exemption from liberal rights and freedoms: the use of the so-called “cultural
defence” can lead to women being denied protection that would be taken for granted by
women within the dominant culture. According to Coleman- the cultural defense affords
substance equally between individuals by “invidualizing justice”. For Coleman, cultural
defenses are “eerily reminiscent of the history of gender and radical apartheid”. To Volpp,
Coleman’s thesis is premised on a view that the cultures of Asia and Africa “lag behind” the
West. Just as “maleness” has long been the norm, so it may be argued, Western culture is
now the standard by which to judge morally.

Feminist Legal Methods: Finley’s essay is an examination of the relationship between


language, power and the law. She argues that legal language and reasoning is gendered: it is
informed by men’s experiences and derived from the powerful social position of men, relative
to women. She emphasizes, much as Olsen does, the dualistic & polarized nature of this
thinking, and stresses that the claim that law is patriarchal does not mean that women have
been ignored by law, but the law’s cognition of women is refracted through the male eye rather
than through women’s experiences and definitions. Having argued that many of the projects
and themes of traditional jurisprudence and moral and political theory essentially derive from
the masculine experience of life; feminist writers offer counter-descriptions of life.

Radical vs. Liberal Feminist Legal Theory


Please remember that when you’re answering an exam question that requires you to compare and
contrast different schools of feminist legal thought, then don’t start off directly with the types of schools
and comparing them, it is recommended and super essential that you create an edifice for the
background first. Things like: ‘What is feminism?’ and ‘What is patriarchy?’ and how patriarchy
pervades most of the legal, social and political thought is something that needs an understanding and
thus you can discuss that along with discussing what Lloyd and Freeman, Morrison and other
academics do when they say that what unites legal feminists is the idea of patriarchy. There are certain
common grounds between different schools of feminism and patriarchy is one of the most important one.
For a detailed introduction to an understanding of patriarchy, please refer to the previous post: here.
The following are the notes compiled from various sources to make things simpler and understandable.
Examination question: Compare and contrast ‘radical’ and ‘liberal feminist’ approaches to law
and legal theory.
Before going on to analyze the fundamental differences between the Liberal and Radical Feminist
school of thought, and before we compare and contrast those two, it is important to first explain what
these schools are primarily about. So here we go:

WHAT IS LIBERAL FEMINISM?


“Who made men the exclusive judge, if women partake with him the gift of reason.”– Mary
Wollstonecraft
Liberals believed equality in the public sphere of life. For them men have more rights and power than women do and to counter
that they seek reforms through which equality can be established and maintained. Early liberal feminists also argued for eauality
in education, in the right to vote, in employment and wage rate and the limited right to terminate pregnancy and other rights
specifically in the private sphere which can put women on equal level with men.
This quote is quite pertinent to the liberal discussion: “Okay I’m a liberal. And sometimes that’s a dirty word. But what liberal
really means, is someone who believes that those who have more than enough should share a little with those who don’t. And

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those principles have consistently been in place during this country’s most prosperous times. So if that’s a liberal, then I am a
liberal, and hang me.” – Lisa Simpson
History:
Liberal feminists take the view on ‘Liberalism’ in the realm of feminism. Now Liberals generally
support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free
trade, and private property etc. The roots of Liberalism lie in The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the
Enlightenment or Age of Reason) which was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in late
17th- and 18th-century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. Thus it can
be said that Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality.
Liberal Feminism was most popular in the 1950’s and the 1960’s when many civil rights movements
were taking place. The main view of liberal feminists are that all people are created equal and deserve
equal rights.

Patricia A. Cain in ‘Feminism and the Limits of Equality’ described liberal feminist thought as:

1. Liberal Feminism: Liberal feminism is rooted in the belief that women as well as men are rights
bearing, autonomous human beings. Rationality, individual choice, equal rights and equal opportunity
are central concepts for liberal political theory. Early liberal feminists include Mary Wollstonecraft and
Harriet Taylor. The contemporary ones include academics such as Betty Friedan. The principle aim of
the liberal view of law is to uphold the rule of law: i.e. all people are equal before the law. The law is
seen as neutral and impartial amongst persons. It is irrelevant what sex or gender you are (also what
colour, ethnicity etc). Liberal feminism is viewed as the dominant theory behind Reed v Reed [Almost
forty years ago today, for the first time in its history, the Supreme Court held that a law that
discriminated against women violated the Constitution. In Reed v. Reed, a unanimous Court struck
down an Idaho law requiring the automatic preference of a man over a woman when both applied to be
the executor of an estate. The Court recognized that women had a constitutional right to equal
protection of the law, turning from a long list of previous rulings that allowed women to be excluded
from juries, or the legal profession, or even bartending, on the grounds that women needed to be
protected from the rough-and-tumble of the workplace or the public square, or confined to the sphere of
hearth and home]. Liberal feminists have been criticized by radical feminists for being concerned with
only equal pay in the public sphere. The equality argument that women are workers just like men.
The ‘sameness approach’ (i.e. treating men and women the same)- bringing women on the same
threshold as men- but how could this approach help in areas where men either can’t or usually don’t
relate: e.g. pregnancy, abortion, sexual violence?
Wayne Morison on Liberal feminism: The first wave of feminism argued for equality of treatment for
both men and women. Under the banner of liberal feminism women won most of their legislative and
judicial histories including the suffrage (right to vote), equal pay, benefits, access to employment and
education, the right to serve on juries and the limited right to choose to terminate pregnancy.
Equality:
Liberal feminism’s main goal has been the continual push for equality between men and women when it
comes to individual rights. Liberal feminism surpasses the traditional concept of “feminism” by
advocating the equality of all citizens. It just happens to advocate on the side of the women because out
of the two sexes, women are far more oppressed than men in societies across the globe.

The Equality Argument:


One of the earliest liberal feminists includes Mary Wollstonecraft whose academic writing and work is
considered as one of great credibility and significance as it is still relevant and pertinent today. Now
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highlighting the aforementioned quote by Mary Wollstonecraft, Liberal feminists believe that women
have the same mental capacity as their male counterparts and should be given the same
opportunities in the legal, political, economic and social spheres.

Liberal Feminists believe that equality is equal to equal opportunity


p.s.I drew this. My drawings will grow better with more practice and same
applies to your written answers btw.
Women should have the right to choose, not to have their life
chosen for them on the basis of their sex. They are as rational
creatures, autonomous, rights bearing human beings as much
as men are. To create the level of equality, liberals assert that woman are equal to men and that men are
equal to women and thus essentially women must be like men.

A liberal feminist would not necessarily push for liberation on behalf of women specifically, but instead
would push towards giving women an equal connotation as men in relation to status and individual
rights. In essence, a liberal feminist does not want to propel women above men, as that would result in
the same injustice (except in reverse) that they are fighting so adamantly against, but instead want men
and women to be viewed with equal connotation of status.

Liberalism and Law:


Liberal feminists create and support acts of legislation that remove barriers for these women so that a
level of equality can be established. These acts of legislation demand equal opportunities and rights for
women, including equal access to jobs and equal pay. Liberal feminists believe that removing these
barriers directly challenges the ideologies of patriarchy, as well as this liberates women.

Liberal feminists are responsible for many important acts of legislation that have greatly increased the
status of women, including reforms in welfare, education and health. Unfortunately Liberal feminism
has been known to only concentrate on the legislation aspect in the fight against patriarchy. It has been
criticized for not breaking down the deeper ideologies of society and patriarchy. Also, it has been
criticized for ignoring race and class issues.

Summary of Liberal Feminism:


 Rooted in the belief that women as well as men are: rights bearing and autonomous human beings
 Central concepts for liberal feminism are that all human beings, i.e. both females and males are:
rational human beings, practicing their individual choice, are rights bearing individuals who possess
equal rights and that both sexes should be given equal opportunity
 Early liberal feminists include Mary Wollstonecraft and Hariet Taylor
 The principal aim of the liberal view of law is to uphold the rule of law: i.e all people should be equal
before the law
 Law is seen as neutral and impartial amongst persons
 Liberal feminism is the dominant theory behind the case: Reed v Reed (1971) – the first equal
protection case decided favourably for women in the US Supreme Court- where the court saw that
men and women are equally situated.
 Morrison claims that under the banner of liberal feminism, women won most of their legislative and
judicial histories including the suffrage (right to vote), equal pay, benefits, access to employment and
education, the right to serve on juries and the limited right to choose to terminate pregnancy.
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WHAT IS RADICAL FEMINISM?
Radical feminism is a philosophy emphasizing the patriarchal roots of inequality between men and
women, or, more specifically, social dominance of women by men. Radical feminism views patriarchy
as dividing rights, privileges and power primarily by gender, and as a result oppressing women and

privileging men.
Radical Feminists are strongly averse to the Equality argument posed by the Liberal Feminists. Read on and you’ll find out why.
Radical feminists tend to be more militant in their approach (radical as “getting to the root”). Radical
feminism opposes existing political and social organization in general because it is inherently tied to
patriarchy. Thus, radical feminists tend to be skeptical of political action within the current system, and
instead support cultural change that undermines patriarchy and associated hierarchical structures.

Radical feminism opposes patriarchy, not men.

Gender Injustice
Radical feminism as the name entails, has a mere radical stance on inequality between men and women.
A radical feminist would argue that the favouring of men over women in modern society can not be
quickly fixed due to the long rooted mindset of male superiority that has plagued the human race since
the beginning of time. With that said, and in contrast to liberal feminism, a radical feminist would argue
that a widespread social revolution on behalf of women can be conquered through liberation of all
women.

Equality Argument Is Not Sustainable


In order to accomplish this goal, a fundamental change in values will need to be set in motion. Women
will need to be given equal respect and credit for their traditional role in the home as men are given for
their role in the public realm as government officials and professionals of society. Put more
simply, women should not need to change their traditional role to that of a man’s in order to
achieve equality, but should instead be valued for the roles that they do traditionally hold.
Radical feminism promotes the basis for the many ideas of feminism, because radical feminists believe
that society must be changed at its core and in order to dissolve patriarchy, and this cannot be achieved
solely on the basis of acts of legislation.

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Radical feminists believe that the domination of women is the oldest and worst kind of oppression in the
world. Radical feminists want to free both men and women from the rigid gender roles that society has
imposed upon them. For its is the sex-gender system that has created oppression and radical feminists
mission is to overthrow this system by any possible means.

Patricia C. Cain on Radical Feminism:


2. Radical Feminism: Patricia says that Radical feminism is not easily defined because it takes many
forms. For many purposes it will be sufficient to contrast radical feminist thought with liberal feminist
thought. Radical feminists focus on women as a class, typically as a class that is dominated by another
class known as men. Radical feminists in the legal academy include Catherine MacKinnon and
Christine Littleton. Catherine MacKinnon argues that because men have defined women as different,
equality arguments cannot succeed. In MacKinnon’s view, “an equality is a question of distribution of
power”. The most important difference between men and women is the difference in power. Men
dominate women. Men have been in control for so long that legal discourse completely ignores the
reality of women’s lives. Using the tools of domination and sexual subordination instead of equality,
radical feminists in the MacKinnon camp argue for changes in law that will end the inequality in power.
Sex equality in this view affirmatively requires protecting women from such things as sexual
harassment, rape and battering by men. An extension of this theory is used to justify a ban on
pornography because pornography is thought to contribute towards women’s sexual subordination.
Some liberal feminists question parts of radical feminist agenda on grounds that special protections for
women often lead to inequality. The most serious disagreement between liberal and radical feminists is
over pornography. Pornography in the view of the radicals is male created and it defines women as a
sexual object.
Lloyd on Radical Feminism:
Equality and Difference: The early push for feminists was equality with men. But increasingly
questions began to be asked: do women want to be treated like men? does equality require different
treatment? are there more important values than equality? MacKinnon and Littleton are critical of the
traditional approach to equality. This traditional approach is perhaps best represented in a classic article
by a liberal feminist, Wendy Williams. Williams had argued that feminists have only two choices: either
equality on the basis of similarities between the sexes or special treatment on the basis of sexual
differences. She favoured the former, since difference always means women’s difference, and this
provides the basis for treating women worse as well as better than men. But an equal treatment approach
only benefits women who meet male norms and not those who engage in female activities, childbearing
and rearing most notably.
Catherine MacKinnon is probably the most influential of feminist legal scholars. In the extract from
‘Feminism Unmodified’ she argues that feminists should concentrate on identifying dominance. This
treats gender equality issues as questions about the distribution of power, about male supremacy and
female subordination. It is dominance not difference that is central to MacKinnon. This
conceptualization enables Mackinnon to broaden the focus of inquiry beyond the orthodox terrain of
work conditions to take in violence, prostitution and pornography. She claims that the dominance
approach is the authentic feminist voice; the difference approach, she argues adopts the viewpoint of
male supremacy on the status of the sexes; the dominance approach sees social inequalities from the
standpoint of the subordination of women to men. And therefore for changes in the law that will end
power inequalities, in such areas as sexual harassment, violence and pornography. MacKinnon’s article
is a clarion call for equal power for women. But are all women always subordinate to men or always
dominated by men in the same way? Is this also the experience of lesbians? Does MacKinnon’s view
refuse to acknowledge the positive aspects of difference, for example those such as caring that is
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associated with motherhood? Is MacKinnon’s answer to this satisfactory that “women value care
because men have valued [women] according to the care [they] give them?” (Feminism Unmodified)
MacKinnon has been criticized for perpetuating a stereotype of women as victims and for embracing a
deterministic vision of male-female relations (Finley). Nor does she offer much by way of a blueprint as
to how power should be used by women once they have acquired it, (K. Bartlett) though her own work
on anti-pornography ordinances may offer a hint.

Public and Private: Please note that the radicals emphasize on the need to consider the private sphere.
It has been said that the dichotomy (a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented
as being opposed or entirely different) between the public and private is ultimately what the feminist
movement is about. Domestic relations are left undealt with. For instance distancing the private sphere
from the public sphere by talking of the family as “private”, one is referring both to its being (supposed)
outside the authority of the state , and outside the scope of market relations. Neither is true. Since power
is deemed to be situated in the public arena, power relations in the domestic sphere can be ignored. It is
as if they do not exist.Power differentials which are so central in domestic relations are overlooked. The
political nature of the family, as a place where we learn (or learn in part) our gendered selves, is
ignored.
[Q. Why is there so much emphasis on gender?
A. Sex = male and female: with respects to biological differences
Gender = masculine and feminine: the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine
or feminine
So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex
means in terms of your gender role as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in society can be quite different cross
culturally. These ‘gender roles’ have an impact on the definition of roles of an individual in society.
In sociological terms ‘gender role’ refers to the characteristics and behaviors that different cultures
attribute to the sexes. What it means to be a ‘real man’ in any culture requires male sex plus what our
various cultures define as masculine characteristics and behaviours, likewise a ‘real woman’ needs
female sex and feminine characteristics.
To summarise:
‘man’ = male sex+ masculine social role
(a ‘real man’, ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’)
‘woman’ = female sex + feminine social role
(a ‘real woman’, ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’)]
Women are depoliticized (removed from political activity or influence) and their lives are marginalized-
only in the last 25 years (M.A. Fineman and R. Myskitiak, The Public Nature of Private Violence 1994)
has domestic violence assumed any political importance or abortion entered the political consciousness (
S. Sheldon, Beyond Control- Medical Power and Abortion Law 1997). The emphasis instead is on
“public” wrongs and women’s injuries are often not recognized or compensated as injuries by the
“public” legal culture (R. West 1987)

Feminist Legal Methods: Finley’s essay is an examination of the relationship between language, power
and the law. She argues that legal language and reasoning is gendered: it is informed by men’s
experiences and derived from the powerful social position of men, relative to women. She emphasizes,
much as Olsen does, the polarized nature of this thinking, and stresses that the claim that law is
patriarchal does not mean that women have been ignored by law, but the law’s cognition of women is
refracted through the male eye rather than through women’s experiences and definitions.

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Summary of Radical Feminism:
 Patricia A. Cain says that Radical Feminism is not easily defined because it takes many forms.
 Radical feminists focus upon women as a class, typically as a class that is dominated by men
 Radical Feminists in the legal academy include Catherine MacKinnon and Christine Littleton
 Catherine MacKinnon argues that because men have defined women as different, equality arguments
cannot succeed. In MacKinnon’s view, “equality is a question of distribution of power”. For them,
the most important difference between men and women is the difference in power
 Men dominate women. Men have been in control for so long that the legal discourse completely
ignores the reality of women’s lives
 Using the tools of domination and sexual subordination instead of equality, radical feminists in the
MacKinnon’s camp argue for change in law that will end the inequality in power

Radical Feminism vs. Liberal Feminism

There are certain fundamental differences between Radical and Liberal Feminists and amongst them
some of the major ones are these:

1. RIGHTS:
 Radical feminists grow restive when liberals talk about rights.
 Liberals case rests on rights, and the failure by society to accord women the rights to which they are
entitled
 Radicals say that the liberals demand in seeking rights and opportunities fail to address more
fundamental issues about what ought to be protected. In the pursuit of securing rights too often
channels the promotion of individual aspirations. And thus , this individualistic framework ill serves
the values of cooperation and empathy that feminists find lacking in our current legal culture.
 Radical feminists also argue that the rights that liberals seek are too often ones that do no more than
protect predominately white, middle class interests
2. OBJECTIVITY:
 Liberalism accepts without criticism the reasoning process of the law with the rationality that has
developed the society already
 Radical feminists reject this approach since they believe that the reasoning structure of law is
congruent with the experiences of men especially white males
 Radicals say that law strives for rules that are universal, objective and neutral. There is a connection
between power and knowledge. The language of neutrality has silenced, excluded and marginalized
law to comprehend women’s definitions
 Finely says, :”Thus within the language and reasoning system, alternative voices to the one labelled
objective are that of the women’s and are suspected as biased
 By liberalism, objectivity is respected. Liberalism looks at things from the outside and from what it
observes, draws conclusions
 Radical feminism embraces subjectivity, it acknowledges without apology that it is involved and
interested: that it looks at matters from the inside; that it makes no attempt to ‘separate the observer
and the observed’
4. PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SPHERE:

 Radicals say that the equality argument posed by the liberals is male determined. Also that the
liberals discuss the importance of emancipating women in the public sphere, whereas the law should
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interfere in the private sphere as well as most exploitation occurs in the private sphere because
exploitation takes many forms – it varies as economic, political, legal exploitation, but the worst form
of exploitation is gender exploitation which is also a power struggle and thus most power lies with
men. Thus if the liberals focus on the public dimension then how can they not be cognizant of the
fact that most women and girls suffer in the private sphere and this area should not be left
unregulated.
 Liberal feminists have tended to concentrate on public issues such as discrimination against women
over pregnancy whether pregnancy should be a reason for dismissal, whether time off should be
given for pregnancy, and the effects of the possibility of pregnancy on job applications and job
prospects
 Radical feminists while not discounting the importance of public issues, have looked more towards
issues that effect women’s private lives such as protection against harassment, as in the form of being
whistled at in the street, degradation and exploitation and pornography, battery and rape within
marriage [Patricia A. Cain: Feminism and the Limits of Equality(1990)]
 Radicals have paid particular attention to the effect of patriarchy on women’s private lives. It needs
to be shown how patriarchy fails to recognize the economic value of the contribution of women
constituted by child rearing and housework. It needs to show that abortion is not infanticide but an act
by a woman of self defence against the invasion by the other – i.e. the foetus case Roe v Wade
4. PORNOGRAPHY:
 Liberal feminists believe that sexual exploitation should be deplored and outlawed but that voluntary
pornography should not be restricted as it suppress individual rights, freedom and choice
 Radical feminists believe that pornography should be outlawed or at least restricted and rigidly
confronted as some situations exist which demand and seek voluntary pornography might be
situations which are camouflaged as human trafficking etc in the garb of pornography
 They also believe that women need to be protected from this false consciousness that they live with.
Thus for radicals, pornography is so-called voluntary and is not really a woman’s choice. Women are
under a false consciousness and thus they need to be protected from the influence of patriarchy which
also dominates all spheres of their lives
 Catherine Mackinnon is best known for her writing on pornography. In “Feminism Unmodified“, she
highlights the exploitation of women through pornography. According to her, researchers who found
that men who consumed pornography – even the ‘non-violent’ variety care to see women as more
worthless and object like and thus they become more tolerant of rape and violence directed against
them. Moreover, pornography invades its victim’s ‘civil rights’ defining it as the “graphically
sexually explicit subjugation of women”
Taking this debate further, liberal feminists have tended to pay attention to the similarities between men
and women, arguing “We are in all essential, the same as you, we have no less an intelligence, no fewer
talents, no fewer capabilities, so why should we be treated differently, as inferiors? For instance, why
should women who drive buses get lower wages than men?

Radical feminists point to the weakness of this line of attack- it only holds good in cases where women
are the same as men, for example as regards physical strength. But men and women are not similarly
situated. In particular, women may become pregnant. Why should this difference put them at a
disadvantage?

Radical feminists focus attention on the differences between men and women and argue that ‘we
recognize the differences between men and women exist, but what justification is there for any such
differences being treated as a reason for women to be disadvantaged?
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Socialist feminism

Socialist feminism, which connected the oppression of women to other oppressions in society,
became increasingly important in the feminist theory that crystallized into academic feminist
thought during the 1970s. How was socialist feminism different from other kinds of feminism?

Socialist Feminism vs. Cultural Feminism

Socialist feminism was often contrasted with cultural feminism, which focused on the unique
nature of women and highlighted the need for woman-affirming culture.
Cultural feminism was seen as essentialist: it recognized an essential nature of women that was
unique to the female sex. Cultural feminists were sometimes criticized for being separatist if they
tried to keep women's music, women's art and women's studies apart from mainstream culture.
The theory of socialist feminism, on the other hand, sought to avoid separating feminism from the
rest of society. Socialist feminists in the 1970s preferred to integrate their struggle against women's
oppression with the struggle against other injustice based on race, class or economic status.
Socialist feminists wanted to work with men to correct the inequities between men and women.

Socialist Feminism vs. Liberal Feminism

However, socialist feminism was also distinct from liberal feminism, such as that of the National
Organization for Women (NOW). Socialist feminists critiqued the idea that true equality was
possible in a society built on inequality whose structure was fundamentally flawed. This criticism
was similar to the feminist theory of radical feminists.

Socialist Feminism vs. Radical Feminism

However, socialist feminism was also distinct from radical feminism because socialist feminists
rejected the radical feminist notion that the sex discrimination women faced was the source of all
of their oppression.
Radical feminists, by definition, sought to get at the root of oppression in society in order to
drastically change things. In a male-dominated patriarchal society, they saw that root as
oppression of women. Socialist feminists were more likely to describe oppression based on gender
as one piece of the struggle.

Socialist Feminism vs. Socialism or Marxism

The critique of Marxism and conventional socialism by socialist feminists is that Marxism and
socialism largely reduce women's inequality to something incidental and created by economic
inequality or the class system. Because the oppression of women predates the development of
capitalism, socialist feminists argue that women's oppression cannot be created by class
division. Socialist feminists also argue that without dismantling women's oppression, the
capitalist hierarchical system cannot be dismantled. Socialism and Marxism are primarily about
liberation in the public realm, especially the economic realm of life, and socialist feminism
acknowledges a psychological and personal dimension to liberation that is not always present in
Marxism and socialism. Simone de Beauvoir, for example, had argued that women's liberation
would come primarily through economic equality.

The Basics of SOCIALIST FEMINISM

Socialist feminism is a young feminist movement, born in the 1970’s. To understand socialist
feminism, one must understand praxis. Praxis is a Marxist concept meaning the ability humans
have to consciously change the environment in order to meet their needs. Socialist feminists, like
Marxist feminists, hold that praxis is the one thing universal to all humans. Unlike Marxist
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feminists, socialist feminists hold that praxis has gender specific forms and extends to the private
sphere of life. The private sphere of life is that of the home and the work that the woman (typically)
does in giving birth to children, raising children, and maintaining the household.

Socialist feminists agree with radical feminists in the idea that gender roles need to be abolished.
But they see gender and sexuality as social constructs both capable of transformation. While they
acknowledge that biology does play a role in determining personality (as previously stated),
anatomy does not confine or limit our capabilities as human beings on an emotional or a physical
level.

Like Marxists, socialist feminists see capitalism as a major factor in women?s oppression, as well
as in the oppression of other minority groups. Unlike Marxist feminists, however, socialist feminists
believe that capitalism is only one of many intertwined factors that contribute to women?s
oppression. Other factors include male dominance, racism, and imperialism. However, because
women?s work (within and outside of the home) is not as valued as that of their male counterparts,
women are forced to remain dependent upon males. For example, although a woman who is both
a wife and a mother works 20 hours a day within her home, she is not monetarily compensated,
and is therefore unable to gain equal status with her husband, who works 9 hours a day and is
paid. Socialist feminism provides an answer to the problem of women?s poverty: the destruction of
class distinctions.
Unlike Marxist feminist theory, socialist feminists believe that the home is not just a place of
consumption, but of production as well. Women?s work within the home, having and raising
children, as well as supporting men by doing cooking, cleaning, and other forms of housework
which permit men to work outside the home, are all forms of production because they contribute to
society at large. Production, according to socialist feminists, should not be measured in dollars,
but rather in social worth.

The Goals of SOCIALIST FEMINISM

"Put more emphasis on making alliances with other oppressed groups and classes ? anti-imperialist
movements, workers? organizations, the political parties to the left. They [socialist feminists] were
engaged in a permanent dialogue ? sometimes exhausting, sometimes exhilarating ? with the
progressive men in these organizations about the meaning and importance of the feminist struggle,
about the way gender oppression is reflected and reinforced within personal and family relationships ?
within the very structure of liberal movements and parties." -Introducing Feminism, Watkins, Reuda &
Rodriguez
Socialist feminists propose the complete eradication of all political, economic and social foundations of
contemporary society. Specifically, education, work, sexuality and parenting must undergo thorough
transformations. Sexual division of labor, which locks men and women into stereotypical occupational
categories, must cease. Women should be permitted, respected and valued for all types of work within
traditionally male as well as female fields, and adequately compensated for such work. They should be
free from economic and gender specific constraints, even if it means reorganizing the family structure
of sharing of child rearing responsibilities. They should be also be reunited with the fruits of their labor,
by ending the alienation produced when they are forced to tailor their goals, personalities, and very
lives to the wishes of men.
Alienation refers to relationships that are naturally interdependent but have been artificially separated
or placed in opposition. Socialist feminists have adopted the Marxist concept of alienation to describe
the situation of women in the world. Unlike Marxist feminists who only consider alienation in the
workplace, socialist feminists also apply alienation to women's work in the home.
Socialist feminist activism differs from other forms of feminist activism in that it focuses a great deal on
collaborating with other oppressed groups. Feminism has frequently been condemned as exclusionary
representing only white heterosexual middle class women. But socialist feminists are inclusive,
however. They include all groups that suffer as a result of capitalism, male dominance, or
discrimination in their fight.

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