An Analytical Study of Feminism

Introduction to Feminism

In the sixties, an explosion of print had disseminated a message of liberation. For women, said the brochures, the lesson was obvious. To be free, she must actively resist her conditioning by being sexually assertive, ambitious, and a doer.

The ideology underlying the message of liberation was called feminism. Efforts to clarify and propagate the new creed have resulted in numerous articles, tracts, pamphlets, a publishing house producing women’s liberation books, television programs, and sponsored courses, meetings, and workshops.

The role of the new feminists, women trying to upset the established scheme of things, is praised by some, excoriated by others, and indeed feared for what it might do to family structure, the existing social order, and aesthetic sensibility.

The analysis of the feminists, particularly the radical type, is quite involved and complex; its logical structure is rarely, if ever, made explicit or presented in any scholarly manner. In the rest of my paper, it will be my aim to correct this and, at the same time, to sharpen the questions that can be posed concerning the different aspects of the women’s liberation movement.

Definition and Origins

Since the beginning of the debate on the distinctive features of the male and female sex, many social theorists have contributed to discuss about sex and gender are rooted in biological attributes and/or social determination.

In general, two theories about reason and sense of gender have been highlighted: the cultural and the genetic determination theories. While the latter affirm that the attitudes and attributes of the male and female sex are caused by specific genetic constellation, the former emphasize that the social identity of the individuals – including both sex and gender – is shaped and transformed through communication. The cultural and the genetic factors explain different aspects of the process of gender determination, focusing on specific conditions and periods of the development of the individual.

The most relevant theory in the research on gender issue is without a doubt the one elaborated by the social constructivists. This approach supports the thesis that both sex and gender are cultural and social constructs and not naturally distinguished meanings.

As presented by Lorber, gender is not related to sex (male/female). It is inferred through specific socio-cultural mechanisms, creating and structuring their own cultural meanings. From a social constructivist perspective, gender is regarded as a cultural element naturally shaped through the members of an organization.

The female lives and works in a society that mirrors and gives suggestions, indications, definitions on the distinction between male and female. These definitions influence the individuals in multiple ways; through the gender codes both the society and the organizations outline the identities and provide the instruments to organize the behaviour, the attitudes, and the value of the female lives.

Feminism was launched as a fact of both the political and the intellectual debate of the Victorian age. With the extension of the industrial revolution, a substantial and largely invisible workforce appeared, working, often for extremely long hours, in conditions of extreme hardship and in some cases in grave physical danger.

This group was the women and girls of the industrial age working, for the most part in the textile industries, but also, in a diminished way in the coal or iron mines, where good eyesight was required for picking coal from stones or iron from slag. By 1834, these women, with their children, made up half of the labor force. Known as “breadwinners” or “pauper apprentices”, these women might otherwise be doing no work at all; their wages lowered the wages of the men in heavy industry.

This new workforce appeared like an alien presence on the social horizon, generating bewilderment and fear, even hatred, and yet it was also part of a movement towards a more egalitarian social structure, and at base, no one and nothing could restrain it.

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