FEMISM AND INEQUALITY IN SOCIETY
Feminism and Equality in the 20th Century
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Equality of women and men is not something that occurred overnight. Instead, it has been a long process where a myriad of changes have happened to get where the issue currently is. Feminism, and feminist movements of the past two centuries have intended to use the female body as a beacon where women can rally and understand that their fight has to start by harnessing and recognizing their selves. Part of the patriarchal narrative considers women as inferior given both sexes gender differences. By using the female body as a symbol, feminist movements look forward to showing men there are equal yet different.
Keywords: Feminism, female body, patriarchy
What is feminism, and what makes a person a feminist? Before starting on the subject, it is important to lay a conceptual framework that answers these primordial questions regarding the importance of women in the American history. However, this essay is not focused on how women are essential for the country’s history. Instead, the research focuses on how the image of the female body, and all its connotations have been used by the feminist movement through the years as a way to empower women and raise awareness of the existent gender gap in the country.
The word feminist as known by the mass media, and the general population carries a myriad of connotations, and a series of perceived stigmas that mark feminism as “dangerous” or “controversial” (Offen, 1988). In the same light, mass media has portrayed women’s rights movements as problematic, and that notion continues to exist today, difficulting any investigation on women and their history.
To achieve a “complete” definition of feminism would be an endeavor longer than the pages available. That is why this investigation will use the most thorough definition on hand. This research takes for valid the French-American feminist tradition where feminism is defined as.
“Feminism opposes women’s subordination to men in the family and society, along with men’s claims to define what is best for women without consulting them; it thereby offers a frontal challenge to patriarchal thought, social organization, and control mechanisms. It seeks to destroy masculinist hierarchy but not sexual dualism.” (Offen, 1988)
Scope of the Problem
Throughout the years, the female body has become a fighting ground between feminists and patriarchy. To truly achieve equality and fight against the inequity, women have had to start a movement of self-recognition of the female body as a source of identity.
Feminism in the 20th Century
Scholars have identified three “waves” of feminism in the country (Krolokke & Sorensen, 2006). All three were politic in their intentions. While the first aimed for more presence of women in the society, looking forward to attaining fundamental rights such as the suffrage, the last two centered in the body as the main core of the feminist rhetoric. This means that the body should be respected, and not used as an image to entice. In the same way, the 1960s gave birth to a new generation of feminists who considered their body as something of their “own”; rendering sexuality as something disconnected from marriage and motherhood (Krolokke and Sorensen, 2006). Currently, the so-called “third wave” of feminism focuses more on online activism, embracing strategies of inclusion and exploration of women’s body and sexuality, regardless race; age and sexuality. Fighting the dehumanizing effects of globalization and reunifying women.
Feminism and Inequality
Most of the criticisms of women are based on the gender differences, and a great deal of the gender’s gaps is founded on the sexed differences between men and women. That way, to be able to fix the gender gap, feminists deemed necessary to raise awareness of the idea of the body being something of “their own.” If men founded their superiority in terms of the body, women had to take account of theirs as a way to make the patriarchy understand they had the same rights.
Contemporary philosophers have emphasized the importance of the body and the dichotomy of the body as something biological and determined, or as a social and cultural construct. To feminists such as Susan Bordo, females have been subjugated through their bodies thanks to the gender ideologies and sexist reasoning proposed by the patriarchy (King, 2004). This difference stems from the philosophers of Ancient Greece to modern philosophy at least. A great part of the body rhetoric used against women during most history has measured women bodies against the male norm. This has caused that women were seen throughout the history as “less than a man.”
Another part of the positions of women based in the body is found in the biologic criteria set by men to declare women as inferior. Given the fact of the biologic differences between both sexes, men have always been considered superior. Men have historically been regarded as moral and rational while women represent nature and emotions. Marking the latter as biologically inferior and incapable of undertaking the same works and conditions man had. This lead to feminists such as Sojourn Truth to state in 1851
“I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash a well! And ain’t I a woman? (Truth, 1851)
Truth’s words addressed the perceived differences between man and woman and showed men than women were equally capable of undertaking those areas reserved for men in the society. Furthermore, her words show one of the first uses of the body and the adherence to the body as part of the womanhood in the feminist narrative, sparking a wave of intends to make information about planned parenthood available for everybody in the country as a way for women to inform about their sexual health. Strictly speaking, the body refers not only to the sex, or the gender but to a social construction of what is ours, to where we belong.
However, despite women’s self-recognition of the female body, governments have been slow to recognize what women considered theirs rightfully. In the same way, not only the countries and governments tell women how they should do about their bodies, but society tells them how they should feel. According to Simone de Beauvoir, the objectification of women by men by imposing stereotypes of clothing and bodies aimed to augment their incapacity and paralyzing them, thus rendering them an object; a man’s propriety (de Beauvoir, 1988).
Then, it was a women’s primary concern regaining the control over their bodies, which has sparked many demonstrations against the bans on abortion and planned parenthood. Third wave feminists consider that the right to have or not children is a right that any woman should have, and the government should not interfere.
The female body has taken many forms in feminist narrative, but they all emphasize harnessing the power of the body as a way of self-recognition and awareness. The body is one of the main pillars of the identity in feminist discourse and is one of the most important issues in the movement’s agenda. On the other hand, while patriarchal oppression is still rampant in many areas, there have been many advances regarding the gender gap in the country. However, although the government support and the feminists’ movements efforts in recovering their will and their power to decide in how they have sex, some bigotry still exists. Nevertheless, modern public is more prone to embrace and appreciate the differences and similitudes of both genders, rather than finding ways to uphold the patriarchal norm. However, there exists the inescapable situation of our sexes. People do not choose their sex, which makes some pitfalls and difficulties very hard to fix, or come around.
It seems the body as a social construction is the only way we have to assess our differences and to embrace them. However, the search for the women’s identity does not stop here; history has shown that humanity will always look for what they are and how they live. Harnessing their bodies’ identities is one of the first steps women have to take in order to regain control of their lives. By disallowing men and governments from ruling over their choices, women have taken the first steps in being completely free from patriarchal oppression. Showing how feminist movements have used the body as an image of freedom and happiness instead of one of burden and pain gives women the opportunity of understanding that their lives are not only meant to be an endless succession of childbirths and work. Women have choices, and the choice over their bodies is the first and foremost.
Although these ideas might seem quite obvious nowadays, just a few decades ago, things were completely different. That way, without the effort of feminists and regular women, patriarchy would have remained as the driving force of their lives.
De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex;. London: Picador, 1988. Print.
King, A. “The Prisoner of Gender: Foucault and the Disciplining of the Female Body.” Journal of International Women’s Studies 5.2 (2004): 29-39. Bridgewater State University. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. <http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1532&context=jiws>.
Krolokke, C., and A.S. Sorensen. “Three Waves of Feminism: From Suffragettes to Grrls.” Gender Communication Theories & Analyses from Silence to Performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. Print.
Offen, K. “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society Signs 14.1 (1988): 119. JSTOR. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. <http://drbeardmoose.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/whatisfeminism.pdf>.
Truth, S. “Speech at Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio Quoted by Frances D. Gage.” History of Woman. Vol. 1. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1851.Print.
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