Discuss the sex/gender debate in feminism.
Question 7. Discuss the sex/gender debate in feminism.
What is meant by ‘the personal is political’ in feminist political theory?
Personal is political. Explain it with reference to the feminist perspective.
Examine the radical feminist perspective on patriarchy.
Answer – Introduction
The term ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are concepts used by academicians, researchers and feminist writers to make a distinction between the biologically different ‘male’ and ‘female’ and between the socially different ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Feminist sociologists suggest that there is a need to understand and distinguish between the two terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in academic discourses and writings.
In a very broad way, ‘sex’ refers to the biological and physiological differences between male and female sex. The term sex is a physical differentiation between the biological male and the biological female. Thus, when an infant is born, the infant comes to be labeled “boy” or “girl” depending on their sex. The genital differences between male and female is the basis of such characterization. There is a biological difference between the sexes and most people are born (expect for a few ambiguous cases) as one sex or another. However, it has been argued that having been born into one sex or another, individuals are then socialized according to specific gender expectations and roles. Biological males learn to take on masculine roles. They are socialized to think and act in masculine ways. Biological females learn to take on feminine roles. They are socialized to think and behave in feminine ways. As the feminist writer Simone de Behaviour puts it ‘one is not born a man but becomes one’, ‘one is not born a woman but becomes one’.
At birth, besides the basic biological differences in the genitals and reproductive organs, there is not much difference between the male child and the female child. Society makes the differences between boy and girl through gender constructions. The biological differences between the sexes does to some extent explain certain psychological and socially constructed differences. This view is criticized by some feminist writers like Judith Butler.
Judith Butler argues that sex is natural and comes first. Gender is perceived as a secondary construct which is imposed over the top of this natural distinction. Viewed thus, Butler argues ‘sex’ itself becomes a social category. This means that the distinction between ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a social distinction made by the society, that is, it is a social construction. It is a particular way of perceiving and dividing the differences between ‘male’, ‘female’. Butler explains that ‘sex’ though seen as biological, is as much a product of society as its gender. So the term sex is also socially constructed.
In The concept of gender in feminist writings and other sociological discourses became popular in the early 1970. simple terms, gender explain the differences between men and women in social terms as men, and as what a man can do; as ‘woman’, and as what a woman can or cannot do. Therefore, gender is a analytical category that is socially constructed to differentiate the biological difference between men and women. The term gender is also used to describe the differences in behaviour between men and women which are described as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Feminist writings focus on this aspect and claim that these differences are not biological but are social constructions of patriarchal society.
Some theorists suggest that the biological differences between men and women also result in their mental and physical differences. They argue that biologically, men are physically and mentally superior to women. Other theorists suggest that the biological difference between men and women are exaggerated. The differences are socially constructed by the patriarchal system of society by which men are described as superior to women. Therefore, women become subordinate to men in the society.
Ann Oakley in her book, sex, gender and Society written in 1972 explores the term gender. Oakley says that in the Western culture women play the roles of the ‘housewife’ and ‘mother’. This is because women are made to play these roles because of their biology. The western culture also believes that any effort to change the traditional roles of men and women in the society can cause damage to the social fabric of the society. Oakley concludes that this view regarding the roles of men and women helps to support and maintain the patriarchal society.
Simone de Beauvoir in her book ‘The Second Sex’ says that “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman”. She explains that gender differences in the society make the man superior through his role as the bread winner. It gives him a position of power in the society and family. Gender differences are set in hierarchal opposition such that men are superior and women are subordinate. Women’s position is that of the ‘other’ and women are the continual outsiders. Civilization was masculine to its very depth.
Meaning of The Personal is Political
The Personal is Political is a campaign slogan that expresses the feminist notion that women’s personal experiences are rooted in and shaped by their political circumstances and gender inequality. Although the original author of The Personal is Political is unknown, Carol Hanisch, a radical feminist and a prominent member of New York Radical Women and the Redstockings, popularised the phrase in a 1969 essay. The essay describes how women’s experience of oppression, individually and as a group, is shaped by the social, economic, and political structure beyond their control.
The Personal is Political and Feminism
While the first wave of feminism brought about women’s right to vote and work, women remained unhappy with their roles in their personal and domestic lives. At the time, this dissatisfaction was viewed as unimportant and politically irrelevant. That changed with The Personal is Political concept, which corresponded with the second wave of feminism. The concept served as a game-changer, helping prove that personal issues are political issues and that both the personal and political correlates and affect one another.
The Political Impact of The Personal is Political
- The phrase The Personal is Political had a significant impact on second-wave feminism. It helped define the evolution of social analyses and ideas, inspired new types of movements, and broadened the set of issues classified as feminist. For example, the political impact of The Personal is Political slogan was central to creating groups that raised awareness about feminism and its ideas. These groups met to share their personal experiences on issues relevant to feminism and women’s experiences, such as careers and parenting. These groups generated knowledge based on their experiences for future activist movements.
- These awareness-raising groups, according to Hanisch, were a type of political action. She underlines that any connection with a power dynamic even domestic is a political relationship. During feminism’s second wave, a significant turning point was women’s recognition that their difficulties had a more powerful political component in response to claims that women were to blame for their predicament. Hanisch argued that the interaction of theory and practice was the key to developing good theory.
- In the late 1960s, the student movement and second-wave feminism coined The Personal is Political. In doing so, they highlighted the ties between human experience and more prominent social and political structures. It was in effect, a defiance of the traditional family ideals that were in place during the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical re-ordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts, while recognizing that women’s experiences are also affected by other social divisions such as in race, class, and sexual orientation.
Radical Feminism is a form of feminism that sprung from the US Civil Rights and Peace Movements in the 1960s. Like mainstream feminists, radical feminists acknowledge the existence of a patriarchal system that causes structural inequalities across societies.
Radical Feminism theory
- A key concept of radical feminism is patriarchy. Radical feminists believe the patriarchy is the root cause of unequal societies and aim to challenge and dismantle its existence in society.
- Radical feminism believes that ‘the personal is political’. This is because patriarchy affects all aspects of a person’s life. For instance, patriarchy promotes a power imbalance between men and women in a heterosexual domestic setting. This power imbalance is achieved in a number of ways through gender roles and expectations: these could relate to childcare, housework, or financial duties.
- Thus, radical feminists believe to create a more balanced society, all aspects of patriarchy must be targeted and overthrown. Ideas about how we should do this differ among radical feminists which leads to radical feminism being less of a cohesive ideology than other forms of feminism.
Radical Feminism – Key takeaways
- Radical feminism’s main objective is to create fair and equal societies by challenging and dismantling repressive patriarchal structures.
- Radical feminists argue that ‘the personal is political’, and they believe that patriarchy touches every aspect of a person’s life.
- This form of feminism is said to be ‘radical’, as radical feminists aim to challenge and dismantle these unbalanced structures in order to transform society.
- Crucial radical feminist theorists include Alice Echols and Andrea Dworkin.
- An example of Radical Feminist politics can be seen in Radical Feminism’s denouncement of “prostitution” as a manifestation of patriarchy and control over women’s bodies.
- Radical feminism is successful in tackling social inequalities between different genders.
- Radical feminism has been substituted by Intersectionality and transfeminism and critiqued for its marginalisation of trans, BIPOC, and sex-workers individuals.
The motive of feminism is to bring out equality among all the genders and do not segregate people based on their genders. Even after the strong impact of feminism in the modern world, the movement still has not reached every individual.