I wrote this a while ago, and now I have to write something similar. In different circumstances, of course: those of you who’ve seen the commentspace on the previous post already know why.

You see, there’s a comment there that appears to be inspired by a fear of laws that the writer believes are biased towards women, and therefore (he reasons) put him and his freedoms at risk. The Domestic Violence Act is clearly referred to, and since the discussion started in a different context, there’s also a reference to sexual harassment, though not any specific law relating to it. There’s also some venom spewed at the feminists who are responsible for such laws. This post (and a couple to follow) is not intended to defend feminism; I don’t think the ‘attack’ is worth it. But the comment is based on some common misconceptions, and gives me a chance to air my views on them, once again.

Feminism, like all other ‘isms’ (and correct me if I’m wrong here), is an immensely complicated school of thought. The history of the feminist movement that is popularly related is one that places its roots firmly in the West, in the demand for equal rights and opportunities. In this telling of feminist history, the first wave of feminism was liberal feminism, which claimed equality for women in terms of their legal rights. Starting with a call for the education of women, and a claim for their right to formal political participation (the suffragette movement), liberal feminism emphasised (and still does) women’s claim to equality of formal legal rights and opportunity.

With the spread of radical thought (Marxism, for instance), feminist discourse tended to see gender as a structure of oppression, and press for a dismantling of that structure. The questioning of social gender roles was one aspect of this radical feminism; another was to bring to the fore how gender worked as an oppressive force not merely in the public sphere (which, in liberal theory, was the sphere in which the state, and laws, operated) but also in ‘private’, in social structures such as the family. Hence the opposition to the division of public from private. Parallel, perhaps, is the development of ‘cultural feminism’ or ‘difference feminism’, emphasising that women were equal but different from men; that formal legal equality would not suffice because it did not account for these differences. The origin of the differences may be biological or social, but the fact of their existence demands their recognition. “Equal treatment”, then, does not mean “same treatment”.

Feminism had/s much in common with other schools of thought that studied social oppression, and the complexity of social structures demands a critique that is much more nuanced than this post can give. What I want to emphasise, however is that there are many schools of thought that come within the feminist umbrella. More importantly, these are not independent, but interdependent schools of thought.

I think I shall leave “What, then, unites these schools?” to the next post.

*This post is trying to turn this blog into my FemJur class, save it, someone!


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