Political Philosophy Part 2


Feminism and political philosophy (pp21)




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For other aspects of feminism, see: (not all completed/uploaded yet…)


Notes on feminism        Simone de Beauvoir (feminism and existentialism)      Feminism: statistics on inequality


Feminism and Postmodernism [not yet completed]               Feminism Today (miscellaneous notes on various topics relevant to feminism, taken from the press etc).  



The Women's Movement (a historical account of the activities of women in the movement for liberation).



Here is a short selection of quotations – to be added to as time goes on!


A. Definitions:


1. de Beauvoir 1949:  Second Sex Part IV:


          "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilisation as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.."

                                                                                                                                                                                                See also: Notes on de Beauvoir


2. Mary Wollstonecraft, arguing that women (a) have the ability to reason but (b) have been prevented from developing and using it by being expected to be merely "beautiful":


          "Pleasure is the business of woman's life, according to the present modification of society; and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak beings.  Inheriting ... the sovereignty of beauty - they have, to maintain their power, resigned the natural rights which the exercise of reason might have procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than labour to obtain the sober pleasures that arise from equality. Exalted by their inferiority.. they constantly demand homage as women...


          Why do they not discover that they are treated like queens only to be deluded by hollow respect, till they are led to resign, or not assume, their natural prerogatives?... It is true they are provided with food and raiment, for which they neither toil nor spin; but health, liberty and virtue are given in exchange.


          I lament that women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay the sex, when in fact, they are insultingly supporting their own superiority."


3. Virginia Woolf's (1929) account: (in Feminism: A Reader ed. Humm 1992)


          Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle.


          Whatever may be their use in civilised societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.  That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically on the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge.....[imagine the effects on a man of criticism from a woman - doesn't it hit harder than if it comes from another man?  so:] How is he to go on giving judgement, civilising natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and dinner at least twice the size he really is!


4. Rebecca West, 1913:


          I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."


5. Kate Millet:


          "sex is a status category with political implications...[we need to define] a theory of politics which treats of power relationships on grounds less conventional that those to which we are accustomed [i.e.] on grounds of personal contact and interaction between members of well-defined and coherent groups: races, castes, classes, and sexes. For it is precisely because certain groups have no representation [as groups?] in a number of recognised political structures that their position tends to be so stable, their oppression so continuous... However muted its present appearance may be, sexual domination obtains nevertheless as perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power."


6. Maggie Humm (The Dictionary of Feminist Theory: Harvester 1989):


          "[feminism] incorporates both a doctrine of equal rights for women (the organised movement to obtain women's rights) and an ideology of social transformation aiming to create a world for women beyond simple equality... it is the ideology of women's liberation since intrinsic in all its approaches is the belief that women suffer injustice because of our sex.


          "[patriarchy is] a system of male authority which oppresses women through its social, political and economic institutions.  In any of the historical forms that patriarchal society takes... feudal, capitalist or socialist, a sex-gender system and a system of economic discrimination operate simultaneously. Patriarchy has power from men's greater access to, and mediation of, the resources and rewards of authority structures inside and outside the home."


7. Sheila Rowbotham: Women in Movement: Routledge 1992 p.5)


          "Women receive less that one-tenth of the world income, but do two-third's of the world's work.  Although earning less than men, they work longer hours - 2 to 5 hours more in developed countries, 5 to 6 hours more in Latin America and the Caribbean, and as much as 12 to 13 hours more in Africa and Asia.  When housework and childcare are taken into account, women on average have a 60 to 70 hour week."


8. Modern Sexism N.V. Benokraitis, J.R. Feagin, Prentice Hall  1995


          "Only 7.5% of the 1,315 board members at America's 100 biggest companies are women.  Of the highest paid officers and directors of the 799 public companies, virtually none (less than 0.5%) are women! Only 27 women, or 11.5%, hold leadership positions in the country's 25 biggest unions... An estimated 7 million women now run their own businesses, generating $500 billion in annual revenues... About 30% of the small businesses are owned by women.  Although women-owned firms employ more workers than all the Fortune 500 companies combined, they are awarded only 1% of all federal government contracts....


          When the United Way fired its president...his replacement, a woman, was paid less than half the salary of her predecessor... A survey of 1,029 female and male managers employed by 20 Fortune 500 companies found that... the women's salaries increased 54% over the study's 5-year period while men's increased 65%"


9. Polly Toynbee, Guardian Thursday 8th March 2012 (International Women’s Day)

          This marks the first era in which women’s freedoms have gone into reverse as women pay the heaviest price for government policies... Cost of childcare has

          gone up another 6% this year, there has been a 910 cut in childcare credits and shrinking support for the elderly, which means more women leaving work.

          Women do twice as much unpaid caring as men... Of the 710,000 public sector employees cut, 65% are women. There are only 14% women in boardroom

          posts. There are only 21 women out of 119 ministers. Women earn less, own less, have less secure jobs, with three times more men than women earning in the

          top 10%. Women earn 15.5% less than men. The child support agency fails to get child maintenance for more than half of mothers – but now women will have

          to pay a 12% commission from the 30 a week payments. Of the 18 bn cut from benefits, 11 bn comes from women’s pockets, etc.



B. Historical evidence of sexism and hostility to women:


1. Pythagoras (500 BC):


          "there is a good principle which created order, light and man, and a bad principle which created chaos, darkness and woman"


2. Galen, 2nd century AD physician and biologist:


          "The female is more imperfect than the male... just as man is the most perfect of all animals, so also, within the human species, man is more perfect than woman.  The cause of this superiority is the [male's] superabundance of warmth, heat being the primary instrument of nature."


3. Francis Bacon:


          "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or of mischief.  Certainly the best works, and of greatest for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men."  Quoted by Mary Wollstonecraft, see Ball and Dagger 1991 p 342.  Mary adds "I say the same of women".



4. Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man...(early 1880s?)


          "Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition... With woman, the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man, but some, at least of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower stage of civilisation.


          The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain - whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands".