Feminism and political
Links: Imagining Other Home Page
For other aspects of feminism, see: (not all completed/uploaded yet…)
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!
1. de Beauvoir 1949: Second Sex Part IV:
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.."
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":
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
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
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)
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.
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:
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:
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):
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.
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)
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
8. Modern Sexism N.V.
Benokraitis, J.R. Feagin, Prentice Hall
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....
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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):
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:
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
3. Francis Bacon:
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?)
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.
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".