Feminism is a Social Movement and a Field of Study
“Feminism is a social movement and a field of study whose purpose is to promote equality of women in the world. Feminism is usually divided into waves that refer to a particular time period in the feminist movement. Adichie describes feminism in We Should All Be Feminists, in the following manner:
And when, all those years ago, I looked the word up in the dictionary, it said: Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. My great-grandmother, from stories I’ve heard, was a feminist. She ran away from the house of the man she did not want to marry and married the man of her choice. She refused, protested, spoke up whenever she felt she was being deprived of land and access because she was female. She did not know that word feminist. But it doesn’t mean she wasn’t one. (47-8)
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Patriarchy is a key concept in feminist theory and movement. In feminist theory, patriarchy refers to the idea that women are inferior to men in society. As Bell hooks states, patriarchy is a political social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone seemed weak, especially females and even she views patriarchy as harmful to men by suggesting that, “Patriarchy as a system has denied males access to full emotional well-being, which is not the same as feeling rewarded, successful, or powerful because of one’s capacity to assert control over others” (“Understanding Patriarchy” 5). That is, Patriarchy brainwashes men to believe that violently dominating and abusing women brings them privilege. This system does not let men have freedom of will, it makes it difficult for them from any social class to rebel against those patriarchal rules which falsely force them to believe that if they behave manly and continue their obedience to rigid sexist role patterns, they would always be powerful. Whereas, this passive absorption of sexist ideology, the lack of having real control of their actions, being emotionally powerless, and having irrationality bring men psychological crisis and disease. She also claims, “If men are to reclaim the essential goodness of male being, if they are to regain the space of openheartedness and emotional expressiveness that is the foundation of well-being, we must envision alternatives to patriarchal masculinity. We must all change” (“Understanding Patriarchy” 6). She advocates the change of patriarchal social system in societies as the way to attain justice, equality, freedom, and well-being for women and men and she recommends that Feminist activists should realise the hurt caused by the system, and work to change it.
Early approaches to feminist research in different sciences attempted to transform traditional academic disciplines as Catherine E. Harnois explains: Feminist scholars sought to centralize women’s issues within the humanities, social sciences, and biological sciences. They introduced new questions and considered new sources of information (e.g., Lerner 1979; Smith, 1974; Stacey & Thorne 1985). They challenged gender bias and sexism in the research process and worked to give intellectual legitimacy to a variety of issues related to women and gender more broadly. (Feminist Measures 19)
According to Humm, in the 1840s, the first wave of feminism began to grow into a significant political force in America, the driving forces of which were in the anti-slavery and temperance campaigns led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Stanton and Anthony were driving forces behind the suffrage movement in the United States (2–3). The strong presence of racial slavery in the United States built the nation socially, politically, and economically. As Sklar and Stewart explain: the racial slavery divided women into two legal groups, slave and free, and two racial groups, black and white. Differences between free and enslaved women fueled antislavery activism among free women, both African-American and white. The gendered oppression of enslaved women as mothers, daughters, girls, and sisters had an enormous impact on women’s antislavery activism and led many free women to view slavery as an affront to womanhood as well as to humanity. When free whites mobilized to end those horrors, in the process created new opportunities for their own self-expression (xiv).
The primary aim of the first wave of feminism was the rights of women and the representation of them as human beings and not the property of men and the focus of the first wave was mainly on the suffrage movement, and by achieving the right to vote this focus shifted to other women’s issues. “The second wave of feminism emerged as radical feminism that was connected with women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s” (Kroløkke & Sørensen 7). The feminists of this wave sought for equal opportunities for men and women, so they called for legislations that could consider all the injustices that cause women’s oppression. Nancy Hewitt states, “many feminists and scholars of feminism identified the first wave as comprising largely white, middle-class women focused on achieving narrowly defined political goals, most notably suffrage. In contrast, they claimed the second wave as more inclusive and more transformative” (2). The focus of the second wave was on political, economic and educational rights.
The problem of the first and second waves of feminism was that their agenda focused on the issues of Western white, middle-class women and ignored black women’s need for real emancipation. Black female activists felt that these feminisms did not answer their needs as hooks argues, “Black women were told that we should find our dignity not in liberation from sexist oppression but in how well we could adjust, adapt and cope” (Ain’t I A Woman, 7). The idea of exclusivity of the second wave led to the emergence of the third wave feminism.
The third wave of feminism is considered more inclusive, global, transformative and progressive. As Wood and Fixmer-Oraiz state, “the focus of third-wave feminism on intersectionality emerged as a result of women’s diversity in ways which significantly shape their experiences and opportunities” (72). The Intersectional theory takes into consideration other disadvantages and problems that women face in society besides their gender like race, sexual orientation, and disability, social class.
Harnois explains, feminist scholars today advocate for feminist transformations beyond traditional academic boundaries and search for strategies that question the existing orders so that to bring change in the power structures (Feminist Measures 19). Recently, the intersectional theory has developed because Black feminists noticed that mainstream feminism would not promote the improvement of Black women’s lives in society and they also face the lack of support from African-American men. As Beale and Marable argue, “Though Black women have played little or no part in dominant academic discourse and White feminist arenas, they have long been included in the organizational structures of Black civil society. But with the exception of Black women’s organizations, male-run organizations have historically either not stressed Black women’s issues or have done so under duress” (qtd. in Collins 7). White women do not realise the struggle that Black women must have for gaining their rights, because of the privileged position they have in society and black men do not differentiate their struggle from Black women’s. These led to the birth of Black feminism and intersectionality.
For the first time, the intersectional theory was introduced by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex (1989), she used this theory as an analytical strategy to examine Black women’s employment issues in the United States. Patricia Hill Collins makes use of the same idea of Intersectionality and she calls it a matrix of dominations in Black Feminist Thought (1990), she says, it is not just one item like race or sex or class, but many items that work together and influence black women’s lives, such as gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and social status (9). Collins also focuses on the experiences and perspectives of black women besides intellectuals’ and activists’, from the past to the present, as a significant lens for understanding systems of oppression because their different experiences can create new angles of looking at human rights and injustice. She discusses that today, minorities are still facing new forms of slavery, segregation, and racism that must be eliminated. Therefore, as Patricia Collins and Sirma Bilge claim, Intersectionality as an analytical tool makes people better understand the complexity of the world and themselves because people’s lives and the organization of power in society are shaped by the intersectional issues (2).
The idea of intersectionality has impacted many fields of study like what Cho, Sumi et al. assert, “intersectionality has been deployed in disciplines such as history, sociology, literature, philosophy, and anthropology as well as in feminist studies, ethnic studies, queer studies, and legal studies” (787). The term Black literature covers a wide range of works, from slave narratives of the 19th century to contemporary Black literature. Black literature generally dates back to the late 18th century. Two hundred years later, the field of Black literature has reached the point that its role in American history and culture is beyond question. In America, women of color were deprived of all the opportunities and fundamental rights which would have been theirs as human beings. The enslaved women’s experiences as the intersecting multiple oppressions are examined in many of the best-known works in this field Such as Philip Wheatley (1753-1784) Frances Harper (1825-1911), Jessie Fauset (1882-1911) and Nella Larsen (1891-1964). UTC written by a white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is often regarded as a landmark work and the most influential abolitionist novel in Black literature because of its significant effects on race relation in America. She directly attacked the law and the institution which protected the sinful, inhumane racial and sexual slavery in a civilized society.
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811. She was brought up so religious by her stern and tyrannical father, the Reverend Lyman. Although Harriet remained religious throughout her life, she had a milder and more beneficent Christian nature. After the death of her mother, Roxana Beecher, she was under the influence of her eldest sister, Catherine, who later made a school in Hartford where Harriet was a student and later she became a teacher in there. Harriet began her writings in the mid-1820s; one of her earliest works is a theological essay and an unfinished blank-verse tragedy, Cleon (1825). In 1832 the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in there Lyman Beecher became president of the Lane Theological Seminary and Catherine Beecher set up a college for women, the Western Female Institute. Harriet worked at the institute until they closed the school in 1837. In 1836, Harriet married Calvin Ellis, he was a professor of biblical literature. They had seven children; one died in the cholera epidemic of 1849 and another drowned in 1857 (Bloom 10).
Harriet wrote her first stories for the Western Monthly Magazine in 1833. Initially, her reason for writing was to provide money for her family. In 1843 she published The Mayflower; or, Sketches of Scenes and Characters among the Descendants of the Pilgrims. Stowe gained her first knowledge of slavery when she was living in Cincinnati. Kentucky, a slave state, lay across the Ohio River, and some Ohioans believed that runaway slaves should be returned to their owners and others helped them escape. The Stowes were opposed to slavery and joined the abolitionist cause. Harriet and Calvin Stowe once helped a little girl who claimed she was free and her master came to take her, escape at night (Bloom 11).
In 1850, Stowe moved to Brunswick, Maine, where her husband became a professor at Bowdoin College. There she wrote her antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life among the Lowly, serialized in the National Era in 1851–1852 and published in a book form in 1852. The novel was a tremendous success and was translated into at least twenty-three languages. About a year after its publication was reported to have sold more than 300,000 copies in the United States and more than two million throughout the world, both in the original and in translation. She as a literary character greatly admired by Tolstoy and by Dickens (Bloom 15).
The novel was violently attacked in the slaveholding South areas, so in 1853 Stowe published A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin to present the factual basis about her book. She followed UTC with a second antislavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), based in part on slave uprising in 1831 the Nat Turner; but it was not greatly received. She wrote many books, the main ones are The Minister’s Wooing (1859), The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862), Old town Folks (1869), Poganuc People (1878), Pink and White Tyranny(1871), We and Our Neighbors(1875), The American Woman’s Home (1869). UTC and the Civil War made Harriet Beecher Stowe a world-famous writer. “When she called on Abraham Lincoln at the White House, he greeted her by saying, ‘So this is the little lady who made this big war’ and John William DeForest, writing in The Nation in1868, first used the phrase ‘The Great American Novel’ to describe Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Bloom 11).”