Feminist theory

Feminist theory

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical, ground. It encompasses work done in a broad variety of disciplines, prominently including the approaches to women's roles and lives and feminist politics in anthropology and sociology, psychoanalysis, economics, women's and gender studies, feminist literary criticism, and philosophy especially Continental philosophy. Brabeck, M. and Brown, L. (with Christian, L., Espin, O., Hare-Mustin, R., Kaplan, A., Kaschak, E., Miller, D., Phillips, E., Ferns, T., and Van Ormer, A.) 'Feminist theory and psychological practice', in J. Worell and N. Johnson (eds.) "Shaping the future of feminist psychology: Education, research, and practice" (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1997), pp.15-35] Feminist theory aims to understand the nature of inequality and focuses on gender politics, power relations and sexuality. While generally providing a critique of social relations, much of feminist theory also focuses on analyzing gender inequality and the promotion of women's rights, interests, and issues. Themes explored in feminism include art history [Pollock, Griselda. "Looking Back to the Future: Essays on Art, Life and Death". G&B Arts. 2001. ISBN 90-5701-132-8] and contemporary art, [de Zegher, Catherine. Inside the Visible. Massachusetts: MIT Press 1996] [Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine. "Women Artists at the Millennium". Massachusetts: October Books / MIT Press 2006. ISBN 0-262-01226-X] aesthetics, [Arnold, Dana and Iverson, Margaret (Eds.). Art and Thought. Blackwell. 2003. ISBN 0-631-22715-6] [Florence, Penny and Foster, Nicola. Differential Aesthetics. Ashgate. 2000. ISBN 0-7546-1493-X] discrimination, stereotyping, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, and patriarchy. Gilligan, Carol, 'In a Different Voice: Women's Conceptions of Self and Morality' in "Harvard Educational Review" (1977)] Chodorow, Nancy J., "Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory" (Yale University Press: 1989, 1991)] Lerman, Hannah, "Feminist Ethics in Psychotherapy" (Springer Publishing Company, 1990) ISBN 9780826162908]


Nancy Cott makes a distinction between "modern feminism" and its antecedents, particularly the struggle for suffrage. In the United States she places the turning point in the decades before and after women obtained the vote in 1920 (1910-1930). She argues that the prior "woman movement" was primarily about woman as a "universal" entity, whereas over this 20 year period it transformed itself into one primarily concerned with social differentiation, attentive to "individuality" and diversity. New issues dealt more with woman's condition as a social construct, gender identity, and relationships within and between genders. Politically this represented a shift from an ideological alignment comfortable with the right, to one more radically associated with the left. [Cott, Nancy F. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987]

Susan Kingsley Kent says that Freudian patriarchy was responsible for the diminished profile of feminism in the inter-war years, [Kent, Susan Kingsley. Making Peace: The Reconstruction of Gender in Interwar Britain. Princeton, N.J. 1993] others such as Juliet Mitchell consider this to beoverly simplistic since Freudian theory is not wholly incompatible with feminism. [Mitchell, Juliet. Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing, and Women. New York 1975] Some feminist scholarship shifted away from the need to establish the origins of family, and towards analyzing the process of patriarchy. [Stocking, George W. Jr. After Tylor: British Social Anthropology, 1888–1951. Madison, Wisconsin 1995] In the immediate postwar period, Simone de Beauvoir stood in opposition to an image of "the woman in the home". De Beauvoir provided an existentialist dimension to feminism with the publication of "Le Deuxième Sexe" (The Second Sex) in 1949. [cite web|url=http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/index.htm|title=Le Deuxième Sexe (online edition)] As the title implies, the starting point is the implicit inferiority of women, and the first question de Beauvoir asks is "what is a woman"?. [Moi, Toril. What is a Woman? And Other Essays. Oxford 2000] Woman she realises is always perceived of as "other", "she is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her". In this book and her essay, "Woman: Myth & Reality", de Beauvoir anticipates Betty Friedan in seeking to demythologise the male concept of woman. "A myth invented by men to confine women to their oppressed`state. For women it is not a question of asserting themselves as women, but of becoming full-scale human beings"." "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman", or as Toril Moi puts it "a woman defines herself through the way she lives her embodied situation in the world, or in other words, through the way in which she makes something of what the world makes of her". Therefore, woman must regain subject, to escape her defined role as "other", as a Cartesian point of departure. [Bergoffen, Debra B. The Philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir: Gendered Phenomenologies, Erotic Generosities. SUNY 1996 ISBN 0-7914-3151-7] In her examination of myth, she appears as one who does not accept any special privileges for women. Ironically, feminist philosophers have had to extract de Beauvoir herself from out of the shadow of Jean-Paul Sartre to fully appreciate her. [Sullivan, Shannon. The work of Simone de Beauvoir: Introduction Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2000 14(2):v] While more philosopher and novelist than activist, she did sign one of the "Mouvement de Libération des Femmes" manifestos.

The resurgence of feminist activism in the late 1960s was accompanied by an emerging literature of what might be considered female associated issues, such as concerns for the earth and spirituality, and environmental activism.Fact|date=April 2008This in turn created an atmosphere conducive to reigniting the study of and debate on matricentricity,as a rejection of determinism, such as Adrienne Rich [Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution New York 1976] and Marilyn French [French, Marilyn. Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals. New York 1985] while for socialist feminists like Evelyn Reed, [Reed, Evelyn. Woman's Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family. New York, 1975] patriarchy held the properties of capitalism.

Elaine Showalter describes the development of Feminist theory as having a number of phases. The first she calls "feminist critique" - where the feminist reader examines the ideologies behind literary phenomena. The second Showalter calls "Gynocritics" - where the "woman is producer of textual meaning" including "the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of a female language; the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career and literary history". The last phase she calls "gender theory" - where the "ideological inscription and the literary effects of the sex/gender system" are explored." Showalter, Elaine. 'Toward a Feminist Poetics: Women’s Writing and Writing About Women' in "The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory" (Random House, 1988), ISBN 9780394726472] This model has been criticized by Toril Moi who sees it as an essentialist and deterministic model for female subjectivity. She also criticized it for not taking account of the situation for women outside the west.Moi, Toril, "Sexual/Textual Politics" (Routledge, 2002), ISBN 9780415280129 ] From the 1970s onwards, psychoanalytical ideas that has been arising in the field of French feminism has gained a decisive influence on feminist theory. Feminist psychoanalysis deconstructed the phallic hypotheses regarding the Unconscious. Julia Kristeva, Bracha Ettinger and Luce Irigaray developed specific notions concerning unconscious sexual difference, the feminine and motherhood, with wide implications for film and literature analysis. [Zajko, Vanda and Leonard, Miriam (eds.), "Laughing with Medusa" (Oxford University Press, 2006), ISBN 0-19-927438-X ]


There are a number of distinct feminist disciplines, in which experts in other areas apply feminist techniques and principles to their own fields.


Psychoanalytic feminism is based on Freud and his psychoanalytic theories. It maintains that gender is not biological but is based on the psycho-sexual development of the individual. Psychoanalytical feminists believe that gender inequality comes from early childhood experiences, which lead men to believe themselves to be masculine, and women to believe themselves feminine. It is further maintained that gender leads to a social system that is dominated by males, which in turn influences the individual psycho-sexual development. As a solution it was suggested to avoid the gender-specific structuring of the society by male-female coeducation. In the last 30 years, the contemporary French psychoanalytical theories concerning the feminine, that refer to sexual difference rather than to gender, with psychoanalysts like Julia Kristeva,Kristeva, Julia, Toril Moi (Ed.), The Kristeva Reader. NY: Columbia University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-231-06325-3] Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror. NY: Columbia University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-231-05347-9] Luce IrigarayIrigaray, Luce, Key Writings. London: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-6940-X] Irigaray, Luce, Irigaray, Luce, 'Sexes and Genealogies'. Columbia University Press. 1993.] has largely influenced not only feminist theory but also the understanding of the subject in philosophy and the general field of psychoanalysis itself [Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 21 num. 1, 2004. ISSN 0263-2764] . Other feminist psychoanalysts whose contribution enriched the field are Jessica Benjamin [Jessica Benjamin, "The Bonds of Love". London: Virago, 1990.] and Jacqueline Rose. ["Dora: Fragment of an Analysis" in: "In Dora's Case". Edited by Berenheimer and Kahane, London: Virago, 1985.]

Literary theory

Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theories or politics. Its history has been varied, from classic works of female authors such as George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, [Humm, Maggie, "Modernist Women and Visual Cultures". Rutgers University Press, 2003. ISBN 0813532663] and Margaret Fuller to cutting-edge theoretical work in women's studies and gender studies by "third-wave" authors.Barry, Peter, 'Feminist Literary Criticism' in "Beginning theory" (Manchester University Press: 2002), ISBN 0719062683]

In the most general, feminist literary criticism before the 1970s was concerned with the politics of women's authorship and the representation of women's condition within literature. Since the arrival of more complex conceptions of gender and subjectivity, feminist literary criticism has taken a variety of new routes. It has considered gender in the terms of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, as part of the deconstruction of existing power relations.

Film theory

Feminists have taken many different approaches to the analysis of cinema. These include discussions of the function of women characters in particular film narratives or in particular genres, such as film noir, where a woman character can often be seen to embody a subversive sexuality that is dangerous to men and is ultimately punished with death.Fact|date=July 2008 In considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics, such as Laura Mulvey, have pointed to the "male gaze" that predominates in classical Hollywood film making. Through the use of various film techniques, such as shot reverse shot, the viewer is led to align herself with the point of view of a male protagonist. Notably, women function as objects of this gaze far more often than as proxies for the spectator. Chaudhuri, Shohini, "Feminist Film Theorists" (Routledge, 2006) ISBN 9780415324335] Mulvey, Laura 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' in "Feminism and Film Theory". Ed. Constance Penley (Routledge, 1988) [http://www.panix.com/~squigle/vcs/mulvey-vpnc.html] ] Feminist film theory of the last twenty years is heavily influenced by the general transformation in the field of aesthetics, including the new options of articulating the gaze, offered by psychoanalytical French feminism, [Humm, Maggie, "Feminism and Film". Indiana University press, 1997. ISBN 0253333342] .

Art history

Linda Nochlin [Nochlin, Linda, ""Why have There Been No Great Women Artists?" Thirty Years After". In: Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine (eds). "Women Artists as the Millennium". Cambridge Massachusetts: October Books, MIT Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-262-01226-3] and Griselda Pollock [Griselda Pollock, "Looking Back to the Future". New York: G&B New Arts Press, 2001. ISBN 90-5701-132-8] [Griselda Pollock, "Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive". Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0415413745] are prominent art historians writing on contemporary and modern artists and articulating Art history from a feminist perspective since the 1970s. Pollock works with French psychoanalysis, and in particular with Kristeva's and Ettinger's theories, to offer new insights into art history and contemporary art with special regard to questions of trauma and trans-generation memory in the works of women artists.


Feminist history refers to the re-reading and re-interpretation of history from a feminist perspective. It is not the same as the history of feminism, which outlines the origins and evolution of the feminist movement. It also differs from women's history, which focuses on the role of women in historical events. The goal of feminist history is to explore and illuminate the female viewpoint of history through rediscovery of female writers, artists, philosophers, etc, in order to recover and demonstrate the significance of women's voices and choices in the past.Cain, William E., ed. "Making Feminist History: The Literary Scholarship of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar" (Garland Publications, 1994)] Laslitt, Barbara, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, Mary Jo Maynes, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and Jeanne Barker-Nunn, ed. "History and Theory: Feminist Research, Debates, Contestations" (University of Chicago Press, 1997)] Lerner, Gerda, "The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History" (Oxford University Press, 1981)] [Pollock, Griselda. "Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts". London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-14128-1] [. de Zegher, Catherine and Teicher, Hendel (Eds.) "3 X Abstraction". New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-300-10826-5]


Feminist geography is often considered part of a broader postmodern approach to the subject which is not primarily concerned with the development of conceptual theory in itself but rather focuses on the real experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities, upon the geographies that they live in within their own communities. In addition to its analysis of the real world, it also critiques existing geographical and social studies, arguing that academic traditions are delineated by patriarchy, and that contemporary studies which do not confront the nature of previous work reinforce the male bias of academic study.Rose, Gillian, "Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge" (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993)] Moss, Pamela, "Feminisms in Geography: Rethinking Space, Place, and Knowledges" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007) ISBN 9780742538290] [Welchman, John C., Rethinking Borders. Macmillan, 1996 ISBN 0-333-56580-0]


Feminist philosophy refers to philosophy approached from a feminist perspective. Feminist philosophy involves both attempts to use the methods of philosophy to further the cause of the feminist movements, and attempts to criticise or re-evaluate the ideas of traditional philosophy from within a feminist framework. Gatens, M., "Feminism and Philosophy: Perspectives on Difference and Equality" (Indiana University Press, 1991)]

There is no one school of feminist philosophy: feminist philosophers, as philosophers, are found in both the analytic and Continental traditions, and the myriad different viewpoints taken on philosophical issues within those traditions; and feminist philosophers, as feminists, are found belonging to the many different varieties of feminism.The writings of Judith Butler, [Judith Butler, "Gender Trouble". London: Routledge, 1990.] Rosi Braidotti [Rosi Braidotti, "Metamorphoses". Malden: Polity, 2002.] and Donna Haraway [Haraway, Donna J. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991. ] are most significant psychoanalytically informed influences on contemporary feminist philosophy.


Feminist sexology is an offshoot of traditional studies of sexology that focuses on the intersectionality of sex and gender in relation to the sexual lives of women. Feminist sexology shares many principles with the wider field of sexology; in particular, it does not try to prescribe a certain path or “normality” for women's sexuality, but only observe and note the different and varied ways in which women express their sexuality. Looking at sexuality from a feminist point of view creates connections between the different aspects of a person's sexual life. Tiefer, L., 'A feminist perspective on sexology and sexuality' in Mary M. Gergen (eds) "Feminist Thought and the Structure of Knowledge" (New York University Press, 1989) ISBN 9780814730317]


Feminist economics broadly refers to a developing branch of economics that applies feminist insights and critiques to economics. Research under this heading is often interdisciplinary, critical, or heterodox. It encompasses debates about the relationship between feminism and economics on many levels: from applying mainstream economic methods to under-researched "women's" areas, to questioning how mainstream economics values the reproductive sector, to deeply philosophical critiques of economic epistemology and methodology.Fact|date=August 2007

One prominent issue that feminist economists investigate is how the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does not adequately measure unpaid labor predominantly performed by women, such as housework, childcare, and eldercare. [Waring, Marilyn, "If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics,"San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.] Feminist economists have also challenged and exposed the rhetorical approach of mainstream economics. [Nelson, Julie A., "Gender, Metaphor, and the Definition of Economics," "Economics and Philosophy" 8(1), 1992; McCloskey, D. N. "Some Consequences of a Conjective Economics" in "Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics," ed. J.A. Nelson and M.A. Ferber, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. See also McCloskey critique.] They have made critiques of many basic assumptions of mainstream economics, including the Homo economicus model. [Nelson, Julie A. and Marianne A. Ferber, "Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics," Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.] They have been instrumental in creating alternative models, such as the Capability Approach and incorporating gender into the analysis of economic data. Marilyn Power suggests that feminist economic methodology can be broken down into five categories. [Power, Marilyn. "Social Provisioning as a Starting Point for Feminist Economics" "Feminist Economics". Volume 10, Number 3. Routledge, November 2004.]

Legal theory

The study of feminist legal theory is a school thought based on the feminist view that law's treatment of women in relation to men has not been equal or fair. The goals of feminist legal theory as defined by leading theorist Claire Dalton, consist of understanding and exploring the female experience, figuring out if law and institutions oppose females, and figuring out what changes can be committed to. This is to be accomplished through studying the connections between the law and gender as well as applying feminist analysis to concrete areas of law.Dalton, Claire, 'Where We Stand: Observations on the Situation of Feminist Legal Thought' in "Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations" ed. by D. Kelly Weisberg (Temple University Press, 1993), ISBN 9781566390286] Dalton, Claire, 'Deconstructing Contract Doctrine' in "Feminist Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender" ed. byKatharine T. Bartlett and Rosanne Kennedy (Harper Collins, 1992)] "Feminist Legal Theory: Readings in Law and Gender" ed. by Katharine T. Bartlett and Rosanne Kennedy (Harper Collins, 1992), ISBN 9780813312484]

See also

*Feminism and modern architecture
*Feminist anthropology
*French feminism
*Gender equality
*Gender studies
*Liberal feminism
*Marxist feminism
*Radical feminism
*Socialist feminism
*Women's studies


External links

* [http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/ Feminist theory website] (Center for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia Tech University)
* [http://lit.polylog.org/2/eah-en.htm Feminist Theories and Anthropology] by Heidi Armbruster
* [http://www.redletterpress.org/rwmanifesto.html] "The Radical Women Manifesto: Socialist Feminist Theory, Program and Organizational Structure" (Seattle: Red Letter Press, 2001)
* [http://www.ktpress.co.uk/ n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal: feminist theory and contemporary women artists]

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