several complex issues

Introduction

“That man over there says that women have to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches. Nobody ever helped me into carriages, or over mud-paddles or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman?
Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could hear me! And ain’t I a woman?
I would work as much as and eat as much as a man, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well. And ain’t I a woman?
I have borne thirteen children and seen em most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

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Sojourner Truth, 1851

S. Truth’s words clearly indicate the relationship between gender and race in 1851. How has this changed in the year 2000 in the U.S. and internationally? Throughout the world, the first question parents are asked at the birth of their child is still the same: “is it a boy or a girl?” The urgency of the question reveals the great importance that all human societies attach to the differences between men and women. The division of the human species into two fundamental categories is based both on biological and cultural definitions, thus the inequalities that follow this division are dependent on the social context.  The divisions introduced in the last years suggest that modern heteromasculinity is not a singular entity set in structural opposition to femininity (Links to an external site.) and traditional binary theories of gendered binaries. 

Our approach here when dealing with gender issues will be one that would incorporate the intersection of gender, race and class. It will further incorporate experiences related to age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability, and other inequalities. We will use the approach described by Andersen and Collins (1998:3) as “a matrix of domination”. In their words,

“A matrix of domination posits multiple interlocking levels of domination that stem from the societal configuration of race, class, and gender relations. This structural pattern affects individual consciousness, group interaction, and group access to institutional Power and privileges.”
Andersen and Collins, Race, Class and Gender

CA: Wadsworth Press (1998:3)

This module introduces you to the original field of women’s studies and lays the foundation for the rest of the course. Chapter one of your book explains the central tenets and origins of the discipline and discusses the status of women’s studies in higher education. This narrative is an overview of the objectives of the discipline and an introduction to feminism as a political theory and individual and collective practice. It introduces different kinds of feminism and contextualizes these developments in transnational feminist work. The final section discusses the myths associated with feminism and provides tools for debunking the various stereotypes and misinformation associated with this concept.

So put on your thinking cup and try to look at gender relations with a critical and analytic mind. Very often the terms sex and gender are used interchangeably. In sociology they hold different significance.

Sex refers to the biological distinction between females, males and non binary individuals.

Gender refers to the significance a society attaches to categories of femininity and masculinity in a heteronormative context. No sex is inherently superior or inferior, but most cultures include notions of male superiority.

Margaret Mead’s gender studies in three New Guinea societies show the relativity of gender. She found that:

  • Among the Arapesh, both sexes would be described by U.S. citizens as feminine.
  • Among the Mundugumor, both sexes would be described by U.S. citizens as masculine.
  • Among the Tchambuli, gender roles reverse U.S. standards.

Mead concluded that these case studies prove that gender does vary across cultures, but critics charge that Mead oversimplified.

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Analysis of Genders and Feminism

Theoretical Analysis of Gender

  1. Structural-functional analysis suggests that traditional sex roles emerged in hunting and gathering societies where they promoted the efficient functioning of the family. Each sex played a role that complemented the role played by the other, with men taking the instrumental part and women the expressive.
  2. Social-conflict analysis explains contemporary sex roles in terms of dominance, subordination, and sexism. This perspective draws heavily on the work of Friedrich Engels (Karl Marx’s partner), who felt that capitalism intensified male domination.

Feminism

Feminism is the advocacy of social equality for all people in opposition to patriarchy and sexism.

  1. Basic feminist ideas:
    • The need for change.
    • Expanding human choice.
    • Eliminating gender stratification.
    • Ending sexual violence.
    • Promoting sexual autonomy.
  2. Some historical variations within feminism.
    • Liberal feminism: This includes women who are willing to work within the system as long as they achieve the same status as men.
    • Socialist feminism: This includes women who argue that as long as gender relations operate within the capitalist system they will remain unequal. They also criticize liberal feminists for being oblivious to race and class differences among women.
    • Radical feminism: This includes women who expect total equality among all individuals.

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Power Point

Click here to view the link for Module 1 – Matrix of Domination Family PDF

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Key Concepts 

Centering women as subjects of study; androcentrism, gender, women’s movement, “the personal is political,” patriarchy, first wave, second wave and third wave feminist activity and their associated social movement activity and legal changes, institutionalization of women’s studies, goals and objectives of women’s studies, definitions of feminism, liberal feminism, radical (or cultural/difference) feminism, lesbian feminism, ecofeminism, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism, global feminism, transnational feminism and international women’s issues, feminist backlash, postfeminism, postmodernism, myths associated with feminism and non-binary existence, and debunking the myths and stereotypes associated with feminism.

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Study Guide / Important Questions

Please read the following questions critically and try to find answers to them from your readings or other sources.

  1. Define women’s studies as a discipline.
  2. Explain in your own words what it means to put women on center as subjects of study. This has involved two strategies resulting in changes on college campuses. What are these strategies and their consequences?
  3. Be able to explain the founding of women’s studies and understand its relationship to androcentrism in higher education. What is the relationship between women’s studies and the women’s movement? What is “mainstreaming”?
  4. What does it mean to say that women’s studies in its early years “lacked inclusivity”? How did Black women’s studies come about?
  5. Overview the legal changes associated with the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s and their consequences for women’s lives today.
  6. Most early women’s rights activity had its roots in what social movement? Be able to name early women’s rights activists. What did Mary Wollstonecraft write, when did she write it, and why was it important? What important event for women’s rights history happened in 1848 and what came out of it? Who authored this important document? What was NAWSA, what did it stand for, and what organization did it evolve into? When did women get the vote and what amendment was it? Discuss the racism implicit in the first wave women’s movement.
  7. Define the following terms: gender, misogyny, interdisciplinary, and patriarchy. Why has integration of Women’s Studies knowledge been slower in the biological and physical sciences? What are the goals of Women’s Studies? What is meant by the term “the personal is political”? How might this term have implications for men’s education about women’s rights?
  8. Define social movement. Define feminism. What are two crucial aspects of any definition of feminism?
  9. Know the different kinds of feminism (liberal, radical, lesbian, ecofeminist, socialist, Marxist, multiracial, postmodern, third wave) and be able to compare them generally to each other. What are the origins of third wave feminism and what forces shape it? Explain how the strategies for change are different for liberal as opposed to radical feminism.  Examine the LGBTQ+ movement. 
  10. What is meant by global or transnational feminism and why is it important today? Explain how and why explanations for women’s equality and strategies for change might differ between the global north and south. What important conference occurred in 1995 that illustrated the power of transnational feminism? What are the problems associated with claiming an “universal sisterhood”?
  11. What is feminist backlash? Why are groups involved in backlash against feminism? What is this perspective called? Be able to name some women resistant to the core principles of feminism. What term resulted from their work?
  12. The text discusses five ways that feminism has been discredited. What are these? Be able to counter these myths.

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Making Connections

Again, read the following questions critically and try to connect the answers to your lives:

  1. How has the women’s movement affected your life?
  2. How do you define feminism?
  3. Draw a feminist and explain what this person looks like.
  4. Are there any feminist clubs/groups on your campus?  How “inclusive’ are feminist groups on campus about issues affecting women of color?
  5. How prominent are women administrators on your campus? Where do they hold power? How many of these women are women of color?

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Systems of Privilege and Inequality

This part focuses on the differences between women and the ways these differences are institutionalized into patterns and practices of privilege and inequality. The emphasis is on the social construction of ranking of differences and the effects of these practices on the lives of women. Alongside sexism, this chapter explores the practices of colonialism and imperialism as well as the following systems of inequality and privilege: racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and looksism. The chapter analyzes the role of societal institutions in establishing and maintaining systems of inequality and privilege as well as the role of ideology and language.

Key concepts: difference, mythical norm, normalization, hierarchy, stratification, target group, non-target group, privilege, entitlement, ranking, systems of inequality and privilege, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, looksism, compulsory heterosexuality, privilege, prejudice, confluence, intersecting identities, imperialism, colonialism, language, homophobia, hate crimes, sexual terrorism, societal institutions, ideologies, stereotypes, bootstrap myth, internalization, horizontal hostility, target and non-target groups, hate crimes, misogyny, sexual terrorism, empathy, alliances.

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Gender and Social Stratification

  1. Refers to a society’s unequal distribution of wealth, power, and privileges between the two sexes.
  2. In recent decades in the U.S., the percentage of women, including mothers of young children, who work outside the home has skyrocketed.  Women’s entry into the labor market has not substantially reduced their involvement in housework as husbands have resisted increasing their participation in these tasks.
    • However, women continue to enter a narrow range of occupations, with almost half in clerical or service work. Furthermore, the greater a job’s income and prestige, the more likely it is that the position will be held by a male.
  3. The average female full-time worker earns about 69-74 cents for every dollar earned by a male full-time employee. Opportunities for women to enter higher education in the U.S. have increased sharply in recent decades.
    • The greater responsibility for family and childcare tasks that our society has traditionally assigned to women is a factor explaining the earning differential.
    • Most of this results from the different kinds of jobs held by men vs. women.
    • Discrimination is a third critical factor.
  4. Female involvement in politics is also increasing, although very slowly at the highest levels.
  5. As technology blurs the distinction between combat and non-combat personnel, women are taking on more military assignments, though equality has not yet been achieved.
  6. Minority women are doubly disadvantaged.
  7. Women fit the definition of a minority group, although most do not think of themselves this way.
  8. Violence against women.
    • Family violence is frequently directed against women.
    • Rape is another example of violence directed against women. Sexual violence is about power, not sexuality.
    • Sexual harassment consists of comments, gestures, or physical contact of a sexual nature that are deliberate, repeated, and unwelcome.
      • Women are more likely to be sexually harassed than are men.
      • Some harassment is blatant but much of it is subtle.
    • Feminists define pornography as a form of sexual violence against women, arguing that it demeans women and promotes rape.

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Study Guide/ Important Questions

  1. What does it mean to say that humans are marked by difference? In what kinds of ways are women different from each other?
  2. What does it mean to universalize the category “woman”? What does homogeneity mean?
  3. Define colonialism and imperialism and understand the ways these practices affect women’s status worldwide.
  4. Explain what it means to rank differences and discuss how hierarchies occur.
  5. Define and name societal institutions and explain how they function – i.e. through what practices?  Discuss the 3 specific ways that societal institutions support systems of privilege and inequality and be able to give examples.
  6. Give examples of the ways institutions produce messages that shape our understanding of gender and discuss how these messages vary in accordance with other intersecting systems of inequality and privilege.
  7. Explain the ways members of target groups may come to believe in their own subordination and keep others in line.
  8. How does language function to maintain systems of inequality and privilege?

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Making Connections

  1. In what ways are “differences” institutionalized into hierarchies of inequality and privilege in your neighborhood, the high school you attended, your college or university, church, workplace, etc.?
  2. When did you experience your first understanding of sexism, racism (or other “ism”) and how did it make you feel? Were you a member of a target or non-target group? How might being a member of another group have changed the experience?
  3. Consider how various nationalities are represented in contemporary media? How are stereotypes and popular ideas about different nationalities related to the practices of imperialism?
  4. Give examples from your own experience of the ways different societal institutions support various “isms.
  5. How disability-friendly is your campus, church, and/or local grocery store? Imagine changing your campus (or other place) so that being disabled is no longer a handicap. How does this need to involve a change in mindset and paradigm shift as well as material changes? Redesign this space as disabled friendly.

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