MCAT Content / Theoretical Approaches / Feminist Theory

Feminist theory

Topic: Theoretical Approaches

The feminist perspective focuses on the study of power and inequality of power, much like conflict theory but focuses on these concepts concerning gender.

The feminist perspective has much in common with the conflict perspective but focuses on studies of power in its relation to gender. Feminist theory focuses not just on social structures at the macro level but also micro-level of face-to-face interaction. The feminist theory covers a wide range of topics, including sexual orientation, race, economic status, and nationality. However, at the core of feminist sociology is the idea that, in most societies, women have been systematically oppressed and that men have been historically dominant. This is referred to as patriarchy.

Feminist thought has a strong history, which is categorized into three waves. The first wave of feminism focused on political inequalities and fought for women’s suffrage. In the 1960s, second-wave feminism, also known as the women’s liberation movement, turned its attention to a broader range of inequalities, including those in the workplace, the family, and reproductive rights. Currently, the third wave of feminism is criticizing the fact that the first two waves of feminism were dominated by white women from advanced capitalist societies. The third wave of feminism (Contemporary feminism) tends to dismiss essentializing generalizations about sex and gender (e.g., women are naturally more nurturing) and to emphasize the importance of intersections within identity (e.g., race and gender).

The feminist perspective, however, has some drawbacks in application. Though the feminist perspective focuses on diversity and liberation, it has been accused of being incompatible with multiculturalist policy. Multiculturalism aims to allow distinct cultures to reside together. One possible consequence of multiculturalism is that certain religious or traditional practices that might disadvantage or oppress women might be tolerated on the grounds of cultural sensitivity. From the Feminist perspective, such practices are objectionable to human rights and ought to be criminalized on those grounds. However, from a multiculturalist perspective, such traditions must be respected even if they seem to violate ideas about freedom or liberty directly.

Key Points

• The feminist perspective examined the inequality in power and resources between gender and holds the view that women are oppressed by men who have been historically more dominant in society.

• Much like conflict theory feminism due to inequality promotes change but instead of being abrupt is gradual and has occurred in three phases.

Key Terms

multiculturalism: a characteristic of a society that has many different ethnic or national cultures mingling freely. It can also refer to political or social policies that support or encourage such a coexistence. Important in this is the idea that cultural practices, no matter how unusual, should be tolerated as a measure of respect.

patriarchy: the term given to a society that is unequal in favor of male oppression of females and the holding of power by a male body in society

sexual orientation: a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted

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