Women And Gender Studies Essay Example
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Feminism is a set of ideologies and movements whose chief aim is to define and achieve economic, political and social rights for women. The supporters of feminism share the belief that men and women have equal rights and opportunities. Modern scholars divide the history of feminist movements into three stages called “waves.”
First-wave feminism started at the end of nineteenth century and continued in early twentieth century. It began in the US and the UK in the first place and then spread to other parts of the world. The main idea of this wave was to promote equality in every possible sphere. Property rights and marriage issues received due attention; some feminists were concerned about sexual, economic and reproductive rights of women. However, women’s suffrage movements became especially popular. Movement leaders promoted a right to vote for women. They focused on gaining political power and proving their capability to rule the state on the equal basis with men. Such demonstrations and campaigns were successful. Some countries such as Australia granted female suffrage without any conditions; others, like Britain, provided with this right only those women who were older than 30 and owned houses. Later such limitations were lowered to the age of 21. In the US women’s struggle for a right to vote was combined with a campaign against slavery.
Second-wave feminism widened and refreshed the ideas of the previous stage. This term describes newer movements that focused on social, cultural and political inequalities. Such nations as the Chinese, Arab and Iranians led this wave. In China women fought for liberation from gender segregation on the basis of traditional roles that women should play in the society. The key mission was to integrate women into the workforce and to make them completely liberated. Arab women had feminist movements closely related to nationalist’s movements. They claimed for legal and social reforms. Iranian movement gained equality in education, career and legal rights, but they were soon abolished. In France feminism was also marked by the desire to minimize “gender gap.” Liberal feminism suggests that men and women should be treated gender-neutrally and its main achievement in the United Sates was gender equality at work and education granted by law (“Liberal feminism”, p. 37).
As second-wave feminism encountered a few failures, the third-wave was devoted to response them. This movement concentrated on sexuality and especially on challenging female heterosexuality. Third-wave leaders put into question definitions of femininity that did not correspond to reality of the early 1990s. The second-wave beliefs of what is and what is not good for women were challenged. Feminists used post-structuralist definition of what is gender and what is sexuality. They used paradigm of intersectionality that helped to analyze in which ways “the intersection between inequalities such as race, gender, and class shaped women's lives and structured the social location of specific groups of women of color in distinctive ways” (Fernandes, 2010, p. 102). The third-wave feminism also provided a platform for debates about the existence of difference feminists. They believe that there are crucial differences and that is why some roles in the society are distributed and must be distributed on the gender basis.
The wave approach is central in the women’s studies because it provides the best description of the key developments and achievements of the women’s movement. Every wave deals with the same issues that are important for women but focuses on different aspects of them. Each of them represents new inspirations and new actors in “a struggle to end sexist oppression.” (bell hooks, 2003, p. 53). It helps build evolutionary model of those parameters that are influential and lie within the heart of the process but have tendency to change.
Social systems have major impact on women’s lives. Family, work, media, religion and sexual behavior are framed by the ideas and established practice that particular society has. It determines the way of living and basic rules that must be observed. Some women are brave enough to try to break the system; however, it can be very problematic.
The majority of works on this subject discuss the system of media and religion as the most influential. If we speak about media, we should discuss its impact on the minds of women and their behavior. Mass media are obsessed with women’s looks and continue to bombard females with propaganda of “universally recognized standards of beauty.” In this context, we should remember the right to choose and “right to body autonomy and sexual self-determination” (Winter, 2013) that were defined by the feminist movements. Unfortunately, they have been dramatically misinterpreted. Not everything that is connected to sexual behavior and appearance is feminist. Thus, socially unacceptable attitude and women-hating behaviors did not receive support among the feminists. But today with its promotion of consumerism, media influence “personal choice” of women.
Religion is another social system that makes issue of women’s rights problematic. Muslim women are often heard to be suppressed by males and deprived of their rights. However, I think it is not true. From the Western point of view, women in every Muslim state suffer from gender inequality. Lots of things, that one may consider to be depriving of a right, have logical cultural or religious explanation. Muslim women themselves do not perceive it of infringement of their freedoms. That is why in this context we talk about accepting the difference. It requires hard work of estimating and understanding products of different histories, expressions of different desires and explanations of different circumstances. The key idea is that by understanding differences among women feminism can spread. If the community of women who desire to have equal rights and freedoms became more united and tolerate, it could focus on the common goal more. That is why accepting the fact that ‘there might be different ideas about justice and that different women might want, or choose, different futures from what we envision as best” (Abu-Lughod, 2002) is a right path.
Given the abovementioned problems, the role of institutions in reaching gender equality must be discussed. Institutions must be reformed in a way to grant equal rights and opportunities for both sexes. Until the society structure remains predominantly patriarchal, it will take too many efforts to overcome inequality in opportunities and to balance power relations between men and women. Feminists across the globe reached a consensus that in order to make significant positive impact on the gender inequality, we should change institutions. Such a process is not an easy one and is far from being sophisticated. However, there is a progress in this direction. Feminist leaders, who have power to organize and unite people, initiate ideas and practices that may help change institutions, but they do not become a mainstream. This means that institutions change must be a result of organizations work. When an organization shakes the inveterate life of community, it has a choice whether to accommodate to existing rules and norms or to challenge them. If it chooses the latter, it can spread its views on gender issue.
In my opinion, feminism is a controversial phenomenon. The idea that “woman is commonly viewed as his [man’s] possession” (Trujillo 429) no longer exists because feminists have proved that women have rights and are full members of a society. This is the greatest achievement. However, due to lack of uniformity, precisely defined goals and priorities, feminism now comprises too many things that are unwelcome in women’s behavior. If feminists across the globe manage to unite, the achievements in terms of gender inequality will be far more promising.
Abu-Lughod, L. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” Global Politics and the State 2000: 486 – 494. Print.
Bell hooks. ”Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression.” Feminism n.d.: 50 - 56.
Fernandez, L. “Unsettling “Third Wave Feminism.” Journal n.d.: 98 -118. Print.
“Liberal Feminism.” Gender Reform Feminisms n.d.: 27 – 50. Print.
Trujillo, C. “Chicana Lesbians: Fear and Loathing in the Chicano Community.” The Perils of Heterosexism n.d.: 429 – 433. Print.
Winter, A. “Feminism and the Politics of Appearance.” Feminist Reprise 2004. Print.
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