Introduction to Feminist Theory


1) Anthropological Perspectives

a.      Strong evidence for gender egalitarian relationships in band and hunter-gatherer societies; eg women’s gathering brings in up to 80% of all food. Feminist critique: “gatherer-hunter” is more apt phrase.

b.     For tribal societies, gender inequality not uncommon, but status of women can still be high if economic activity puts them in public (not private) sphere.

c.     For state societies, strongly gendered public/private split. Capitalism’s shift to individual ownership often accompanied by exclusive male privilege (eg who counts as a scientist, who counts as a citizen, who can own property, etc).


2)  “First wave feminism” U.S.

July 19, 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and friends organize "A convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman" at Seneca Falls. Used the Declaration of Independence as the framework for writing a "Declaration of Sentiments."We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."


·        Women were not allowed to vote

·        Married women had no property rights

·        Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity

·        Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law

·        No college or university would accept women students


Frederick Douglass, Black abolitionist, was key to achieving agreement on issue of suffrage; he saw how myths of biological inferiority were used to remove rights for both women and African Americans: "Suffrage is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured." Ida B. Wells spoke for African-American women and their need for dual emancipation.


The right to vote was finally won 72 years later, in 1920.


3) “Second wave feminism”

1963, Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique documenting emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were experiencing because of limited life options. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. The category "sex" was actually included as a last-ditch effort to kill the bill. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints in the first 5 years.


“Women’s Liberation Movement” of the 1960s: 1966, the National Organization for Women organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asians-Americans, lesbians, and others.

Rejection of public/private split: “The personal is the political


4) Organic romanticism in 1970s Feminist Theory

U.S. radical feminists in the 1970s (e.g. Susan Griffin, Adrienne Rich) suggest that the “natural state” of humanity is gender equality, and that science and technology are to blame for removing us into artificial state of patriarchy.


Audre Lorde: “The Master’s tools will never tear down the master’s house.” Note that this does not necessarily mean organic romanticism; one could, for example, note that if the master is using violence, this is a good argument for encouraging nonviolent resistance. Nevertheless, it was taken as part of the naturalizing feminist move.


Carolyn Merchant’s book The Death of Nature claims history of science = history of domination over nature = history of domination over women. Critique of Francis Bacon’s witch trial metaphor and Descarte’s mind/body split (the “Cartesian I”). “Ecofeminism”


5) Cyberfeminism

“Cyborg” – common abbreviation for “cybernetic organism,” e.g. human with prosthetic devices. Donna Haraway extends to any combination of organic and inorganic. Opposite of ecofeminism – opposed to their search for purity and strong boundries:


“My suspicion is that there are great riches for feminists in embracing the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine.”