This essay will evaluate the influences of feminism on political science. Feminists have given us a different outlook on what we define as politics. In simple terms politics is about power. However the ways and spheres with in which this power is exercised and the actors who have authority to use it can be debated. By challenging conventional ideas of what is political, feminists have broadened the definition of politics.
The question above will be answered in this essay by firstly looking at the historical roots of feminism. I will then move on to describe the term feminism and how this movement has developed over the years. In the second half of the essay I will look at how feminists view the state. Finally I will carry out a case study to reinforce the contributions made by feminism to the field of political analysis.
‘Although feminist aspirations have been expressed in societies dating back to china, they were not underpinned by a political theory until the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘a vindication of the rights of women’ (Heywood, 2002:61). In terms of Europe, the first set of women who highlighted issues regarding their sex did this for religion and within religious frameworks (Walters, 2005:6). Following this in the early 19th century campaigns were organized for improving education, increasing opportunities to work outside home, legal rights for married women and the concept of giving women the right to vote was initiated (Walters, 2005: 41). As a result of the demand for voting rights for women, the suffragette’s movement came into being. ‘In 1918, women over the age of 30 were given the vote; and in March 1928, under a conservative government, they finally won it on equal terms with men’ (Walters, 2005: 85).
In simple terms feminism can be defined as ‘an ideology committed to promoting the social role of women and, in most cases, dedicated to the goal of gender equality’ (Heywood, 2002: 423). Firstly the idea that there is gender and inequality in terms of sex, secondly the fact that this patriarchal system should not be allowed to dominate forms the base of feminism (Heywood, 2002: 61). Feminism essentially can be divided into three sub sections. First wave, second wave and third wave. It can be observed that with time feminism has become more radical as demands have increased. The first wave feminism, which is also known as liberal feminism, was initiated by the suffragette’s movement. Mary Wollstonecraft laid the foundations for first wave liberal feminism with the help of her book a vindication of the rights of women (Pettiford, 2005: 159). In ‘A vindication of rights of women, she used liberal arguments to make the case for equal rights and opportunities for women’ (Pettiford, 2005: 159). Liberal feminism focuses on the reasons behind women being classified secondary to men. They do not question the epistemological assumptions for these differences and mainly focus on the given content. Liberal feminist believe that by empowering women legally they can raise their status in society. These include a number of issues for example the problems faced by refugee women and sex trafficking (Smith, 2007: 188). The second and third wave feminism is critical of liberal feminism.
Second wave feminism came about after the Second World War in a number of countries. By 1947 the UN had established a commission that served the purpose of looking at the status of women in society. In 1949 by issuing the declaration of human rights, the UN acknowledged that both men and women have equal rights in terms of marriage and divorce (Walters, 2005: 97). With the help of the women’s liberation movement, the demands of more radical feminists were presented to the world. The aim was to stretch the concept of politics and stop it from being only restricted to its arena definition. The famous slogan ‘the personal is political’ came around (Heywood, 2002: 12). Politics was not only about the state or government now; it was seen as an everyday experience. This means that it is present in relationships between families, work colleagues and almost any association one individual might have with another. Radical feminists demand a sexual revolution through which they argue we can remove the patriarchal state that currently exists (Heywood, 2002:12).
The third wave of feminism raises many fundamental questions about their discipline. These include looking at the methodologies that are used in political science.
By challenging the state as being the only arena for power and politics, feminists have produced a range of arguments through which politics can be defined or analyzed. To begin with by uncovering the idea of patriarchal state, the feminist have made a huge contribution to make us view how are legal and state institutes are controlled by men and also how conventionally politics has been viewed as male stream (Hay, 2002: 71). Feminist perspectives can be divided into five broad categories: The neutral state, patriarchal state, capitalist state, women-friendly welfare state and finally the post structural state.
Liberal feminist have made contributions to the idea of a neutral state. They influenced policy making. Public debates surrounding equal pay, quotas and citizenships are now being seen under the light of equality and universality. These will enable women to step into institutes that have a male majority. Liberal feminists have armed us with a numerous of essential ideas regarding justice that are still being used in feminist debates (Marsh, 2006: 119-120).
Radical feminist have given us ideas that help in unmasking the patriarchal nature of the state. This in turn has helped in uncovering how the state has a part to play for gender inequalities within various settings (Marsh, 2006: 122).
‘Marxist and socialist feminist contribution was to conceptualize the state as a social relation and to stress the importance of understanding capitalist relations when theorizing the state’ (Marsh, 2006: 123). It emphasised the idea of the work women do for their family without demanding a wage and established a fresh outlook to liberal and radical feminist perspectives on the state (Marsh, 2006: 123).
The women-friendly welfare state feminist approach contributed to feminist debates on the state by highlighting the role of context in feminist state theory. It provided tools for analysing by challenge questioning widely accepted theories and judgments about women’s link to the welfare state which was built on Anglo-American theory and research. Furthermore by looking at gender and state in terms of theory it gave us a softer approach of analysis to the values of women’s agency (Marsh, 2006: 124-125).
‘Post structural approaches have contributed significantly to feminist debates about the state by highlighting the differentiated nature of the state and by questioning the unity of state responses’ (Marsh, 2006: 125).
The classical definition of politics provided to us by the author Robert Dahl which is that power exists when A is able to make B do something that B wouldn’t normally have chosen to do (Heywood, 2002: 11). This makes power a key concept of political science. If we then look at feminism, it is not hard to deduce from the definitions of the movement provided in the first part of this essay that feminists do indeed focus and criticise the use of power.
It can be argued that ideas such as rational choice theory and feminism have produced a whole new language with a range of lexis for the analysis of political science. The question of ‘what is politics?’ and whether or not it is a science or not can be looked in a whole new light. The key three terms that have been developed for this debate are ontology, epistemology and methodology. Ontology refers to what is out there in the world to know. Epistemology helps us to trace how we know about these ontological issues that exist. Finally methodology is a term used to describe the means employed to search for ontology and epistemology. Feminism has been described as going through three epistemological phases: rationalist (positivist), anti rationalist and post rationalist (interpretive). By rejecting conventional borders of political science and bringing up the issue of public/private dichotomy, feminists have indeed provided essential tools to dissect and analyse political issues and discipline (Stoker, 2002: 113-115).
In order to summarize and emphasise the contribution of feminist theory I will now analyse a case study. Currently the world is plagued by wars in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with this the current recession has left many unemployed and it is safe to say the world is going through a rather dark time. Due to word restriction I have decided to only look at the war on Iraq and analyze it from a feminist point of view.
The key issue I will be looking at is how the meaning of protection and security has taken a new dimension when we analyze the war on Iraq from a feminist perspective. To begin with decision to enter Iraq was made by representatives of a patriarchal structure which included ideas such as revenge, strength and bravery. These ideas would contradict feminine ideas like compromise. War on Iraq followed after September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York. It also resulted because the Bush administration claimed that Saddam’s regime were in possession of weapons of mass destruction. However these weapons were never found and civilians as well as military personnel are dying on a regular basis in these parts of the world. If we then look at this in the broader sense, the soldiers who die in these wars leave behind families. This increases the responsibility on women as they have to usually become the breadwinners of the family (Owens, 2008: 270). This not only challenges the myth of protection but also allows us to see how feminists historically contributed to allow women to become responsible for the welfare for their families. For example if we were to accept the idea of women being confide to households, who would provide basics necessities of life to these families. Along with this if a women has taken up a role of the head of the house then why should she not be allowed to make decisions on higher institutional levels. Feminists define security broadly and encompass ideas such as violence, physical, economic and ecological security (Owen, 2008: 270). The national security of states, defined in masculine terms lays emphasis on military strength, can overlook the physical and economic security of individuals (Owen, 2008: 270).
This essay has reflected on the various influences that feminism has had on political science. By questioning the relationship between public/private, feminists have contributed in revealing the complexities of the political world. The case study I used above can show us how if we were to filter conflicts from a feminist perspective, we can take account of humanitarian crises that lie ahead. Finally by showing that power is a universal and everyday practice, feminism has allowed us to see that politics indeed exists in our society and in political institutes such as the state.
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