Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction

By Rosemarie Putnam Tong | Go to book overview
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the well-mannered, multitalented, physically fit, achievement-oriented boy or girl who wins all the class awards and whose photograph appears on every other page of the yearbook.

Finally, said Jaggar, not only are many women alienated from their own sexuality and from the product and process of motherhood; they are also alienated from their intellectual capacities. A woman is made to feel so unsure of herself she hesitates to express her ideas in public, for fear her thoughts are not worth expressing; she scurries up and down the hallowed halls of academe frequently fearing she will be exposed as a pretender, not possessor, of knowledge. To the extent men set the terms of thought and discourse, suggested Jaggar, women are never at ease.104

Women must, stressed Jaggar, understand that within the structures of late-twentieth-century capitalist patriarchy women's oppression takes the form of women's alienation from everything and everyone, especially themselves.105 Only when women understand the true source of their unhappiness will women be in a position to do battle with it.


Contemporary Marxist-socialist feminists, as typified here by Iris Young and Alison Jaggar, have enabled feminists to stop asking questions such as "Does capitalism cause patriarchy or vice versa?" and instead recognize, as did Nancy Fraser, the similarities and mutual reinforcements between, for example, the U.S. male-headed nuclear family and the U.S. state-regulated official economy. In a provocative analysis of Jürgen Habermas's critical social theory, Fraser claimed Habermas's relative inattention to gender issues weakens his otherwise excellent explanation of how welfare state capitalism inflates our role as consumers, transforming us all into passive clients, while it simultaneously deflates our role as citizens, reducing us all into mere voters.

Observing that the roles of citizen and worker are masculine roles whereas those of consumer and child-rearer are feminine roles, Fraser noted that although welfare state capitalism oppresses everyone, it oppresses women in different and arguably worse ways than it oppresses men. She claimed the "new client role has a gender,"106 and this gender is female. What is more, said Fraser, the logic of the capitalist welfare system is gendered. For example, in the United States there are two fundamental kinds of welfare programs: "masculine" social insurance programs and "feminine" relief programs. Whereas social insurance programs are tied to primary labor force participation and designed to benefit the principal breadwinner, relief programs are oriented to domestic "failures," that is, to families without a male principal breadwinner. In Fraser's estimation,


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Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction


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