Contemporary Feminist Thought

Contemporary Feminist Thought

Contemporary Feminist Thought

Contemporary Feminist Thought

Excerpt

This book is a history and critique of contemporary feminist thought, principally in the United States, from 1970 to the present. The focus is chiefly although not exclusively on the ideas of radical feminism, as expressed in the work of Kate Millett and Shulamith Firestone, and on the elaboration of these ideas in the writings of Adrienne Rich, Nancy Chodorow, and Mary Daly, among others. The book is organized into three parts. Part I considers those writers who, building on the foundations laid down by Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, established the framework for the renewed discussion of feminism in the 1970s. In this phase of the debate, the socially constructed differences between the sexes were judged to be the chief source of female oppression. In the main, feminist theory concentrated on establishing the distinction between sex and gender, and developed an analysis of sex roles as a mode of social control. Arguing for the reduction of the polarization between masculinity and femininity, it pointed, explicitly or implicitly, to the replacement of gender polarization with some form of androgyny.

Part II of the book traces the development of a second phase of contemporary feminist theory, namely, the rejection of androgyny and the adoption of a woman-centered perspective. The sex-roles analysis of the early 1970s was taken up and given wide circulation in the media and the academy, and had evoked a widespread but selective response in many quarters. As a result, women were being encouraged to overcome the defects of their feminine conditioning, and to seek to enter those areas of public life previously closed to them. The concomitant element of the radical feminist analysis, namely, the nature of the patriarchal structure that oppressed women, went virtually unmentioned. Women were to adapt themselves to the structure, rather than the other way around.

In part as a reaction to these developments, beginning in the mid-1970s the view of female differences from men began to change. Instead of being considered the source of women's oppression, these differences were now judged to contain the seeds of women's liberation. As outlined by the . . .

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