Feminism itself has come to be defined as something universal that applies to women as a whole. For many people, and men in particular, this has split the mainstream and all-too-common understanding of the idea into two primary divisions. There is the “girl-power” side that stereotypes the feminist as an angry misfit unnecessarily stomping their foot for the same economic, political, and social respect that men have. The other side calls for individual women to work through obstacles of systematic disprivelage, viewing feminism as a type of death to chivalry and simply too radical and emotionally charged. These two shallow conceptions in themselves are missing a true awareness of systematic discrimination. While women have been victim to subjugation throughout history, reacting in various ways, it is important to evaluate feminist theory in its current state with reference to the social forces it is combating (Hooks, 2000). When I discuss this topic with some of my male friends, most of the time I hear gross accusations about how all feminists are lesbians, or trying to challenge the nature of human relationships, or that they all hate men for controlling society. What is missing is any application of knowledge about the historical dichotomy of power between men and women that is much larger than our self-important minds can grasp. Nor is there an appreciation for feminist thought as something with a developmental life span longer than many of our lives. The following story gives an example of how sexist power relations have existed throughout history, helping illustrate the feminist movement as more of a result of historical circumstances than a senseless expression of anger. In the time period when hunting and gathering were relied on for survival, women were clearly the dominant sex in the social construction and were viewed as having an inherent claim to social supremacy. As time went on and their power turned into pervasively cruel and oppressive tendencies, along with alarmingly creative torture techniques, men rebelled and began to take control in the dichotomy. This role-reversal is a tale as old as time itself- working cyclically throughout time in various nations, cultures, and forms. At its most fundamental level Feminism is a necessary effect of a power imbalance that has simply become too ingrained in the socio-political sphere. This works on several levels ranging from the archetype of a white woman who marries rich and is limited to being an active decoration of the household to the archetypal young black woman forced to find a “sugar-daddy” in the face of unforgiving economic imbalances. Whether or not everyone is aware of it, the current social construct is not a system that breeds equal standing and opportunity despite every person being granted equal rights.
In my experience the common perception of feminism from a young male’s point of view is that it is made up of women angry at men for causing their oppressed existential position. Even worse, many feel that they want to be more like men. This conception misses the heart of feminist politics as being about the fundamental rights of all persons, ranging from the ethics of common law to the fulfillment of equal rights in their entirety. As a movement its core goals are to end sexism by combatting the exploitation of sexist relations and the oppressive forces that create these injustices on both a micro and macro level. It is not anti-male, but rather a remedy for all issues arising from gender norms that operate in a binary system. This leaves those who experience the world outside of a culture’s narrowed theoretical framework to be subjugated into an unequal quality of experience (Wilchins, 2002). In the United States, women have been constrained to incredibly mundane expectations of behavior and a subdued place in the social structure since the nation’s birth. While the word “feminism” reflects the movement’s core responsibility to advocate the rights of all women and contest patriarchal sexism, the movement has evolved into an organization of protest to social imbalance as a whole. In the article “The tyranny of gendered spaces- reflections from beyond the gendered dichotomy” Petra L. Doan demonstrates how systematic categorization acts as a type of tyranny that limits people to gendered expectations. She argues that gendered ways of thinking have become inherent to our mental experience, using those who identify as transgendered or intersexed to bring back into our awareness the threat to humanity gender limitations poses. Doan defines tyranny as “the exercise of power which is cruelly or harshly administered; (usually involving) some form of oppression by those wielding power over the less-powerful” (2010). Western society has a continually developing “tyranny of gender” that views behavior lying outside a given gender expectation as something necessarily negative. Doan discusses this with her experience in gendered spaces and the impact it had on her as an LGTB individual. She was only able to be at one with her true self in “secret spaces” that were relaxed enough to not make her navigate around her transgender identification. In other words, she felt the necessity to deploy a false self in order to feel compatible with most social settings. This account is a testimony to how one’s mental network can range beyond the gender dichotomy and thus force an individual to filter out essential aspects of their true nature. This causes a kind of spiritual death when one cannot behave in accordance to their inner mental workings, highlighting sexual identification as more dynamic, active, and indicative of behavior than it appears. By recognizing the ways transgendered and/or intersexed communities recognize personal gender in its greater context we can better understand how they navigate space than their sexual orientation can. LGBT communities are clearly the most victimized group of people as a result of gendered ways of thinking, taking root in the same social disjuncture that feeds into sexism. By deploying a critical lens in examining gender as a whole the elements that are most telling about the threats of sexist tendencies become clearer.
In “Feminism is for Everybody: passionate politics” Gloria Jean Watkins (better known as bell hooks) fleshes out feminism as a theoretical field. Her emphasis on race and racism points to the power imbalance underlies all points of societal oppression. She outlines the developmental timeline of women in respect to all of civil rights activism, saying that most white women chose to “ally” themselves with white men in facing the idea of black men gaining the right to vote while they could not. They unified under the still very alive concept of white supremacy and ignored race as something compatible with gender. Notions of race in the feminist movement were illogically brushed off as attempts to push the conversation away from gender. By denying the presence of race the field failed to appreciate difference as something layered and in need for a critical lens, stunting the growth of the still growing field of civil rights. As the communities banned together, looking at female status as a whole allowed the movement to take foundation in the larger conditions that result in sexist discrimination. This impactful shift in thought helped feminism become a type of catalyst for women to speak out about the quality of their lived experience. Despite being unified under a sexual orientation, “sisterhood” if you will, the notion of liberation from social injustice became the true heart of feminism. This spawned from the uniracial point of solidarity that moved gender discussions away from being two ends of a single binary pushing against each other; instead, the bonds between white women and women of color served as an example of where the movement should lead. Without a theoretical framework that considers women’s experience as a whole it is difficult to isolate the consistencies of struggle that unify the issue in its totality.
In order to isolate the social conditions that lead to sexist conditioning and sexism there is a need for a shift in attention toward the female group in its internal diversity. With this lens we can isolate the regulations that reflect oppression in its sexist capacities and is consistent among women of various contexts. While multicultural psychology does not have an established set of structured principles, its aim is to unpack the underlying ideologies that guide social behavior in regard to sub-grouping. As a field, though, it is not without core ideas in guiding research, there has simply been no establishment of universal terms recognized by the field as a whole. One conception of MCP’s principalities highlights the notion of “embeddedness,” which is the idea that people’s experiences are embedded in a variety of levels of experience and contexts extending from microscopic to macroscopic severity. Thus research needs to take root in their “totality and interrelationships” (Davis, Okazaki, Giroux 2014). Another pillar is to view psychological experience as influenced by “the dynamics of dominant-subordinate relationships among different groups and identities” (2014), calling for a methodology that best reflects the lived realities of the group being studied. Finally, the lens used needs to be qualitative in nature because of the rich and complex ways minority groups have experienced the world throughout history. With these principles we are able to isolate the conceptual consistencies that make up the sexist worldview. My method will be focused on the relationship between dominant and subordinate sub-groups, highlighting the ways discriminatory practice effects they quality of one’s worldview. The subject of the study is centered on feminism, from which I will attempt to identify how different groups of women understand the movement and why. There will be two groups of women studied: the first will be students randomly selected from the campus of (the predominantly Caucasian populated) Duquesne University, and the other from the Smoker Friendly cigar shop where I work on weekday afternoons. The female customer base is predominantly black, many of whom take residence at the homeless shelter next door. The two primary distinctions are matters of race and socio-economic class, the first group being predominantly white women from an upper-middle class background, and the second being primarily black women who most likely have lived below the poverty line for most of their lives. My goal is to divulge into the theoretical levels feminism is at work through the lived realities of women on the polar opposite ends of lived experience. The results will be demonstrated in descriptive literature, reminiscent of a conversation or discourse analysis, in an attempt to cultivate the imperative to raise critical consciousness. I will ask 10 (or as many as I can convince to discuss it at length) women in each setting a few questions concerning their understanding of feminism, the first being to define the term, and then to describe the attributes of the stereotypical feminist. I will then ask whether she believes to have control over her position in the social hierarchy, followed up by the extent to which she believes patriarchy to be responsible for the given belief. One might speculate that the Duquesne student will attribute the patriarchy as an inhibiting force can lower the ceiling of potential for women in certain fields while making the achievement of any success in most fields more resilient than to men. They may be more prone to feel in control of their social position due to the accessibility to resources and belief in the American pillars of hard work, individualism, and free-enterprise. While this is solely speculation, it reflects the stereotypical (and firmly grounded in reality) underpinnings of the inhibitions for a female in a male dominated society. The second group, which I am far less capable of fully relating to than my already shallow conception of a Duquesne female’s experience, might note the idea of the “strong, independent black woman,” which I hear at least four to five times a day in conversations at Smoker Friendly, that doesn’t need a man to take care of her. Their frame of thought in answering the questions is most likely to be centered on the notion of survival or fulfillment of basic needs. Due to the context of feminism, I would guess that this group would actually be more convictive in their understanding of the self and social positioning. An important aspect of this is understanding each woman from both groups in context to their current socio-economic position. While some women proudly support themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally without a male counterpart, others might admit that circumstances simply do not allow them the capabilities to survive without the help of a man. This is an important variable in that it shows the importance of class structure and economic position in a woman’s self-understanding, exemplifying preexisting social conditions as reinforcing beliefs in sexist practice. If a woman is struggling to survive and is accustomed to perceiving the world as a male dominated society, she is bound to be more likely to give into this sexist structure as a survival technique opposed to patriarchal influence. On the other end the independent woman that answers she has control over her social position may be referring to her position in position to the black males in her daily experience and thus possess a different framework of understanding. In conducting this research I hope to demonstrate how these two groups of women understand themselves in context to the social structure they identify with, highlighting the quality of condition that is leading some women to overcome sexist discrimination while others are buried under pervasive stigmas. This is a crucial area of study because of the opportunity for solidarity among women; if points of consistency in experience are found across contexts, relatability of experience can help unify the movement as a whole and turn focus to where sex discrimination is most threatening and consequential.
While the fundamental nature of the feminist movement is the empowering of women and a revolution of their subjugated position in society, the most trialing aspect is the proliferation of males engaging in sexist behavior. Men tend to commodify and sexualize women- a prevailing issue that is seen every day from subtle to outlandish occurrences. They have also fallen into the tendency to view women as valuable in their capacity to watch after the children, wake care of the household and kitchen duties, and ultimately be the stereotypical “angel of the household” that prevailed in the 1950s. This has been the categorization of women in America since long before the conceptualization of “The American Dream” that further perpetuated to stereotype. These ideas have implemented a sense of male entitlement in their conduct toward women, making behavior that should not be socially acceptable seem commonplace. On a micro level it has become common practice to treat a woman disrespectfully, stare them up and down, and/or treat their efforts in academic disciplines as less valuable; even worse, it has become socially excusable in that it happens so often it is not worth immediate acknowledgement. The issue with these tendencies is that it creates an atmosphere that allows sexist behavior to seem admissible, giving it fuel to grow into larger issues such as domestic violence. This relationship can be shown in the spectrum between the Duquesne female who understands the patriarchal presence in her societal pursuits, and is accustomed to being around college students of similar backgrounds, paired with the black woman living at the homeless shelter who experiences patriarchy in regard to basic survival needs. When studied together there is greater access to how feminism is understood on both an individual and collective level, acknowledging the ways other social imbalances contribute to feminist theory. This will help achieve the aforementioned points of solidarity that can connect the totality of female experience while distinguishing other social factors that contribute to and intensify the issue. There has been a limited amount of authorship concerning how issues at a micro level effect the macro issues of domestic violence and rape culture. This study will help target the importance of every social tendency that feeds into sexist culture by animating the individual’s responsibility to counteract it by becoming aware of the implications.
Harry C. Triandis presents collectivism as the idea that social patterns are made up of tightly linked individuals that are motivated by the fundamental aims and livelihood of the group they identify with, and individualism as viewing social patterns as consisting of individuals motivated by their personal needs and desires (Triandis 1995). Triandis also attributed societal frameworks with possessing a “horizontal dimension” that considers the importance placed on the equality of people, and a “vertical dimension” that considers the organization of a social dynamic in its social divisions and inner-competitiveness. Additionally, people are “categorized… as allocentric (having collective tendencies) or idiocentric (having individualistic tendencies)” by Triandis (Davis, Okazaki, Giroux 2014). These conceptualizations speak to the importance of context in understanding an idea as large as feminism, needing to understand the person in relationship to the self and the community. These ideas reinforce the demand for a qualitative lens, involving techniques of conversation and application of socio-economic context. To use a survey or questionnaire would be unindicative of the information needed for a clear picture to the exact nature of social imbalance at work. This falls in line with the aforementioned “embeddedness” that views people as embedded within a complex of individual and contextual forces that are being constantly negotiated.
Study of the individualism-collectivism construct by definition searches for knowledge beyond what “individual-level research” can offer. Yamigishi (1999) argues that the individual-collective cannot be isolated as a correlation but “instead are dependent on the level of trust that is fostered by the structures of a particular society, a conceptualization of individualism-collectivism that is on the culture level instead of the individual level” (Davis, Okazaki, Giroux 2014). In other words, the dynamic is something interwoven in a combination of people’s way of behavior and their social context. In his textbook on Social Psychology, Keith Tuffin (2012) gives an example of a study that demonstrates the value of taking a critical approach to research. Tuffin uses the example of a study that critiqued a study using traditional techniques against one conducted through critical research aims. The traditional study they chose sought the correlation between “self-blame and the future avoidability of rape” (Janoff-Bulman 1979). It concluded that women who believed they could avoid rape in the future were also more likely to blame themselves for the rape happening. Elements such as how the participants define self-blame, the context of the research, and/or whether or not any of these women believed rape to be avoidable in the first place (though this might exceed ethical boundaries) were not considered. Wood & Rennie (1994) attempted to answer some of these issues by studying what self-blame and the other core verbiage mean to the participants through a discourse analysis. They noticed that a vast majority of rape victims alternated in attitude and conversation technique as they “negotiated victim and non-victim identities” (Tuffin 2005). This negotiation of identity is referring to the fragility of the conviction that can sway one way or another based on what the individual chooses to believe opposed to what he or she feels. The negotiation itself tells us about the intermingling complexities behind anything associated with something as horrifying as rape. Experiences of this level of emotional severity are not consolidated the same way other memories are- they persist in a malleable state of consolidation that is constantly changing in impression. While this study is not necessarily directly associated to feminism in research aim it still speaks to the shift in focus needed to gather authentic data. By utilizing a qualitative lens my aim is not to isolate a variable but demonstrate the underpinning realities that make feminism a necessary response to social imbalance. By isolating consistency according to context the data comes alive as to represent the underlying dynamic at work.
While the use of a qualitative lens is useful it is also heavily dependent on the researcher to find all variables necessary for conducting research with accuracy. It is a fruitful resource in its critical capacity to prove the inherently paradoxical elements in quantitative research on the grounds of the traditional objective, experimental lens being paired with the highly subjective human being. Where my research falls short in its aim to use feminism as a medium for illustrating the issues of social imbalance as a whole. The word “feminism” itself carries heavy, politically sensitive connotations that are bound to contribute to the subject’s answers. There is also an underlying assumption that the Duquesne women necessarily have a wider scope of societal understanding of feminism than the women in Smoker Friendly. There is an ethical sensitivity at work here as well in the racial and classist dichotomy clearly being used, especially considering I am a white male who cannot truly relate to the totality of experience of any woman. Any research is bound to be over-shadowed by this surface-level bias of class and race. Not only can I not fully relate to the uniquely female experience, I have never been victim to the struggle of living day in day out being solely motivated by survival. This may impinge any research’s capacity to reach people on a profound level but the study in itself holds independent value in my perspective because of a lack of attachment to feminism. Since many women personally use feminism as a unique resource for empowerment it can be difficult to deploy an objective lens in studying it. This is not to say that my perspective is somehow “better” but can offer a unique contribution as a man deeply alarmed by the social position of women within the spaces of my experience. Finally, there is little note of what needs to be done to alleviate the issues at hand, mostly due to my belief that social change necessarily takes root in the individuals that make it up. In spite of these shortcomings the research aims reflect the goals it will attempt to achieve; to promote a point of solidarity for women, advocate knowledge about the severity of social imbalance and the feminist role within it, and illustrate how feminism acts as a profound resource for the establishment of higher ethical values in the system as a whole.
Wilchins, Riki. “It’s Your Gender Stupid.” GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary. Eds. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Ricki Wilchins. Los Angeles:Alyson, 2002. 23-32.
Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
David, E.J.R. Okazaki, S. Giroux, D. A Set of Guiding Principles To Advance Multicultural Psychology and its Major Concepts.
Doan, P. (2010). The tyranny of gendered spaces – reflections from beyond the gender dichotomy. Gender, Place & Culture. 635-654.
Tuffin, K. (2005). Understanding critical social psychology. London: SAGE Publications.
Leong, F. (2014). APA handbook of multicultural psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.