Centuries ago, women were perceived as having a very different level of equality to men. They were looked down on and had a defined role – to be a slave to men in the home. Since then, there have been advances in the world of women due to the work of feminists. They realised that in the past women have been greatly ignored and so they set out to offer ways of change to this perspective.
Liberal feminists helped to create greater equality between sexes with important political changes, such as votes for women in 1928, Equal Pay and Sex Discriminations Act 1970+75, and in the early 90’s rape in marriage was made illegal. They focus on working within modern society, changing values and attitudes instead of trying to completely reform and change the framework. Even though women are now so much more equal to men that in previous history, they still agree there is work to be done in pursuit of equality.
Radical feminists have a very different approach. They believe only revolutionary change will offer liberation and they think men control women. Firestone says that women need to be free from biological responsibilities by having test tube babies. They have extreme ideas, such as creating women-only states.
The idea that inequality is rooted in capitalism comes from Marxist feminists. Beechey said that married women are cheap workers and so the most useful. And Reason claimed that women are not expected to be the major breadwinner and so are paid less. Fran Ainsley looked at how women are exploited and found this occurred to a great degree in the workforce and also by their husbands.
All these ideas have made women more aware of their situations. Feminists have worked to change attitudes and so their contribution to society has in fact made a lot of difference. They have promoted law and contributed to changing language. However, they do not think about or recognise that women are still generally in low paid and low status occupations. Also, particularly in the case of radical feminists, their ideas and proposals are not really realistic.
Black feminism is a more recent development. They are critical of other types of feminism, believing that they do not consider women of different ethnic backgrounds and societies. Feminists have seen the family as a negative idea for women in most cases, but for black women it is usually a place of safety and refuge from the racism they experience in society. Brewer argues that black women have different experiences to white women.
Feminist perspectives have changed modern-day society. Women are now respected a great deal more. They feel they have more power to stand up to men and an increased amount of authority generally. This research has provided the police with more sensitive ways of dealing with women, in cases such as rape, mental illness and domestic violence. Feminists have given publicity to women’s interests and issues that need to be raised but have previously been ignored e.g. domestic violence. Inequalities of power have been highlighted. They also noticed that most great famous people in the history of the world have been men; history groups have attempted to reclaim women’s history. As well, it is possible that due to the attitudes feminism has brought about, the New Man was created.
On the other hand, there have been criticisms of feminism, which I will outline. Men are not at all considered in a positive way. They also have difficulties and must find it hard to play up to the role of being breadwinner and being expected to be emotionally involved. Some feminists think feminism has gone too far in criticising men as the real milestones have been overcome e.g. equal pay, maternity rights. The New Right are saying that feminism has encouraged single parent families and damaged the family. Power feminists believe that some feminists have made women victims by portraying a worse situation than exists.
Feminism has indeed changed society. There are positive and negative aspects of feminism but there is no doubt in saying that the world has benefited from it.