Literature Review and Theoretical Framework on Radical Feminism

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework on Radical Feminism


Many theories have been developed concerning gender inequality but this thesis is concerned with the theory of the radical feminists. Hydén & Månssojn (2007, p. 267) explains that the radical feminist theory is based on an analyses of society’s power structure. The theory argues that the existing power in place is a polarised patriarchy which means that women get subordinated because societal‘s structure is patriarchal. Furthermore, the authors explain that men’s oppression of women is the primary form of oppression. According to Valerie Bryson (1999), radical feminists see women as ‗an oppressed group who had to struggle for their own liberation against the oppressors; that is against men‘. Pamela Abbott, Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler (2005) argue that radical feminism is ‗concerned with women rights rather than gender inequality‘. That is why radical feminists wish to challenge the prevailing gender power structure and overturn it, the authors conclude.

The Emergence of the Theory


There are many theories on feminism which try to explain the woman experience and how women can overcome the problems they face in society. Some of these theories include; social and Marxist feminism which see capitalism rather than patriarchy as the source of women‘s oppression and capitalists as the main beneficiaries. Although they agree that women suffer exploitation, but this exploitation is attributed to lack of ownership to the means of production and economic dependence. They believe that women‘s unpaid work as housewives and mothers are some of the ways women are exploited. They see the inferior position of women as linked to class based capitalistic system and family structure within the system. They want to see a society where the means of production will be communally owned.

Another type of feminism is Liberal Feminism which takes a liberal stance on the gender issue. First, it posits that all people are created equal and that culture and attitudes of individuals are responsible for promoting gender conflict and nobody benefits from making one gender subordinate to the other. Rather there should be the creation of equal  opportunities to both male and females in all spheres of life. It sees education as a means of change. Critics view liberal feminism as failing to properly situate problems of exploitation of women into structural sources of inequality. The radical feminist theory which is the analytical framework for this thesis, posits that women‘s oppression is the fundamental oppression at the root of all other societal problems. It sees sexism as the core of patriarchy especially in the family and it focuses on violence against women in form of rape, sexual harassment, incest, domestic violence etc.

Other strands of the radical feminist theory include, the ‗female Supremacists theory‘ which argues that women are not just equal but are actually morally superior to men. They wish to see patriarchy replaced by matriarchy (male rule replaced by female rule). From such perspectives, men are blamed for most of the problems of the world and seen as stumbling blocks to the wheel of progress of the female. Some radical feminist groups call themselves

‗Separatist feminists‘ and they argue that women should organize independently of men outside the male dominated society. But the argument of this group can be faulted on the premise that no man is an island for no sex can live in isolation of the other due to the complex nature of society.

A different school of thought of the radical feminist is the radical cultural feminists who believe in the superiority of the feminine. They believe that it is better to be a woman and feminine than be a man and masculine. Therefore, femininity and characteristics associated with it like emotion, sharing, interdependence is glorified while traits associated with masculinity like independence, intellect, domination are treated with hostility. This school of thought is subjective in the sense that there must be a harmonization of both traits for any individual to function well in any society.

Gemzöe (2002) explains that the radical feminist theory grew out of the radical feminist movement that was formed in the 1960s in the U.S., Europe and Australia. The theory argues that women are oppressed due to their sex and that women’s oppression is the most widespread fundamental form of oppression. Radical feminist theory is a theory of women’s position in the world, designed and made by women for women. The oppression manifests itself as men’s control of women in families, sexual oppression within and outside the family, violence against women and contempt for women. Gemzo further clarifies that according to radical feminism, all women are exposed to oppression by just being a woman, and thus, it comes natural for a common movement. But also a common enemy which is known as ―the patriarchy‖, a social system based on male domination over women. Radical feminism questions why women must adopt certain other roles based on their sex. It attempts to draw lines between biologically determined behaviour and culturally determined behaviour in order to free both men and women as much as possible from their previous narrow gender roles.

Radical feminists believe that women have always been exploited and that only revolutionary changes can create a lasting solution to the oppression .But there has been diverse criticisms of the radical feminist theory and these include the generalization of the woman experience without taking cognizance of the variations of women experience in terms of race, religion, class and ethnic background. Bryson (1999) also observed that radical feminism has a blind view of the women experience. It focuses only on negative experiences of women and deny other relationships between females and males like happy marriages, motherhood etc. Also, there is also the over glorification of the innate goodness of the female while the male is often painted negatively and this gives a picture of the male and female forever at war, which is an untrue representation of life. Some see radical feminism as promoting a male hating ideology which invariably leads to tension between the sexes. While most of the observations about radical feminism are true, it is also pertinent to note that the theory puts women at the centre of focus.

Another positive aspect of the Radical feminist theory is that it addresses the issue of gender- based violence as product of existing patriarchies. Also, radical feminism strives for recognition of the rights of women and emphasizes that the core of women problems lie at socially constructed constraints against women based on their sex and that if these barriers are removed, the growth of the female will be accelerated. Oakley (2002) argues that a summation of the different theories of feminism ends on the same note; the claiming of rights and opportunities on a non gendered, non discriminatory basis. Therefore, this study is premised on the theory that gender-based violence occurs because of the unequal power relationship that exists between men and the women. Although as Mohanty (2006:244) observes, ‗male violence must be theorized and interpreted within specific societies, in order to effectively organize to change it’. Mohanty thus opines that male violence may vary from society to society; therefore critics and writers need to respond to and interpret this issue in their own ways in order to effectively work towards change. In this regard, Mohanty further asserts that sisterhood cannot be assumed on the basis of gender; it must be formed in concrete,  ―historical  and  political  practice  and  analysis”   (244).  Consequently  since  the primary focus of this work is gender violence, the radical feminist theory will be applied as an analytical framework.

Max Weber’s Power Theory


Many theories of power abound in modern industrial societies and two basic forms of power have been distinguished; authority and coercion. Authority has been defined as that form of power which is accepted as legitimate and obeyed on that basis e.g. the legislature. The second form of power is by coercion and this is not legitimate but obtained by force. Michel Foucault’s highly influential analysis presupposes that power is a kind of power-over and he puts it, ―if we speak of the structures or the mechanisms of power, it is only insofar as we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others‖ (1983, 217). It is noteworthy  that there are two salient features of this definition of power: power is understood in terms of power-over relations, and it is defined in terms of its actual exercise.

Lukes (2006) defines power thus; ‗A‘ exercises power over ‗B‘ in a manner contrary to‗B‘s interest‘. In other words, Lukes argues that power is exercised over those who are harmed by its use, whether they are aware they are being harmed or not. According to Marx (1974) power is concentrated in the hands of those who have economic control within a society. In social and political theory, power is often regarded as an essentially contested concept (Lukes 1974 and 2005, and Connolly 1983). Although this claim is itself contested (Haugaard 2010; Morriss 2002,199 -206 and Wartenberg 1990, 12–17), there is no doubt that the literature on power is marked by deep, widespread, and seemingly intractable disagreements over how the term power should be understood.

One such disagreement pits those who define power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do, that is, as an exercise of power-over, against those who define it as an ability or a capacity to act, that is, as a power-to do something. Accordingly, Weber (1947) defines power as an individual‘s or group‘s ability to enforce its own interests in situations characterized by resistance. The power is about to subdue and force obedience, and it is a zero sum game where you get power by reducing someone else‘s. In other words, it means the ability to enforce your own way despite the opposition. Weber believes dominance arises when people choose to submit to it. Those who get exposed and are vulnerable to domination accept this supremacy. Weber believes people may be willing to accept inferiority when the person concerned believes in achieving his/her goal. Thus, the power does not arise by a superior force crushing an inferior force, but by people choosing to become subject of the power.

According  to  Weber  (1983)  the  concept  ―authority‖  stands  for  legitimate  forms  of domination, which is accepted and seen as natural by those governed by the same. Max Weber divides the authority into three different types. The first one is known as ―traditional authority‖ and this type of dominance has a historical culturally defined structure. In this  case, authority is invested in the belief of the ‗rightness‘ of established customs and traditions. Those in authority command obedience on the basis of their traditional status which is usually inherited. The power structures are created and maintained by myths and other cultural symbols, thus, is seen as a natural part of the social system. Weber explains how systems, such as monarchies or a religious organizations, cannot question the authority without the whole system getting questionable. This is a way to create and maintain inequalities in societies, and this shape prevents changes and development in societies, thus, prevents  emergence  of  other  modern  forms.  ―Charismatic  authority‖  is  the  second  type  of dominance where authority is based on unique existing or attributed characteristics of a specific individual, making people want to follow the person concerned. This person already has an informal leader role, thus, automatically gets authority (Börjesson & Rehn 2009).

Weber (1983) presents the third type of dominance ―legal authority‖ which does not rely in a person, but in a system. Max Weber argues that cultural development leads to an increasing of power stipulating, making structures and institutions. Moreover, Max Weber argues that in modern societies the power is in bureaucratic structures, making behaviours, processes and thus, the power is separated from the people but on transparent regulations, and the power relies in a legal system rather than individual leaders. The idea is everything should be the same for everyone, concludes the author.

This  research  therefore  adopts  Weber‘s  theory  of  ―traditional  authority‖  which establishes that dominance over people has to do with authority invested in the belief of the rightness‘ of established customs and traditions. The analyses of the relationship between power and gender-based violence have been done using Max Weber‘s theory of power as analytical tool.

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