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Feminist political theory is a diverse subfield of feminist theory working towards three main goals:
- To understand and critique the role of gender in how political theory is conventionally construed.
- To re-frame and re-articulate conventional political theory in light of feminist issues (especially gender equality).
- To support political science presuming and pursuing gender equality.
Feminist political theory encompasses a broad scope of approaches. It overlaps with related areas including feminist jurisprudence/feminist legal theory; feminist political philosophy; female-centered empirical research in political science; and feminist research methods (feminist method) for use in political science the social sciences. Indeed, one scholar notes that, insofar as almost all versions of feminism involve "demonstrating the ways in which politics, understood as power relations, is present in our everyday lives," one could reasonably "describe feminist theory as a whole as a kind of political philosophy." What frequently distinguishes feminist political theory from feminism broadly is the specific examination of the state and its role in the reproduction or redressing of gender inequality. In addition to being broad and multidisciplinary, the field is relatively new, inherently innovative, and still expanding; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that "feminist political philosophy serves as a field for developing new ideals, practices, and justifications for how political institutions and practices should be organized and reconstructed."
For summary of feminist history more broadly, see feminism. Feminist political theory as a term only consolidated in the West during Women's Liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. Previously, very few works of political theory explicitly considered women's political situation. John Stuart Mill’s 1861 call for women's suffrage in The Subjection of Women is a notable exception. In the early 20th Century, Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 work The Second Sex exposed the power dynamics surrounding womanhood and laid the foundation for subsequent feminist theories exposing women's social subjugation. In the 1980s and 1990s, feminist theory expanded into the legal realm led by Catharine MacKinnon’s and Andrea Dworkin’s campaigns against pornography. Several distinct stages are sketched out below.
Liberal feminism marks an important approach to feminist politics which was especially pervasive during the first half of the twentieth century. Some of the most well known examples of liberal feminist writing were published far earlier, including Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women (1869). A common theme of liberal feminism is an emphasis on equal opportunity via fair opportunity and equal political rights. In addition, according to The International Encyclopedia of Ethics, "[L]iberal feminisms of both the past and the present retain some commitment to the distinction between the public and private realms – a distinction [which is the] focus of much critique within feminist political theory."
Marxist feminism and socialist feminism considered classism as the primary source of women's oppression. "... Marxist theory does not allow women any more than other classes of oppressed people to constitute themselves as historical subjects, because Marxism does not take into account the fact that a class also consists of individuals one by one. Class consciousness is not enough. We must try to understand philosophically (politically) these concepts of 'subject' and 'class consciousness' and how they work in relation to our history." Early radical feminism was grounded in the rejection of the nuclear family and femininity as constructed within heterosexuality. and Radical feminism abdicated any previous forms of political theory to develop entirely new theories rooted primarily on the direct experiences of women. Radical Feminismhas experienced many transitions over time, including facing an anti feminist backlash(humanism) but the theoretical history and survivalremains important to understand.
Topics of inquiry
A key aspect of feminist political theory/philosophy is feminist epistemology. Feminist epistemologists question the objectivity of social and philosophical sciences by contending that standards of authority and credibility are socially constructed and thus reflect and re-entrench the sociopolitical status quo. Thus, one common feminist methodological solution is to include many diverse voices reflecting all parts of society in the process of knowledge-making.
Gendered political institutions
Political theory on the gendering of institutions explores questions such what does it mean for an institution to be “gendered," how can one evaluate whether an institution is gendered, and what are the consequences of gendered institutions for the people who work within them (of all genders). An example of such related scholarship is Eileen McDonagh's book The Motherless State which explores how socially feminized "motherly" attributes have been stripped from modern governance models.
Group identity/identity politics
Theorist studying this aspect of feminist political theory question the construction of women as an identity group. On a basic level, they consider whether it is even possible to come to some sort of conclusion about a "women" group’s relation to politics. One facet of the debate involves intersectionality and whether women from different racial and cultural backgrounds have enough in common to form a political group. Another facet questions whether transgender women should be included in the group "women" insofar as they lack many of the experiences of girlhood and womanhood which bind "women" together as a distinct group.
Yet another approach to this topic includes redefining "groupness;" for example, Iris Marion Young has suggested women are more of a "seriality" rather than a group insofar as they undergo similar experiences but in isolation of each other, lacking a sense of group identity.
Political leadership and gender
This field addresses how women lead differently than their male counterparts as legislators, executives, and judges. Some scholars in this field study how political leadership is itself masculinized to exclude the kinds of political leadership women most frequently provide, often outside of formal offices. For example, Hardy-Fanta looks at grassroots political work in Latino communities in the U.S. to identify feminized political leadership roles, ultimately concluding that Latina women provide the most critical leadership and work in those communities—despite the fact that most studies overlook their leadership because it does not occur within formal officeholding roles.
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- McAfee, Noëlle (2014-01-01). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Feminist Political Philosophy (Summer 2014 ed.).
- "John Stuart Mill: The Subjection of Women". www.constitution.org. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- "philosophical feminism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- Hartmann, Heidi (2003). The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union. Feminist Theory Reader (Eds: McCann & Kim): Routledge. pp. 206–21. ISBN 978-0-415-93152-6.
- Kaplan, Cora (1985). Pandora's Box: Subjectivity, class, and sexuality in socialist feminist criticism. Feminisms (1997) (Eds: Warhol & Herndl): Rutgers University Press. pp. 956–975. ISBN 978-0-8135-2388-0.
- Wittig, Monique (2003). One is Not Born a Woman. Feminist Theory Reader, Eds: McCann & Kim): Routledge. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-415-93152-6.
- Echols, Alice (1989). Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816617876.
- Bryson, Valerie (2016). Feminist Political Theory. Palgrave. ISBN 9781137439048.
- Tolentino, Jia (2/8/2017). "The Case Against Contemporary Feminism". https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-case-against-contemporary-feminism. Retrieved 7/11/2018. Check date values in:
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- Johnson, Pauline (1994). Feminism as Radical Humanism. Routledge. ISBN 9780429969065.
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- Dow & Wood (2014). "Repeating History and Learning From It: What Can SlutWalks Teach Us About Feminism?". Women's Studies in Communication. 37: 22–43. doi:10.1080/07491409.2013.867918.
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- Young, Iris Marion (1994). "Gender as Seriality: Thinking About Women as a Social Collective". Signs. 19 (3): 713–738. doi:10.1086/494918.
- Hardy-Fanta, Carol (1995). "Latina Women and Political Leadership". New England Journal of Public Policy.
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