This sample Sociology and Feminism Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Like other free research paper examples it is not a custom research paper. If you need help with writing your assignment, please use research paper writing services and buy a research paper on any topic.
- Feminism And The Conceptual Practices Of Sociology
- Feminist Model Of Society
- Feminism And The Organizational Development Of Sociology
Feminism is the system of ideas and political practices based on the principle that women are human beings equal to men. Feminism may be the most wide ranging social movement in history, effecting change in the institutions, stratificational practices, and culture of nearly all societies. Its impact on sociology is the focus here. A study of this impact shows that sociology as an intellectual discipline and as a professional organization is itself deeply gendered, located in and affected by the society it attempts to study, and that its gendered character changes only in response to changes in the gender dynamics within society – changes in part produced by the action of feminist sociologists.
As a system of ideas, feminism includes alternative discourses: liberal, cultural, materialist or socialist, radical, psychoanalytic, womanist, and postmodernist. Among these, liberal feminism and materialist feminism have been most important to sociology. Liberal feminism argues that equality with men means equal rights for women; it has focused on achieving those rights through political action, enlisting the state to prohibit practices of discrimination against women; while basically accepting the capitalist organization of society, it works for a more level playing field for women in that society. Materialist feminism attempts to incorporate Marxist or socialist ideas and focuses on social production as the key social process wherein equality must be achieved. Radical feminism has helped sociology define violence – domestic violence, spouse abuse, rape – as central to gender dynamics. Psychoanalytic feminism has effected a reworking of socialization theory. Womanist feminism challenges the concept of a unitary standpoint of «woman,» making intersectionality a key idea in feminist analysis. Postmodernist feminism has, as post modernism has done everywhere, challenged some of the basic conceptual categories of feminist analysis, such as woman and gender.
As political practice, feminism is understood as a social movement with several periods of high mobilization, called «Waves.» First wave feminism is the period from about either 1792 (the date of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women) or 1848 (the date of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York) to 1920 (the date that US women got the vote). Second wave feminism is the period of activism that began in the 1960s – starting events were President Kennedy’s 1961 Commission on the Status of Women headed by Esther Peterson and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963). Third wave feminism refers to the ideas and actions of women and men who will spend the majority of their lives in the twenty first century. Between first and second wave feminism there was a period of relative quiet, a seeming hiatus (though this is debated among scholars).
The relationship between feminism and sociology has existed from the beginning of the discipline. Women have been contributors to the enterprise of sociology as creators of professional organizations, sociological theory, sociological methods, and empirical research; they have made these contributions in the discipline’s founding, classic, modern, and contemporary generations – and the majority of these women have been feminists, attracted to sociology’s promise that social life can be studied as a human creation, that as such it can be controlled and changed in directions that are more just. It is possible to trace four generations of feminist sociologists. First wave feminism spanned two generations of sociology: the founding (1830–80) and classic (1890–1930) generations. The primary message of first wave feminist sociologists was that women could claim a right to participate in the discipline, to do sociology – theory, method, practice. Second wave feminism began at the midpoint of modern sociology (1930–90) and continues to influence the momentum of feminist sociologists in the contemporary generation (1990–). The primary message of second wave feminist sociologists has been that women have a right to participate equally with men in the enterprise of sociology and that sociology itself is not free of the sexism that shapes the societies it studies. Despite this long continuity, the history of women’s sociology has followed the rule of women’s history generally – it is lost and recovered, lost again, and rediscovered generation by generation. One work of second wave feminist sociologists has been the recovery of the founding and classic generations of women in sociology. Third wave feminism will presumably pattern the dynamics of the profession in the twenty first century – a prediction that draws its strength from the fact that women increasingly constitute the majority of students at all levels in sociology programs.
Feminism And The Conceptual Practices Of Sociology
Despite the gap in historical memory between the founding and classical generations and the modern generation of feminist sociologists, it is possible to generalize about themes that mark feminist sociology across all four generations. These themes constitute feminism’s contribution to the conceptual practices of sociology. But the presence and effect of these themes in sociology turn in part on their validity as descriptors of social reality and in part on the influence of feminism as a political movement.
The major contribution of feminism to socio logical practice has probably been the concept of gender, which feminism has both centralized and refined. The first attempt at identifying gender as a sociological variable was made by Gilman (1898) when she described human society as distorted by «excessive sex distinction»; by «excessive» she means any distinction between men and women beyond the biologically necessary differentiation for reproduction. But Gilman’s insight, while widely hailed by women, was not followed up in sociology. The term gender was used only infrequently in sociological publications until the 1970s – and only as a synonym for sex. A sample run of a computerized database shows that between 1895 and 1969 only 69 sociology articles used the concept and in none is it a major variable or title feature; but in the decade 1970 to 1979, over 500 articles are recorded as using gender, with many featuring it in the title.
In the modern usage of gender, feminist scholars worked to distinguish it from sex and sexuality. Three main understandings of gender have emerged from the engagement of feminism and sociology: gender has been understood as a part of role performance across institutions – and most recently as an institution in its own right (Martin 2004); as a pro duct of ongoing individual activities in which social actors consciously and unconsciously «do gender» (West & Zimmerman 1987); as a stratificational category (Acker 1973) – including the concept of «gender class» (MacKinnon 1989). Whichever of these definitions a sociologist may work out of, the key feminist achievement has been to separate gender from sex as an analytic category and to define gender as a social construction imposed on perceived bio logical differences. The most radical claim urged by some feminist sociologists is that «gender» can and should be dismantled, that it is a dysfunctional social structure (Lorber 1994).
Central to all these approaches to gender is the process of gender socialization: the question of how people learn to conduct themselves and to configure their identities around the socially constructed categories of masculine and feminine. Gender socialization is seen as occurring through a variety of social experiences – parent–child interaction, peer group experiences, children’s play, media representations. An important addition to this analysis is R. W. Connell’s discussion of «hegemonic masculinity,» a cultural construct that presents the exaggerated and idealized traits of manhood as a goal for all men; as idealizations, no individual can fully realize these traits, but they serve as an instrument of social control as individuals try to do so. Hegemonic masculinity legitimizes both male dominance over women and the dominance within patriarchy by some men – the most hegemonically masculine – over other men. The cultural complement to hegemonic masculinity is emphasized femininity.
The standpoint of women is the epistemological claim made by feminist sociologists that the social world can and should be analyzed from the perspective of women and that a complete sociological knowledge requires such an analysis. From Harriet Martineau’s Introduction to Society in America in 1836 to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s analysis of food production in Women and Economics (1898) to Dorothy E. Smith’s landmark 1979 essay «A Sociology for Women,» feminist sociology has been shaped by the assertion that women’s standpoint offers an essential lens for discovering the organization of society and that the organization they discover is different from that of sociology based in male experience. The idea of a stand point of women rests on three main claims in feminist epistemology: (1) that understanding of the world is created by embodied actors situated in groups that are variously located in social structure; (2) this understanding, therefore, is always partial and interest based; and (3) this understanding is shaped by the individual’s and the group’s experience of power or disempowerment in relation to others. There can be, feminists argue, a standpoint of women because women constitute a definable group, recognizable in part by their embodiedness, who share a common interest in terms of their assignment to specific tasks in social production and a common relation to power as it is exercised in patriarchy.
The idea of the standpoint of women has been limited and refined by Donna Haraway and Patricia Hill Collins (1998) to capture the fact of what Collins has termed «intersectionality» – the lived experience in an individual biography of the daily workings of social power as multifaceted and involving besides inequalities of gender, inequalities of race, class, geosocial location, age, and sexuality. This intersection produces what Haraway calls «situated vantage points» or shifting under standings of the world arising out of the relevant structures of a particular context at a particular moment.
Feminist epistemology charts the dynamic interplay between a standpoint of women and the experiences of intersectionality and situated vantage point. But in all forms, feminist epistemology challenges the universalizing voice of traditional and androcentric social theory.
Feminist Model Of Society
Feminist sociology’s model of society turns on a reworking of the traditional concept of social production. In this reworking feminists expand the concept of social production, critique the concept of «public and private spheres,» show how gender stratification permeates all of production, and offer a distinctive model of the way in which power and production in interaction organize the social world. From the stand point of women, social production is seen as encompassing all the activities necessary to maintain human life – paid work in the economy, unpaid work in the home, the production of material goods – but also the production of emotional goods such as security, kindness, love, acceptance, etc., of order in time and space through coordination of schedules, waiting, cleaning, replenishing; and the reproduction of the worker both biologically in birth and childrearing and daily in all the activities of maintenance, including care of the sick.
This production is gendered. A gender ideology divides it into public and private spheres, and patriarchy as an organizing principle of social production means that women of every class find themselves responsible in some way for the private sphere. From the stand point of women these spheres overlap so that an individual’s position in one sphere affects their position in the other. The public sphere is organized around the unacknowledged assumption of ongoing, uncompensated private sphere labor by women; a woman’s work in the private sphere hinders her participation in the public sphere; her gender role in the private sphere patterns expectations of her in the public sphere; where public sphere participation for women intensifies the difficulty of private sphere performance, public sphere participation for men gives privileges in the private sphere; the sexual harassment of women is part of a battle between men and women over spheres and domains; for women who work as domestics, private sphere work is their public sphere participation; and for all women private sphere work is undervalued by the society. Feminist studies of the gendering of work have produced a vocabulary that has entered the everyday world: «women’s double day or second shift,» «sexual harassment,» «equal pay,» «pay equity,» «comparable worth,» «municipal housekeeping,» «the glass ceiling,» «domestic violence,» «his marriage and hers,» «the ideal worker norm,» «juggling work and family.»
Perhaps the most large scale generalization from this line of thought is Dorothy E. Smith’s division of the social world into the local actualities of lived experience, where the world’s production is done, and the relations of ruling, the interconnections of power which control and appropriate that production. In Smith’s model all women are part of the local actualities of lived experience – as are most men; the domain of the relations of ruling is a masculine one, fulfilling what one might see as the ethic of hegemonic masculinity – control. This control is exercised through anonymous, impersonal, generalized texts – documents created by the apparatus of ruling that determine who can legitimately do what.
From the beginnings of their engagement with the discipline, feminist sociologists have been concerned with methodology, inventing many of sociology’s most characteristic and innovative strategies for collecting and presenting data. They pioneered the survey, the interview, the questionnaire, personal budget keeping, participant observation, key informants, and secondary data analysis (census, legislation, memoirs and diaries, wage and cost of living records, court reports, social worker reports, tax rolls, nursery rhymes, industrial accident reports). They were equally pioneering in methods of presentation, using photographs, detailed colored maps of neighborhoods, tables, bar charts, graphs, statistical analyses, narrative accounts, and extended quotation from subjects (Reinharz 1992; Lengermann & Niebrugge Brantley 1998).
Growing out of the lived experience of asserting the validity of women’s standpoint in the world, feminist sociology has made as the cornerstone of its research ethic respect for the subject. It has argued from its beginnings (Holbrooke 1895) that the researcher is not at liberty ethically to «use» the subject as a source of information and then forget about him or her. Hallmarks of feminist research methodology are the practices of selecting research topics that may contribute to bettering the lives of women, taking the research back to the subject for comment, and active and helpful engagement in the life of the research subject as it is lived in the local actualities. Feminist method also emphasizes keeping alive the voice of the subject in the final report of the research.
Feminism And The Organizational Development Of Sociology
The presence of these conceptual achievements of feminist practice in sociology rests ultimately on feminism as a political movement. Although the history of sociology is often told as a history of its great ideas transmitted from Europe to America, sociology in the US and Europe did not spring full grown as a set of ideas; its development turned equally on the establishment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of organizational bases for professional practice. Of these, the academy was only one of many and in the establishment of these various bases feminists played an important but, until the 1990s, underappreciated role.
In the middle of the nineteenth century women spurred by first wave feminism were among the first adherents of the new social science movement (Bernard & Bernard 1943). The social science movement began as volunteer activity by concerned citizens who believed that scientific inquiry could be used to address the social problems produced by the expansion of capitalism and industrialism. In Britain, feminist sociologist Harriet Martineau was an early supporter of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science established in 1856. In the US, feminist Caroline Healey Dall corresponded with the British association and was one of the founding members of the American Social Science Association (1865) (ASSA). ASSA spawned and affiliated with many progressive organizations in which feminists played significant roles, including the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (NCCC) begun in 1874 and the Association for the Advancement of Women (which had begun as the Ladies’ Social Science Association in 1873). State and local chapters of ASSA provided a base in which local feminists could play an important role. As sociologists began to establish an academic presence in the latter part of the nineteenth century, sexism in the academy meant that men became the professional face of sociology in that setting; women were welcome as students but not as professors. But between 1885 and 1910 sociology was also being practiced intelligently, innovatively, and self consciously outside the academy in the social settlements that grew up in America’s major cities. For many citizens, settlement sociology was the face of the discipline and in that location women were the primary actors, particularly Jane Addams, consistently voted among the most admired Americans, in part for her sociological practice (Lengermann & Niebrugge Brantley 1998).
In the new American Sociological Society (ASS) formed in 1905, an indirect offshoot of ASSA, women were a very small minority; in the first year, women constituted about 12 per cent of the society’s membership – 15 out of a membership of 116. That percentage of professional activity within the association remained fairly constant down to about 1969. Though women maintained membership, presented papers at meetings, and wrote for the society’s official publication the American Journal of Society (and had so done since its inaugural issue in 1895), they only occasionally were elected to national offices. Between 1932 and 1969 – a hiatus in the waves of women’s activism – only 7 women reached the office of vice president. Only one woman was elected president: Dorothy Swaine Thomas in 1952. Women in unknown numbers entered the profession indirectly as faculty wives, of whom the most influential for the profession was Helen McGill Hughes, who served the AJS as de facto and then acknowledged managing editor from 1944 to 1961, establishing practices for editing manuscripts and affecting the review process itself. In the years 1949 to 1958, while women represented slightly more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in sociology in the US, they constituted only about one third of master’s degrees, and only about 12 percent of all doctorates, authored only slightly more than 5 percent of journal articles in AJS and the American Sociological Review, and made up less than 10 percent of the attendance at annual meetings.
However, with the beginnings of second wave feminism, feminist sociologists began to organize – a move symbolized by Alice Rossi’s 1964 declaration «An Immodest Proposal» that argued that society was free of «antifeminism» not because of an absence of sexism but because of an absence of feminist consciousness, that women had to «reassert the claim to sex equality.» The reassertion of this claim within sociology had its first major impact on professional sociology at the 1969 ASA annual meeting in San Francisco, when the Women’s Caucus produced a series of 10 resolutions voted on and accepted at the ASA Business Meeting, calling for equity in ASA organization, departmental hiring, training of graduate students, and in sociological curricula, for the promotion of women’s history and for sociological study of sex inequality. In February 1971 some 20 members of the Women’s Caucus met at Yale and formed Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). Representative of the success of this effort is the 1973 AJS issue on «changing women in a changing society» in which Jessie Bernard (1973) described the four revolutions she had lived through in professional sociology, with feminism becoming the fourth.
But by the 1980s, while research on gender and women was certainly more present in journal discourse than in the past, what were considered the leading journals – AJS, ASR, and Social Forces – still published less on gender and women than other journals. Responding to what Stacey and Thorne (1985) called the «missing feminist revolution in sociology,» the SWS in 1987 founded its own journal Gender and Society, which today has the largest readership of any SAGE sponsored journal. The SWS helped establish an ASA section on Sex and Gender which was in 2005 the largest section in the ASA. Since 1970 there have been 8 women presidents of ASA and 21 women vice presidents.
The 1990s represented a high water mark of feminist activism in professional sociology: 1993 marked the beginning of a period in which women have consistently received more doctorates than men; in 1994 women constituted 75 percent of the ASA Governing Council; by 1995 women were almost 50 percent of assistant professors and were approaching 40 percent of the associate professors; in 1996 they were 40 percent of the editors of ASA sponsored journals. Since then, there has been a leveling off of women’s participation in professional policymaking in the association. While from 2001 women constituted over 50 per cent of all members of the ASA, this figure reflects the growth of female student member ship – and also the general decline across the social sciences of male graduate students. The 2004 Report of the ASA Committee on the Status of Women in Sociology showed that women were still underrepresented in significant ways – on editorial boards, as editors, as recipients of major awards – and that women tend to leave the ranks of assistant professors in significantly greater numbers than men. One challenge for third wave feminist sociologists is to address equity issues in a situation where, while much has been achieved, much remains to be done.
- Acker, J. (1973) Women and Social Stratification: A Case of Intellectual Sexism. American Journal of Sociology 78(4): 936-45.
- Bernard, J. (1973) My Four Revolutions: An Autobiographical History of the ASA. American Journal of Sociology 78(4): 773-91.
- Bernard, L. & Bernard, J. (1943) The Origins of American Sociology: The Social Science Movement in the United States. Thomas Y. Crowell, New York.
- Collins, P. H. (1998) Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
- Gilman, C. P. (1898) Women and Economics. Small & Maynard, Boston.
- Hochschild, A. & Machung, A. (1989) The Second Shift. Basic Books, New York.
- Holbrooke, A. S. (1895) Map Notes and Comments. In: Hull House Maps and Papers, By Residents of Hull House. Crowell, Boston, pp. 3-23.
- Laslett, B. & Thorne, B. (1997) Feminist Sociology: Life Histories of a Movement. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.
- Lengermann, P. & Niebrugge-Brantley, J. (1998) The Women Founders: Sociology and Social Theory, 1830 1930. McGraw-Hill, New York.
- Lorber, J. (1994) Paradoxes of Gender. Yale University Press, New Haven.
- MacKinnon, C. (1989) Towards a Feminist Theory of the State. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Martin, P. Y. (2004) Gender as a Social Institution. Social Forces 82(4): 249-73.
- Reinharz, S. (1992) Feminist Methods in Social Research. Oxford University Press, New York.
- Rossi, A. (1964) Equality Between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal. Daedalus 93: 607-52.
- Smith, D. E. (1987) The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Northeastern University Press, Boston.
- Stacey, J. & Thorne, B. (1985). The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology. Social Problems 32: 301 16.
- West, C. & Zimmerman, D. (1987) Doing Gender. Gender and Society 2: 125-51.