The feminist theory is a philosophical and theoretical extension of the understanding of gender inequality in the society. This study seeks to comprehend the social roles women have had in the past and at present. Comprehensively, women politics will encompass the scope of the study, with an emphasis on relevant fields such as anthropology, sociology, literature, psychoanalysis and the likes. However, with a general critique on social relations in the society, feminist theories have been extensively focused on women issues such as gender inequality, women rights, gender issues and the likes.
There is however a notable progressive development of feminism which has transformed the social nature of the world from the earlier retrogressive form to what it is today. Feminist movements started as early as 1792 to the early 1920s and still exist today. Evidently, modern feminism has evolved when compared to its antecedents. Prior movements explored the flawed perceptions men had on women and relatively, the limited rights women had. Earlier movements also focused on elevating the woman as a universal entity but later transformed into an obsession of social differentiation; primarily concerned with individuality and diversity. These themes haven't changed much at present, though feminist movements today are more critical.
Feminist movements today deal with new issues in feminism such as defining the woman as a social construct, redefining social relationship between genders and defining the woman with regard to gender identity. Politically, this can be defined as a shift in ideological makeup from one variable to another. This analysis therefore seeks to explore these dynamics with a focus on feminism in the American context. Comparison will be made regarding oppression and liberation of women; current status of women in America; and feminist contributions to the justice system, equality and identity.
Oppression and Liberation of Women in American Culture
Many feminist scholars have noted that sexism is the root of all forms of oppression America has witnessed in the past and today. Traditionally, men have been hunters while women farmed, took care of the household, children and villages. These roles were primarily based on sex or gender. Collectively, women also controlled the land, language and the culture of the community but men became very authoritative when they discovered women were leading a more stable and peaceful life (Charlotte, 1972). The details of this conquest are not clear but it was established that there was some form of imperialism of males over females. This was best evidenced by the males claiming dominion over the female body as his territory or property. A woman was therefore subject to a man.
After stamping male authority over females, males often extended their oppressive tendencies to other social parameters like race and class. This created the bedrock to which many conquests and movements against race and class are fought today. This has been going on in the past 3000 years or so, but none of these conquests have truly liberated the woman. In any case, historically, racial divide has misdirected feminine movements because the unity of women against sexism and female oppression has never been coordinated. As these forms of oppressive tendencies in the society diminished, it became clear to many feminist movements that the true liberation of women could not be attained through the death of capitalism, imperialism or racism. Instead, scholars identified that women liberation could only be achieved if male supremacy was defeated (Charlotte, 1972).
As a result, attacks on male supremacy are now being evidenced all around America with much focus being made on attacking dominance based on class and race. This is true because class and race have been identified to shift focus from true liberation (female liberation). Instead, focus has shifted on class and racial liberation which is usually perpetrated by the elite in the society and has no place for female movements. Currently, evidence of attack on male supremacy is being forged on many fronts including social, political and economic stages but other societal changes such as lesbianism also pose a threat (Charlotte, 1972).
Generally, female liberation has been centered on getting equal rights for women, in terms of available opportunities, economic activities, personal life, and governance but specifically, female liberation has been fought in three waves. This has been characterized in varied social movements, observed in the US. The first liberation movement was observed in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. Majorly, this movement centered on getting equal rights for women such as the right to vote. The second movement was focused on improving the whole feminine experience with an improvement on aspects that touched on private life, sexuality, family and work. Ultimately, this led to the third wave of liberation which was and is still centered on enforcing the achievements of the American woman. As a secondary purpose, the third wave of change was also developed to supplement the shortcoming of the second movement
Current Status of Women in the U.S. Compared To Other Countries
Worldwide, it cannot be said that women have truly been liberated because the current state of women is still inferior to men. Despite the US having made considerable gains in liberating women, worldwide, no country can be said to have truly achieved equality with men. In fact, of the world's 1.3 billion (or more) poor people, a great majority (about 70%) are women. In countries with refugee population, a summary of their total population comprise of an overwhelming women population of 80% (UN, 2010). Despite, significant progress being made by many developing nations in respect to equal gender empowerment, developed nations pose the highest women life expectancies, educational attainment and income. These rates are highest in Sweden, Canada, Norway, USA and Finland (UN, 2010). However, this does not mean that there are no signs of oppression in developed nations because more still needs to be done to empower women the more.
Progress on women empowerment in developed countries had been observed after the industrial revolution. The success of entrenchment of women rights in America can be traced back to the era of industrial revolution where women were allowed to work in the same industries as men, but paid little income as compared to their male counterparts (UN, 2010). Women now earn good money in America but their salaries can still not be compared to that of men. This situation is however no different from other countries around the globe because women are observed to work more than men but again their salaries cannot still measure up to that of men.
Unlike the past where middle or upper class women confined themselves to the comfort of their homes, women in America now have the liberty to work in the environments men do. However, in most developing countries, women work in a state of despair and misery. Many efforts to liberate such women in such countries have been consumed by unrelenting struggles for survival. Sexual liberation evidenced in America and Europe, through lesbianism and such like movements, seems irrelevant for such women. Oppressive laws still exist where many forms of women movements are squashed by existing laws that perpetrate male dominance.
Women have especially been tied down by culture, tradition and religion. For example, women in the Middle East still can't enjoy equal employment rights as men, because religion places them as subjects to males. No wonder, countries like Saudi Arabia have little or no women representation in their governance structures. In contrast, American women can vie for top level offices in the country. For instance, America has had two consecutive female secretaries of state, both in the Bush and Obama administrations. Women in America therefore have a great opportunity that can be almost equaled to that of men, in various aspects of the society including political, social and economic.
However, some developed nations have made tremendous strides of female empowerment in Africa, Asia and beyond. Economic progress has therefore been envisioned with the inclusion of women input. Political representations have also been supported by legislations to improve minority representation. For example, South Africa has a reserved number of women seats in parliament, guaranteed by the law. Kenya, a leading East African economy also recently passed a new constitution that reserves a third women representation in all public offices. Interestingly, some countries like India, Sri Lanka, Liberia and Israel have had female heads of state, a trend that is yet to be emulated by the US and Europe. With regard to sexual equality, countries such as the People's Republic of China have made tremendous progress. Undoubtedly, it can be said that women liberation movements will be unrelenting until equality is achieved everywhere.
Feminist Contributions to the Justice System
The American justice system was previously oblivious of the afflictions women went through in their day to day lives. Predictably, injustices against women were consumed in the pretext of social control of women. Rape for example was viewed as a way of keeping women in check. Essential, injustices against women was perpetrated by male dominance in the society. Feminist movements have however changed this trend with many legislative contributions put in place over recent decades to guarantee women protection. Many feminist theories have also been centered on entrenching the rights of women in the American justice system and putting an end to violence against the fairer sex.
Feminist criminologists for example, have been instrumental in changing the society's perception of women violence as a legitimate crime against women. Concrete changes in the justice system have therefore been forthright to protect the rights of women in the justice system. Their contributions have also played a big role in changing policy regarding violence against women. Notably, laws against rape and sexual assault have been effectively revised to offer more protection to women against open sexual abuse.
The rape shield laws are also a perfect example of recent legislations that have been advanced by feminist movements. These laws protect a victim's sexual history by barring its discussion in a court of law. The violence against women act of 1994 was also staged by feminist movements and categorizes gender based abuse as a hate crime while at the same time, securing funds for battered women. This can be evidenced through guaranteed funding for rape centers, and women centers. Equally, policy and research has also received a financial boost to devise ways to protect women against abuse (Docstoc, 2010).
Previous legislations were criticized by feminist movements as oblivious to gender differences; categorical in defining women in sexist ways; and common in undertaking prejudice studies on women as law breakers, victims and servants of the American Justice system. What provided the breakthrough of feminism in the justice system was the bold indulgence in the political and policy world. In this respect, new issues have been created in areas of deviance control, and conformity of different gender aspects.
Law has been central in complimenting the works of feminist movements. Feminist lawyers have been on the forefront in complimenting the efforts. As a result, various assumptions existing in the society regarding gender roles have been challenged in the recent past. In fact, the process of law making, steered by feminist lawyers has brought to light the experiences women go through; such as intimate violence and sexual abuse to unravel the complexity that cultural dynamics concealed. Feminist advocates and lawyers have therefore used women's' experiences as the root for the development of legal doctrines in courts, legislature and even classrooms (Docstoc, 2010).
Feminist Contributions to Equality
Inequality is not an individual issue because of its entrenchment in the society. Not only is it entrenched in the society, families and marriages show the same trend. Some scholars also cite inequality in some aspects of work, religion, language, politics, arts and aspects of governance. For this reason, feminism has contributed to the course of equality by targeting a societal change instead of an individual change.
Feminism has sought to explain the difference that exists between men and women as only limited to biology. Feminists have reiterated that humanity, which both genders possess, supersedes all other differences that exist between them. For this reason, they have insisted that women and men are equal and should therefore not be treated any different from each other.
Educational and work opportunities have also been based on the same principles and many societies around the world provide equal opportunities for both genders. America for example, enjoys equality in both aspects of the society (education and work opportunities) as a result of this principle. As an attestation to the feminist influence, the Equal Rights Amendments Act has been presented to the legislature for ratification. It states that rights to equal treatment shall not be denied on the grounds of sex (Lorber, 2010). An antidiscrimination act has also been implemented and affirmative action is very vibrant in the American society too. Affirmative action specifically encourages cross-career specialization which means that men will be encouraged to pursue careers traditionally perceived to be feminine (like nursing or catering) and women will be encouraged to take up jobs such as engineering, and construction which are perceived to be traditionally masculine.
Feminist Contributions to Identity
The feminist contribution to identity can be analyzed in terms of changing how genders perceive, define and understand themselves when compared to others. Current studies on gender identity have moved from the psychological aspect to cultural and racial aspects. Very little attention has been focused on female identity and therefore feminist movements have found the need to do so.
The feminist view of female identity has partially been based on gender roles in the society. Notably, they have condemned gender connotation of the roles of certain career identification as sexist. They have also identified that many gender roles are advantageous to males and perpetrate male supremacy all the same. For example, many gender identification roles have associated arts, theatre and business contributions made by males as superior to those made by females. As a result, it has been difficult to ignore these sexist connotations because, unknown to many, they have made many women insecure, angry and often guilty for undertaking certain activities.
Interestingly, this makes the men look bad and perceives women in a positive light because males are viewed as oppressors and women, the oppressed. Feminists have observed that there is a need to create a supportive environment through legislative means (or otherwise) to make women feel comfortable while undertaking certain activities. This has therefore led to the development of gray areas between males and females instead of the traditional black and white manner gender identity were viewed. In this regard, many unisex attributes like clothing and career choices are observed today.
In relation, sexism has been diluted and personal or social problems have been observed to relate to individual choices instead of sexist opinions and other lifestyle aspects like social upbringing, religious views and the likes. These variables have been advanced as apart of the decision making processes. In this regard, it is not a strange thing to observe a female taking a different opinion from another and still be regarded a strong female entity.
Applicable Federal Laws
Currently there are existing federal laws in conformity with feminism principles. These laws specifically prevent discrimination against women on the ground of gender. Most of these laws have also been inexistent in the past and enacted because of feminine principles. They therefore offer remedies to victims who are afflicted on sexist grounds and touch on a wide variety of topics.
With regard to employment discrimination (on gender basis), there are sufficient federal laws that protect women against unequal opportunities or treatment in the workplace. These laws have been developed from a number of acts including the civil rights act and equal pay act. They protect against various bases of discrimination, including age, gender, religion, race, national origin and other demographical parameters. Such laws are like the Civil rights act of 1964 and equal pay act of 1963 (HG. Org, 2010).
The US right to abortion law also gives women extensive rights of sexuality with the privilege to procure abortion in the course of pregnancy. This law defines any legal barriers that prevent women from procuring abortion as unconstitutional. It is also an extension to the guarantee of women's privacy (HG. Org, 2010). The pregnancy act of 1978 also safeguards women's right to participate in any social, political or economic activity, regardless of pregnancy status. This pits women the same as other members of the society when undertaking civil or corporate activities. The equal rights amendment act guarantees women's rights at all levels of the society. This law was introduced between the periods on 1923 to 1972 and has currently been ratified by most states (HG. Org, 2010). Collectively, feminism movements have ensured basic women rights are safeguarded by the constitution.
Feminism has greatly improved the status of women across the globe. The progress women have made on social, political and economic aspects of the society can therefore be extensively attributed to it. Women have in the past undergone a lot of oppression due to male dominance in the society. However, this trend is slowly changing and has been witnessed through feminism movements which are summarized in the first, second and third waves which focus on women rights, family and sex, then ultimately enforcement of women successes.
The current status of women in America when compared to women in other cultures is relatively better but not necessarily perfect. This can be firmly attributed to the fact that feminism is very proactive in the American society as opposed to others. Closely observing the US, many legislative changes and gender definitions have been fostered by feminism. This has been greatly observed in the justice system which has been changed to protect women against social ills such as rape and violence against women. The principles of equality and gender identity have also been redefined to make both genders receive equal treatment. All these changes have been entrenched in existing federal laws. However, a lot still needs to be done to bring women at par with men. Whether this is going to be achieved or not, is still up for debate but undoubtedly, feminism won't stop until change is observed in all parts of the world.