'Terfs' becoming a popular slur paints a false dichotomy in feminist thought: it ends up seeming as though there are two kinds of feminist schools, liberal feminism and radical feminism. This false dichotomy became prominent in the last few decades but what makes this distinction even more wrong is that, they are distinctions defined upon the attitudes towards transgenderism. More specifically, what now makes someone a 'terf', and by extension a radical feminist, is that they aren't supportive of transgender ideology. Conversely, feminist who are supportive of transgender ideology now are termed as liberal feminists. In a nutshell, these discourses paints a picture that feminist thought is mostly singular and the only main/theoretical disagreement is on transgender ideology.
In this post, I will post sections of a book "Theorising Patriarchy" by Sylvia Walby who provides very succinct descriptions of some main strands of feminism. I will provide the description, strengths and weakness of the theory as written by her in her book. There is a lot more to her analyses of these theories, what follows below is merely some selected sections of a short introduction she provides in her book.
Radical feminism is distinguished by its analysis of gender inequality in which men as a group dominate women as a group and are the main beneficiaries of the subordination of women. This system of domination, called patriarchy, does not derive from any other system of social inequality; for instance, it is not a by-product of capitalism.
There are differences between radical feminists over the basis of male supremacy, but often this is considered to involve the appropriation of women's sexuality and bodies, while in some accounts male violence is seen as the root cause. Sexual practice is seen to be socially constructed around male notions of desire, not women's. Further, sexuality is seen as a major site of male domination over women, through which men impose their notion of femininity on women. Male violence against women is considered to be part of a system of controlling women, unlike the conventional view which holds that rape and battering are isolated instances caused by psychological problems in a few men.
The main problems that critics have raised about radical feminism are a tendency to essentialism, to an implicit or explicit biological reductionism, and to a false universalism which cannot understand historical change or take sufficient account of divisions between women based on ethnicity and class. The issue will be dealt with in detail within the examination of Firestone's account of reproduction in the chapter on the household.
Marxist feminist analysis differs from that of radical feminism especially in considering gender inequality to derive from capitalism. Men's domination over women is a by-product of capital's domination over labour. Class relations and the economic exploitation of one class by another are the central features of social structure, and these determine the nature of gender relations.
The critical site of women's oppression also varies between Marxist feminists. Often it is the family which is seen as the basis as a consequence of the need of capital for women's domestic labour in the home. Others focus on ideological rather than material level.
The main problem raised by critics about Marxist feminism is that it is too narrowly focused on capitalism, being unable to deal with gender inequality in pre- and post-capitalist societies, and that it incorrectly reduces gender inequality to capitalism, rather than recognising the independence of the gender dynamic.
Liberalism differs from both the above in not having an analysis of women's subordination in terms of such overarching social structures, but rather conceives this as the summation of numerous small-scale deprivations.
While there is no one basis of women's disadvantage, there are two major foci of analysis. Firstly, the denial of equal rights to women in education and in employment are often important concerns.
Liberal feminism is often criticised for its failure to deal with the deep-rootedness of gender inequality and the interconnectedness between its different forms. For instance, the origin or reasons for persistence of patriarchal attitudes are not systematically addressed. In short the absence of an account of the overall social structuring of gender inequality gives rise to a series of partial accounts.
Dual-systems theory is a synthesis of Marxist and radical feminist theory. Rather than being an exclusive focus on either capitalism or patriarchy, this perspective argues that both systems are present and important in the structuring of contemporary gender relations.
Patriarchy provides a system of control and law and order, while capitalism provides a system of economy, in the pursuit of profit. Changes in one part of this capitalist-patriarchal system will cause changes in another part, as when the increase in women's paid work, due to capitalist expansion, sets up a pressure for political change, as a result of the increasing contradictions in the position of women who are both housewives and wage labourers.
One of the problems with 'dual-systems' analyses such as the three discussed here (skipped) is whether they are able adequately to sustain the duality of capitalism and patriarchy. A further limitation of existing forms of dual-systems theory is that they do not cover the full range of patriarchal structures, for instance, sexuality and violence are given very limited analytic space.
This is a flaw, but not an insuperable one. Radical feminists have contributed primarily analyses ot sexuality, violence, culture and the state, socialist feminists those on housework, waged work, culture and the state. I think a proper synthesis includes: waged work, housework, sexuality, culture, violence and the state.
She then goes on to provide her own account of patriarchy which could be a topic for another post. I hope this wasn't a very long post; I posted it here because the online versions are mainly in picture format, so it would be hard to copy-paste if needed for future references. And secondly, her writing is very clear and nice to read so I thought I would share. Lastly, the book was published in 1990 so it might be missing some key developments in the respective schools.