What is Feminist Thought or Feminist Theory?
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements and includes general theories and theories about the origins of inequality, and, in some cases, about the social construction of sex and gender, in a variety of disciplines.
Waves of Feminism
The period described as first-wave feminism refers to feminist activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the United Kingdom and the United States. Originally it focused on the promotion of equal contract and property rights for women and the opposition to chattel marriage and ownership of married women (and their children) by their husbands. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage.
Second-wave feminism refers to a period of feminist activity beginning in the early 1960s and lasting through the late 1980s. The scholar Imelda Whelehan suggests that the second wave was a continuation of the earlier phase of feminism involving the suffragettes in the UK and USA. Second-wave feminism has continued to exist since that time and coexists with what is termed third-wave feminism. The scholar Estelle Freedman compares first and second-wave feminism saying that the first wave focused on rights such as suffrage, whereas the second wave was largely concerned with other issues of equality, such as ending discrimination
the slogan “The Personal is Political” which became synonymous with the second wave. Second-wave feminists saw women’s cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encouraged women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures.
Third-wave feminism is siad to have begun in the early 1990s, arising as a response to perceived failures of the second wave and also as a response to the backlash against initiatives and movements created by the second wave. Third-wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave’s essentialistdefinitions of femininity, which (according to them) over-emphasize the experiences of upper middle-class white women. The third wave has its origins in the mid-1980s. Feminist leaders rooted in the second wave like Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Chela Sandoval, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and many other black feminists, sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities. Amelia Jones has written that the post-feminist texts which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s portrayed second-wave feminism as a monolithic entity and criticized it using generalizations.
There is a view that there are at least four to six basic schools of feminist thought, although this within of itself is a problematic organisation of women’s ideas:
Liberal feminism – women would achieve better equality if they were just more visible in the current social structure
Radical Feminism: This is the school of thought mainstream society typically equates to genderal feminism. Radical feminists believe that the biggest oppression working in our society is based on gender. Some believe a married woman can’t be a feminist, or that straight women can’t be feminist, all-in-all it comes down to the arguement that any dependance on men will equal the oppression of women. Although not all radical feminists are lesbians, this is the school of thought that has influenced a all of lesbian separatist groups.
Social/Marxist – Women’s oppression is based on intersecting gender and class inequalities. This perspective features an understanding of the interconnection of exploitation, oppression and labour. Marxist feminism articulates that the gendered division of labor contributes to women’s inequality. The central theme is that overcoming class oppression overcomes gender oppression. Class consciousness therefore is a critical component to understanding gender inequality, and the systems and structures which work to create and reinforce gender difference. We see here the expansion of the theories of social reproduction, most notably theorized by Antonella Picchio in Social Reproduction: the political economy of the labour market
Multicultural/Women-of-Color Feminism: These feminists believe that traditional schools of feminist thought have been created by middle-class white women who didn’t recognize that women-of-color may also be oppressed based on racial inequalities. This school of thought argues for separate feminist thoughts like “womanism” (for afriacn-american women, also a separate movement for latina feminists, native american feminists, et
Black feminist thought demonstrates Black women’s emerging power as agents of knowledge. By portraying African-American women as self-defined, selt-reliant individuals confronting race, gender, and class oppression, Afrocentric feminist thought speaks to the importance that oppression, Afrocentric feminist thought speaks to the importance that knowledge plays in empowering oppressed people. One distinguishing feature of Black feminist thought is its insistence that both the changed consciousness of individuals and the social transformation of political and economic institutions constitute essential ingredients for social change. New knowledge is important for both dimensions to change. Patricia Hill Collins
We see here the emergence of the standpoint theory, where we understand that feminist theorizing is rooted in a particular knowledge that is unique to particular people and their experiences.
So where do Caribbean Feminist fit in? How does Caribbean Feminism Differ from other notions or understanding of Feminist thought? What is the distinction between Caribbean Feminisms and Marxists or Womanist/Multicultural ideas? And what are the leading ideas and notions explored by Caribbean feminisms
1) Centering Women’s Experiences
Caribbean women’s experiences as mothers, community mothers, workers, reveal that the mythical norm of a heterosexual, married couple, nuclear family with a nonworking spouse and a husband earning a “family wage” is far from being natural, universal and preferred but instead is deeply embedded in specific race and class formations. Placing women in the center of analysis not only reveals much-needed information about women’s experiences but also questions Eurocentric masculinist perspectives on family.
“What I really feel is radical is trying to make coalitions with people who are different from you,” maintains Barbara Smith. It fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift that rejects additive approaches to oppression. Instead of starting with gender and then adding in other variables such as age, sexual orientation, race, social class, and religion, like Black feminist thought, it sees these distinctive systems of oppression as being part of one overarching structure of domination.
Race relations as interconnected
Carib women marginalised from other fem theories – knowledge not universal
2) Located within the Caribbean Political Economy
– Understanding the legacy of race and colonial legacies on forming Caribbean feminisms – recognise the difference here between Caribbean feminist thought and black feminist thought, in that race and racism affect Caribbean people, particularly of African and Indian decent differently from women in North American spaces. – New versions of enduring colonial legacies, that have not been interrogated in cultural and economic spaces – The Caribbean has a legacy of race, rather than the day to day realities of racism that form the American encounter. There is a clear absence of state-sponsored racism in the post-independence Caribbean (although there is evidence of racism in state practices in certain Caribbean countries). What this means essentially is that for example, Antiguans and Barbudans would find racial discrimination in health services, education, transportation, housing and public policy an alien experience – Geographical and political locations are important for understanding Caribbean theorizing – The historical legacy of colonization is quite different between the American, European and Caribbean experiences. In Antigua and Barbuda, we recognise that our country is estimated as approximately 90-95% African-oriented population, therefore we did not confront the overt realities as in the US where African-Americans are a statistical minority. The language of minority politics could not be appropriately applied to Caribbean women of Afrian decent – although we will also explore the experiences of Indo-Caribbean women – However, recognising the diversity of the Caribbean, (Dutch, French, Spanish, English speaking) there are varying perspectives and ideas that emerge from various countries (EXPAND ON THIS)
– a set of competing, complex realities and contradictions in everyday life
– KEY: Regional experiences of rapid change within the global political economy. This intersects with fundamental developments in the social relations of gender
3) Corrects the falsity of gender hegemony and intellectual violence of patriarchal knowledge, and an overall structure of patriarchy
4) Centered on states, and state neglect of Caribbean women or complicity in issues negatively affecting women – patriarchal notions that the country’s independence was women’s independence – failure to investigate why institutional political projects such as independence took hegemonic precedence over women’s liberation (see why Marxist feminism cannot speak to Caribbean experience) – failure to address the interconnecting variables of women’s inequality
5) The home, the family and sexuality (African and Indo Caribbean women)
GENDER ISSUES EXPLORED FROM A CARIBBEAN FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE What does the theory offer to gender studies?
Notable Caribbean Feminist Scholars