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Feminism & Patriarchy

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Feminism is an entire world view or gestalt, not just a laundry list of womenÐŽ¦s issues. - Charlotte Bunch

Feminism is a body of social theory and political movement primarily based on and motivated by the experiences of women. It includes an opposition to male domination, the notion that the sexes are culturally and not biologically formed, and the belief that women were a social group shaped to fit male notions about a defective sex . These arguments have over the years taken different forms, and have held varying degrees of significance in their respective societies. In the late 1960s, the post-war era of civil rights activism and anti-racist movements, feminist criticism was renewed, becoming more defined as the second wave of feminist criticism. Some feminist writers associated with this period are former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Friedan . More recently, some younger feminists have identified themselves as third-wave feminists while some second-wave feminists are still active.

Throughout history, societies have been in awe of manly virtues: The indomitable strength of Hercules, the conquest of Alexander the Great and the salvation of Jesus. It is therefore to an extent understandable that several cultures have consciously or otherwise placed men at the helm of affairs. Somehow, this has also led to the progressive subjugation of women. Societies in which this way of life is the accepted norm are called Patriarchal Societies. The womenÐŽ¦s rights movement brought with it new ideas about patriarchy. Feminist thinkers believed that patriarchy signified the cultural and social domination of women by men. Feminist thinkers in the United States questioned why sexual inequality persisted even after women had won the right to vote and had achieved legal equity. They also debated whether or not patriarchy is universal to all societies throughout history .

Even in present-day leadership, women more or less play second fiddle to their male counterparts. For instance, as at September 30th, 2006, there were only 8 women heads of state (excluding monarchs), out of 119 heads of state. This may sound alarming, even more so when compared with the world gender ratio of 101. This means that although there are approximately as many women as there are men, the fairer sex seems to be power shy. These statistics suggest a stifling of the political aspirations of women. But is this really the case? Or is the popular maxim ЎҐwomen are their own enemiesÐŽ¦ true to its words? I believe the answers lie in the upbringing and socialization of individuals.

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner

Eating his Christmas pie,

He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum

And said "What a good boy am I!"

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds and whey,

Along came a spider who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away!Ñ"U

A casual look at this pair of nursery rhymes might not reveal anything of concern except for its rhythmic appeal to the young at heart. On closer examination however, one might wonder, who is Jack Horner anyway, and why is he made to get away with his piece of mischief and in the process made into a little hero? Miss Muffet, on the other hand, is not only rudely interrupted by a spider, but portrayed as a weakling who is incapable of handling the situation. In such subtle ways, infants are made to accept the notion of the female being the weaker sex. Of course, it would not be fair to assume that the writer deliberately aimed at propagating the ideals of patriarchy. The writer Thomas Muffet, a sixteenth century entomologist , most likely picked up those beliefs in his childhood, growing up in a misogynistic English society. Mr. Muffet is however not alone. Over the centuries, people have grown up having unspoken doubts about the capabilities of women. Even when persuaded to believe otherwise by the efforts of feminists, not all people are convinced.

Feminist critique can often be a one-sided, subjective look at the issues brought to light by their cause. Instead of taking into account the complex and sometimes conflictive issues that are apparent in the texts, some feminist critics choose to engage in questionable selectivity. The pervasive selectivity in feminist criticism of patriarchal literature renders the criticism suspect, and undermines its validity, authenticity, and legitimacy. A case in point is Florence Stratton's Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender , in which a critique is made of some of the themes in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. The book states several times that Okonkwo is very abrupt and violent with people in general. While Stratton is silent on Okonkwo's violent behavior towards males, she brings under strict scrutiny his abuse of women. Thus, instead of exposing Okonkwo for what he is, a violent, arrogant, and intolerant man whose aberrant behavior is duly criticized and condemned by his people, she declares a gender war not only against Okonkwo but also against the men of Umuofia and the author of the novel, Chinua Achebe .

Feminists have

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