The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
A Little Bit Pinker: Human Nature and Sociology
Bringing The Body Back: The New Opening To Biology In Sociology
Ecofeminism Part One: Different Positions within Ecofeminism
Ecofeminism Part Two: Gender and Environment in Culture and Politics Today (Part A)
Ecofeminism Part Two: Gender and Environment in Culture and Politics Today (Part B)
Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power
Women's Responses to Environmental Issues (Long Version)
Women's Responses to Environmental Issues (Short Version)
Second Wave Feminism - The Opening Debates
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies
Lecture: Radway's approach to Romance Novels
Lecture: Soap Operas and Feminism
Lecture: Is Xena a Feminist Heroine?
Lecture: Walkerdine on Rocky
Lecture: Feminist Arguments Against Pornography
Lecture: What is Conservative / Respectable / High Status Dress?
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Lecture: Popular Media as Patriarchal Ideology
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies

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In this lecture I want to consider what I think have been the main developments in feminism since the mid seventies. Then I will discuss some of the ways in which men have attempted to come to terms with feminism. Finally I want to examine an article by Kristeva and look briefly at what has been called post structuralist feminism.


It seems to me that of the three strands described above liberal feminism has maintained most continuity and in some ways has become stronger and stronger since the mid seventies. There has been a spread of feminist ideas into the community at large and governments have responded to this by carrying out various reforms of the kind that liberal feminists have recommended. In Australia this has been signalled in two ways.


There has been the development of popular magazines with a more or less serious commitment to some feminist ideas. Magazines like Cleo and Cosmopolitan were the first and represented a marginal shift away from the thoroughly domestic orientation of traditional women's magazines like Women's Weekly . Magazines like Cleo and Cosmo promoted women as interested in careers and canvassed issues connected with women's rights to sexual pleasure and to equality in heterosexual relationships. On the other hand these slightly feminist leanings were fairly thoroughly swamped by an emphasis on getting and keeping a man and how to please a man.

In the last few years Ita represents a consolidation and strengthening of the liberal feminist tradition. The notable absence of articles on how to get or keep a man is refreshing. There is an emphasis on middle or upper class women with careers and a support for women who opt for a single life or who are divorced or widowed.


The feminist movement as a whole has had an influence on government and it would be quite misleading to attribute this influence to liberal feminism as a strand within feminism. On the other hand what this influence does suggest is that the liberal feminist strategy of pursuing small reforms within the context of capitalist democracy has been successful. There has been no "feminist revolution" of the kind that radical feminists envisaged but the feminist movement as a whole has had an impact.

Reforms that have been most in keeping with the liberal feminist strategy are equal opportunity programs and legislation for equal pay.

Radical feminists and feminists on the left are still critical of some aspects of this liberal feminist program (See for example Game & Hawkins 1984). These reforms are tokenism. They do not go to the heart of women's problems at work which are tied in to women's domestic role. Unless men are forced to make an equal contribution to domestic work it is impossible for women to organise politically to increase their wage power. They can't go out at night to union meetings, they can't concentrate on their careers, they are committed to their family obligations - to their children and husbands.

Paying women more for work they undertake in the labour market only scratches the surface of the problem. Most women still have to stay home or prefer to stay home when their children are young. Women, according to this radical feminist critique, should have a right to economic power even if they are not part of the labour market. It is a fundamental political aspect of patriarchy that women are not paid for the domestic work and childcare that they do.

Equal opportunity cannot solve the problem of women being concentrated in low paid areas of employment - they get equal pay only when they are working in areas dominated by men such as plumbing. They can't get it when they are in areas dominated by women, like shop assistants - there is no equal pay between plumbing and shop assistants, only within these categories. Nor should women have to move into male dominated careers to get a decent wage. Areas like nursing, shop assistant, primary school teacher are low paid because women work in them and equal pay legislation can do nothing to remove these problems.

Other state programs that embody the liberal feminist analysis have been counter-sexist initiatives in schools which work on the assumption that people need to change their attitudes to sex roles, anti-discrimination laws, equal opportunity policies and affirmative action campaigns.

Nevertheless, feminist influence on government in Australia, at least, has gone beyond these anti-discrimination programs to affect some of the elements of economic and domestic structure that radical feminists described. Summers in a recent review mentions government funding of women's services such as women's refuges and rape crisis centres, government funding of childcare centres (however inadequate), paid maternity leave for public servants, reductions in the cost of oral contraceptives. (Summers 1990, 18). As she points out all these were achieved by 1975. We could also mention changes to the abortion laws, a better deal for women in divorce settlements, welfare payments to single parents. All of these together with the gradual increase in women's relative wages in Australia have meant that women are not as economically dependent on men as they used to be. They have meant that women's reproductive and parenting roles are not as much of an economic and political disadvantage as was previously the case.


Noting the above successes it is fair to say that the liberal feminist program of reform within capitalism through influence on the state has been partially effective. This reformist program has even had an impact on areas of inequality that radical feminists saw as part of the deep structure of patriarchy. Ironically at the same time as this political process has been taking place there has been a gradual movement of liberal feminism in a radical feminist direction. Whereas old-style liberal feminists tended to see men and women as equally restricted by "traditional" sex roles liberal feminists now accept the radical feminist view that women's role in modern society is a role with less power and that men are advantaged by the current arrangements. There is much more acknowledgement that traditional sex roles serve the interests of men as a group.

Looking at a recent Ita we can see both the continuation of liberal feminism and the undercurrent of radical feminist perspectives.

In an article on whether a woman can be super successful and happily married there is a radical feminist inflection in the way the issue is framed. In her introduction to the article Ann Musgrave remarks that it seems:

...every upwardly mobile executive these days needs a loyal and loving 'little woman' as an indispensable part of his working kit. (Musgrave 1989, 14)

Yet when we turn to Australian women we find:

the more super-successful an Australian woman becomes, the less likely she is to have a permanent pair of male shoulders to lean on. A strange state of affairs: the more a woman needs a supportive, loyal partner the less likely is she to find one. (Musgrave 1989, 14)

This way of framing the issue is characteristic of a radical feminist analysis; men are getting something valuable out of the current state of sex roles and women are not. There is a situation of exploitation of women's energies by men. There is a connection between men's success in the public world and the domestic and emotional work done for them by women. There is even a probably unconscious reference to the title of the article by Syfers that is referred to in the first lecture:

I began to realise that the career woman's tongue is only slightly in cheek when she quips: "Of course what every working woman needs is a good wife !" (Musgrave 1989, 15)

Nevertheless the article ends on a note characteristic of liberal feminism:

Do we blame Australian men for not changing with the times and still feeling uncomfortable in the nurturing, supportive role? Are you somehow 'less of a man' if your wife is the one in the limelight? And if so, is this the result of cultural conditioning or biology? (Musgrave 1989, 19)

She goes on to reject the idea that it is biology and optimistically forecasts that men's attitudes and practices will change:

The new science seems to suggest that we are all inseparably bound up with an ongoing process of creative change. We're adaptive creatures. Men will change. As Melbourne family therapist Tom Paterson points out: 'Attitudes change before actual patterns of behaviour change'. (Musgrave 1989, 19)

This is typical of liberal feminist approaches in a number of ways. What stops men from supporting women's careers is not what men get out of being the dominant partners in a marriage; it is cultural attitudes that are at fault, men are worried that they will not seem to be real men if they support a successful wife. It is never hinted at that these attitudes might be ideologies that are aspects of patriarchal society. Attitudes appear to change through some magical progression towards new and improved ideas. It would be a morally superior form of existence if men and women's roles were more fairly organized so this is what must be happening - "men will change".

This kind of analysis fits exactly with the mythology of scientific progress that is one of the characteristic pro-capitalist ideologies of modern life; things are always improving with the help of the latest scientific information. Here the science in question is the "new" science that tells us that biology does not dictate women's role.

Another article in Ita - 'Why men trade us in for younger models' - also by Ann Musgrave, contains the same ambivalence between an analysis in terms of men's power in society and a liberal analysis that sees society wide values as the problem. The most trenchant statement of the radical feminist aspect of the article comes in the middle with a discussion of the idea that at midlife men become more passive, tender and sexual while women become more achievement oriented and relatively tough. The author asks why this should lead to marriage breakups and men looking for younger partners:

Because midlife women may start refusing to live in their husbands' shadows, some husbands, unable to cope, seek out someone who will adore them: 'relocating their feminine side in a new external vessel by discarding the now autonomous wife'. (Musgrave 1989b, 57)

This and the title of the article suggest that men make use of women in a fairly callous way to satisfy their own needs and that they objectify them as possessions, discarding a wife who no longer suits them. It also conveys the idea that what men will not put up with in a wife is equality; a challenge to their dominance. What they require in a wife is "sheer blind adoration" (Musgrave 1989b, 56) of the kind only a young inexperienced woman is likely to be able to feel; it is certainly not what the "woman who wasn't born yesterday" can manage!

However this insight in terms of power conflicts between the sexes is also softened by the typical insistence of liberal feminism that these events are a product of attitudes that spring from society as a whole and an optimistic sense that it will all change, not through pressure by women but by some mysterious improvement and moralisation of society. For example the problem for the older woman, the wife is that her sexuality is:

...passed over by a society which worships youth and bestows on the younger woman an almost mystical allure. (Musgrave 1989, 56)

Here men vanish as the subjects who hold these social attitudes and as the people who benefit from them. In the same vein she quotes Gordon's book to end the article:

I'm convinced we're going to see increasing awareness of the older woman as alive, well and sexy. At the peak of her sexual powers, the older woman, kids grown, is freer than she has ever been. (Musgrave 1989, 57)

So the article concludes by telling us that the march of progress is going to inevitably sweep these problems away and that a newly rational male will discover the sexual attractiveness of older women. Such articles are symptomatic of the changes in liberal feminism. On the one hand there has been an unacknowledged appropriation of elements from radical feminism but on the other hand these elements are constantly contradicted by the persistence of liberal feminist themes - progress, consensus, the problem of irrational prejudice, restrictive sex roles and so forth.

Radical feminism itself has gone a number of different ways.


Most obviously separatism and what has been called a Woman-centred approach grew out of radical feminism.

Separatism was initially conceived as a tactic within radical feminism. If men had caused sexual inequality and it was in their interest surely the best policy was not to give support to men by living with them or by sleeping with men. Radical lesbiansim was the correct political strategy for women.

I realized that every fuck is a rape even if it feels nice because every man has power and privilege over women, whether he uses it blatantly or subtly. (Deevey 1975, 24)

If women still give primary commitment and energy to the oppressors, how can we build a strong movement to free ourselves? Did the Chinese love and support the capitalists? Do the Vietcong cook supper for the Yankees? (Mae Brown 1975, 70)

The Lesbian, woman-identified-woman, commits herself to women not only as an alternative to oppressive male/female relationships but primarily because she loves women. Whether consciously or not, by her actions, the lesbiand has recognised that giving support and love to men over women perpetuates the system that oppresses her. (Bunch 1975, 30)

The above comments all come from articles that defend and explicate the separatist position. Women must separate from men and give emotional support to women. Anything else is politically naive since it is men as a class that oppress women and benefit from women's oppression. So separatism takes as its premise an aspect of the radical feminist analysis - that men as a class oppress women - and extends this idea into a political strategy that is advanced as the only appropriate tactic for women.

Separatism was an incredibly vigorous force within the women's liberation movement. For example in Sydney there was a strong development of separatist politics as early as 1973 and at least half of the women who had been members of women's liberation groups became separatists. Of these most had never been lesbians until this time. Separatism as a movement attracted many new adherents as well.

The term "woman-centred" has been used to describe a development in feminist thinking that was not restricted to separatists but had an obvious resonance within separatist groups. The idea that men and women are separate social unities with separate cultures was developed. The aim of a woman centred approach was to celebrate women's culture. It was proposed that women have developed an approach to life that is superior to that of men and the way to develop it most successfully is by separating oneself off from the mainstream and creating an alternative non-patriarchal way of life.

This position is critical of early radical feminism for attempting to introduce women into the male political and economic world. The argument is that such an entry can only be on men's terms and will disadvantage women. Separatists and those favouring a woman centred analysis came to claim the term "radical feminism" as their own and it tended to be forgotten that radical feminism had initially meant something else.

The following extracts give an idea of the point of view of separatists and women centred feminists:

The only holistic approach that involves an anthropomorphized concept of deity is Goddess Spirituality. However, just as the matrifocal cultures were communal, harmonious and peaceful (Minoan Crete, for example, enjoyed a thousand years without war, and the settlements of Old Europe were unfortified for millennia before the invasions), thereby differing substantially from patriarchal cultures, so the meaning of the Goddess differs substantially from that of God. (Spretnak 1982, xvii)

In the above statement Spretnak suggests the development of a new woman centred religion - Goddess Spirituality - which is superior to the patriarchal religions that are current in modern society. She also argues that such a religion has existed in the past in ancient Europe and that the society that existed in these times was a golden age of matriarchy or rule by women. She implies that war and social conflict are products of male domination. The view that there was an age of primitive matrarchy is in direct conflict with the analysis of sexual inequality proposed by early radical feminist writers such as Firestone. Separatist analysis also differed from earlier women's liberation writings by arguing that there was a real innate temperamental and intellectual difference between the sexes and that women were innately superior:

Psychologist Dianne McGuiness argues from research based on primates that ... (the experimental psychologists) conclude that man is a 'manipulative animal' who tends to express himself in actions, while woman is a 'communicative animal' who prefers to remember, share and transmit signs and symbols to others. From infancy, males are fascinated with objects, females with human faces, voices and music; later, females are more empathetic and socially responsive. (Spretnak 1982, xiii)

Early radical feminism and even early separatism was happy to concur with a left wing materialist analysis of power in society and attempted to extend this analysis to sexual inequality. Woman centred feminism abandoned this materialism as a product of male dominated technocracy and machine worship. For example Sally Gearhart proposed Goddess worship and feminist rituals as a political tactic to overthrow male power:

It is time now. The power is ours. And that power is not on Capitol Hill or Wall Street or in any military might. It is flowing from an authentic source, its only authentic source - from women... (Gearhart 1982, 206)

The above example suggest that woman centred feminism was completely to be identified as a new religious movement, a cult of feminism. However as Eisenstein (1984) has pointed out these more extreme examples were also associated with a shift within the feminist movement as a whole whereby there was a new appreciation given to aspects of women's cultural practices as they existed and whereby there was a new acknolwedgement of the ineluctably different nature of the sexes and the importance of women's ties to reproduction.

According to Eisenstein what these developments represented was a shift in the way the differences between the sexes were thought about. Within early radical feminist analysis difference is seen as a source of weakness for women. For example Firestone argues that biological differences between the sexes are the basis that enables men to oppress women. During the mid seventies there developed the view that women's differences from men should be a "source of pride and confidence" (Eisenstein 1984, 46).

Feminists who were critical of some of these developments made the following points:

a) While it might be important and politically useful for some women to develop their lives through lesbianism and separation from men there were other women who wanted to live with men. Feminism had to be based on the real desires of actual women, not what some theory thought they should want. It was important politically to create the conditions in which women could have equal heterosexual relationships with men if that was what they wanted e.g. childcare, contraception, good jobs, women's support networks, pressuring men to do an equal share of housework and childcare ( Redstockings 1978, 120-122; 152-157 ; 190-198).

b) Separatism did not solve the problem of unequal power with men. Ultimately men and women live on the same planet and you can't really get away from men. For example you need money to buy land to set up a women's community. So you are inevitably involved in a struggle to gain control of the economy. There is no way to get outside of the original demands of the women's movement for equal power with men.

For example Eisenstein in a critical summary of Mary Daly (a key separatist theorist) makes these comments:

Daly's journey, then, turned away from a confrontation with patriarchy. Eschewing any attempt to win over sufficient numbers of women to bring about effective and lasting change in the political arena, Daly addressed herself to those 'Amazons' with sufficient education, leisure, and depth of feminist understanding to come on the journey with her ... Embracing female difference thus appeared to imply the withdrawal from political struggle, and the development of an entirely separate and self contained women's culture. (Eisenstein 1984, 115)

Critics of separatism did not deny that for some women separatism could be a viable way of getting out of bad relationships with men. But they did not like to see this strategy presented as the only sound political move for women. Feminists who opposed separatism argued that it only alienated those women who identified as heterosexual, which of course included a large number of feminists! Ann Curthoys's reaction in 1982 was typical of this response:

I find discussions in some feminist groups about whether men are 'the enemy' utterly absurd. Not having rejected men at a personal, emotional and sexual level, I find those developments within feminist theory which depend on such a rejection uncongenial. I find many recent feminist characterisations of men to be bordering on the racist, to be, in fact, a reversion to the biological determinism we once so fiercely rejected. (Curthoys 1988, 65)

c) In this statement Curthoys refers to the fact that many women centred feminists were arguing that men were innately morally inferior to women. As she points out, the women's liberation movement had initially been founded upon the rejection of conservative justifications for sexual inequality in terms of innate differences - women supposedly more nurturing and better fitted for parenthood and so on. To many it seemed as though separatism and women centred feminism were merely reviving these cliches from conservative points of view. Eisenstein also attacks separatism and women centred feminism from this perspective:

Women's capacities to nurture, to affiliate with others, to work collectively, all are crucial characteristics. But to posit that these grow uniquely out of biology, rather than out of culture or history, is to me, a betrayal of the feminist tradition. At the heart of feminism is an egalitarian impulse, seeking to free women from oppresssion by removing all of the obstacles to their political, economic, and sexual self-determiniation. To erect a doctrine of female superiority to men, by virtue of some essential quality of biology or spirit, is to my view a dangerous step backward. (Eisenstein 1984, xix)

d) The whole idea of a "women's centred culture" is problematic. Many of the things that women have been culturally conditioned to within patriarchy are expressions of their lack of power or even mechanisms that keep them in their place. For example women are taught to sit with their knees together. This is a posture of defensiveness. It exists within a cultural context that sets men up as sexual predators and women as sexual victims. So while it may be that sitting like this is part of women's culture it is not something that feminists can unproblematically support.

In other words just because something is part of women's culture as it exists now it isn't necessarily something to be supported regardless of the circumstances. Of course women-centred analysis never uncritically supported all aspects of current women's cultural practices but they had a tendency to support particular behaviour on the grounds that it was what women did. As the above example shows, such an argument is in itself problematic. As Echols puts it in a review of this type of feminism:

Of course , many of the values commonly associated with the female or private sphere should be redefined as vital human values. However, cultural feminists encourage us to 'maximize female identity' without questioning the extent to which that identity has been conditioned. (Echols 1984, 67)

As an example Echols refers to the woman centred defense of women's traditional attitudes to sexuality:

Women's traditional orientation away from what one feminist terms the 'purely sexual' is interpreted as a virtue or advantage rather than an emblem of oppression. (Echols 1984,62)


Eisenstein along with other feminist suggests the possibility of retaining some aspects of the emphases developed by woman centred approaches without falling prey to the problems outlined above. There was nothing wrong with their emphasis on:

... the establishment of a separate women's culture, or ... an autonomous women's movement. (Eistentstein 1984, xviii)

The creations of women's communities and the existence of independent lesbian communities is seen by Eisenstein as:

... in themselves, a form of social change, creating the space - emotional and physical - for the development of women's energies and strength. (Eisenstein 1984, xix)


What has occurred, especially in the United States is that the term "radical feminism" has been taken over by woman centred feminists and separatists. Other sections of the feminist movement have often been critical of these developments. The conflict has been most clearcut on issues to do with sexuality - pornography and the issue of lesbian S/M relationships. Woman centred feminists have led the campaigns against pornography and S/M relationships within feminist lesbian circles. Feminists opposing these campaigns have argued that women-centred feminists are succumbing to a patriarchal definition of women's sexuality. They argue that woman centred feminists are still trapped in a patriarchally defined feminine sexual culture whereby women are seen as necessarily the victims of predatory sexually aggressive men, where women's "natural" sexuality is portrayed as monogamous, vanilla, non-voyeuristic, and not genitally focussed.

For example Paula Webster, in an attack on the anti-pornography movement maintained that the movement made a separation between "erotica" which was OK for feminists while "pornography" was seen as exclusively male and the fusing of sex and violence. This separation, she claimed, merely reproduced unchanged the whole Victorian model of differences between men and women's sexuality (Eisenstein 1984, 123). Similarly Echols, as noted above, argues that the whole debate on sexuality in the women's movement has been monopolized by a mistaken support for women's sexuality as it has been defined within patriarchy and that this mistake is closely tied in to an unproblematic support for "women's culture" whatever it's particular forms.


While it may seem that Woman Centred feminism has been the main offspring of the women's liberation movement and of early radical feminism this would be an error. What has come to be called "socialist feminism" or "dual system theory" has developed through the merging of some key elements of radical feminism with other elements of a marxist analysis of society. Socialist feminism should be distinguished from the "marxist feminism" mentioned in the first lecture not in terms of being less marxist and more socialist in the usual sense but in terms of quite specific differences in relation to feminist issues.

    • Unlike "marxist-feminists" socialist feminists agree with radical feminists that men cause and benefit from sexual inequality and that a direct attack on sexism by women is necessary for real change.

    • Unlike radical feminists they do not think that social inequality is caused by sexual inequality but see social and sexual inequality as separate but interconnected systems - a "dual system".

    • They are unhappy with the idea that biology causes sexual inequality, which they often mistakenly attribute to early radical feminists, but they do admit that biology, as socially interpreted, plays a part in sexual inequality.

A good example of this approach and a book that initiated the use of the term "socialist feminism" to refer to this position is Zillah Eisenstein's Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism . On the issue of biology she claims that patriarchy:

derives from ideological and political interpretations of biological difference. In other words, men have chosen to interpret and politically use the fact that women are the reproducers of humanity. (Eisenstein, Zillah 1979, 25)

Here there is clearly a difference in emphasis from Firestone's formulation that women are disadvantaged by biology but at the same time it is hard to escape from the conclusion that biology has in fact been a disadvantage for women given the way men have in fact chosen to make use of it politically.

Elsewhere she explains the use of the phrase "capitalist patriarchy" as emphasizing:

the mutually reinforcing dialectical relationship between capitalist class structure and heirarchical sex structuring. (Eisenstein, Zillah 1979, 5)

In other words neither capitalism nor patriarchy should be taken as the primary system that ultimately determines everything else. The idea that capitalism is primary is seen as the mistake of marxism and the idea that patriarchy is primary is seen as the mistake of radical feminism.

As Hester Eisenstein explains this position socialist feminists attempted a meeting between the politics of feminism and the politics of the left. They argued that only an analysis that looked at both social class and gender issues could account for the complexity of women's situation and analyze differences in women's position in different countries and different social class positions (Eisenstein 1984, 129).

One of the main points of the socialist feminist critique of early radical feminism is the criticism of its "false universalism". As Hester Eisenstein puts this, some versions of feminism, namely radical feminism and woman centred feminism:

... insisted that what women had in common, by virtue of their membership in the group of women, outweighed all their other differences, or (to put this another way) that the similarity of their situation as female was more fundamental than their economic and cultural differences. (Eisenstein 1984, 132)

As she puts it, the result tended to be that white middle class women ended up using their own experience as a basis for speaking on behalf of all women. Socialist feminism is particularly concerned to avoid this error. An amusing version of this critique of radical feminism is presented by Curthoys in her description of the views of her feminist friends in 1981.

The women I'm speaking of here were, then, in terms of the society they lived in, highly privileged people... Yet how did this group, these friends of mine in the women's movement see themselves? They saw themselves as oppressed, as victims, as underdogs. ... As they drank their pretty good wine (no more of the red rot-gut of student days) and helped themselves to magnificent food, they told themselves how much they were suffering the pain of being women. They recongnised their material advantages in some ways, but at bottom identified themselves as part of an oppressed group - women. (Curthoys 1988, 97-98)


We can also look at socialist feminism in terms of the increasing influence of radical feminism on people and groups in society who originally responded to feminism by developing marxist feminism.

Politically what seems to have taken place is that the marxist parties and other left groupings that were important and significant at the time of the birth of new wave feminism have been severely shaken by feminism. For instance in Australia the Communist party and the Trotskyist parties initially supported a very defensive position in repsonse to women's liberation feminism. It was dividing the left. Sexual inequality was the result of social class inequality; it wasn't because men were oppressing women. In other words these groups developed what was analyzed in the last lecture as "marxist-feminism" in response to the women's liberation movement.

Since then the influence of Trotskyism has dwindled to almost nothing. The women of the Communist party gradually shifted to the hybrid socialist feminist position and then the Communist party dissolved itself. In other words the New Left or "The Movement" as it was called in the United States has fallen apart as a political force and of the women who were involved in it some moved into radical feminism in the early seventies and more lately others have taken up socialist feminism.

As well, the ranks of socialist feminism have undoubtedly been swelled by women who have rejected separatism or woman centred feminism and some of these women would have described themselves as radical feminists in the early seventies.


The political career of writers like Ann Curthoys and Bob Connell in Australia is interesting in this regard. Originally, and consistently with a marxist feminist position these authors rejected radical feminism on the grounds that patriarchy was not related to biology at all. Patriarchy was a specific historical construction of gender and just as much an accidental development of human history as capitalism or feudalism. This was in stark contradiction to Firestone's radical feminist position that patriarchy is a historical universal and a result of men taking advantage of women's biological ties to childrearing, childbearing and wetnursing. Gradually both these Australian writers have modified their early position by allowing more and more that biology must be taken into account.

Connell has come to the conclusion that biology as interpreted in a specific social setting is what is relevant:

The social is radically un-natural, and its structure can never be deduced from natural structures. What undergoes transformation is genuinely transformed. But this un-naturalness does not mean disconnection, a radical separation from nature. Practical negation involves an incorporation of what is negated into the transformed practice. A practical relevance is established, rather than a determination, between natural and social structures. That is to say the social process deals with the biological patterns given to it. (Connell 1985, 269)

In the first part of this somewhat confusing passage Connell tells the reader that the social negates the natural and this point of view is consistent with the classic marxist emphasis on historical determination. However he then goes on to say that the social process must deal with a set of biological givens which implies that these givens have some causal relevance to the outcome.

Curthoys has gone even further by saying that the specific role of biology as a causal factor in determining women's place in different social settings must be admitted:

My main difference from the later Brenner/Ramas argument lies in the explanation of why it is women, not men, who are the child-carers and domestic workers. They attribute this to the poor fit between biological reproduction and early industrial capitalist production, while I attributed it to ideology, to social beliefs that this was right and proper. Their emphasis on the importance of biology - of pregnancy, childbearing and lactation - is valid, but it is hard to conceive of biological 'necessity' devoid of ideological content and cultural tradition. (Curthoys 1986, 331)

Here Curthoys revises her earlier view that stressed ideology as a determinant and ignored biology altogether. Now she wants to allow the importance of biology in explaining women's social role in capitalist societies. However she makes it clear that she is not keen to take on what she would see as a false universalism that implies that biology acts without any histotical mediation. Biology is always important but its effects can only be understood by looking at its operation in a particular historical setting. In an attack on Connell she argues that his flirtation with a biological argument does not go far enough. He argues that:

...biology is relevant to but does not in any way determine, social structures; and that social processed deal with, but are not in any way whatsoever determined by, the biological patterns given to them. (Curthoys 1988, 130)


... it seems impossible, in the end, to believe that women's association with childcaring has, historically, nothing to do with their role in giving birth and with lactation ... It should be possible to give sex-based biological difference a role in history, without allowing it to be seen as inescapable, and therfore a guideline, a prescription, for the future (Curthoys 1988, 133).

While feminists of the marxist left have found it very difficult to accept the radical feminist emphasis on biology what has been much more readily accepted is the radical feminist position that men have caused patriarchy to serve their interests and benefited from it. The marxist feminist position that it is just ruling class men who create sexual inequality has been widely rejected. To a large extent this rejection results from detailed historical analysis that has made it obvious that working class men were active in excluding women from men's well paid jobs through the union movement.

For example the socialist feminist writer Judy Wacjman discusses the fact that women's work has not been regarded as skilled and not paid as well as men's work which has been identified as skilled. The reason for this, she argues, is that the male working class has resisted the attempts of employers to substitute cheaper workers. However this has almost always meant "blocking women's access to an occupation" (Wacjman 1983, 9). But why, she goes on to ask, has it been women and not men who have been excluded from these so-called skilled jobs and the associated high pay? Her answer shows very clearly the move away from marxist feminism and into socialist feminism:

I shall argue that the answer lies in the power of men over women. This 'patriarchal' power finds expression in public organisations and the workplace, but has its roots in the home. (Wacjman 1983, 9).

In this analysis Wacjman clearly follows Hartmann's critique of the marxist feminist position in 1979. Hartmann's article was included in Zillah Eisenstein's collection and can be considered one of the defining pieces in the development of the socialist feminist position. According to Hartmann the "marxist feminist" idea that capitalists create differences in wages between men and women in order to play workers off against each other ignores the role of men "ordinary men, men as men, men as workers - in maintaining women's inferiority in the labour market" (Hartmann 1979, 208). She argues instead that the effect of men's actions as unionists has been to ensure low wages for women and so keep women dependent on men. Women's low wages have meant that they have had to marry to get access to income. In turn the economic power of men in families gives men power to require domestic work from their wives. And finally this cycle is completed as women's domestic responsiblities prevent them from the political and union activity that could improve their wage in paid work.

This is a good example of the way in which socialist feminism attempts to understand a specific social structure - in this case women's lower wages - by combining marxist and radical feminist analysis. It is marxist analysis that tells us that in the change from feudal to capitalist society there was a change from domestic production in the home, in which women were equally involved, to production in capitalist factories outside the home. Hartmann takes up this economic analysis and looks at the implications in terms of male power. In feudal societies, she says, women were directly controlled by men within patriarchal peasant families. Capitalism undermined this control over women by providing the possibility of women earning an independent wage and leaving oppressive husbands and fathers. However the male dominated trade union movement and men in families prevented this radical possibility from being realized. Firstly, men kept women out of work that was well paid enough to support a woman as an independent worker. Secondly men made sure that women stayed home for a part of their working lives minding young children and in that sense were for a time totally dependent on their husbands.


If we take woman centred feminism and socialist feminism as new developments of feminist thinking in the seventies that arose in response to the early women's liberation movement it is also useful to examine the responses of men to feminism. After all, if radical feminist analysis was correct it implied that men benefited from inequality between the sexes and could accordingly be reasonably expected to oppose feminism. Men who wanted to support the feminist movement were in a tricky situation!

One approach to men's relationship to feminism is the political view that describes itself as "men's liberation". Authors with this point of view, such as Warren Farrell, argue that men should not see feminism as a threat at all. Men are restricted by their sex roles and just like women need to break out of them to be fully human. Men need to cry too. This approach fits in well with liberal feminism. Liberal feminism argues that women are restricted by sex roles imposed by society as a whole. What needs to change is social attitudes.

Farrell sees men's liberation and women's liberation as equivalent. They are both freeing people from the sex role system. There is a need "for liberation from the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity" (Farrell 1975, 4). Liberation is a psychological freedom and its purpose is to allow people to choose from the whole range of possible alternatives. The "straight jacket of sex roles" as he calls it confines men at the same time as it confines women (Farrell 1975, 8). In fact men, according to Farrell "may be even more restricted in their identity as human beings". While women are being pressured into the role of housebound mother, wife, maid and mistress, men are being pushed into the role of "the infallibly successful, accomplished, male male" (Farrell 1975, 98).


To me this view is undoubtedly correct in one way. Men are restricted by patriarchy. Boys are forced to develop a masculine toughness and hard shell at the expense of softer qualities; they are forced to reject their mothers and to avoid becoming "mummy's boys" or sissies. This is no easy development and every boy suffers in this process. A classic phrase of Australian society "sorting the men from the boys" shows that it is considered to be difficult to acquire adult masculinity.

Yet to me these restrictions in the male role can all be seen as sacrifices that men have to make if they are going to rule over women. Historically most men have thought it worth the effort. What the men's liberationist view ignores is the very real benefits that men have gained from exploiting women and it ignores differences in power between the sexes.

These comments can be illustrated by a consideration of the way Farrell deals with the restrictions on men showing their emotions openly:

One of the conditions men will gain from breaking down sex roles is not only the freedom to cry but ultimately a change in the environment which will encourage men to cry when they feel the need. (Farrell 1975, 67)

Carol Hanisch, writing from a radical feminist position gives a scathing critique of this kind of argument:

For instance, all the hullaballoo about how men are 'conditioned' not to cry. This earth shattering issue is top priority to every men's liberationist and his women followers. If crying is really something that one turns on and off and if men cry less than women, then it's because men have something to gain by withholding their feelings, withholding valuable information so that they can control the situation. He who controls the truth controls. (Hanisch 1978, 75)

Paradoxically, there are points in Farrell's book where he seems to suggest an analysis of men's emotional withdrawal in terms of the benefits it gives men in maintaining their power; he admits that men may use silence as a tactic to maintain an image "of success, omniscience and invulnerability" and that this may be used "to inhibit women" (Farrell 1975, 69).

Mostly, however he writes as though it would be a wonderful unalloyed boon to men if they were to express their emotions more openly. He never seems to think that men gain anything from the control of women. It is like a mystery to him that men should always want to be in control - a puzzling foolishness cause by that straightjacket - the male sex role.


My own response to the issues raised by men's liberationist writings has been to look at the way the term "men" is used within radical feminism and suggest that the term be interpreted different ways in different contexts. I will begin by looking at the statement of the Restockings Manifesto, which is supported in many radical feminist writings.

All men receive economic, sexual and psychological benefits from male supremacy. All men have oppressed women. (Redstockings 1970, 599)

All men are advantaged by patriarchy.

I accept this as true. Even men who are supporters of feminism are advantaged within patriarchal societies at least in the sense that they do not suffer the disadvantages that women suffer. For example I was brought up in a culture where it was taken for granted that I would be able to do maths and science but the same did not apply to my sister, I was not likely to be taken as a slut on account of my sexual activities as an adolescent, I do not have to worry about whether I might get raped if I walk around after dark in large cities.

Nevertheless the extent to which men are advantaged by patriarchy varies. For example observably gay men suffer harassment from male supporters of patriarchy that apparently straight men do not.

But do all men benefit from patriarchy?

I doubt the idea that all men benefit from patriarchy. For myself, as someone who doesn't like patriarchy, as a de facto supporter of feminism (for whatever reasons) I don't benefit when women are discouraged from taking maths and science even though I may end up with some relative advantage through that process. I do not believe that one can benefit from something to which one is deeply opposed.

Men have created patriarchy to serve men's interests.

I take this to be a true description of the historical situation in this sense. People who are biologically male have developed a culture and political structure which has enabled them to live well at the expense of women; for example men have had the leisure to engage in artistic pursuits while women have been tied to domestic drudgery.

However the term men here has to be examined. Only biological men are eligible to be part of this political grouping that exploits biological women. On the other hand the term men here does not just refer to men as biologically male; it means men organized as a sex-class . These political acts which subordinate women are the activities of particular men in a loose political network. To be biologically male does not automatically make you an enthusiastic member of this class. One becomes part of the patriarchal brotherhood of men through a process of socialization, of influence from the surrounding patriarchal culture. The extent to which biologically ordained males participate in this brotherhood can vary considerably depending on the degree to which they have been socialized to see their interests as lying in alliance with this class.

I tend to think that men who are supporters of feminism have either never been effectively recruited into this brotherhood or are rejecting alliance with it. In a sense the most obvious cases are those men who are transexuals and identify as women. But there is a variety of possible forms of disaffiliation.

Reasons why some men are supporting feminism in the current period.

There are always disadvantages in being part of a ruling group. The people you are exploiting are continually trying to find ways to undermine your power. However much they may find it worth their while to pretend to respect you you are not very well liked a lot of the time. But it is necessary to be cool and distant to avoid being emotionally blackmailed into giving up your power. These are some of the issues that are raised by the men's liberation discussion of feminism. There is a lot of work in keeping on top. This applies to any ruling class in history including the brotherhood of men. Of course ruling classes generally don't mind too much. Think of all they get out of it. On the other hand these disadvantages of power can come to seem quite significant if pressure from the subordinate class increases.

In recent years the development of feminism has had precisely this effect. Women have made it harder and harder for men to go on in the old way and this is particularly true in certain social groups. Some men have decided that it might be easier to disaffiliate from the brotherhood. In this way they have been able to avoid some of the disadvantages of being part of a ruling group of men and have also responded to pressures coming from the feminist movement.

As well women's increasing power has enabled women to disturb the processes of socialization by which boys are recruited into patriarchy. At one time women would have been too worried by the opinion of their lord and master to let their sons turn into "sissies". Now they are not so bothered, in fact some are living by themselves and bringing up their children without a husband. Women's increasing influence on the socialization of boys has meant that more and more boys are being brought up without a clear identification with men organized as a class to oppress women.

To me these are some of the reasons why some men have become supporters of feminism to a greater or lesser extent.

So in conclusion the radical feminist statement that men created patriarchy to serve their interests is a historically accurate summary of the behaviour of most biological males and describes their activities as a political grouping. Yet at the same time it is not some kind of truth for all time that patriarchy represents the real interest of every biological male. It can be otherwise.


Bob Connell is an Australian sociologist who has written much on these issues. His recent book Gender and Power (1987) is based on what he calls the rejection of "categorical" thinking about gender. He argues that radical feminist theory is mistakenly categorical in setting up two grand categories, men and women, in constant and unvarying competition. The reality is more complicated than that. Being biologically male is one thing but acquiring a gender or socially constructed sexual identity is something entirely different. One cannot move straight from one to the other at all. Different societies and different sections within modern societies have quite different socially created ways of constructing gender.

Connell defines categorical thinking about gender in terms of the following characteristics:

1. ... a close identification of opposed interests in sexual politics with specific categories of people. Jill Johnston's definition of men as the 'natural enemy of women' is a pungent example. (Connell 1987, 54)

So Connell is arguing that much feminist analysis assumes that women collectively have a particular political interest and that men collecticvely have an opposed political point of view. Connell rejects this as a gross simplification:

2. ... the focus of argument is on the category as a unit, rather than the processes by which the category is constituted, or on its elements or constituents. (Connell 1987, 544)

So within this theory:

Women and men are treated as 'internally undifferentiated categories'. (Connell 1987, 55)

So Connell is saying here that categorical theory ignores the way in which particular gender groups are formed by social interaction. The category "men", for example, is not a natural category but is a socially produced construction of gender. Its meaning differs in different historical periods and for different groups in society who may use the same term to refer to quite different ideas about what it is to be a man. As well categorical theory ignores the extent to which its categories, man and woman, are actually divided and differentiated. Within the category, woman, for example there are women who are pro-feminist and women who are opposed to feminism, there are real differences in interest between women of different class and racial groups and so on.

3. ... the social order as a whole is pictured in terms of a few major categories - usually two - related to each other by power and conflict of interest. (Connell 1987, 54)

Categorical thinking assumes that men and women are opposed by a conflict of interest and that men have more power than women. As he says later, this may be a rough approximation to the truth but it ignores the fact that men's "interests" as they are seen in this society are socially created and can change. They do not just attach to men as a biologically ordained category.

4. Categorical thinking about gender is most obvious when the categories can be presumed to be biological and the relationship between them a collectivized or standardized one. (Connell 1987, 56)

He gives as an example the statement of Susan Brownmiller that rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear. Such a statement, he claims, makes the assumption that because someone is biologically a male they must be part of a political grouping which supports a campaign of terror against all biological women. According to Connell such a position falsely conflates the biological category "male" with the social construction "men" and also makes the mistake of thinking that "men" in this society are an undifferentiated group and that all men are in the same relationship to all women.

We can take these four points of Connell's attack on categorical thinking as also four points which outline Connell's own approach as a rejection of categorical thinking. Looking at Gender and Power one can see how many of the substantive issues and examples raised in his account fit with the above attack on categorical thinking.

For example Connell criticizes the woman centred analysis that sees power hungry masculinity as responsible for ecological devastation. He agrees that such masculinity is certainly a relevant factor. However what the woman centred analysis falsely assumes is that such masculinity is somehow an innate effect of men's biological makeup. This is not the case. Instead we have to look at the social factors that create this kind of masculinity as a social construction. As well, we have to look at the social factors which go together with this kind of masculinity to create an ecological problem. What Connell is pointing to here is the fact that it is the combination of capitalism as an economic system and masculinity as a social construct that creates ecological problems. There have been other societies such as the warrior cultures of the American Indians that also socially constructed a power hungry masculinity but ecological devastation was not an outcome. Finally, what is ignored by the woman centred analysis is the way that masculinity of this particular type is emphasized, created, rewarded and given power in the modern context. It seems to assume that power hungry masculinty is simply a product of biology (Connell 1987, 58).

Another point that Connell often makes is that the categories referred to in much feminist thinking are in fact differentiated in this society. There is not just one way to be a man or to be a woman in this society and different groups represent quite different social constructions of gender and have quite different relationship to feminist politics. Connell suggests the use of the term "hegemonic masculinity" to refer to the kind of masculinity that is dominant in this society and the kind of masculinity that supports patriarchy the most strongly. Hegemonic masculinity is the form of masculinity which is dominant among men and there are also various subordinated masculinities, such as those of gay men and heterosexual supporters of feminism. Hegemonic masculinity is "the maintenance of practices that institutionalize men's dominance over women" (Connell 1987, 183-185).

Similarly, speaking of women, Connell also divides the female population into different groups with different socially constructed forms of femininity. "Emphasized feminity" is the option of compliance for women and is given most cultural and ideological support (Connell 1987, 187). Marginalized forms of femininity are those which may oppose men's power, for example "spinsters, lesbians, unionists, prostitutes, madwomen, rebels and maiden aunts, manual workers, midwives and witches" (Connell 1987, 188).

Connell throughout refers to the way in which gender is socially constructed and changes through time. For example:

The category 'men' for instance has a specific cultural content in a given time and place. Its meaning in social action is not the same in Bali in the 1980s, London in the 1980s and London in the 1680s. (Connell 1987, 137)

As a good example of his view that gender is socially constructed he argues that:

There is nothing to prevent several forms of sexual character emerging in the same society at the same time. (Connell 1987, 63)

For example he cites the case of the emergence in the nineteenth century of a whole new sexual category 'the homosexual' (Connell 1987, 81). Prior to this period homosexual acts were recognized but it was not assumed that there was a personality type - the homosexual. What happened in the nineteenth century was that this personality type and the social group related to it were socially constructed. As things stand now 'the homosexual' is a gender category within masculinity. It is one of a number of ways that one can 'be a man'.

Like other socialist feminist writers Connell argues that social class interest is just as important as interests created by membership of particular gender categories. What interest will actually be active in a person's conduct is not something that can be assumed automatically. An interest becomes active when in fact people come to act to support that interest in a particular historical situation. Women in working class families, for example may see their interest in common with other women, their feminist interest, as most important or they may see their interest in common with other members of their working class families as most important. Radical feminist and woman centred analysis tends to wrongly assume that gender interests will always be seen as paramount (Connell 1987, 138).

As can be seen from the above, Connell's position allows one to deal with the conundrums that radical feminism poses for male supporters of feminism. It is not males as a biological category that oppress women but men as a socially constructed gender group. It is only as a socially constructed group that men can have "an interest" in oppressing women. In other words there is no for-all-time biological inevitability in men being socially constructed as a group seeking to dominate women. As well the reality of the current period is that there are male supporters of feminism and clearly such men are not supporters of "hegemonic masculinity"; their gender as men is socially constructed in a way that is different to that of men who are opposed to feminism.


For myself I cannot accept Connell's position completely. I agree with most of the detailed points he makes but I would also argue:

a) That looking at the broad structural features of society it does make sense to say that patriarchy has existed in different societies across time. In other words gender has not been socially constructed in complete randomness, as Connell seems to suggest, but has in fact accorded with the power structure of men's dominance over women.

b) That patriarchy has been set up by most biological males and served their interests at the expense of biological females. Again, although the terms 'men' and 'women' may oversimplify things it is fair to say that most men have been supporters of patriarchy and have benefited from it and that this has not been an historical accident . It must be explained in terms of biologically related differences between the sexes and biologically related desires in men to live well , even if at the expense of women. Without these biologically related explanations it is impossible to explain the near universality of patriarchy in societies widely separated in time and space.

c) Although the term 'interest' refers to historically created articulations of desire, there is a sense in which one can say absolutely that a situation is better for one group than another. Unless this is assumed the concept of inequality (sexual or social) ceases to have any meaning at all.

Because of this to have an interest in something is not just to want it according to some historically created personality type; it is also to be better off in some absolute sense from an arrangement that accords with your interests.

d) That within modern society patriarchy does advantage most men and serve their interests in each social class group though it clearly has very different forms of expression in different social classes.

I do not believe that any of the above implies that men can not be supporters of feminism. Nor do I think that men's interest is necessarily and inevitably to oppress women. As suggested in an earlier part of this lecture I think that the success of feminist struggle implies that it is less and less in men's interest to support patriarchy. It also implies that fewer men are being recruited into the sex class which is men working as a group to oppress women. Finally I do not think that the success of feminist struggle in the current period is without reference to biology since it is based in a situation where, in comparison with all previous history, reproduction has become much less of a necessary disadvantage for women in power struggles with men.


As some kind of a resolution for all these disparate positions it is interesting to look at an essay "Women's Time" (1982) by the French poststructuralist theorist Julia Kristeva.

Rather than choosing one kind of feminism above another she believes that it is approporiate to hold in mind three broad kinds of feminist thinking and move between them as the occasion suggests. She argues that it is a form of constricted thinking to believe that one should come to some kind of consistent overall position and identify oneself with that. Nor is it a realistic picture of how people behave in general. Instead different discourses or ways of looking at the world provide people with different positions from which to think at different times. In fact people's thinking is necessarily and continuously ambiguous. There is no one answer to the problems of the world and it is constricting to act as though there might be.

She refers to the system of patriarchal power and to the cultural edifice that goes with that as "The Symbolic Order". In terms of this she describes three different kinds of feminism which she calls "generations" of feminism in the sense that this is the order in which they have appeared although at the moment all three coexist.

The first generation of feminism represents women's attempts to gain entry into the symbolic order. In other words women have been acting to gain equal power with men, to enter the political and cultural world on an equal basis. This position is common to the suffrage movement, to liberal feminism, to early radical feminism, to socialist feminism. Kristeva sees these varieties of feminism as hoping to gain a place in linear time, the time of history and the development of nation states. They are caught in an identification with "... the logical and ontological values of a rationality dominant in the nation state" (Kristeva 1982, 37). For example, we have seen how Millett instantly identifies patriarchy in terms of men's control of the state. Men control public politics, the army, the police force. It is the acquisition of this power, ultimately vested in the state that it is a key to transforming women's situation as far as early radical feminism and of course, the earlier suffrage movement are concerned.

Looking particularly at liberal feminism and early radical feminism Kristeva sees them as generalizing and compressing together the situation of all women:

Universalist in its approach, this current in feminism globalises the problems of women of different milieux, ages, civiliations, or simply of varying psychic structures, under the label "Universal Woman". (Kristeva 1982, 37)

This critique is analogous to that of the socialist feminists, to Eisenstein's attack on "false universalism" and Connell's criticism of "categorical" thought.

Despite these criticisms Kristeva claims that this first generation of feminism is still a necessary aspect of feminism.

... the benefits which this logic of identification and the continuing struggle have achieved and continue to achieve for women (abortion, contraception, equal pay, professional recognition, etc.); these have already had or will soon have effects even more important that those of the industrial revolution. (Kristeva 1982, 37)

The second generation of feminism involves the renunciation of the symbolic order. This is the struggle to set up a totally new culture around women and to unbalance patriarchal power by creating a radically different alternative to it. It is represented both by the women centred strategies discussed above and also by the work of the French feminists of difference of which Irigaray is the most well known. For example Irigaray argues that the patriarchal symbolic order defines women's sexuality in terms of male sexuality - as a hole for a penis to go into, or as the absence of a penis. By contrast she suggests a different symbol, the two lips that speak to each other, the sexuality that is multiple and not canalized in one organ of the body. This new formulation of women's sexuality is a rejection of the patriarchal symbolic order.

Kristeva also sees this as a necessary aspect of feminism:

Essentially interested in the specificity of female psychology and its symbolic realizations, these women seek to give a language to the intra-subjective and corporeal experiences left mute by culture in the past ... by demanding recognition of an irreducible entity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid, in a certain way non-identical, this feminism situates itself outside linear time ... (Kristeva 1982, 37)

Finally Kristeva's third generation is poststructuralist feminism. In this point of view the whole discourse of sexual dualism is deconstructed. What this means is that the third generation calls into question the discourse within which it is assumed that there are two biological categories "man" and "woman" and that these categories have some necessary social meaning. According to the third generation there is nothing necessary about this way of looking at things. It is true that there is a historically important discourse that presents the world in this way but another discourse might ignore these categories or break them up or endow them with quite different significance.

What is important, according to Kristeva is for individuals to look at the way they have achieved masculinity or femininity through a sacrifice of potential and plurality. In putting this position Kristeva suggests that men have an interest in deconstructing sexual identity as well as women. The construction of their identity as men has involved the sacrifice of elements of their psyche that could be available to them if they were not subject to this constraint.

In this third attitude, which I strongly advocate - which I imagine? - the very dichotomy man/woman as an opposition between two rival entities may be understood as belonging to metaphysics . What can 'identity,' even 'sexual identity,' mean in a new theoretical and scientific space where the very notion of identity is challenged. (Kristeva 1982, 51-52)

In other words it is part of the symbolic order as it now exists that it forces people to see themselves as united identities either male or female. If individuals are not united in this sense but a site of conflicting ways of thinking, affected constantly by repressed and unconscious stirrings from a part of the personality prior to the imposition of sexual identity, then the whole notion of these categories 'man' and 'woman' is called into question. It is seen as "metaphysical" or a kind of philosophical imposition on reality rather than reality per se. She describes this project as making personal and sexual identity "disintegrate in its very nucleus". (Kristeva 1982, 52)

The aim of this third generation is to bring out:

... along with the singularity of each person and, even more, along with the multiplicity of every person's identifications (with atoms, e.g., stretching from the family to the stars) - the relativity of his/her symbolic as well as biological existence, according to the variation in his/her specific symbolic capacities. (Kristeva 1982, 53)

To understand this point of view it is necessary to look at the way poststructuralists look at language and the world. They argue that when we describe things in the world we do so in terms of one historically constructed discourse or point of view or another. There is no one correct way to look at things that is implied by a unitary reality. For example we may see the reality of colours as being an umistakeable physical presence which we must take into account. However as a matter of fact the colour that we call "green" had no colour word attached to it in the middle ages, it was described by the same word that was used for what we call "grey". In other words people in the middle ages perceived colour in terms of a historically constructed discourse of colour that is different to our own. Similarly, it is argued by Kristeva, the terms "man" and "woman" are just one way of talking about things and we can conceive of a society in which these terms and concepts related in a quite different way to ideas about biology and social role.

What Kristeva is also implying here is that previous societies did in fact have quite different discourses about gender from our own and to that degree it is, for example, within the discourse of Western Feminism that we identify these societies as patriarchal. We cannot readily map that concept "patriarchy" on to the discourse that, for example, Aboriginal women used themselves to think about their society, though within our discourse upon that society it may make perfectly good sense to say those societies were or were not patriarchal.

So Kristeva argues that all these three ways of looking at women's situation are relevant; they are different discourses within which these issues can be usefully considered and different people will take up each of these at different times. Her description of the third generation provides a very optimistic scenario for feminism; we can deconstruct sexual identity altogether and men as well as women have a stake in this. To me what is particularly useful about her position is the notion that there are a number of different discourses within which feminist issues can be considered and her suggestion that we do not need to definitively settle our allegiance to one of these discourses to the exclusion of the others but can move between them according to the occasion and the issues involved.


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