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First Wave Feminism Notes

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 3 months ago

Cultural Feminism—First Wave Feminism



Legacy of Early Feminist theory

•    Provides an image of women as rational, responsible agent—one who is able, if given the chance, to take care of herself, to further her own possibilities

•    Still with us today



Another equally important 19th Century vein:“Cultural Fe minists”--go beyond the rational and legalistic

•    look for broader cultural transformation: instead of emphasizing similarities, they often stress the differences

•    feminine qualities may be a source of personal strength and pride

•    alternatives to institutions like religion, marriage, and the home

•    a matriarchal vision—

•    strong women guided by values like pacifism, cooperation, nonviolent settlement of differences and harmonious regulation of public life

•    response to Social Darwinism



Social Darwinism

  •   philosophy of competition and warfare
  • Natural Selection
  • Natural selection, also evolution, occurred through sexual selection of the struggle of males for females
  • SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST (society evolved on Darwin’s biological model)



Margaret Fuller—initiated this movement

  • Women need freedom to unfold their faculties—they also need, collectively as women, to discover who they really are as a process, separately with other women.
  • Stresses an emotional intuitive side of knowledge and expresses an organic world view
  • Romantic concept of individual—
    • Put individual in the process.  Anything that impeded that growth was held to be evil—including society and government (as opposed to liberal which held that government was a shield to protect against other tyrannical forces)




First theory of women’s different-ness

•    Links liberation of women with betterment of life on earth

•    Life of society would be changed if their special qualities were allowed expression—feminization of culture

•    Interest in social conditions—root of women’s oppression was their economic and moral dependence on men



Seneca Falls Convention

•    Occurred after the lack of participation granted to women at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London



Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Declarations of Sentiments, 1848

•    Adds women to the Declaration of Independence

•    Suggests oppression of women as a class/group has been a pervasive, systematic subjugation of men



The Women’s Bible 1895

•    Beyond natural rights.  Godhead—should be considered androgynous—masculine/feminine in balance

•    Theory of matriarchy

o    1st there was a period where women ruled, then patriarch—later the androgynous period where both will reign as equals

o    Because of their life-giving force, women should be considered as sacred as the priesthood

o    Deepened the idea that women have special experiences and capabilities that lead them to express a life-offering, pacifist, creative world view

•    That perspective has been put in eclipse by the patriarch whose reign has been one of tyranny, destruction and war—to bring positive era, women must be again integrated into political powers of government and religion



Wollstonecraft v. Stanton (ideas)

•    W: women remain enslaved because of a corrupt process of socialization, which stunts their intellect and teaches them that their sole purpose in life is to serve men

•    W: ideal of moral growth is ability to make moral judgments

•    W: reason is the same in all people




•    S: Women as individuals need rights in order to stand on their own

•    S: Women are persons first and only incidentally wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters—they are isolated and alone; need equal opportunities and government protection to enable them to chart their own course






Charlotte Perkins Gilman

•    “Women and Economics,” 1898, refuted Darwin and its implications

•    used the social Darwinist hypothesis to prove that women’s subjugation is an unnatural observation that is impeding the process of the race

•    women’s primary energy is wrongly channeled into making themselves pleasing to men because of their economic dependency (level of prostitution for survival)

•    To initiate change she suggests to break up the relic(s) of patriarchal age—the family as an economic unit

•    Maternal energy as a socially cohesive force—sisterhood (motherhood-love-cooperation)

•    Male/female differences-from prehistoric roles assigned the two sexes

•    Feminine impulse to gather, construct

•    Male to scatter, destroy

•    Chapter from The Man-Made World, 1911 “Masculine Literature” is considered the first modern example of feminist literary criticism

•     Two main plots predominantly—stories of adventure and love story, struggle, adventure, predatory

•    Women’s experience is not depicted

•    Her concerns are very modern—how to reconcile family and professional responsibilities; how to be a responsive mother and still write; how to satisfy the human need for love and work



Herland, 1915, Utopian novel of matriarch

•    Women reproduces  by part henogenesis

•    Mother-love the basis for religion, mother goddess

•    Peaceful, harmonious, vegetarian, physically strong, competent

•    Child rearing as profession, waste recycled

•    “help” temples where people may drop in for loving care and attention

•    men appear—a capitalist, a  doctor, and a socialist, at the end heterosexuality has been restored, but only on terms of maternal superiority

•    educated women in a world that had no place for them



Man-Made World, 1911    5 new ideas for plots

1.    position of young woman who is called to give up her “career”

2.    middle-aged woman who at last discovers that her discontent is social-starvation; she wants more business, not love, in her life

3.    inter-relation of women with women

4.    maternity—long drama of the personal relationship between mothers and children

5.    New attitude of full-grown woman who faces the demands of love with the high standards of conscious motherhood



Connection to abolitionist movement:

•    use of slave/women analogy

•    eventually separated to woo white southern woman support



Successes of liberal feminism:

•    Right to vote (1920)

•    Change in status-nearly all states adopted legislation protecting married women’s property (Harper piece)



PROBLEM with Cultural Feminism:

  • Left private sphere untouched
  • What constitutes the differences—biological or cultural? Are there really no differences—are they a result of conditioning only---left this question unanswered
  • No means to establishing or legitimizing qualities and values (public sphere amoral?)


•    In the U. S.: The only way to assert moral judgments in public sphere is by Bill of Rights—or by asserting one’s individual moral truth and persuade others to form a majority.

•    Rule of majority if a quantitative judgment

•    Provides for justice of means, does not afford morality of ends



•    Today—cultural feminists do not believe differences are biological

•    Believe traditional realm of women provides basis for a more human world view

•    Need to systemize ideology and teach it—including to men

•    Bypass nature versus nurture debate by assuming that revolution is a matter of transforming ideology and that all humans are ultimately educable

•    Clashes today—ERA amendment, military service for women



For more information on the ERA: http://www.equalrightsamendment.org



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