‘Feminism is one of the basic movements for human liberty’ (Schneir, 1996: xi) a feminist role in society is to actively recognize the need for, and work towards creating equality for all women. Feminism is purely a movement which intends to enlighten people with a goal of improving gender equality and strengthening women’s status in society.
Geographers began to study feminism in the late 1970s as a resistance against sexism. “Since the late 1970s to 90s, the work of many feminist geographers have explored the connections between gender and geography, and has challenged gender inequalities in both geographical discourse and knowledge about the world” (Blunt, A & Wills J 2000. Pg 91). Feminist geography is a more advanced approach within human geography, it addresses ‘the various ways in which genders and geographies are mutually constituted’ (Pratt, 1994: 94).
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Feminist geography questions the patriarchal and hierarchical assumptions on which geography is based, and highlights the oppression and difficulty women face through gender inequality. The Feminist theory is concerned with analysing and explaining as well as changing gendered power relations. Our society is characterized by differences in power and status of two groups: men and women. Men inevitably have more power and status than women; this results in their interests being reinforced by patriarchy. “We live in a patriarchal society that accepts as essentially unproblematic the routine beating, raping, and murder of women.” (Batzell, R 2009)
Feminist theories has inspired critical work across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences that seeks to disrupt the gender imbalance of power that exists both within and beyond the academy (Alison, Blunt 2000).
Feminists also claim that many cultural beliefs in contemporary society benefit men and ultimately disadvantage women. Therefore their fundamental aim is to reverse this disadvantaged role women play in society. Feminism spans ‘all ideologies, activities, and policies whose goal it is to remove discrimination against women and to break down the male domination of society’ (Lovenduski and Randall, 1993: 2) Associations between gender and geography as a discipline will be further explored, illustrating how production of geographical knowledge has been gendered.
Gender represents ‘differences between women’s and men’s attitudes, behaviour and opportunities that depend upon socially constructed views of femininity and masculinity. The term gender is preferred to that of sex, which is restricted to the anatomical distinction between the sexes rather than social differences.’
(McDowell, 1986: 170) Gender is a social relation that positions men and women differently in society. Feminists may argue that there is a hierarchy of power held directly by men who are in a more advantageous position in society, because of their gender. ‘Gender is a part of an individual’s identity; it influences what we think about ourselves, people and also our relationship with other people’ (Blunt, A & Wills, J 2000 Pg 92). To be born male or female does not imply masculinity and femininity; rather ideologies about masculinity and femininity are socially constructed. This is further supported by (de Beauvoir, 1949) “One is not born but rather becomes a woman”. These social constructions are very crucial in shaping the everyday lives of men and women.
Socialist feminist geographers (also known as Marxist feminists) look at the way in which the structuring of space creates and continues to maintain traditional gender roles and relationships in society and how spatial variations in gender impact where an industry locates. Employers locate to areas where there is an availability of cheap female labour, and the quantity of this type of labour. However this can vary over regions and nations. Their message also emphasizes that true equality cannot be achieved and will be difficult to attain without a major revolution, in particular an economic one, as power and capital are distributed unevenly in the capitalist society we have today.
Women are often stereotyped as domestic workers, consumers and care workers and these ideas are mostly associated with femininity. This type of employment is often seen to be less worthy and deserving of a high pay and less respected than traditional “masculine” roles. There seems to be a tendency to value and remunerate women less for their work as they enter a profession. It is not fair for women to individually work so that they can rise to powerful positions in society. It is acceptable to say that power needs to be redistributed throughout society.
In contrast, ideas about full-time employment and citizenship beyond the home are often shaped by ideas of masculinity; this is reflected by the notion of men to be suitable to certain spheres of work and participation in public life rather than women. (Massey 1996, cited in Blunt & Wills 1993). Gender inequality can be witnessed everywhere through the masculine spaces of mines and city workers, down to the feminized spaces of garment factories and primary teaching. However these gender roles and relations are ever changing, and to reiterate they are socially constructed as well as dynamic rather than permanent and static from birth.
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Inequality also lays heavily in the difference in pay between men and women. As a recent study found that simply ‘being a woman’ was the most serious impediment to women in the workplace (reportageonline.com), women working full-time earn on average 16.4% less per hour than men working full-time. Other figures show women working part-time earn on average 35.3% less per hour than men working full-time (based on mean hourly pay in 2009; data from EHRC, 2010). The difference in earnings is created through the gender segregation of occupations and women being discriminated against. Furthermore the lower paid work is usually carried out by the females as there is a gender stereotype for women to take responsibility of certain jobs. There is also an under-representation of women in vocational work and in large firms. Nevertheless, Gender has come a long way, and in recent years has dynamically changed as now more women are paid fairly in employment
Feminism on a whole has had a positive impact on society it has been a dramatically successful social movement. It has changed women’s expectations and perspectives on their lives. In the past, women would have to marry to gain financial security and stability. Women are now working and more independent than ever, by earning their own living, they do not need to rely on a man for stability. Sue Sharpe (1976, 1994) has conducted research into this area and in the first edition of her book Just Like A Girl (1976) she interviewed girls and asked them about their future plans, which were to get married and have children. A career was not seen as important neither a high priority. She later repeated her research in the 1990s and found that the girl’s priorities had changed; their careers came first and marriage and children were not as important anymore. Women now have far more choice, variety and opportunities compared to the past.
Feminism has also transformed what men expect from sharing their lives with women and how they will behave towards women. Children growing up now simply take for granted feminism’s messages about sexual equality and justice when only 30 years ago such messages were widely opposed as extremist and threatening to the social order. No other movement has so rapidly revolutionized such deeply held patterns of behaviour’ (Coward, 1999: 194)
Finally, in response to wider social shifts, the aspirations of girls may have also increased. Thus girls now may have their sights set on university and a career – and this may translate into increased engagement with school. Recent reforms have opened opportunities to women – most notably the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which made gender discrimination in employment illegal.
‘women still suffer many injustices, discriminations and sometimes even outrages but there is no longer a coherent picture of male advantage and female disadvantage. Gender remains a crucial division in society but in a much more fractured and inconsistent way’ (Coward, 1999: 192-3)
The key message of feminism in the 21st century society should highlight choice in bringing a personal meaning to feminism is to recognise others’ right to do the exact same thing. Women all over the world nationally, regionally and globally should be able to embrace this powerful message of feminism and be able to create a positive meaning of their own womanhood and femininity. However, despite feminism being a strong successful movement, inequality and exploitation of women still exist and sadly there are women today, who are trapped in a society which doesn’t value them and leaves them neither choice nor freedom to express their views and rights.
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