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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N022-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2004
Retrieved March 18, 2018, from

Article Summary

Feminism is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified. Under the umbrella of this general characterization there are, however, many interpretations of women and their oppression, so that it is a mistake to think of feminism as a single philosophical doctrine, or as implying an agreed political programme. Just as there are diverse images of liberation, so there are a number of feminist philosophies, yoked together not so much by their particular claims or prescriptions as by their interest in a common theme.

In the earlier phases of feminism, advocates focused largely on the reform of women’s social position, arguing that they should have access to education, work or civil rights. During the latter half of the twentieth century, however, feminists have become increasingly interested in the variety of social practices (including theoretical ones) through which our understandings of femininity and masculinity are created and maintained. As a result, the scope of feminist enquiry has broadened to include, for example, jurisprudence, epistemology and psychoanalysis.

Despite its diversity, this work characteristically draws on and grapples with a set of deeply-rooted historical attempts to explain the domination of women. Aristotle’s claim that they are mutilated males, together with the biblical account of the sin of Eve, gave rise to an authoritative tradition in which the weakness, irrationality and ineducability of women, the inconstancy, inability to control their emotions and lack of moral virtue, were all regularly cited and assumed as grounds for controlling them and excluding them from the public realm.

Citing this article:
James, Susan. Feminism, 2004, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N022-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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