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Feminist political philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

In all its forms, feminism asserts that social and political structures in society discriminate against women. Feminist political philosophy aims to show how traditional political philosophy is implicated in that discrimination and how the resources of political philosophy may nevertheless be employed in the service of women. Sometimes, feminist political philosophy extends the arguments of traditional political philosophy to indicate that women are unjustly treated and to propose ways in which that injustice might be removed. This is clearest in liberal feminism, where it is argued that since women are essentially the same as men in being rational creatures, they are entitled to the same legal and political rights as men: arguments which defend the rights of man also support the rights of women. Similarly, Marxist and socialist feminism extend the insights of Marxism and socialism in an attempt to expose and remove the oppression of women: Marxist emphasis on the exploitation of labour under capital is supplemented by Marxist feminist emphasis on the exploitation of women under patriarchy.

However, there are also forms of feminist political philosophy which are more critical of traditional political philosophy and which question the very distinctions upon which it is premised. Thus, radical feminist philosophers question the scope of the term ‘political’ as it is usually used by political philosophers, and argue that by excluding domestic concerns, traditional political philosophy excludes many of the things which are most important to women. The aim here is not to extend the insights of political philosophy, but rather to highlight the ways in which political philosophy itself shows a distinct gender bias.

Yet more radically, the postmodernists have been critical of philosophy’s emphasis on truth and objectivity, and some feminists have extended their arguments to suggest that the very language of philosophy, and by extension of political philosophy, is ‘man-made’.

Feminist political philosophy is therefore not one thing but many, and feminist political philosophers are deeply divided as to whether traditional political philosophy may be modified so as to include women’s interests, or whether it is itself one of the ways in which women’s politically disadvantaged position is legitimized and perpetuated.

Citing this article:
Mendus, Susan. Feminist political philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S025-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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