Against the dismantling of feminism: a study in the politics of meaning

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Copyright: Thompson, Denise
This thesis explores the neglected question of what feminism means in the current climate of academic feminist theorising wherein differing, even conflicting, claims are being made in the name of feminism. By clarifying what is at stake in these claims, this thesis makes an original contribution to feminist theory. It is divided into two Parts. In Part I, I begin with a discussion of some basic debates in sociology concerning ‘the individual’ and ‘society’, arguing not only that ‘the individual’ is social all the way through, but also that feminism requires an explicit account of the human individual as a moral and political agent with the potential for resisting relations of ruling. I then proceed to define feminism in terms of opposition to the meanings and values of male supremacy which structure a reality where only men are ‘human’, and also in terms of the concomitant struggle for a human status for women at no one’s expense. I argue in favour of a feminist standpoint which is not reducible to ‘women’s life activity’ alone, but which takes its meaning and value from its recognition of and struggle against the social system of male domination. In Part II, I argue for the limitations of defining feminism in terms which equivocate on the question of male domination. I investigate a number of representative academic feminist texts which account for the central problematic of feminism in terms other than male domination. I discuss some problems entailed in implicitly defining feminism in terms of ‘women’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘sexism’, the idealist constructs of ‘gender’ and ‘dichotomies’, as well as the concept of ‘difference’, both in the sense of differences between the sexes and in the sense of differences between and among women. This issue of differences between women is discussed at length in the last chapter in relation to the question of ‘race’ as it has been debated within feminism. I conclude with a discussion of what is involved in recently suggested links between masculinity and racism, arguing that no account of domination is adequate unless it acknowledges male supremacist relations of ruling.
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Thompson, Denise
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PhD Doctorate
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