The OCR Developments in Christian Theology specification states that you need to know about various forms of reconstructionist feminism, specifically existentialist, marxist and freudian.
In addition to this you need to know how feminist theologians have responded to the challenge posed by reconstructionist feminism.
Liberal feminism optimistically assumed that if women were given the vote, the opportunity to get jobs and equal access to education then they would be able to gain equality with men. Patriarchy could be defeated by empowering women and offering them choice.
Reconstructionist feminism suggests that this is not enough. Even if women are given equal opportunities in the jobs market they tend to end up working in traditionally female careers. Women still end up being defined by the idea of motherhood. Women still end up playing the traditional female role within marriage. Men and women still have one set of expectations for women and a different set for men.
Reconstructionists suggest that this is because the structures of society compel women to play a certain role within the world. Thus a woman is never really free to choose for herself. She is constrained by other factors. Consequently, liberal feminism does not do enough to truly liberate women because although it opposes examples of inequality it does not address the causes of discrimination. Reconstructionists (as the name suggests) believe that society needs to be reconstructed to enable women to have choice.
One form of reconstructionist feminism is existentialist feminism.
Simone de Beauvoir was Sartre's long term partner. They were not married (they both had very negative views about marriage) and theirs was a relationship founded on equality and freedom.
De Beauvoir's book was called The Second Sex. The title refers to her suggestion that throughout history women have been seen as 'the other'. Men are normative (normal), women are 'other' (different, adapted, perverted, corrupted, lesser). She argues that this view developed because biological difference gave men the initial upper hand. Men are physically stronger, women are hindered by menstration, pregnancy, birth and breast-feeding which made them less able to take the lead role in early societies. Once men had the upper hand they created customs, laws and structures which reflected their way of seeing things i.e. men as normal, women as different.
De Beauvoir borrowed from Hegel the idea that history progresses through struggle as the dominant group in society are challenged by the exploited. She thought that this process was essential in contributing the self-awareness. People only realise that they are autonomous beings when they rise up and challenge those who have dominated them.
Unfortunately for women, this dialectical struggle has historically taken place between men. Serfs rose up and overthrew their lords, peasants challenged the aristocracy. Men have thus confirmed themselves as persons and gained the ability to make free choices unfettered by expectation. Women have remained on the sidelines (at home) and have not taken part in the historical struggle. Therefore, they have never had the chance to go through this person making process. She says that 'Women have never set up female values in opposition to male values…men have presumed to create a feminine domain … only in order to lock up women there.' They have never been able to overthrow the label of 'the other' and the world has continued to be seen through male eyes.
De Beauvoir applied the existentialist principles to women and argued that women are prevented from living in bon foi (good faith) because they are constantly taught to aspire towards the 'myth of the eternal feminine'. This myth is created by men but perpetuated by both men and women. Women are taught from early childhood that men and women are essentially different (different in essence), that there are female characteristics which should be developed. To not live up to this stereotype is to fail at being a woman.
This means that women always live according to how others expect them to be. They always live in mauvoise foi (bad faith) and can never lead authentic lives. Even if a woman is given a choice about how she wants to live - a career choice for example - she will choose according to the values that have been instilled in her.
Therefore, she cannot choose freely, she has been socially conditioned to be a certain way. This explains why the liberal agenda cannot succeed. Changing laws and giving women opportunities will not bring about change unless women are brought up able to make genuinely free choices. De Beauvoir pointed out that women are judged on how well they live up to the myth of the eternal feminine. A 'feminine' woman will behave in a certain way. The myth implies that all women are somehow the same, that there is some type of 'female nature'. De Beauvoir said that although the evidence often points against this (i.e. all women are different) the myth is so powerful that it continues in spite of the evidence. Women who are not like the myth says women should be are regarded as failures rather than seen as individuals with different interests and priorities.
De Beauvoir believed that girls were brought up to aspire to being wives of rich husbands. She said that 'Her youth is consumed in waiting, more or less disguised, she is waiting for Man.' whereas 'No young man considers marriage as his fundamental project'. Men are brought up to aim towards careers and achievement. Men may expect marriage to be part of their life, but it is not their primary goal. The reason for the difference is - according to de Beauvoir - down to upbringing. Girls have been taught from early childhood to look forward to marriage and trained to behave in a way that would help them to achieve this end. For example, they were taught to prioritise looks and to behave in ways that were appealing to men.
This relates back to the issue of choice. De Beauvoir believed that it made no sense to say that a girl chooses to prioritise marriage if she has been trained by society to think that way and when the other options available to her were so poor. Therefore, a women cannot live in good faith (bon foi) because their choices are caused by others. In order to enable women to live in good faith society has to be reconstructed to get rid of all the things that create the myth of the eternal feminine.
Thus whilst girls are taught that marriage will be their salvation this is a false hope. Women are trapped and limited by marriage and will not be made happy by it.
De Beauvoir did recognise that the nature of marriage was changing and she says 'Many young households give the impression of being on a basis of perfect equality.' However, when she was writing men were generally still the primary breadwinner. De Beauvoir (like Taylor) believed that equality was impossible if the man had the money and thus the power. She wrote:
For de Beauvoir, the problem with marriage is that it originated as a way of controlling and owning women. It was, she thought, an outdated concept. 'On the whole marriage is today a surviving relic of dead ways of live' and she thought that it was much better for couples to cohabit. The ideal couple should be independently successful first so that they can then meet as equals.
De Beauvoir also challenged prevailing views about motherhood. She rejected the idea that women have an instinctive urge to be mothers or an innate maternal instinct. She said that how a mother feels towards her child depends entirely on the circumstances under which she finds herself pregnant. The idea that all women want to be mothers or that they are naturally good at it is part of the myth of the eternal feminine, but as it is a MYTH it is not true. It is a lie that has been taught to women and influences the way that they think. Consequently, de Beauvoir thought that it was essential for women to be able to choose whether or not to become mothers. She supported both contraception and abortion for this reason and regarded the arguments against them as 'ancient patriarchal restraints'.
It is important to note that de Beauvoir was not anti-motherhood. In fact she said that 'that unless the circumstances are positively unfavourable the mother will find her life enriched by her child'. She opposes the things that deprive a woman of the ability to live in bon foi.These include:
To allow women choice and opportunities the state should provide adequate childcare.
De Beauvoir also thought that women's role in reproduction has contributed to women's oppression in the past (men feared women's creative powers and tried to control them whilst women were physically disadvantaged by pregnancy and breastfeeding). However, unlike Shulamith Firestone, de Beauvoir recognises the value of motherhood provided it was undertaken through genuine choice.
According to de Beauvoir, Christianity was one of the things that has contributed to the myth of the eternal feminine and it has been used to keep women in their place. She argued that Christianity has been created by men and thus reflects their own interests. She recognises that there are some things within Christianity which are less misogynistic ('Doubtless there is in the Gospels a breath of charity that extends to women as to lepers'), but on the whole it has been used as a tool of control.
Like Mary Daly, de Beauvoir rejected the idea that the Virgin Mary demonstrates a positive role model for women. She says that in the story of the annunciation Mary 'is glorified only by accepting the subordinate role assigned her ‘I am the servant of the Lord’…this is the supreme masculine victory.'
Christianity, says de Beauvoir, has emphasised the 'dangerous character' of women. Within Christianity woman's otherness becomes associated with sin. Reason (man) is good, Body/flesh (woman) is other and bad. Women tempt men to sin, the flesh must be conquered by the mind:
An interesting question that de Beauvoir addressed is the question of why the myth of the eternal feminine gets passed on. Why do women continue to bring up their daughters to aspire to be a certain way?
Her answer is basically that men want to keep it that way and women have been so socially conditioned to accept the myth of the eternal feminine that they believe it and pass it on unthinkingly to the next generation.
Consequently, the first stage of female liberation involves some form of conscientisation. Then women need to enter into the dialectical struggles by which they challenge the way the world is viewed by their oppressors (i.e. challenge the male dominated view and reject the idea that man is normative and woman other). By doing this women can discover themselves and gain the ability to make free choices. Until this is done women will never be able to make the most of the opportunities that are open to them.
The first and most important question to ask is whether or not de Beauvoir is correct. Are women will be unable to make the most of opportunities offered to them unless we first change the way they think? To answer this question you need to look at the evidence:
Secondly, you could challenge this idea that there is no such thing as male nature or female nature. There are studies that have supported the idea that men and women's brains work in different ways. Women might genuinely be better at things requiring empathy. If it is true that there is a separate male/female nature then perhaps the best way to achieve fulfilment for women is to encourage them to work with nature rather than against it. From a traditional Christian perspective, God makes men and women with a specific end (telos) in mind and they will be fulfilled by achieving it.
Rosemarie Tong's book Feminist Thought lists some of the more in depth criticisms that have been levelled against De Beauvoir.
Rosemarie Tong then evaluates these criticisms and says that whilst they need to be taken seriously they do not undermine de Beauvoir's overall contribution to feminism. The Second Sex sold 22,000 copies - proof that woman did find it accessible. Tong argues that de Beauvoir does not have an entirely negative view towards the body, de Beauvoir said that people could be proud of their bodies but should not be defined by them and thus women should not see reproduction as the one sole purpose of women.
Marxist feminists argued that economic factors were at the root of female oppression. Many Marxist feminists believed that capitalism and patriarchy went hand in hand.
Marxist feminists and socialist feminists drew on ideas from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. As you may remember from your AS work, Marx believed that capitalism intrinsically involved exploitation (i.e. exploitation is an essential and unavoidable part of capitalism). All worker are exploited, but in Das Kapital Marx explained that women - especially women who were mothers - were easy for capitalists to exploit.
Engels set out his thoughts in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1845).
In other words, the arrival of capitalism caused women to be viewed as second class citizens.
In addition to the ideas above, there are other ideas that can be drawn from Marx and Engels.
Whilst many feminists agreed that economic factors needed addressing, they often disagreed about the solution to the problem. Evelyn Reed (Women: Caste, Class or Oppressed Sex?) essentially agreed that the problems for working class women were caused by capitalism. Thus, for her, the solution was to first solve the problem of capitalism by rebelling against it. She was hopeful that in a communist world, founded on egalitarian principles, men and women would enjoy greater equality.
Other feminists took up the challenge presented by Engels. Magaret Benston wanted it to be easier for women to do jobs that had economic value. To make this possible women needed not only education and equal opportunities (as the liberals wanted) but also effective (and affordable) childcare so that they could enter the jobs market.
Not everyone agreed that this was the best method forward. Selma James and Maria Dallas Costa felt that a more effective way of getting around the issue of lack of respect for women was to pay them for what they already do. Rather than encourage them to take jobs outside the home society should recognise the importance of child-rearing and homemaking and pay them a wage in recognition of this. However, this idea was rejected by Carol Lobate who thought that doing so would further trap women in the domestic realm as there would be no reason to leave it.
Many feminists who have been influenced by Marxist thought suggest that women are seen as a separate class within society. Just as in classical Marxism the proletariat are exploited by the bourgoeisie and require a class war to end this exploitation Marxist feminists believe that the class of women are exploited by the class of men. Women therefore, need to engage in class (gender) warfare and challenge the authority of men. According to the Marxist dialectical view of history, this challenge to the status quo should lead to a period of struggle followed by a new society based on a synthesis of ideas.
Thus many socialist feminists believe that women are doubly exploited, once economically because of the way they are sidelined and/or used in capitalist systems and one as a gender class who are expected to fulfil a specific role (the domestic role) and serve the men in society by performing most of the housework/childcare in addition to any economic job that they may have.
Juliet Mitchell was interested in why women tend to end up in low paid jobs even when they are qualified for better paid ones. She suggested that Marx alone could not account for that. Thus feminists need a two-system approach that considers both capitalism and patriarchy.
Alison Jaggar also agreed that women were oppressed by both capitalism and patriarchy. She used the Marxist idea of alienation to analyse the problems women faced in their relationship with their children.
In a similar way women also become alienated from their own bodies which become commodities to be beautified and shaped to please men.
Many feminists would say that economic issues should still be at the heart of feminism. Despite all the progress made, there are still economic inequalities between men and women.
There are related questions concerning whether the economic value of some jobs is low because they are seen as women's work. Nursing, for example, is relatively poorly paid given that it requires significant training and involves a lot of responsibility.
Rosemarie Tong herself is of the opinion that feminism should be focusing on economic rather than psychological factors and concluded it was 'probably a mistake' to turn away from the Marxist insights.
Tong quotes Stevi Jackson in support of Marxist feminism:
Many feminists find Freud's theories problematic. Betty Friedan objected to Freud's claim that 'anatomy is destiny'. She rejected this deterministic account of human nature which suggests that women are doomed by biology to a certain type of existence. Kate Millet has accused Freud of being androcentric because the concept of penis envy presents women as the deficient ones; those lacking something. Millet was also critical of Freud's reduction of motherhood to being a second best penis substitute rather than something to be cherished and celebrated. In essence, Millet accused Freud of having his own subconscious bias which led him to see men as normative and woman as the deficient copy.
However, whilst Freud's ideas were not accepted wholeheartedly by feminists, there were many who felt that the root of sexism was psychological. Feminists who write from this perspective can be termed 'psycho-analytical feminists'.
Dorothy Dinnerstein was born in 1923 to a Jewish family living in New York (her parents had come from Poland and Russia). She gained a PhD in Psychology and
As the quotation above shows, Dinnerstein believed that sexism is embedded deep within the subconscious. Consequently, to solution to sexism needs to address the root cause.
Dinnerstein argued that both men and women grow up with an ambivalence towards women which is due to the way in which very young pre-rational babies experience their mother as both a source of pleasure and of pain. Pleasure (in cuddles, breast-feeding, nurturing lullabies etc) and pain (cross words, withdrawal of milk etc) both come from the mother but the very young baby cannot tell why the mother sometimes provides one and sometimes the other. Consequently the mother is both adored and mistrusted by the infant because she is the origin of unbridled joy and crushing disappointment!
The result of this is that men grow up fearing the woman's power to hurt them and seek to control women. Women grow up fearing the 'beast within' (dreading becoming like their mothers) and allow themselves to be controlled to avoid this fate. Both genders fear returning to the helplessness of infancy. The reason why people feel ambivalent about women but not about men is because men tend not to be as involved in the very early stages of a baby's development. Thus it is only the mother who is unpredictable. By the time the father enters the picture the child is more rational and more able to understand the reasons behind the different behaviours.
The delayed involvement of the father also causes another problem. In the very early stages of development the baby does not recognise that the mother is another independent identity (they cannot as they do not yet have a sense of 'self' with which to contrast another self). The baby does not realise that its mother has an independent identity and sees her as an 'it' rather than an 'I'. From the baby's perspective the mother is omnipresent and focused around providing for its needs. The father exists more in the background. He comes and goes. The child only really becomes aware of him once the child has grasped the concept of self. Thus the idea of man as 'I' and woman as 'it' is founded upon a child's different experiences of their parents.
Eventually of course children realise that the mother is an 'I' but the subconscious difference in attitude is already woven into the psyche. In addition, once the child does realise that the mother is another 'I' they realise that her will may be different from theirs. In childhood the battle between child and mother is usually won by the mother. In adulthood men subconsciously try to conquer women to make up for this.
Finally, Dinnerstein agreed with Freud's suggestion that the mother is the child's first love and that in order to grow up they need to pass through the Oedipal stage and renounce this relationship and turn their attention elsewhere. Dinnerstein argued that men renounce this relationship more fully than girls. Girls remain more tied to their mothers (because they identify their own nature as similar to hers) and therefore any other relationships come with a great sense of betrayal. This, according to Dinnerstein, is why for women sex is more intrinsically linked with love. A relationship just based on sex would not be worth enough to compensate for the guilt of abandoning the mother. However, boys separate more fully from their mothers and identify themselves in opposition to her. In their relationships boys subconsciously seek to control and punish the mother. For men, relationships with others still involve betrayal of the mother, but as they are less firmly attached to the mother the betrayal is less great - which is why men are better able to separate sex and love.
In her book 'The Mermaid and the Minotaur' (1976) Dinnerstein recommended co-parenting as a way of avoiding the development of subconscious prejudice. She thought that anything less would treat the symptoms of sexism but not the cause. That said, she did get involved in activism and fought (successfully) for the female staff at Rutgers University to be paid the same as the men.
Freud's specific theories (oedipus complex, penis envy etc) have fallen rather out of favour in recent years. However, most people would accept the thesis that what happens to a child in its formative years has a life long effect on its behaviour and attitudes. To a certain extent society is already increasingly embracing the idea of dual parenting and men are expected to take a hands on attitude to childcare. That said, women still tend to do more baby-care than men.
Consider the following:
Obviously different feminists theologians respond in different ways. However, the general trends are as follows.
Many feminist theologians have been influenced by de Beauvoir's idea central idea that the world has always been seen through male eyes and that women have been made the 'other'. They use a hermeneutic of suspicion to try to reclaim female traditions that men have overlooked, deliberately ignored or re-written. For example,
By and large they accept the idea that Christian teachings have contributed to the myth of the eternal feminine in that Christianity has had (and, in some instances, continues to have) very specific ideas about women's roles and relationships. They respond to this as follows:
Feminist theologians have not been so obviously influenced by either Marxist or Freudian feminism and by and large feminist theologians have not thought that it is necessary to substantially reconstruct society.
Consider whether you think that feminist theology has made enough use of secular reconstructionist feminism. Should it go further? Why?
The reconstructionist feminists all believe that society has to be reconstructed as the structures of society cause women to be oppressed. For Existentialists these structures are the customs and laws that make woman the 'other'. For Marxists it is the structures of capitalism which devalue women's work and which commodify her body. For the Freudians it is the structures of family life that shape a child during its formative years.
You should obviously consider for yourself what you think the root cause of sexism, misogyny and oppression is. Is it economic? Is it psychological? Is it encoded within the patriarchal expectations that are passed on from generation to generation. Or is it none of the above.
Finally, consider how theologians responded to the challenge presented by reconstructionists and decide whether you think they should make more or less use of them.
Article in the Times Educational Suppliment Mummy I want to be a housewife here.