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Critical theory is directed towards both critiquing and changing the world, instead of merely explaining and interpreting it. The term critical theory was coined by Max Horkheimer in his essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (1937). By nature, it is radical, emancipatory and highly democratic in nature; historically specific but ever-changing. Even preceding Horkheimer, Karl Marx also contributed to critical theory affirming that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in certain ways; the point is to change it” (Theses on Feuerbach). Ontologically, the nature of the world is intrinsically one with diametrically opposed dichotomies of power and built-in disadvantaging imbalances and covert, oppressive structures. Horkeimer affirms that critical theory’s primary objective is “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Horkheimer 1982, 244). Freedom is derived at the epistemic level for knowledge is power (arming the oppressed with weapons to conduct revolution against dominant orders of society, merging theory and action, instigating change in living conditions merges theory and action and align itself to working against diverse dominant orders of society). It appreciates the lived experiences of people and interprets actions and symbols of society to understand social oppression. Methodologically, critical theory is pluralistic especially as a result of several socio-economic and political shifts brought about by globalisation. Consequently, several genres of critical theory have emerged, for example racial, post-colonial and feminist.
Feminism is any socio-economic, political and cultural movement aimed at reforming society through equal rights and protections on behalf of the woman. Mainstream feminism embraces the legality of the woman as an independent individual, promoting full participation, inclusion and integration to enjoy its rights, responsibilities and privileges. The improvement of the woman’s social condition in civil life hinges on progressivism in where public policies are the catalysts for positive social change and where she would be emancipated and empowered. Feminism is convinced of the positive potential of woman and the benefits which would redound to the larger society through her empowerment.
“Feminism is about the social transformation of gender relations” (Calas 2009). Feminism is virulently opposed to female subjugation, subservience and misogynist injustices – setting about to liberate the woman from inhibiting traditions and status quos that tend to undermine the validation of her personhood. Generally, feminists support gender equality where both sexes can avail themselves of the same opportunities in both the domestic and public realms. No longer is a woman an inferior or weaker sex. She is an equal. Feminism also perceives the world through gendered lenses, discerns male predominance through patriarchal structures and militates against it.
An inexhaustible list of variations exists within feminism, for example liberal feminism clamours for women’s equality, public rights and inclusion in decision-making and discourse. Radical feminism demands a complete and fundamental restructuring and redefining of the world’s institutions, systems and human experience to supersede the male-oriented ones. Marxist feminism concentrates on capitalism as the root cause of female oppression especially in the labour market where men possess more capital and economic privilege. Eco-feminism, Separatist feminism, Post-modern feminism, Third-world feminism, Psychoanalytic feminism, Postcolonial feminism and Amazon feminism among others constitute other types of feminism.
The polarization of men and women forms part and parcel in the perpetual battle of the sexes – preoccupied with who should be more privileged in society’s assigned gender roles. The battle of the sexes is predicated on female identity, autonomy, oppression, disempowerment which all reflects the….Feminism frames a discourse that attempts to challenge a longstanding male supremacy. In the past, man held a monopoly over discourse because of unequal structures (domestic/family, business, labour, education, religion and government) which dictated to the woman. In feminist critical theory, “universal criteria are not value-free, but (based) upon male norms” (May 2001). Owing to male preponderance, discourse would position the male at the centre so that one sees the male “Self” as the one who prevails whereas the female “Other” is relegated to the fringes of society. In the battle, machoism seeks to continue the promulgation of a male-based perspective in ideas, structures, and institutions that cement his control in society. The masculine voice overpowers and represses the woman. Consequently, “the answer is … to move away from (the) male-centred perspective and place women at its centre” (May 2001) effectively questioning the legitimacy of and ousting patriarchal tradition.
Feminist theory concentrates on the trajectories of women growing to assert themselves and rise above male oppression, inferiority, sexual abuse and gendered stereotyping. Like men, women have the right to autonomy so she must break the yoke of oppression, repression and suppression. Critical theory is hinged on the ideals of the woman as one who has been unduly victimized and oppressed by the patriarchy. This gender-centred philosophy contends with deep-rooted, sexist prejudice against the woman. It presupposes that phallocentric sexism is still in wide currency, discriminating and denying equality to the woman. Legitimized patriarchy in a world system permitted gross inhumanities and injustices to flourish against the woman, termed misogyny. Misogynist practices and policies physically and metaphorically rape the woman of her dignity and personhood. In the face of these indignities, feminists perform critical theory by privileging and empowering the woman.
Feminist critical theory pinpoints societal double standards and hypocrisy so that the woman is obliged to abide by different rules inconsistent with fairness. Mainstream critical theory inherently privileges the man while disadvantaging the woman; therefore the feminist discourse stresses the loopholes in the patriarchal discourse that tends to discriminate and disempower the woman. The double standard code of ethics governs the behaviour of the woman. Even in social research, feminists have succeeded in permeating the topic of double standard research so that “other forms of sexism in the design of a study may also lead to a double standard in data interpretation” (Eichler1999). Critical theory oriented by feminist principles prompts the question: is this free from male-dominated standards or double standards: Are both sexes considered and privileged? These questions shed light into the validation of the woman where formerly she has been relegated to inferiority and even anonymity in discourse. Feminism gives birth to female empowerment, yet the discourse often cloaked in anonymity, passivity, obscurity, self-effacement and subjugation
It holds that equalising power “will not be found in some stable orthodoxy but in an evolving dialogue” (DeVault 1999). The “the idea of objectivity and neutrality in the social sciences (instead)…taking the woman’s perspective” (Acker 1983). Despising the “positivistic objectivity or the reality of the social world as a system of distinct observable variables independent of the knower” (Acker 1983) is another quality of feminist-guided research…solidarity with experiences germane to women. Feminism blatantly reject “such tenets of mainstream social science as the objectivity and separation of researcher from what or whom is researched, the superiority of the researcher as expert” (Small 1995). The attrition of these differences demonstrates a unique equilibrium in social research.
Feminism in I.R. initiates the sexual discourse, boldly tackling topics of sexuality affecting women globally. Rape as a war crime, prostitution and sex slavery, female circumcision, sexual orientation, forms part of the uninhibited dialogue. Feminists aim to uncover the impact of culture on female sexual impressions and expression. In feminist discourse, the woman’s body is not objectified as a sex symbol but is dignified and even deified as it is liberated from social restraint. The politics of sexuality encapsulates various aspects of the woman owing to the links between gender and sexuality, linguistic usage and gender research inherently leaned on cultural interpretations of sex and sexuality… thus the shifts in language and gender (Bucholtz 2004).
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