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Feminism: Altruism, Egoism and Skepticism 

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Feminism, as a basis, is the advocacy of having equality of the sexes. It ranges from political movements to different ideologies in order to achieve equality in all of the different aspects. This includes fighting gender stereotypes and seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men. As in the past, the look on women has been very low, to the point where they are merely objectified. According to Alisson Jaggar, women were also just meant to take care of their children, the elderly, and do housework. She also stated that women are not as morally mature or deep as men and underrates the aspects of women in terms of their emotion, body, trust, absence, joy, peace, life etc. Furthermore, she also said that traditional ethics had favored the “male” rather than the “female”. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, where she rejected the traditional female virtues of submission and service. In that same book, she argued that women should be well-educated in order for them to become good mothers or wives. Feminism can be connected to these three ethical concepts namely; Altruism, the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others; Egoism, the theory that one’s self is, or should be, the motivation and the goal of one’s own action; and Altruism, questioning or doubting towards one or more knowledge or beliefs.

Coined by Auguste Comte, altruism is living for the sake of others, putting their wellbeing before oneself. Altruism and feminism almost always coincide with one another. Since altruism is caring for other people rather than yourself, it can be said that a female is an altruistic person. They are the ones who take care of their husband and child more often than not. In Tove Pettersen’s “Conceptions of Care: Altruism, Feminism, and Mature”, she mentioned there that “women apparently more often than men, experience a loss of self in close relationships and let the interests of particular others systematically outshine their own”. A loss of self pertains to them losing their identity and just becoming subservient to the needs of the people that they care about, hence the close relationships. It was also stated in “Gender Differences in Altruism: Expectations, Actual Behaviour, and Accuracy of Beliefs” by Valerio Capraro (2016) that women are more generous than men and they are willing to give more. This may be due to the fact that women are “emotional beings” and tend to be more empathetic than men.

Moving over to egoism, it was conceived by Henry Sidgwick and was described as “an ethical theory parallel to utilitarianism: the utilitarian holds that one should maximize the good of all beings in the universe; the egoist holds instead that the good one is ultimately to aim at is only one’s own”. In a simpler context, egoism is doing what’s best for oneself rather than for other people, this can also be synonymous to being selfish or self-centered. It is also said that egoism is more often than not, the opposite to altruism. With this in mind, feminist or feminism can be egoistic at times. According to Imogen Tyler’s “The Selfish Feminist: Public Images of Women’s Liberation” (2007), feminists took a turn and started pivoting around the ideas of “selfishness” around the 1970s and 1980s. The feminists chose the word “liberation” to mean liberation from home, husband, family, and children. They even chanted “down with sex, down with love, down with child-bearing” in their movements. Women wanted to be free during these times so much that their movement can be called radical feminism. In Finn Mackay’s book ‘Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement” (2015), he defined radical feminism as “a vessel or totem which signifies feminism gone too far, an extreme example of feminism and a destination at which no sane person would presumably wish to arrive”. In a much simpler context, radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that wants to usurp the power of male supremacy. In these two similar contexts, feminists put women at the center of the universe.

Skepticism was coined by a Greek philosopher from Elis named Pyrrho and was the founder of the Greek school of skepticism. Skepticism has always been linked to having doubt about a certain knowledge, truth or ideals of certain things. In Carolyn Dever’s “Skeptical Feminism Activist Theory. Activist Practice” (2004), she highlights the hostility of many feminists feel towards theory or more precisely the feminist theory. The feminist theory revolves around analyzing gender inequality such as discrimination, objectification, oppression, patriarchy and many more. In Dever’s book, she discussed how in women’s movement they addressed key political issues and opened up new ways of thinking about women. She also mentioned there that a fundamental skepticism towards an abstraction-the quality of dealing with ideas rather than events-has been vital to the development of the movement. This movement pertains to the women’s movement and has changed the ways how feminists approach things. According to Juliet Mitchell (2015), the goals of feminist have changed over the years, from their yearns for their rights to vote in the 19th century, to their fight for sexual and reproductive rights in the 1960s, to their current movement in an attempt to redefine gender roles. Feminists have definitely time and time again looked at their ideas and change their approach to feminist thought.

All in all, these three concepts may be at odds with each other in first glance, seeing as altruism is a direct opposite to egoism, they can still be intertwined in the context of feminism. Altruism is focused on the betterment of women in society. In this view, one can be altruistic and egoistic at the same time. When the society accepts the notion of the women’s movement and feminism, this will also have positive effects to oneself. A theoretical example of this is when a feminist who fights for the rights of a women succeeds, whether this feminist is a male or a female, they are able to enjoy the wellbeing of others, the women, for themselves. They can get a sense of fulfillment that they have done something good. In an egoistic point of view whereas some feminist resort to radical feminism, these ideas can be altered through skepticism. Reevaluating their morals, goals, and ideals for the betterment of the society and their own as well. With skepticism, they can still uphold their egoistic view where they want to have their own rights and be equal to men, and have an altruistic side where they are able to connect the society as a whole.

References

  • Imogen, T.(2007, July). The Selfish Feminist: Public Images of Women’s Liberation. Australian Feminist Studies, 22(53), 173-190
  • Mackay, F.(2015). Radical Feminism. Radical Feminism: Feminist Activism in Movement, 32(7-8), 332-336
  • Eckel, C.C. and Grossman, P.J.(1998). Are women less selfish than men?: Evidence from dictator experiments. The Economic Journal, 108(448), 726-735
  • Dever, C.(2004). Skeptical Feminism Activist Theory, Activist Practice. Retrieved from http://books.google.com
  • Mitchell, J., Hollway, W., & Walsh, J.(2015). Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Then and now. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society, 20(2), 112-130 

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