Feminist Theory and Communication

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1910 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Words: 1910|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Definition of feminism and feminist studies
    Feminist studies in communication and rhetoric
    Language, freedom, and equality
    Another way of communicating
  3. Criticisms of the feminist theories


The general purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between feminist theories and the field of communication. I will use the feminist belief of challenging traditionally accepted ideas. As a basis for understanding, I will first discuss the definition of feminism, a few of the genres of feminism and how feminist studies evolved. I will then look at feminist theories that guide studies in communication and rhetoric and move on to the relationship of language, freedom, and equality. I will then talk about new ways in which to communicate based on the feminist theories and then move on to criticisms of these theories.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

Definition of feminism and feminist studies

Although there are many arguments about the way feminism has been defined (some even say it cannot and should not be defined), feminism is basically about the disparities regarding how society treats men and women, with women mostly being unable to fully participate in all of society's institutions. Feminists believe that society considers male point of views as the norm, and women's' as inferior. Consider, for example, how, for the longest time, females are always ridiculed for being able to express their feelings freely (tagged as being emotional). Feminists wish to change this long-standing approach and move towards a different belief of how women are viewed and treated. Feminists believe that their way of thinking will give the world a new standpoint on how everything around us is seen and done.

Although it seems as if there are varied types of feminism, there really are no boxed-in qualifications for it. Let us think of feminism as different flavors that can be mixed together to make the best taste.

Nevertheless, I would like to discuss three "types" of feminism, liberal, Marxist, and radical feminism, which I believe would help us understand feminist studies.

Liberal feminism was a movement that started in the 1960s. These feminists believe that society (specifically males) has treated women unfairly since time immemorial and they intend to obtain equal rights this oppressed group by changing women's public image (Littlejohn). This view mostly serves women who already have a dominant position in society. Liberal feminism is concerned with obtaining equal rights through legislation and adopting existing norms and structures for their own purposes. In media, this is generally concerned with the invisibility and misrepresentation of women but does not challenge the structure.

Marxist feminism stems from Marxist theories. Although it was just initially concerned with class differences, it eventually moved its interest to patriarchy as an oppressive force affiliated with capitalism. Marxist feminism views the media as accessories in the patriarchal and capitalist practices and is concerned about pornography and its issues.

Radical feminists believe that changing women's public image is just the tip of the iceberg. They believe that there is a need to change the patriarchal social structure of society. They do not want equal rights because this means the women are still conforming to the rules of the male. They want to have an identity separate from the man (Littlejohn) and to glorify women. Radical feminism promotes alternative media.

Stemming from these schools of thought are feminist studies, which examine gender with respect to society. Many aspects of our lives are "gendered". Let us look at the English language for example and compare it to Filipino. Although we do have terms such as babae and lalake for woman and man, we do not differentiate from man or woman when it comes to our pronouns: siya for he or she. In Japan, not much thought was put into women's names, because only the first-born son carried on the family wealth. For women's names, it was easier to default to a random beauty related term (kawaii) + ko (many princesses and upper-class women had "ko" attached to their names).

In society, the male-bias has dominated gender, which in turn oppresses women (Littlejohn). Since communication is a considerable facet of culture, there are feminist scholars who study the ways male-bias, which distorts feminine thoughts, concerns, and experiences, affects communication (Kramarae 157). They investigate issues like how women accommodate and resist male patterns of speech and language, and the forms of female communication and its powers (Littlejohn).

Feminist studies in communication and rhetoric

How did Feminist Studies develop in Communication Studies? Three texts initiated the inclusion of women in the communication discipline: "The Rhetoric of Women's Liberation" (by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell), "Women's Speech: Separate but Unequal?" (By Cheris Kramarae), and Language and Woman's Place (by Robin Lakoff). These texts suggested that the women's movement had such distinctive components that it needed a whole new rhetorical perspective (Campbell), the idea of folk-view (how people think women should speak) was defined (Kramarae 14) and the ways that women tended to use language was proposed (Lakoff).

Another development of feminist perspectives in Communication Studies occurred with the efforts of inclusion of women in the discipline: studies of women orators, studies of social movements about or of concern to women, and subject matters that affect or are particularly significant to women When the feminists came to these realizations, it led to critiques of the communication discipline. They defined, clarified, and integrated feminine perspectives into communication studies. They realized this was not enough, that a reconceptualization of the subject was necessary in order to achieve their goals (Foss, Foss, and Griffin).

Moreover, what are these goals? One, for women to get more recognition for their contributions in communication, and two, to revise the definitions that characterize society by including women's experiences (Foss, Foss and Trapp).

Feminist studies aim to challenge the present assumptions of society. Feminists believe society should see the world through different points of view (Littlejohn). According to the Feminist Standpoint Theory, women's experiences lead them to understand certain things that men cannot (Hallstein). This is because of women possessing "feminine values" of intimacy, respect, reciprocity, self-determination, caring, and interconnection (Gilligan). Feminists believe that acceptance and understanding of different points of view will lead towards a free and equal society (Littlejohn).

Language, freedom, and equality

What does language have to do with a free and equal society? According to Marxist Theory, when applied in communication, the bourgeoisie has a dominant language that defined and perpetuated the oppression of the working-class (Marx). The same belief goes for feminists, except instead of a class-biased language; there is a gender-biased language (Ardener, Edwin). With oppression, it follows that there is no equality and no freedom. According to Cheris Kramarae, to live in freedom, we must analyze and understand the forms of linguistic domination, study the way communicate to find an alternative form of communication, and the new forms of communication must be created and used (e.g.: Laadan, a language suited for female experiences, created by Suzette Elgin; transforming the meaning of a deprecating word like "bitch" into something positive).

Human experiences are indicators of a culture's language. The language used in society is male-biased (a good example of this would be the word history), making female experiences based on male partiality (Penelope). In order for a woman to communicate, she has to translate her thoughts and feelings to "male language", making the woman monitor what she says (Ardener, Shirley) and making the communication process less natural for her (Foss, Foss, and Griffin). This is the explanation offered by the feminists as to why women, compared to men, are more uncomfortable speaking in public (Ardener, Shirley). The difficulty of translating female thoughts and feelings to male language make women, when they speak, seem less clear and less rational compared to men (Littlejohn). There are even instances, feminists say, where certain female experiences cannot be verbalized because of the lack of the word. The deficiency occurs because since these incidents do not happen to men, they, therefore, do not find a need to create a word for them.

In the field of communication, feminists believe that there are gender biases even in research and theory building that result in female experiences being ignored or hidden (Littlejohn). Nevertheless, there have been some measures taken to address this issue. Feminists have developed methodologies that are more gender sensitive and based on the principles of equality, freedom, respect, and understanding. These methodologies aim to not just research ON women, but also FOR women (Guerrero).

From this, feminists want to challenge the concept of what constitutes eloquent communication. Women, more than men, rely on non-verbal forms of communication. They have their own ways of expressing themselves (e.g. letters and diaries), which males do not view as significant (Littlejohn).

Another way of communicating

Feminists have proposed an innovative way of communicating: invitational rhetoric. The traditional, male-biased view of rhetoric concentrates on competition, change, and domination, implying that one's view is superior to others. Change achieved in this manner, as said by feminists, is a form of communication violence because it invalidates what is important to someone else (Gearhart). In contrast, invitational rhetoric emphasizes equality (that all perspectives are equal), immanent value (placing worth and dignity on all life), and self-determination (determining for yourself what's important). Feminists also deem respect and understanding in communication as important. Any change resulting from communication is obtained through insight, not influence. This "change" is viewed by feminists as enfolding: one changes when that person is ready to change (Littlejohn). To be able to enfold someone means there has to be acknowledgement, a search for common ground, a mutual sharing of perspectives, a willingness to yield, witnessing, and a request to share (Gearhart).

In invitational rhetoric, according to Cindy Griffin and Sonja Foss, perspectives are offered and the way it is offered makes a big impact. In order for a perspective offer to be accepted, there must be a feeling of security, respect and freedom among the communicators (Littlejohn)

In situations where there is opposition in a group, with traditional methods, conflict may occur (Littlejohn), but with invitational rhetoric, there is re-sourcement: the communicator refuses to engage in conflict (Gearhart).

Criticisms of the feminist theories

Of course, with any theory, there are criticisms. Feminist theory says that females are oppressed because of the male ideology. According to cultural studies scholars, there are many causes for this oppression, because they believe that no single idea is completely dominant (Littlejohn).

Another aspect of the feminist theory that is attacked is the fact that it revolves around masculine-feminine distinctions. By placing labels, women are recognized but at the same time are isolated. Instead of looking at a single aspect as the cause of oppression, there is a need to look at the other facets that affect communication (Putnam).

If we look at Feminist Theories more closely, we see that there is a contradiction. There is an appeal to society for equal rights, to acknowledge that women have the same capabilities as men, and their forms of self-expression should be valued in its own right. But to do this, female abilities have to be acknowledged which in turn reinforces the patriarchal view (Littlejohn).

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However, despite all these, feminists still fight on. Feminist Theories, for them, validates female values and experiences. It gives women a voice and provides, not just the view from the dominating culture, but a holistic understanding of the world. Most importantly, Feminist Theories put a value on mutuality, respect, caring, interconnection, and imminent value (Foss, Foss, and Griffin).

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Feminist Theory and Communication. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Feminist Theory and Communication.” GradesFixer, 26 Apr. 2019,
Feminist Theory and Communication. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
Feminist Theory and Communication [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Apr 26 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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