Since the early twentieth century, some feminists have allied with socialism. In 1907 there was an International Conference of Socialist Women in Stuttgart where suffrage was described as a tool of class struggle. Clara Zetkin of the Social Democratic Party of Germany called for women’s suffrage to build a “socialist order, the only one that allows for a radical solution to the women’s question”.

In Britain, the women’s movement was allied with the Labour party. In America, Betty Friedan emerged from a radical background to take command of the organized movement. Radical Women, founded in 1967 in Seattle is the oldest (and still active) socialist feminist organization in the U.S. During the Spanish Civil War, Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria) led the Communist Party of Spain. Although she supported equal rights for women, she opposed women fighting on the front and clashed with the anarcho-feminist Mujeres Libres.

Revolutions in Latin America brought changes in women’s status in countries such as Nicaragua where Feminist ideology during the Sandinista Revolution was largely responsible for improvements in the quality of life for women but fell short of achieving a social and ideological change.

Scholars have argued that Nazi Germany and the other fascist states of the 1930s and 1940s illustrate the disastrous consequences for society of a state ideology that, in glorifying traditional images of women, becomes anti-feminist. In Germany after the rise of Nazism in 1933, there was a rapid dissolution of the political rights and economic opportunities that feminists had fought for during the prewar period and to some extent during the 1920s. In Franco’s Spain, the right-wing Catholic conservatives undid the work of feminists during the Republic. Fascist society was hierarchical with an emphasis and idealization of virility, with women maintaining a largely subordinate position to men.

Some feminists are critical of traditional scientific discourse, arguing that the field has historically been biased towards a masculine perspective. Evelyn Fox Keller argues that the rhetoric of science reflects a masculine perspective, and she questions the idea of scientific objectivity.

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Many feminist scholars rely on qualitative research methods that emphasize women’s subjective, individual experiences. According to communication scholars Thomas R. Lindlof and Bryan C. Taylor, incorporating a feminist approach to qualitative research involves treating research participants as equals who are just as much an authority as the researcher. Objectivity is eschewed in favor of open self-reflexivity and the agenda of helping women. Also part of the feminist research agenda is uncovering ways that power inequities are created and/or reinforced in society and/or in scientific and academic institutions. Lindlof and Taylor also explain that a feminist approach to research often involves nontraditional forms of presentation.

Primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy notes the prevalence of masculine-coined stereotypes and theories, such as the non-sexual female, despite “the accumulation of abundant openly available evidence contradicting it”. Some natural and social scientists have examined feminist ideas using scientific methods.

Modern feminist science challenges the biological essentialist view of gender, however, it is increasingly interested in the study of biological sex differences and their effect on human behavior. For example, Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Myths of Gender explores the assumptions embodied in scientific research that purports to support a biologically essentialist view of gender. Her second book, Sexing the Body discussed the alleged possibility of more than two true biological sexes. This possibility only exists in yet-unknown extraterrestrial biospheres, as no ratios of true gametes to polar cells other than 4:0 and 1:3 (male and female, respectively) are produced on Earth. However, in The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine argues that brain differences between the sexes are a biological reality with significant implications for sex-specific functional differences. Steven Rhoads’ book Taking Sex Differences Seriously illustrates sex-dependent differences across a wide scope.

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Carol Tavris, in The Mismeasure of Woman, uses psychology and sociology to critique theories that use biological reductionism to explain differences between men and women. She argues rather than using evidence of innate gender difference there is an ever-changing hypothesis to justify inequality and perpetuate stereotypes.

Sarah Kember – drawing from numerous areas such as evolutionary biology, sociobiology, artificial intelligence, and cybernetics in development with a new evolutionism – discusses the neologization of technology. She notes how feminists and sociologists have become suspects of evolutionary psychology, particularly inasmuch as sociobiology is subjected to complexity in order to strengthen sexual difference as immutable through pre-existing cultural value judgments about human nature and natural selection. Where feminist theory is criticized for its “false beliefs about human nature,” Kember then argues in conclusion that “feminism is in the interesting position of needing to do more biology and evolutionary theory in order not to simply oppose their renewed hegemony, but in order to understand the conditions that make this possible, and to have a say in the construction of new ideas and artifacts.”

The relationship between men and feminism has been complex. Men have taken part in significant responses to feminism in each ‘wave’ of the movement. There have been positive and negative reactions and responses, depending on the individual man and the social context of the time. These responses have varied from pro-feminism to masculism to anti-feminism. In the twenty-first century, new reactions to feminist ideologies have emerged including a generation of male scholars involved in gender studies, and also men’s rights activists who promote male equality (including equal treatment in family, divorce, and anti-discrimination law). Historically a number of men have engaged with feminism. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham demanded equal rights for women in the eighteenth century. In 1866, philosopher John Stuart Mill (author of “The Subjection of Women”) presented a women’s petition to the British parliament; and supported an amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill. Others have lobbied and campaigned against feminism. Today, academics like Michael Flood, Michael Messner, and Michael Kimmel are involved with men’s studies and pro-feminism.

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A number of feminist writers maintain that identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand men can take in the struggle against sexism. They have argued that men should be allowed, or even be encouraged, to participate in the feminist movement. Other female feminists argue that men cannot be feminists simply because they are not women. They maintain that men are granted inherent privileges that prevent them from identifying with feminist struggles, thus making it impossible for them to identify with feminists. Fidelma Ashe has approached the issue of male feminism by arguing that traditional feminist views of male experience and of “men doing feminism” have been monolithic. She explores the multiple political discourses and practices of pro-feminist politics and evaluates each strand through an interrogation based on its effect on feminist politics.

A more recent examination of the subject is presented by author and academic Shira Tarrant. In Men and Feminism (Seal Press, May 2009), the California State University, Long Beach professor highlights critical debates about masculinity and gender, the history of men in feminism, and men’s roles in preventing violence and sexual assault. Through critical analysis and first-person stories by feminist men, Tarrant addresses the question of why men should care about feminism in the first place and lays the foundation for a larger discussion about feminism as an all-encompassing, human issue.

Tarrant touches on similar topics in Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power (Routledge, 2007).

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Lochan Kaushik

Lochan kaushik journalist at Northeast Now.