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Feminisms in Development: Contradictions and Challenges Essay

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Updated: Feb 24th, 2021

The gendered nature of the public / private dichotomy has come up in many of the readings for this course. Compare and contrast the way in which Scott and Sen have discussed the gendered nature of this dichotomy and its effects on outcomes for women.

Amartya Sen pointed out the need to differentiate women from men when it comes to the discussion of social problems. In other words it is no longer enough to simply strive for equality, it is time to highlight the plight based on their circumstances and based on their perspective. The danger of achieving equality is gender neutrality wherein societal problems are being analyzed without giving emphasis to the problems faced by women. The solutions must not only be given as some form of a “generalized” solution. There is also the need to develop solutions that are tailor made for women.

Sen explained her position further by stating that “The systematically inferior position of women inside and outside the household in many societies points to the necessity of treating gender as a force of its own in development analysis” (p.123). This is especially true when it comes to Third World countries wherein the identity of women are downplayed and in most cases dependent on the male members of the household.

Sen’s argument must be seen in a positive manner and not as an idea that desires to create division among men and women. If taken as a constructive criticism of current activities and discussion with regards to social problems then Sen’s assertion must be interpreted as a plea to focus more on the unique struggles of women as compared to men. By doing so policymakers are able to develop laws and policies that would cater to the needs of women. If this is ignored then laws and statutes may be constructed that favor men over women.

Scott recognized the pitfalls when it comes to forcing the issue of gender equality and gender difference. Scott asserted that if this path is pursued then society is creating a dichotomy. In this pairing of equality and difference, would create an impossible choice for women. If feminist choose equality then it means that women cannot be viewed as different from men. The resulting neutrality may look alluring for most but upon close examination the inability to differentiate women from men can result in the creation of policies that may favor men over women. Scott therefore suggests that it is important to move beyond the discussion of dichotomy. This is easier said than done.

The problem with forcing the issue of dichotomy can be seen in discussion regarding the need to create policies when it comes to maternity leave. There is no need to elaborate the fact that women get pregnant while men cannot bear children. Thus, in the workplace there are women and male employees. In a normal setting the women in the said workplace becomes pregnant. When it is time for them to give birth they had to stop working. Here is where the issue begins to take shape.

In many countries women are given the right to take care of themselves and their newborn infant. This means that they do not only stop working to give birth but they need to spend two more months to take care of the baby. In the “equality” perspective men and women are not differentiated. Therefore the women are allowed to take a leave in the same way that men are allowed to take a sick leave because of a medical condition. But the “difference” view argues that this is wrong because women must not be treated this way. They argued that giving birth is a normal condition for women and it is not supposed to be treated as some form of an ailment that requires the same type of leave that men enjoy. There is therefore the need to go beyond the discussion of dichotomy.

“Today we no longer say: ‘give us more jobs, more rights, consider us your equals or even allow us to compete with you better.’ But rather: let us reexamine the whole question, all the questions. Let us take nothing for granted. Let us not only redefine ourselves, our role, our image-but also the kind of society we want to live in.” – In Search of Answers: Indian Women’s Voices from Manushi. – Kishwar and Ruth,Eds. 1984.

Discuss the extent to which Mies, Escobar and Pearson ‘reexamine the whole question’. What assumptions do each of them challenge and in what ways do they encourage us ‘to redefine ourselves, our role….the kind of society we want to live in’.

One way to understand feminism is to study their cry for equality. It is equality in a society dominated by men. In this regard women are asking for the same jobs that men have access to. They are also asking the same type of rights given to men. In many instances they demand a level playing field wherein women can compete with men using the same rules. But in the 21st century women came to realize that it is not enough to simply demand change. It is also imperative that mankind begins to reexamine everything. This includes the redefinition of feminism, the role of women, and the kind of society that has to be constructed finally realize the benefits that women believe are due them.

One of the major reasons for the overhaul of feminist thinking can be seen in the discussion made by Maria Mies. She pointed out that the impact of imperialism, globalization and the rise of metropolitan centers has created societies that cannot fully release women from the bondage of oppression. Ironically the availability of jobs will not provide women the means to create a better life for them and their family and instead it would result in the chain-reaction of problems. For instance access to the job market could mean that women are exposed to exploitation more than ever.

In other words, a job is not just the key to success. Therefore, it is not enough that women are given access to the workplace. Feminists must consider the fact that women have the maternal instincts when it comes to taking care of their families. There are jobs that require them to work 12 hours a day. There are jobs that require them to travel long distances and be away from their families for many days. There are jobs that require them to work overtime and therefore they are no longer able to spend time with their children.

Consider for instance the disturbing realizations made by economists and feminists alike: “In the new booming export sectors of China, or elsewhere in East and South-Asia, where routinely issues of excessive working hours, low wages, and the absence of employment security and social protection have become commonplace, the conditions for work for the mainly rural migrants in those factories bear little resemblance to the regulated protected ideal of the formal economy (Pearson, p.204). This underscores the need to redefine the goals and aspirations of the feminist movement. It is no longer enough to simply focus on the basic needs and the basic rights that have to be addressed when it comes to women in society.

In the case of women in emerging economies and even those working in booming exports sectors the ability to have jobs is no longer the problem. In most cases it is already expected that women can easily find work. If women are contented to simply have employment then they simply traded one form of oppression with another type of subjugation. It is true that they have jobs and no longer limited to household chores but this time around they are treated a little better than slaves. If this is the case then they are far from victory.

Feminists have discovered that in most cases the occupational structure is flat (Pearson, p.206). There is no possibility of going to the next level. If a woman has been hired to do some menial task then there is no opportunity to find a job that is more rewarding. In most cases the woman hired to do a repetitive and boring job of packing an item would remain in that position for many years. Surely the cry for jobs and to be able to work in the same level as men do has backfired. In the case of women and unskilled labor the problem is made far worse because the entry of women in the job market has created an unexpected result and it is the ability of employers to offer them low wages. The employer is well-aware that the job market has become ultra-competitive and therefore women workers have no choice but to accept what was given to them.

This has created a problem that is not easy to solve. In the past it was already a challenge to envision a world where women have equal access to employment and have the same rights as men. In the 21st century this is not enough and many are now seeing the big picture when it comes to the root cause of certain problems and it has nothing to do with men attempting to make life harder for women. The important discovery here is the existence of social structures that makes inequality a way of life in many countries.

In this regard structural reforms are needed. There is a need to overhaul the whole economic system and how governments are managing resources to promote prosperity for men and women. This is more challenging than just talking about issues and presenting solutions that involve women in the community level. This kind of discussion deals with macroeconomic issues. But analysts like Escobar asserted that there is no other way but change everything in a global scale.

It is not enough that the United States for instance focus on its domestic issues, the U.S. government must also be mindful of the plight to poor countries. The intervention coming from highly industrialized countries like the United States and the United Kingdom is the kind of action that can create substantial results.

Mohanty writes, “Women’s bodies and labor are used to consolidate global dreams, desires, and ideologies of success and the good life in unprecedented ways.” What do you think the statement means? Use both Mohanty and Mies to help support your answer.

Maria Mies made an interesting argument when it comes to the role that women play in terms of consolidating global success and defining the meaning of success. Mies argued that women pay a steep price in order for capitalistic society to achieve what it considers is success. In simple terms economic success under the capitalistic worldview is the creation of efficient system that produce goods and at then at the same time the ability to sell it to paying customers. If one follows the argument of Mies then he or she would discover that this can only be achieved if women play the subservient role, working in the homes to sustain a husband that works for an organization that is part of the capitalist system.

In this regard Mies focused on the reality of housewives that support the work of her husband. She works so hard for the survival and well-being of her family. The husband on the other hand knowing that his family is in capable hands can concentrate on the task at hand. If the employer is not willing to pay the husband the correct amount in terms of his expertise and work hours the family can still survive thanks to the heroism of the mother that figures out a solution to day-to-day problems.

But feminists are pointing out the fact that the capitalist employer greatly benefit from the presence of a wives supporting their husbands and yet the company is not giving anything to acknowledge the indirect assistance of women to their operations.

There is no way to legally and practically establish the connection between the sacrifices made by housewives and the productivity of the business establishment. Consider for instance a factory that employs low-skilled workers. As a consequence these workers are not paid well. At the same time they are not given additional benefits aside from the daily wages that they receive. There is no need to elaborate the fact that these workers can never have access to any decent housing. Their meager income can barely keep a roof over their heads and feed their families with nutritious foods.

In spite of the numerous challenges and the meager resources at their disposal these workers can continue to work in the factory because they have a place to go home to at the end of the work day. They go home to a place maintained by a housewife. She is not receiving any pay for her work but she is working hard to indirectly benefit the factory and its owners.

This has clarified the notion that men or the husbands are not the ones responsible for keeping women in such a deplorable state. It is not the husbands who are intentionally degrading the value of women but it is the social structures that have been in place for many decades. If equality, liberty, and self-realization can be actualized in the near future then there is a need to change the way people see the role of women in society.

It began with colonialism. Mohanty argued that feminism must be without border. In other words it cannot be fully understood if the analysis is limited within the bounds of a society or state. Students of the feminist movement must acknowledge the fact that implications of colonialism and globalization can impact the lives of women living beyond their borders. Analysts working and studying in universities located in First World countries must realize that venture capitalists living and working in their countries are changing the lives of women that they may never see in their lifetime.

Women may experience progress when it comes to the discussion regarding gender equality and gender difference but still it is an undeniable fact that many are still being exploited in the name of economic success. Women workers are now the backbone of many Third World economies. It means that rich countries could no longer enjoy the products that they so desire without having to employ low-wage earning women to work in poor conditions. There is a need to realize these things. It is only by looking at the big picture; by assessing the global implications of business operations that people can fully appreciate the role that women play in society.

Works Cited

Pearson, Ruth. “Reassessing paid work and women’s empowerment: lessons from the global economy.” Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges. Ed. Andrea Cornwall. New York: Zed Books, 2007. 201-213. Print.

Sen, Amartya. Gender and Cooperative Conflicts. New York: United Nations University, 1987.

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