Term Paper: Woman Philosophy

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Women's Philosophy

The issue of gender and sexism received a boost during the early years of the 20th century, when women began to claim their right to vote. Over the centuries, the fight has evolved into various manifestations, including women's battle for equal work and pay, the same civil rights as men, and simply the right to develop themselves as fully as men are allowed to do. Although the battle against sexism continues to this day, it would be foolish not to recognize the many advances that women have made in their battle for social and professional equality. Indeed, today it is no longer unusual to see women in professions like the law and medicine, or o see them in leadership and entrepreneurial positions. Although in many cases women are still faced with what has become the "glass ceiling," it is also true that barriers that still exist are broken down on a daily basis. Therefore, thanks to the many pioneers fighting for the right of women to be recognized for their ability on the social, professional, and political scene, women today have the right to education and work on an unprecedented level. When looking behind these advances, however, the question remains: How much freedom do women truly have in a society that is still very much dominated by a traditional patriarchal paradigm? The answer, according to authors such as Sue Campbell (1994), not very much, since society tends to dismiss women and their opinions on the strength of minor issues like emotion. According to others, like Zenobia Chan (2002), however, women have far more power than is recognized by even many feminist authors, including Ms. Campbell. The main question that arises from this, for me, is what constitutes the "ideal" in terms of the woman in 2013? Have we as a society truly surpassed trivial barriers such as being dismissed on the grounds of being "emotional" or "bitter?" Can women truly, like Chan, rise above traditional expectations to become as professional or as domestic as they wish? It is concluded that the "ideal woman" in terms of the new millennium is a person who can make her own choices, independent of social or male expectations.

To consider this idea, the first document that is examined is Sue Campbell's "Being Dismissed: The Politics of Emotional Expression" (1994). Ms. Campbell's thesis in this work, as the title suggests, is that women and their opinions tend to be dismissed because the emotional content of their expressions are regarded as invalid in terms of traditional male society.

To forward this view, a large amount of Campbell's paper is devoted to the idea of "bitterness" and how this is used as a political tool to silence those whose anger has solidified into this state (Campbell, 1994, p. 53). The author goes even further to claim that the accusation that a person or group has become "bitter" is used as a tool to create within such a group a specific conception of their lives and the importance and potency of their anger. A related claim is that oppressed groups suffer most under this accusation and are rendered all but completely powerless as a result. When it comes to females and their expression of emotion, the author claims that women and their opinions tend to be dismissed because of such conceptions of bitterness. As such, oppressed women have no resources for expressing themselves.

This is the first point where I would beg to differ with the author. History itself, in fact, proves this argument to be untrue. Women have expressed themselves in plenty of ways. During the 1960s and 1970s, for example, an entire revolution have focused on large groups of women fighting for their right to be recognized for more than their ability to raise children and cook meals. Contrary to the author's claim, these women have protested in sufficiently large numbers to effect significant change within the professional and political arena. Women do have the means to express themselves, just like other oppressed groups. If all other doors close to them, they have each other. Their numbers are their power and their means of expression.

Another major point the author makes, and also one that I must disagree with emphatically is the idea of the "Kantian woman." This ideal of the feminine constitutes a creature that has many "delicate feelings" (Campbell, 1994, p. 56). These feelings are then viewed as grounds for dismissing any serious or socially subversive opinions they might have. The author goes on to state that this ideal is expressly related to white, upper class women, while those outside of this class is suppressed and dismissed because they are not "ideal." Oddly, the author also makes the extremely generalized claim that women "express their gender" -- at least in part -- through "women's work," which is defined as nurturing, housekeeping and so on, while males express their gender through "men's work" (Campbell, 1994, p. 56). She uses this as a basis for her further claim that public institutions such as art, the law, and even athletics has offered only "limited access" to women (Campbell, 1994, p. 57).

My first objection to the above must be to the validity of using centuries-old philosophy, such as that offered by Kant regarding women of his day, in discussing the feminine ideal today. This is also what inspired the question: If this is not the ideal feminine, what is? In my view, one must look towards more recent philosophies, at the very least, to determine a theory of the feminine that is applicable today.

Although one must recognize that Campbell's work is almost 20 years old, I do not believe her claims about the lack of access to the arts, the law, and so on are as valid as she appears to believe. Indeed, throughout the 20th century, at the very least, women have increasingly entered the legal and military professions. Furthermore, the arts and athletics have been accessible to women for even longer than other, more male-dominated professions. Indeed, in her application of Kant's theory and the way in which women tend to express emotion, it appears that Campbell views women as victims of oppressions, whose resources for expression is at least limited, if not completely removed by what she regards as the "politics" of dismissal. I do not believe that this is the case. While it is true that women do experience emotion, I do not believe that any of this has morphed into what can be termed bitterness, not in 1994, and certainly not in 2013.

Hence, in my search for a more accurate conception of the "feminine ideal" of today, I searched for input by a more forward-thinking female, who I found in the form of Ms. Zenobia Chan. What is interesting about her "Cooking Soup to Writing Papers" is not only that it was published less than ten years after Campbell's work, in 2002, but also that it completely lacks a sense of women as poor, oppressed creatures, who have little to resort to besides their anger and ultimately their dismissed bitterness.

Chan (2002) uses herself as case study to examine the ways in which women in Hong Kong have been able to redefine themselves. Before her marriage and entry into household duties, Chan practiced nursing as her chosen profession. After seven years as housewife, she made the decision to reenter academia by completing her doctorate.

In terms of femininity, Chan addresses issues such as the "social meanings" attached to gender (Chan, 2002, p. 94). As a married woman, Chan's identity was symbolically solidified into her ability to cook soup for her family. She explains in detail how she made an almost scientific study of the best soup to offer her child, according to information from professionals, her family, and her own observations of her child's reactions to her culinary efforts. This in itself is a remarkable feat, even though, as Chan mentions, she and those like her are regarded as "useless" in terms of social and professional value.

This is contrasted with Chan's return to academic life as a doctorate student. She entered this with as much passion as her efforts to cook the perfect soup. Becoming a "useful" woman was symbolically embedded in learning to write the perfect paper.

What is interesting about Chan's work is the context of Chinese culture, which is very traditional on the one hand, as demonstrated by the varied but generally negative reactions of her friends and family to her decision to become an academic. On the other hand, however, Chan mentions that the Westernization of Hong Kong has resulted in a desire among women to qualify themselves for more than just household tasks. In her conclusion, she encourages an alteration of the traditional view of women as "useless" in the domestic context and "useful" as professionals. Instead, she suggests that women be recognized as useful in any role they choose to enter. And certainly, she has proven herself as more than capable… [END OF PREVIEW]

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