Feminism, specifically radical feminism, has conceptualized public politics to be ‘intrinsically male’. Along with this conceptualization comes ideals of masculinity, often coded to mainstream politics such as competitiveness, aggressiveness and self-interest. In turn, the other side of this conceptualization suggest a women’s way of conducting politics, or a ‘women’s culture’. In a well-recognized study done by Carole Gilligan, a feminist psychologist, it was observed that men tended to sway towards an ‘ethic of justice’, whereas women swayed more often towards an ‘ethic of care’. This was explained by the different focusses each gender took when reasoning about moral questions. Where men chose to focus on more abstract rights and rules, women drew on their traditionally set out roles of caregivers to ponder such questions.
The next issue then, is what does this mean for the field of politics? This is where the contestation between different branches of feminist politics takes place. Feminist political scientists can either take a realist ontological stance on this dilemma, or a relativist ontological stance (there are others, but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on these two). Specifically what this means is, where some believe this lays out the particular area women can contribute to the field of politics, taking on a ‘one reality’ perspective; others say this construction of difference between men and women is far too ambiguous to allow to enter the public sphere. Feminists of this mode of thought suggest that it is wrong to ‘universalize’ women’s experience in such a way. On the surface it may seem rational to universalize the female experience, however society is multifaceted and what this perspective does not take into consideration is the racial and economic components of this multifaceted issue. For example, the long lasting ‘segregation’ between African Americans and Caucasian citizens in the United States portrays quite well the fundamental problem with assuming all women carry the burden of patriarchal oppression in the same way.
Mainstream second wave feminism focussed on the norm of women, white middle class, and not the full scope of women and female experiences, failing to recognize the interdependence between race, economic class, and gender on the individual experience of patriarchal social organization. Continuing with the example above, when the first and second waves of feminism first took hold, the event of social activism largely took off without the inclusion of African American women, often times only seeking their participation through the social coding of ‘exotic’-Therefore forcing this demographic of women to constitute their own feminist movement, entitled black feminism. For the realm of politics, this lays out an intriguing instance where the branch of politics that claimed to be a relevant and important source of objectivity in the discourse of political science, can now be seen as in need of re-assessment. That in mind, I will end with the following quote to illustrate my personal beliefs in this branch of political science and its upmost significance for the contemporary, modern political sphere.
“Despite its internal diversity and debates, the feminist perspective is badly needed in political science. The achievements of feminist political science in ensuring a full and discerning account of women as political actors have been substantial, and whilst the limitations of this approach are increasingly recognized, it will go on being necessary.” (Randell, 2010)
Theory and Methods in Political Science-Third Edition: Edited by David Marsh and Gerry Stoker-2010: Published by Palgrave MacMillan