Feminist Theory at Multiple Levels: Analytical and Critical

Feminists’ contributions to sociological theory and other areas of the discipline have exploded in recent years. Their influence also extends into other social scientific fields and the humanities and has given rise to the emergence of women’s studies as a specialized academic discipline. We will not deal with the historical development of the feminist movement but will focus instead on selected contemporary feminist contributions to sociological theory. Feminist theories provide a systematic analysis of the importance of gender definitions in social life, plus a critique of the prevailing patterns of male domination in all areas, including the sociological discipline itself. (For a brief overview of various theoretical approaches within the category of feminist theory, see Janet Saltzman Chafetz [1988]). Our coverage in this chapter is intended to illustrate the contrasts among different perspectives as they apply at the micro, meso, and macro levels of the social world.

The following list of topics provides a preview:
  • Standpoint theory—developed by Dorothy Smith. This perspective emphasizes the “bifurcated consciousness” that women experience because of the differences between their lived experiences in subordinate positions and the “official” definitions of the social world established by males.

  • Gender, race, and class hierarchies. This section will draw on Patricia Hill Collins’ analysis of African-American women to highlight differences among them in multiple hierarchies of domination based on race, class, sexual orientation, and nationality as well as gender.

  • Micro level gender distinctions. Our focus on this level will allow an exploration of the interdependence among biological, cultural, and social processes. Specific topics include –
    • Nancy Chodorow’s analysis of gender differences in early childhood socialization whereby mothering patterns are reproduced;

    • Dorothy Dinnerstein’s perspective on how men’s and women’s emotional reactions to issues of life and death, plus their personal identities, vary because of their different roles in reproducing human life;

    • Jessie Bernard’s description of contrasting family experiences of husbands and wives based on inequality in resources and dependency.


Gender Role Black Woman Social World Macro Level Feminist Theory 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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