This lesson is composed of 2 short lessons and one Big Idea. You can listen to the audio lectures here and/or read along with the transcripts. The first of these short lessons is called Gender Matters: Political Representation. With a focus on Canada, it describes the history of women’s struggle to attain full voting rights, and it discusses the ongoing inequalities related to women’s participation in electoral politics.
Gender Matters: Political Representation
The second short lesson we’re listening to and/or reading along with is titled Gender Matters: Pay Gaps. As with the lecture on political representation, this lesson is centered on the Canadian context. This lesson provides a description of the gendered pay gap and occupational segregation, and introduces you to the ideology of separate spheres, a 19th century form of gender dualism that still shapes some of the ways that we think about work. As with the lesson on politics, this lesson on economic inequalities reveals that understanding why gender matters also always involves understanding how race and class matter as well.
Gender Matters: Pay Gap
Feminist scholarship takes a structural approach to understanding power in societies. This means that an individual’s access to political or economic power – as discussed in the audio clips above – or to other forms of social power and influence are deeply impacted by social systems. This module is focused on understanding patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy as gendered systems of power. Below, you will find brief definitions of these terms, followed by an explanation of feminist intersectionality, a theoretical approach that enables us to think about how systems of power and domination function together.
PATRIARCHY: Patriarchy describes a social system in which men dominate because power and authority is mostly in the hands of adult men. In a patriarchal system, men hold positions of power in political, economic, spiritual, and domestic spheres.
CAPITALISM: An economic system in which the means for producing and distributing goods are owned by a small minority of people (the capitalist class) while the vast majority of people (the working class) sell their ability to work in return for a wage or a salary. Within this system, the capitalist class enjoy the ability to accumulate wealth and power. For the working class, the power that attends wealth accumulation is difficult (and, frankly, for most impossible) to achieve.
COLONIALISM: The policy or practice through which one group exercises power over another through an incursion into their lands or territories. In most cases, colonialism involves exerting power through the extraction of goods or exploitation of people; in all cases, colonialism involves settlement of members of a powerful group and displacement of peoples indigenous to the land. CRIAW-Feminist Northern Network defines colonialism this way: “a policy or set of policies where a political power from one territory exerts control in a different territory. It involves unequal power relations” (learn more here).
WHITE SUPREMACY: Critical race theorist David Gilborn describes white supremacy this way: “a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”
In this and future modules, we’ll draw on these ideas in order to understand how cultural representations reinforce or challenge systems of power.
BIG IDEA: Intersectionality
One woman cannot stand in for all women, especially if that woman is white and affluent.Angela Davis, Feminismo y Transformacion Social en la Era de Trump con la Dra. (lecture in English at Universidad de Costa Rica, April 2018)
We’ll end this lesson with a brief introduction to intersectionality. Intersectionality is a theoretical framework that insists that we attend to the ways that multiple systems of oppression and privilege interact—or intersect—in ways that produce distinct experiences, and that require distinct analyses and action.
The term intersectionality was introduced by feminist legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, but she was certainly not the first to identify the interlocking nature of gendered systems of power. In this clip from an hour long lecture about feminism and social transformation, Angela Davis argues that gender justice simply cannot be achieved unless it is combined with racial justice and economic justice. She views patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism as overlapping systems of domination and in this talk, she models habits of perception and analysis that acknowledge the limitations a single issue feminist analyses.
Intersectionality enables us to recognize the ways that race, class, gender, ability, and other factors are not layered one upon another to shape our experiences and impact our social status and access to power. This is an important point for feminist politics because it reminds us that our challenge is not simply to remove the dominating social force of patriarchy; we must at the same time work against other social forces that privilege some and oppress many.
For feminist scholars like Davis, it has never been enough to only consider how patriarchy organizes social structures, we need also to understand how patriarchy functions in relationship to systems of power like white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and, as we’ll see in the readings for this week, ableism.