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Twentieth-Century Philosophies Feminist

Social And Political Theory, Ethics, History Of Philosophy, Epistemology And Philosophy Of Science, Conclusion

The term feminism is used both in reference to social movements, such as the late-nineteenth century women's rights movement or the mid-twentieth century women's movement in Europe and the United States, and to theories that identify and critique injustices against women, such as A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) or The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan (c. 1364–1430). Although there are various uses of the term, a core connotation of feminism is the commitment to revealing and eliminating sexist oppression.

If one searches the discipline of twentieth century philosophy for philosophers who were feminists, few if any names surface prior to mid-century. It was only beginning in the last half of the twentieth century that philosophers systematically turned their attention to the issues of feminism and embraced the label of "feminist philosophy" to signify a method or focus of attention for doing philosophy. Although it would be a mistake to conclude from this that earlier philosophers were not concerned with the identification and elimination of gender injustice, it does reflect the fact that this was not a central concern of academic philosophy.

It could be argued that feminist philosophy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries began outside the academy, birthed through the writings and radical activities of such feminists as Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935), Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931), Emma Goldman (1869–1940), Jane Addams (1860–1935), and Anna Julia Cooper (1858–1964). Indeed, one important tenet of feminist history of philosophy is an awareness of the fact that due to the systemic exclusion of most women from the dominant sites of philosophy—the academy and the seminary—one must look to those locations where women are doing philosophy at different historical periods, such as the salon, the convent, and the women's movement.

Many scholars have marked the genesis of contemporary feminist philosophy with The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), and there is good reason for doing so. The Second Sex provides one of the first sustained analyses of the lived experience of "becoming woman." Beauvoir examines the institutions and practices that lead to women internalizing a sense of inferiority to men, that is, woman as Other. Beauvoir's philosophical insights are contained in her now famous phrase, "One is not born a woman: one becomes one." In this she presages feminist distinctions between sex and gender, and the ways in which women are "produced" through complex disciplinary practices such as marriage, motherhood, and sexuality.

Beauvoir's philosophy not only provided an important source of modern feminist philosophy, the reception of her work illustrates the very types of exclusions feminists have critiqued. Her writings were, until recently, often relegated to asides or footnotes, and typically treated as derivative of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980). The 1967 The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, to cite just one telling example, only refers to Beauvoir in two entries, one on Sartre where she is described as one of the founders of the review Les Temps Modernes, and another on existentialism that asserts that she employed some of Sartre's analyses in her writings. Contemporary feminist philosophical scholarship on Beauvoir has transformed her position in the philosophical canon by demonstrating the significant impact of Beauvoir's ideas on Sartre's philosophy and by locating her work within the phenomenological tradition.

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