Womens Rights and Femenism

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Defining Representation

In this chapter I explore and discuss representation as a concept and how representations create meaning to audiences. I will be collecting a number of theories to aid me in exploring my three key areas: representation, stereotyping and the relationship between language and ideologies.

As I will be analysing how Beyonce articulates black femininity throughout her album, Lemonade, I will have to understand what representation is and how we distinguish representations in media texts to aid me in understanding the representation of women and feminism in music.

Representations are found in many media products, from newspaper articles to radio segments, photographs and films. Everything in the media is constructed, focusing on language, signs and images which are encoded into mass media texts to reinforce dominant ideologies in society. Linked with ideology, representation can be perceived as the norms and values of society. The media industry and audience both contribute to this construction. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall describes representation as “the process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture” (Hall, 1997).

Media representation is affected by interpretation, creating new means by which we can understand reality. As an audience, we make judgments about them based on our own experiences and backgrounds. The meaning of a text is located between it’s producer and reader, with the producer specifically encoding messages for an audience to decode, which can vary depending on their background and frames of interpretation. As Student Hall argued in his theory _____, the message is never transparent and is not determined by the transmitter as not all individuals as an audience are passive recipients of meaning (1997).

We make meaning through the creation and interpretation of signs, also known as semiotics, which can consist of words, images, sounds and objects. The basis of semiology was established by two media illiterates, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce. Saussure introduced the concept of the sign, suggesting it has two elements to it; the signifier and the signified. “All conventional values have the characteristic of being distinct from the tangible element which serves as their vehicle” (Saussure, 1993). With that being said, the signified is related to the idea that the ‘person’ is trying to evoke, however, Saussure explained the connection between the linguistic signs and their signified concept is arbitrary, believing that there was often no inherent link between the signifier and the signified.

As many of Ferdinand de Saussure’s ideas on semiotics were very consumed with ‘looking’ at linguistics, the American semiotics, Charles Sanders Pierce decided to develop his ideas further. Rather than suggesting there was no link between the two elements of signs, he implied that there was a number of ways signifies sometimes link to signified. Pierce puts out that there are three different kinds of sign, stating “form a sign takes, it’s signifier, can be classified as one of three types: an icon, an index, or a symbol” (REFERENCE).

According to Pierce, the term ‘semiotic’ is synonymous with the concept of logic that focuses on the knowledge of the human thinking process. The signifier (denotation) is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (connotation). This new means of looking at media representation moves away from stereotyping, ‘something’ that has always been a major factor in the media industry. (Chandler, ___)

1 more theorist

1b. Archetype and Stereotype (350 words, 5 theorists)

Media representations often use stereotypes as a cultural shorthand. Media theorist, Richard Dyer, argues stereotypes are a way of reinforcing differences between people and representing these differences as natural. “Stereotypes… a particular form to do with the representation and categorisation of persons, of the wider process by which human society and individuals within it, make sense of that society through generalities, patterning’s and ‘typifications’” (Dyer, 1979).

Stereotypes are characteristics ascribed to groups of people involving gender, race and origin. We often incorporate stereotyping unintentionally in our everyday life. For instance, we refer to men as being self confident and aggressive whilst we naturally see women as passive and defenceless. Gender stereotyping is incorporated ‘a lot’ within the media from social media, films, news articles and music, ‘made up’ of our perceptions of the images and stories we have consumed throughout our lifetime.

The media ‘uses’ stereotypes to communicate complex information about a character, time period, location etc. To achieve this, they have to reflect on the stereotypes that exist in culture and create media texts surrounding these stereotypes we already embed. “Representations are stereotypes, not people themselves” (Hall, 2012). By ‘using’ these stereotypes the media can be ‘seen’ as reinforcing and consolidating the views they contain.

Stereotypical classifications can be positive or negative, such as when various nationalities are stereotyped as friendly or unfriendly. Using stereotypical approaches in the media can lead to mistaken beliefs and can affect judgments of different groups / individuals. Stereotypes, are often, not always, negative ascriptions and tend to be limited in the range of meanings that they articulate. We could also argue that stereotypes are usually about those who are not just a minority but whom has less power in society than the majority. According to Graeme Burton, it is the speed and intensity of the assumptions and predications that are made about other persons on a slender basis that makes stereotyping so lethal and objectionable (1998: 70).

Although the media is often criticised for creating stereotypes, theorist Tessa Perkins noted that stereotypes usually have an element of truth, which makes them plausible. “Although stereotyping can have negative effects, often it is based on some degree of reality but distorted and manipulated for the purpose of entertainment values” (Perkins, 1997)

This differentiates from an archetype, an idealised person or thing that exhibits certain core values and identities that offer a model or pattern for the way in which cultures are viewed. Pre-mass-media archetypal figures include the heroes, heroines and villains of mythology. Positive representations are referred to as countertypes, which these representations are trying to create new ideas about a previously stereotyped group.


Through representations that the media presents to us, we simply decode messages which reflects on the way we think and behave. Language is our base of communication either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Media owners can manipulate content and “reproduce the relations of dominant class” (MARX THEORY ON IDEOLOGY) In order to understand how media can shape, create or change the public opinion we analyse the content of the media.

Producers of media texts have ‘mastery’ over a series of production techniques that we label as ‘media rhetoric’, which allows us to make meaning through texts out of the use of available techniques, styles and conventions in order to obtain emotional, psychological or physical responses. Long and Wall defines rhetoric as “the construction and manipulation of language by the creator of a text for affective purposes” (Long & Wall, 2012)

Rhetorical suggests that meaning is not primarily about the tangible content of the media, but the way we learn about the information: its presentation and the particularities of the medium. As Marshall McLuhan suggests, “Medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964), implying the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would convey, creating a synergetic relationship in which the medium/media influences how messages are perceived.

The hypodermic needle theory suggests that the information from a text passes into the mass consciousness of the audience unmediated, ie. The experience, intelligence and opinion of an individual is not relevant to the reception of the text. This theory suggests that as an audience we are manipulated by the creators of media texts, and that our behaviours and thinking might be easily ‘changed’ by media-creatives.

Media producers try to entertain audiences by providing representations that meet audience expectations. Representations are dominant, because they are popular among the audience, rather than powerful media institutions imposing a particular ideology. How we create meaning from media texts allows us to understand how we create our own ideologies and ideas of ‘society’. “Ideology refers to the influence of ideas on people’s beliefs and actions” (Giddens, 1983).

The Feminist Theory

Understanding Feminism

Feminism is an advocacy of movements and ideologies supporting social, political and economic rights for women equal to those of men; with the “movement to attain such rights” (Nichols, 1999; 483). The term ‘feminism’ has many different uses and meanings. Many researches and scholars use the term to refer to a historically specific political movement in the US and Europe, whilst other writers refer to the belief that there are injustices against women. Activist Zara Huda Faris stated “Women need feminism because there are women who suffer injustice”. (Faris, 2013; 1) Broadly speaking, feminism advocates the elimination of gender stratification.

There are many major discourses of feminism, ranging from pornography to patriarchy. Patriarchy, the fight against a male centred and run world, is described as a social system in which men hold the power, dependent on female demotion. The patriarchal construction between masculinity and femininity ‘is the’ political difference between freedom and subjection (Pateman, __;__)

Feminism may be described as a body of thought, which suggests that women have been and are disadvantaged in both past and contemporary societies. There are many forms that feminism can take, concerning the ways in which women are disadvantaged and what exactly should be done to attain equal rights. For the basis of this thesis, I am going to focus on the three major schools of thought within feminist theory.

Liberal feminism is a particular approach to achieving equality between men and women, emphasising that woman should be able to determine her social role with as great freedom as a man. Liberal feminism seeks to expand the rights and opportunities of women by removing cultural and legal barriers to women’s equality. “Liberal feminism does not oppose nature to culture or individuality to society, but rather sees the ability to achieve autonomous personhood as dependent on social conditions” (Gerson, 2002).

In contrast, social feminism also known as Marxist feminism, views capitalism as the foundation of the patriarchy. It calls for an end to capitalism through a socialist reformation of economy. Socialist feminism argues that capitalism strengthens and supports the sexist status because men are the ones who currently have power and money whom are willing to share with other men, leaving women with fewer opportunities and resources. Prostituion, domestic work, childcare and marriage present ways in which women are exploited by a patriarchal system that devalues women. “Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” (Marx, 1818). Marxist states that economic inequality, dependence, political confusion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women are the root of a womans oppression in the current social context.

Radical feminism is a movement that believes sexism is so deeply rooted in society that the only cure is to eliminate the concept of gender. It is a perspective within feminism that focuses on the hypothesis of patriarchy as a system of power that organises society into a complex of relationships based on the assertion that male supremacy oppresses women. Feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey believes that in film audiences have to ‘view’ character from the perspective of a heterosexual male. “Women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.” (Mulvey; 1975).

History of Feminism

The term Feminism appeared in France in the late 1880s used by Hunburtine Auclert in her Journal “La Citoyenne as La Feminitè” where she tried to criticize male domination and to claim for women’s rights. Following the First International Women’s conference in Paris in 1892, the French term féministe, was used regularly in English for an advocacy of equal rights for women based on the idea of the equality of the sexes. Feminism originates from the Latin word femina that describes women’s issues. The history of the modern western feminist movement is divided into three waves that each dealt with different aspects of the same feminist issues.

The right to vote in society today is given to all citizens who have the right to ‘give’ their opinions freely. However, the right to vote did not exist for women centuries before. The first Feminist Wave dates back to World War 1, where members of the National Womens Party (NWP) made a strike outside the White House in the USA. In the 19th – 20th century, the first wave won rights for women in marriage and property to vote. In the UK the Suffragettes and Suffragists campaigned for the womens vote. In 1918, women over thirty who owned property won the right to vote before it was extended to all women over twenty-one in 1928.

Second wave feminism began in the United States in the early 1960’s lasting around two decades, quickly spreading across the Western world. French writer Simone De Beauvoir examined the notion of women being perceived as ‘other’ in the patriarchal society. In her 1949 treatise, she concluded that male-centred ideology was being accepted as a norm and enforced by the ongoing development of myths. She believed that the fact women are capable of conceiving, lactating and menstruating is in no way a valid explanation to place them as the ‘second sex’.

In ‘The Feminine Mystique’ (1963) Betty Freidan argued women were unhappy because of the feminine mystique, which she believed was damaging femininity which she labelled ‘The Happy Housewife’; stating “Women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through husbands and children”. This feminine mystique restricted women to the role of housewife and mother, giving up work and education.

Feminists started to criticize the working condition for women and claimed for equal pay and salary. Sheila Rowbotham discussed these ideas in her book “Women, Resistance, and Revolution” (1972) in addition to Angela Y. Davis who expanded those ideas of equality and woman right, race and class. As a result, the second wave feminist movement introduced the Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1985, prohibiting gender discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotion, training and job assignment.

More recently, transformations of feminism in the past decade have been referred to as ‘Third Wave’, beginning in the 1990’s. Rebecca Walker is the symbol of this wave, when she used the term ‘third wave feminism’ for the first time in 1992. This wave came as a reaction of the second wave ideas and activities such as women in pornography, sex work, and prostitution. This wave widened the feminist movement and its ideas beyond middle class, white women, addressing the disadvantages women experience due to their race, ethnicity and class.

Some women of society argue that seeing the history of feminism in just three waves can ignore the fight for equal rights and the end to discrimination by women outside the large feminist movement in both the UK and US, including black and ethnic minority women. The third wave feminists generally consider themselves as the most powerful, the effective and the stronger group between all the other previous activities of feminism. Schneiders describes the third wave feminism as a movement of liberation: “This movement is concerned not simply with the social, political, and economic equality of women with men but with a fundamental reimagination of the whole of humanity in relation to whole of reality, including non-human creation” (REFERENCE)

Black feminism ‘is a’ school of thought stating that sexism, class, oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together, known as an intersectional movement. The term ‘intersectionality’ was first coined by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. She defined the term as “an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power” (Crenshaw, 2015)

Black feminism emerged in the 1980’s as black women increasingly argued that their concerns were given insufficient attention in both fire-wave and second-wave feminism. Many Black women felt that it tended to focus on the aims of white and mainly middle class women living in advanced industrial countries. In an effort to meet the needs of black women, who felt they were being racially oppressed in the women’s movement and sexually oppressed in the Black liberation movement, the Black feminist movement was formed.

All too often “black” was equated with black men and ‘woman was equated with white women. as a result, black women were an invisible group whote existence and needs were ignored. The purpose of the movement was to develop theory which could adequately address the way race, gender and class were interconnected in their lives and to take action to stop racist, sexist and classist discrimination.

They felt that they faced racial as well as gender discrimination in the labour market emphasising also that they experience the racist behaviour of white women as well as white men. _____, Alice Walker believed Black women were disregarded as ‘women’ and had to struggle to be recognised; ““the animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans more than black people were made for white, or women created for men” (Walker; __).

African American women began to express concern publicly about their situation as women in the nineteenth century. In the early 1800’s most black women were enslaved but free black women participated in the abolitionist cause. Some, like Maria Stewart, Frances E.W Harper and Sojourner Truth, spoke out about black womens rights. The patriarchal social structure gave the enslaved male higher status than the enslaved female.

“That man over these says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And aint I a woman? look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into brans, and no man could head me! And aint I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And aint I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s fried, none but Jesus heard me! And aint I a woman?

Sojourner Truth, “Aint I A Woman” 1851. Women’s convention, Ohio.

White suffragists felt that white men were insulting white womanhood by refusing to grant them privileges that were to be granted black men. Stanton, along with other white womens rights supported, did not want to see blacks enslaved, but neither did she wish to see the status of black people improved while the status of white women remained the same.

“Black and white femininity may be linked by their common sexual unknowability, but white femininity is both foregrounded and privileged in relation to black women” (Young, 1996; 53).

During the period between 1880 and world war 1, white womens rights activists focused their attention on obtaining for women the right to work in various occupations. The black woman worker was seen as a threat to white female security; she represented more competition. Black women often felt that they were forced to accept jobs that white women would not usually accept. They had to battle the struggle of being recognised as a human being, as a woman, as a black woman. In her thesis, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Bell Hooks addresses the goal of black women struggles was the equality in the existing social structures. “Most black women are punished and suffer when they make choices that go against the prevailing societal sense of what a black woman should be and do” (Hooks, 1992; 57)

Black feminism played a significant role in unsettling the second wave feminist movement and continue to make very important contributors to the development of feminism. However, the issues that they would then raise were overshadowed by other developments within third wave feminism. the 1960’s womens rights movement also failed to address the issue of conflict between black and white women. the structure of the contemporary womens movemwnt was no different from that of the earlier womens rights movement. White feminists did not challenge the racist-sexist tendency to use the word woman to refer solely to white women. In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black or of being a woman. Instead, Crenshaw argued that each concept should be considered independently while including how interacting identities frequently compound upon and reinforce one another. “We experience life, discrimination, benefits based on a number of different identities that we have” (Crenshaw, ___)

Black feminism movement is now often described as the feminism of women of colour to take account of the contributuons of Asian and Middle Eastern as well as black femininity.

Black women often felt that they were foced to accept jobs that white women would not usually accept. They had to battle the struggle of being recognised as a human being, as a woman, as a black woman. In her thesis, Black Looks: Race and Representation, Bell Hooks addresses the goal of black women struggles was the equality in the existing social structures. “Most black women are punished and suffer when they make choices that go against the prevailing societal sense of what a black woman should be and do” (Hooks, 1992; 57)

One of the main ponts of black feminism is the important of the consciousness of individuals and the social transformation of political and economic institutions provide the basis for social change. “It is not our differences that divide us. It is out inability to recognise, accept and celebrate those differences” (Audre Lorde)

Black feminism movement is now often described as the feminism of women of colour to take account of the contributuons of Asian and Middle Eastern as well as black femininity.

“the term black feminism balance between genuine concerns of black women against continual pressures to absorb and recast such interest within the white feminist frameworks”

“the experiences of successful white Western professional women would be utterly alien to a black, working class woman battling against racism and poverty as well as sexism” said?

Patricia Hill Collins – mainly deals with issues involving feminism and gender within the African-American community. Known for her book ‘Black Feminist Though: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, published in 1990. – One main role of black female intellecturals is thought to be to produces facts and theories about the black female experience that will clarify a black womans standpoint for black women.

This theoretical chapter mainly tried to line out some essential points related to Feminism as an idea, a belief and movement. It deals with the some different ideas related to this concept and more importantly focusing on the historical background of feminism, its different types and waves. It sheds lights on some feminist experiences like Black and Muslim racism. It gives an over view of woman‟s path in which they suffered a lot, they have been raped, killed and segregated. However, they were able to make themselves and all women in the world proud not because they succeed to give woman her social, economical and political rights but rather by making her believe that she is human being who has the right to live, to marry, to vote, to say no when she wants. More importantly, those woman activists were able to make woman believes in her importance creature the same as man.


Cite this paper

Womens Rights and Femenism. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/womens-rights-and-femenism/

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