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Sceptical Feminist: A Philosophical Enquiry Hardcover – 1 Oct 1980

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The Sceptical Feminist

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Out-dated utopian feminism 29 Sept. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a rare example of real feminist philosophy (as opposed to 'theory'), and is in the utilitarian and rationalist traditions. The author writes in typical elegant English philosophy prose, which makes the book very readable and which encourages the reader to argue with her, but unfortunately there are a lot of basic weaknesses:
1)she stresses the importance of collecting objective evidence about the lives of women throughout history and in different societies, but does not deal with any evidence throughout the book. What is more, she stresses the important of this empirical method in the process of constructing a feminist utopia!
The fact is that social research and experience, especially since this book was written in 1971, has proved that some of the ideas touted in this book are unpopular and unworkable, i.e. they do not fit the utilitarian blueprint for society. For example she talks of the notion of state creches; resear from Sweden, France and the USA shows that even the highest quality state-run childcare is not better than mother-care for pre-school age children. It only positively benefits children from dysfunctional homes. Richards seems at pains to stress how her vision is for all women, yet like most feminists who tout state childcare as a serious option, omits the embarassing fact that the people who will be looking after the children of those women who return to the workplace will be women from a lower socio-economic class, and in fact, in the UK right now, girls from this class are being recruited into the childcare profession if they get pregnant under the age of 18, i.e.they have no real choice in their future job, plus they have to hand over their children to be cared for by the nanny state. So much for bloody feminist utopia - more like champagne socialism!
Then, stupidly, she says that there is no reason why mothers cannot carry their babies to work on their backs so that they do not have to stay at home. For goodness' sake - has Richards ever had children ? Does she want to go back to the Victorian age when women and children had to go down the coal-mines because the families were too poor to afford a full-time mother for small children ? She conveniently forgets that the British Labour Party introduced first the 'family wage', then, a woman Labour MP, Eleanor Rathbone, campaigned successfully for the family allowance to create a work-family balance for mothers.
But then, the inside cover of this book tells me that Richards comes from a very middle-class background, and middle-class feminists have never had a clue about their working-class sisters. This is a very large but embarassing reason why feminism is held in dubious honour by many women. She doesn't tell us the very important fact that the role of housewife is a recent middle-class luxury, that working-class women have always worked as well as looked after their children.
Second, Richards ignorantly pretends that once upon a time the earliest human society was not patriarchal, and idea which feminsits have borrowed from Engels but which has been proven untrue. Therefore they should stop using the idea as it is not helping anybody make society a better place for the rest of us.
Again, lack of treatment of evidence mars a potentially fruitful discussion on male dominance and how it may be handled. She says:
'even if men are naturally inclined to be dominant it does not follow that they ought to be allowed to run everything. Their being naturally dominant might be an excellent reason for imposing special restrictions to heep their nature under control.' Well...that is what patriarchy does. It is best, in my view, if it is done through liberal democracy, the rule of law, and the influence of religion and civil society, as that will give men and women equal and multiple opportunities. Sadly, feminists are socialist these days so they don't like it when women other than themselves ascend the ladder without adhering to their brand of utopian feminism. Too bad.
Thirdly, Richards is, like most contemporary feminists, enthusiastic about abortion and doesn't give a damn about the unborn child. Again, an embarassing fact for her is that half of these unborn children are girls - and they are being denied the basic human right to life. Richards is basically utilitarian, but excluding unborn children, who are our society's future after all, from the greatest number whose greatest happiness utilitarians profess to puruse, is hypocrisy. She also ignores the huge damage that abortion inflicts upon women. Convenient for her is the fact that women who have had abortions are too mixed-up and traumatised to come out in public and dish out their views. One would think that good social planning would involved legal and attitudinal means of avoiding such undesirable acts as this. Evidence also shows now that with fathers being denied the right to veto abortion, as well as in many countries being cut off deliberately from their children after divorce or ending cohabitation, that men have very few incentives to be committed to female partners. Most women want this, yet Richards' feminism could not give a damn about us.
Lastly, she adheres to the myth of original female virtue corrupted by social conditioning/partiarchy, a neat blend of Rousseau and Engels. She talks of women 'as they are' yet is rather sneering towards those women (the majority) who care about their appearance and conventions of femininity. Again, historical evidence shows that these conventions change and that women help initiate the changes. She advocates interfering with the 'conditioned' (traditional) mother so that she does not bring her child up to be 'conditioned' too. This is different from simply giving women the freedom to choose their own careers, tastes,etc. which need not be a feminist thing as the same can and should be open to men too. She harbours a gnostic view of women, with women's 'true nature' awaiting to be 'liberated' and 'discovered' by breaking down all family ties, rather than simply improving on the existing ones.
This is where contemporary feminism becomes unpopular.
Fortunately, writing about women in society has improved since the 1970s and there are plenty of women writers who can provide more helpful ideas for improving our understanding and quality of life.
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