Gender, Identity and Civil disobedience: Are they the solution to their own problem?
Social political concepts are arguably becoming the most important and highly discussed governmental topics. Gender, identity and civil disobedience are highly relevant in modern society and effect everyone’s day to day lives. As society is changing and modernizing the roles and meanings of these three concepts are also adapting. I look to explain their similarities and differences as well as how they have affected the global population throughout history and continue to do so.
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Identity politics is a name given to “political positions who share the same interests and views of social minority groups in which people identify, often the individuals have shared experiences of injustice,” (Heyes, 2016a) this leads to the challenge of other oppressive groups with the goal usually being equality. Identity political groups aim to “secure political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context.” (Heyes, 2016b) Identity politics is a term that has only been used in recent history originating from around the 1960’s. There are hundreds if not thousands of cases of minority groups who are oppressed all over the world including but not limited to gay individuals, women, ethnic minority groups, Muslims as well as well as many other less recognized groups. Collective Identity politics has many positive effects on individuals, a feeling of solidarity with others through constructed collective identity provides an immutable and all-encompassing group that supply an escape from the society that oppresses them. One of the biggest collective identity movements in recent history is feminism, their goal was to remove the opposed biological determinist views that men are stronger and smarter than women to gain equal rights which included: the right to vote, reproductive and domestic rights along with many more. Women identifying with each other to challenge the oppression they faced created a way for individual women’s voices to be heard, although women grouped together they campaigned for equal rights which benefited each individual in that group. Identity however is a contested concept, where collective identity is accentuated individualism diminishes and where solidarity with a person’s minority is gained it is then restricted to one group. “A person may have a single identity, but it will be made up of many levels of loyalty and identification. Identities change, because they are based on perceptions, which themselves change over time and environment; as it is possible to identify one’s self with more than one thing at a time such as class and gender, or religion and age. Therefore, there are various elements of one’s identity and which operate at different levels and these various elements in an identity may well be contradictory.” (Concept of collective identity, 2015) Identity politics can be “destructive as it can encourage people to fixate or excaudate their sense of persecution,” it can also focus the stigmatization which then instigates the effect further. Inside a minority group differences are also overlooked which in turn divides the group internally; in feminist history, ethnic and gay feminists see themselves as having nothing in common with white straight feminists they then end up competing “over their relative degree of victimization.” (Todd, 2013) Judith Butlers argued using “queer theory” that the feminist movement only emphasised the differences between men and women by grouping women as individuals with the same interests and characteristics. She explained feminism “as ‘an unwitting regulation and reification of gender relations’ reinforcing a binary view of gender relations in which human beings are divided into two clear-cut groups, women and men. Rather than opening up possibilities for a person to form and choose their own individual identity.” (David, no date) Judith Butlers use of queer theory in her book ‘gender trouble’ has also been one of the main driving forces behind the contesting of gender.
Gender is defined as “either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behaviour.” (Dictionary, 1300) As society progresses gender is becoming a multifaced concept that is constantly being challenged, the idea that sex is biological and gender is socially constructed has become a constant discussion point in the world of politics. Society is progressing with the help of technology and social media giving minority genders a voice, resulting in the world becoming more accepting of contested identity’s. Transgender and genderqueer individuals identifying as a group has had positive outcomes and helped to empower people. This therefore gives evidence of contested genders becoming more widely accepted. To to be able to identify with their particular gender group however, individuals are required to succumb to specific gender labels which can then often cause them to be treated differently and negatively by peers, loved ones and society. Throughout history many feminists have “disagreed and have endorsed the sex gender distinction. Provisionally: ‘sex’ denotes human females and males depending on biological features (chromosomes, sex organs, hormones, and other physical features); ‘gender’ denotes women and men depending on social factors (social role, position, behaviour or identity).” (Mikkola, 2016) Masculine and feminine behaviour has been learnt through nurture and gender socialisation and has created many inequality’s over time. One of the main objective of feminists, mainly in the second wave movement, was to reverse the gender roles created by society. The idea that women are created to raise children and stay at home doing the cleaning and cooking with a male dominated family has been a view challenged by feminists through many mass protests. Second wave feminism also known as the ‘women’s liberation movement’ set to overhaul gender inequality in private after first wave feminism had achieved public equality, aiming to remove the idea of the ‘public man’ and the ‘private woman.’ During second wave feminism “the personal is the political” became a rallying phrase to dispute the nuclear family and family values which resulted with gender becoming political. Challenging authority through civil disobedience became a very effective tactic for second wave feminists used to gain gender equality.
Civil disobedience is the “refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government.” (Brownlee, 2013a) The term originated from Henry David Thoreau in 1848 when he refused to pay the poll tax as he did not want to contribute to the funding of war and slavery. In Thoreau’s essay, he justifies his actions by saying “that government is best which governs least, men will someday be able to have a government that does not govern at all. As it is, government rarely proves useful or efficient. It is often “abused and perverted” so that it no longer represents the will of the people.” (LLC, 2016) Throughout history civil disobedience has been used to change society’s moral parameters; Gandhi’s salt march, civil rights movement and suffragettes are all prime examples of “instances where civil disobedience proved to be an important mechanism for social change. “(Brownlee, 2013b) John Rawls states that a civil disobedience movement must be: public, non-violent, a conscientious yet political act, contrary to the law and it must aim to bring change to policies and the law. John Rawls suggest that the main point of the movement is that it must be conscientious, this highlights the “seriousness and sincerity in which the civil disobedient break the law; through their disobedience, they draw attention to draw attention to laws or policies that they believe require reassessment or rejection.” (Brownlee, 2013c) Henry David Thoreau emphasised the importance of human conscience in his 1848 essay stating “we should be men first, and subjects afterwards.” (Henry David Thoreau, 2017) The non-violence aspect of civil disobedience is also an important factor of the movement as it is not only moral but strategic and more effective, an uprising is “50% more likely to fail” (Fisher, 2013a) if violence is used. If a protest does become violent then that “legitimizes the states use of violence in response” (Fisher, 2013b) and is also less likely to have support from the public often polarizing them in support of the government. The argument that we all have the right to civil disobedience as part of our democratic rights, alongside our human right to freedom of speech are two factors believed toto encourage oppressed minority groups to speak out about their injustices, this is reflected by civil disobedience protests being known to gain more attention than any other forms of protest. Acts of Civil disobedience by minority groups including gender minority have been carried out throughout history, one of the largest being the feminist movement. The politics of gender roles and inequality have been at the heart of all women’s liberation movements especially during second wave feminism. In more recent history Polish women carried out civil disobedience in October 2016 to protest against the governments proposed ban on all abortions with women facing imprisonment if the law was broken. Tens of thousands of women missed work and school wearing all black to peacefully protest outside parliament against the Law and Justice’s party proposed ban. The mass protests caused parliament to reconsider and then reject the proposed ban. Poland already have the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe with women only being able to have one in certain circumstances, however many activists see parliaments choice to over throw the ban as a chance to gain liberation in the near future. Identity politics is a concept that runs parallel with all acts of civil disobedience, individuals identify with each other and all share the same goal which is often equality and social justice. Every civil disobedience movement emphasizes a “collective notion of the good. They suggest that when we identify ourselves with something larger than our own identity, we are compelled to take action. We are driven to bring about social reform because we value the importance of helping others.” (Enotes, 2016a) In his essay, Thoreau emphasises the importance of coming together as a collective identity as the only way to achieve social reform, he also believes that all individuals should ignore their individual differences and work together towards a collective goal. “Thoreau sees a person’s power increasing when they unify with others in the cause for social reform.” (Enotes, 2016b) The second wave feminist movement and the 2016 Polish protests were both collective actions trying to gain social reform for both identity and gender through civil disobedience.
Social political concepts are continuing to shape modern day society, and the majority of these groups are co-dependant. The argument that collective identity diminishes individuality in that group is ongoing. Whist individualism is conceivably reduced, many civil disobedience movements contain individuals that have different standing views on what they’re protesting against. In the case of feminism there are radical and liberal groups inside the larger feminist group. Some radical groups focus on trying to overthrow patriarchy rather than liberal feminists who try to change society to make it equal. This shows that the strive for identity within civil disobedience exceeds the concept of just gender. Although both radical and liberal feminist groups have the same common goal it highlights the flaws of collective identity as the group works against the larger movement cohesion due to their opposed views on aspects of the feminist ideology. Many radical feminists will not accept men to be part of their movement due to their feelings of oppression caused by a patriarchal society throughout history, this excludes men and reinforces the dichotomic view of gender relations highlighting gender differences through identity. Queer theory can be used to understand the contradicting views of both identity and gender; queer theory supports the idea that gender is free flowing and an expression. It contradicts collective identity’s as identity consists of so many aspects, to group identities collectively based on one variable e.g. gender is wrong. A difference perspective on collective identities with regards to gender however is that it can empower many people, as more people in modern society are identifying as gay or transgender the glamorization of identity through gender has increased this holds true for many gender labels. Whilst people seek confidence by identifying with these gender labels the end result can be that individuals have restricted themselves to the stereotypical behaviour of that gender identity. Many civil disobedience movements aim to compact the stereotypical view of gender roles and behaviours showing how the three concepts not only intertwine but often provoke each other. It is clear that collective identities are sought out by individuals in order to find solidarity in a certain group, “they are used to construct community and feelings of cohesion and holism, a concept to give the impression that all individuals are equal in the imagined community.” Gamson argues that “fixed identity categories are both the basis for oppression and the basis for political power,” again further outlining that civil disobedience is not only comprised by collective identity’s, but that they are also a catalyst for many civil disobedience movements. Connotations associated with gender often form these collective identity’s that in turn form civil disobedience. Without collective identity, civil disobedience movements would be ineffective; movements are only taken seriously if it’s a large identity group working towards the same goals. In the example of the feminist movement and the polish protests women identified with their gender to campaign for equality however identifying in this group women have highlighted their oppression and focused the stigmatization. Although quite obviously linked identity does not only exist through the marinization of oppressive groups, if society was completely equal both identity and gender would still exist and where there is democracy there is inevitably civil disobedience.
As theories and concepts identity, gender and civil disobedience all share a common quality, in that they are often co dependant in order to be effective as well as being a seemingly paradoxical solution to themselves. Whilst all three concepts seek equality; identity is formed through segregation, gender is defined by its separation and civil disobedience can only exist with minority protesting the majority. In addition to this incongruence, comprised with all acts of politics in accordance to these concepts, ego and prejudice will always effect the individual, creating bias within these social groups, making the topics insolvably disputed for the future.
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