FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE IN SOCIOLOGY

A given thesis has four parts and gives an overview about feminist perspectives in sociology and exertion in different areas of life. It has been illustrated with examples from studies on women and gender in Estonia.

Author considers feminist research not as pure description of position of women and men in society. Feminist research should make women visible and to introduce women's experience from different discourses through women-centred approach. It is not easy to stigmatise research about women and on women as feminist ones in Estonia. It can be only a dawn of feminist perspective in Estonian sociology.

The first part of the thesis introduces various feminisms, feminist theories and methodologies. The thesis relates feminism with women's movement, women's and gender studies and gives examples about interdisciplinary character of feminist discourse.

Different methodological aspects and feminist epistemology is introduced in the second part of thesis as well as approaches from sociological and economic perspective on discrimination. Sociologists and economist see phenomenon of discrimination differently. Various theories of discrimination in connection with concepts of minority group, negative identity, prejudices and stereotypes in society are important in sociological discourse.

The third part of the thesis gives overview about exertion of feminist perspective in different spheres of women's lives. The core material is British in sense that feminist critic and many examples are used from a sourcebook compiled by British sociologists Pamela Abbott and Claire Wallace (1997). The given material is enlarged with feminist evidence from different sources and illustrated Estonian statistical and survey data.

The fourth part of the thesis presents empirical data as feminist evidence. Feminist production of knowledge is exercised here as presenting an overview of different surveys 1994-1998 in a spirit of variety of feminist discourse. Part of this research was carried out by author with special concern on women (Women in Tartumaa, Valgamaa and Võrumaa in 1998), and on men (above-mentioned one and Men in Järvamaa in 1998) or on gender stereotypes (Gender Stereotypes among Teenagers in Estonia and in Finland in 1997). Some results from secondary data analysis from gender perspective are introduced by author (Bachelor 1992 in 1994, Schoolchildren in Tartumaa in 1997, Salary in University of Tartu in 1998, Settlements with Sole Employer in 1997).

For deeper understanding of feminist theory the thesis presents translation from dictionary of feminist theory and feminist reader compiled by Maggie Humm. It is very important source rich of facts for improvement Estonian feminist thought where terminology and knowledge should be developed.

There is no sole understanding about feminist thought, but variety of understandings and plurality of feminist imagination of social world. Feminisms have different perception about women's oppression and strategies in achieving a more balanced society and improvement of women's position in public and private sphere.

Feminist discourse shows sociology as male dominated science. Feminist sociologists started to make critics on male stream sociology in the beginning of the 1970s. The main accusation is that sociology has ignored women and studied women in certain areas of life where women were supposed to be responsible as caring for family members, performing household tasks. Women were seen in relation with men and other people and woman, as independent social actor was not a topic. Women were measured by standards of men.

Feminists have carried a discussion about questioning feminist science and method. Sandra Harding has stated that there is not pure feminist method, but there exists a feminist approach. This methodological discussion has great impact on developing theories about research process and on roles of a researcher. Feminists perceive research process as co-operation and dialogue where researcher is really involved. Feminist approach rejects women as passive objectives of research. Discussions on poverty of research (i. e. objectivity-subjectivity dimension, hierarchies in research process, limits and freedom of interpretation) have been remarkable achievement of feminist discourse.

To make women and men more aware about gendered society allows using various approaches. Production of feminist knowledge is a main goal of feminist research and some theoretical frames for that in given thesis are introduced.

Studies have proved a patriarchal character of Estonian society with traditional gender roles. Women can analysed as minority group with negative identity. People from this particular group are supporting their oppression to or rejecting a belonging to minority group. Well-educated women's situation in Estonia is an example of feminine mystique as Betty Friedan defined it. There exists a problem without name in women's lives. Estonia is a country with feminine mystique, where women's full potential is not used, women are underestimated and even downgraded. Due to negative group identity women participate in this process without rebellion for better situation.

Estonian women are paid 30% lower than men are and women do not complain. Women are expected to perform full package of household tasks and they do it in silence. From the other side Estonian men are not kind of male masters who can enjoy dominance and its blossoms. Estonian men are in deep crisis due to changed society where restructuring of economy has changed their life dramatically. Some of men can found themselves as participants in a race for modern capitalist dreams, some have fallen into poverty without identity and declining self-esteem. Men are often in troubles in performing a role of family provider dedicated to them by themselves. Share of women's providers is increasing and concept of family wage is time to reject in Estonia, where employers still pay more for men due to presumption of their family responsibilities.

Double standard is clear pattern in perceiving and ruling daily life. Girls exercise stronger control, more restrictions compared with boys. Also women's life and sexuality is under careful control and criticism. Men's drinking habits, incorrect behaviour, or irresponsibility is not acknowledged.

Studies affirm that women's situation is unknown on local government level. Public officials cannot give data about women, and women's problems have not acquired. It makes serious obstacles for competent policies and programs where women are expected to be main target group.

In rural area women value work besides a family high in their life, but overburden in family responsibilities puts a lot of limits for them to have a work far from home, to participate in training, to start with own business.

Many women and men accepted traditional gender roles, but there is a need in changed society to make gender role audit in attitudes and values. More balanced decisions and daily performance should be an enriching chance for better life. Studies from feminist perspective are one possibility to make a difference in traditional or master centred knowledge. It should be not a pure scientific adventure, but it can be applied to real life as well disturbing deeply Estonian patriarchal silence.

In conclusion it can be drawn that existing sex/gender system in Estonia is a source for many conflicts on individual as well as on state level. From the one side gender is not acknowledged as obstacle for success and exercising personal freedom. From the other side it is often confessed in deeper interviews that men have better chances to get in top compared with women. It is easier for men to achieve acknowledgement in the public sphere, but it is stressful to be always perfect in achievement of economic and social wellbeing

For coping with low self-esteem and negative identity of women new knowledge is needed to exercise their full potential. One source of this new knowledge base can be application of feminist perspective in sociology. Given material can be used as sourcebook for further discussions.