Jaggar’s book can be read, in part, as a response to the dizzying variety of protests, insights, and proposals for change produced during the formative years of the women’s movement. It sorts and categorizes that movement’s important writings by philosophical “schools,” provides a framework that later theorists can refine or argue against, and evaluates these categories not only for intellectual adequacy but also in an attempt to show the best guides to future strategy and action.
In her two opening chapters, Jaggar argues for the acceptance of feminist thought as political philosophy. Feminist discourse is concerned with questions of freedom, justice, and equality, concepts debated by political philosophers for centuries. Feminists of the latter part of the twentieth century have merely broadened the debate, she says, by insisting that such questions also be asked in arenas outside the traditional “public square”—questions about the ways family life is organized, for example, and even about the dynamics of intimate relations.
Jaggar points out that the feminist use of the terms “oppression,” “domination,” and “liberation” implies an ongoing struggle. Most politics deals with conflicts between different classes or groups of people with different, sometimes incompatible, interests. Feminism also deals with the division of society into classes, not necessarily according to wealth and similar markers. It also proclaims the need for change and the belief that human actions can alter conditions formerly regarded as “givens” of natural law or human society. Jaggar cautions, however, that the idea of what it means to be “liberated” will change as the ongoing struggle progresses. As more events and patterns are revealed to be susceptible to human control, the definition of freedom will expand.
Jaggar ends the opening chapters by explaining the book’s purpose: to sort the many feminist analyses and statements of women’s situation into a few fundamental theories or paradigms. Jaggar identifies four basic feminist paradigms: liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism. Because she views the politics of each paradigm as flowing from its theory of human nature, she examines both in detail.