Malestream: Feminist Critique Of Sociology

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Septemeber 21, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


What does malestream mean in sociology?

Feminist theorists developed the term ‘malestream’ to illustrate situations where male sociologists carry out research that focuses on the male perspective only, then assuming that their findings can be applied to females as well. The term malestream is used in place of mainstream sociology.

Among feminists, it is often agreed that sociology neglected to study women’s issues and societal roles until the late 1970s. Up until this point, the studies were conducted by men, for men, and generalized to the whole of society. Feminists believe that this generalization is inadequate in representing women. 

In much sociological research where women are included, there was a tendency to ‘add women on’ as an appendix rather than fully incorporating research findings on women in substantial detail (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). In studying feminist perspectives in sociology courses, for instance, this topic may have only been permitted one or two lectures and left for the women to teach. 

What are the limitations of malestream sociology?

Feminists have criticized malestream sociology for basing research findings from an all-male sample on the whole of the population. When men’s experiences are generalized to everyone, this contributes to a distorted and inaccurate view of women in society. 

In malestream sociology, there is little to no recognition that women’s structural position and societal experiences are not the same as men’s (Abbott et al., 2006). When women are included in the research, they have often been viewed from the perspective of men. There is a tendency to present male standards as the ‘norm’; when women do not fit this norm, they are presented as deviant (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). 

Feminists claim that when women are included in research that men conduct, they are often presented stereotypically. Researchers may also make subjective inferences about women based on male bias. 

Women’s experiences and issues are argued to be deliberately ignored or viewed as of less importance than men’s experiences. This approach is claimed to help sustain an ideology supporting women's continuing subordination (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). 

Overall, feminists argue that malestream sociological theories fail to meet the criteria for being accepted as adequate and valid knowledge since women’s experiences are excluded. 

Some feminists believe there are patriarchal conceptual frameworks in which society's fundamental beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions give higher value or status to what is traditionally identified as male than to what is traditionally female. These frameworks put men up and women down, which is thought to contribute to the sexist oppression faced by women (Warren, 1989). 

Why is there a malestream bias?

It is suggested that there are three explanations for why there has been a malestream bias in sociology. According to sociologist Ann Oakley (1982), these explanations are:

  1. That sociology has been biased since its origin.

  2. That sociology has predominately been a male profession. 

  3. Ideologies of sex differences have contributed to the construction of the world in a way in which assumptions are made about how differences between men and women are made.  

Early sociology in the 19th century was focused on understanding the political and economic changes relating to the development of industrial capitalism. These changes included an increase in factory workers, divisions in social class, the rise in the working class (men), and the extension of political participation (of men). Women were, therefore, not the focus of attention at this time.  

During this time, women were most associated with the private sphere of the home, while men were more associated with the public sphere of the workplace and politics. Women were seen mainly through their position in the private sphere as wives and mothers, whereas men were observed in the public sphere. As such, theoretically and empirically, women were ‘hidden’ from the gaze of sociologists.

Examples of malestream sociology

In politics

Malestream research in political analyses tends to exaggerate differences between men and women (Siltanen & Stanworth, 1984). It has been suggested that women’s participation in politics is far less than men’s and that they have different concerns than men. For instance, men are said to be concerned about pay and work hours, whereas women are more concerned with working conditions and concerns that reflect family commitments. 

Bourque and Grosshaltz (1974) argued that malestream researchers have often misinterpreted data or have made assumptions that fit with their ideas of women’s political behavior. For instance, malestream researchers believe that men (especially husbands) influence women’s political opinions but that women do not affect men’s opinions. 

There is the assumption that men’s political attitudes and preferences are mature, whereas women’s are seen as immature if their views differ from those of men (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). 

Marxism

Marxism posits that being a part of the proletariat class means that workers have a means of production and that class identification is associated with producing surplus value. When Marxism was founded, women had no direct relationship to paid labor other than being associated with someone in paid employment. 

Marxism can be criticized for ignoring women’s social class since, according to Marxists, women would not have a social class. It is believed that social classes for Marxists were mostly made up of men and that women were seen as irrelevant. 

Likewise, Marx saw the exploitation of the proletariat as a critical issue in society, not considering that other factors, such as gender and race, can also result in exploitation. 

Biological differences

Many sociologists saw the division of labor between the public and private spheres as natural. Murdock (1949) proposed that the biological differences between men and women are enough of an explanation for the sexual division of labor. 

It was thought that the man’s strength and the fact that women could bear children resulted in natural gender roles that were not questioned. Thus, the women’s role as a housewife was seen as the most efficient way of organizing society, and there was no reason to doubt the subordination of women (Abbott et al., 2006). 

How does the malestream relate to crime?

A further example of the malestream is how it relates to criminal activity. When analyzing crime, more studies look into crimes committed by men rather than women. 

Carol Smart (1977) observed an insignificant number of studies investigating women and crime, whereas there was a vast amount of research into male criminality. This may mean that crimes by women are under-researched and viewed in comparison to those by men. 

Smart (1977) reasoned that there might be fewer studies on women’s crime because women are less likely to commit crimes, so they are often viewed as less of a societal problem. Also, women may face more pressure to stick to their social roles and not deviate to crime. 

Otherwise, women’s crime may be ignored because it is not as violent as a crime committed by men (Heidensohn, 1996). Thus, if the typical crimes committed by women are different or deemed to be ‘less violent’ than crimes committed by men, this is viewed as less of a social threat. 

Feminists have suggested that to understand the issues surrounding women and crime effectively, two key questions need to be considered: why do fewer women commit crimes, and why do women who commit the crimes do so? 

Solutions to malestream sociology

Below are some changes that can be made to ensure that sociological research moves from malestream to mainstream. 

Changes in research methods

Sociological research designs should include all relevant genders to avoid gender bias. This includes using an equal number of male and female participants where possible. 

If research uses a specific sample, then prefixing perspectives appropriately will make it clear whom the research is targeted at. For instance, describing participants as ‘white, western, heterosexual men’ clarifies the perspective and makes visible how individuals are privileged (Warren, 1989)

Likewise, data should not be interpreted from the perspective of just one gender. Instead, a mixed gender of researchers would be preferable. Finally, research findings from sociological studies that aim to investigate society should be helpful to and useable by all genders. 

Re-examining texts 

Morgan (1992) suggested that to combat malestream sociological research, some of the classic texts should be re-examined. Through this, it can be made more apparent whether the research is focused only on men or whether women are also included. Likewise, re-interpretations can be made that are not generalized to the whole of society. 

Radical re-thinking

Some would argue that reforming sociological research by adding more women into samples and conducting research is not enough to challenge the foundations of existing theoretical perspectives that were malestream (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). It also does not adequately challenge malestream views of what the significant issues to be researched are.

Instead, it is seen as necessary to totally re-conceptualize sociological research. This is because it is argued that existing theories are sexist beyond reform and should be radically rethought to see society from the position of women and the standpoint of men (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). 

Feminist viewpoint

Feminist perspectives in sociology can serve to tackle male bias and expand upon theory and knowledge. It is thought that feminist research can provide a better, less partial, and less distorted account of society compared to malestream research (Abbott & Wallace, 1997). 

Some feminists have been criticized for ignoring the differences between women and assuming that there is a commonality between white middle-class women and other groups of women. 

Therefore, an intersectional feminist approach to sociological theory and research may better understand various women’s perspectives. Factors such as gender, race, social class, ability, sexual orientation, and age should be recognized so that ‘human’ is not only deconstructed into men and women but also into various categories (Abbot & Wallace, 1997). 

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, Sept 21). Malestream: Feminist Critique Of Sociology. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/malestream.html

References

Abbott, P., & Wallace, C. (1997). An Introduction to Sociology Feminist perspectives SECOND EDITION. Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE.

Abbott, P., Tyler, M., & Wallace, C. (2006). An introduction to sociology: Feminist perspectives. Routledge.

Bourque, S. C., & Grossholtz, J. (1974). Politics and unnatural practice: Political science looks at female participation. Politics & Society, 4(2), 225-266.

Heidensohn, F. (1996). Women and crime.

Morgan, D. H. (1992). Discovering men (Vol. 3). Taylor & Francis.

Oakley, A. (1982) Subject Women. London: Fontana

Siltanen, J., & Stanworth, M. (1984). The politics of private woman and public man. Theory and Society, 13(1), 91-118.

Smart, C. (1977). Criminological theory: its ideology and implications concerning women. British Journal of Sociology, 89-100.

Warren, K. J. (1989). Rewriting the future: The feminist challenge to the malestream curriculum. Feminist Teacher, 46-52.