Whereas Marxists criticise the welfare state for failing to deal adequately with the long-term needs and interests of the working class, feminists believe that the welfare state fails to challenge with any degree of conviction inequalities between men and women. Feminism differs significantly from liberalism, conservatism and socialism because it attempts to cut across class divisions and concentrate upon issues surrounding gender. Feminists investigate the roots of the oppression of women and attempt to suggest ways in which women can liberate themselves from the constraints of patriarchal (male dominated) society. They understand that women are discriminated against because of their sex and that women have specific needs which require fundamental economic, social and political change (Wilford, 1994). For some feminists this involves a policy of equal opportunities, while others want to undo the bonds between men and women, transform the social and economic system or revolutionise our understanding of the environment. As we will see, feminists have some interesting things to say about the character of Western society and about the limitations of the current system of social provision. It is clear that the welfare state, whatever its original intentions, has not liberated women from discrimination and oppression. Although this might be a lot to expect from a system designed primarily to stabilise the status quo and alleviate a relatively narrow band of social problems, feminists have been instrumental in revealing some of the severe limitations of current welfare states. Indeed, many feminists can be viewed as radical critics of the way Western societies approach welfare provision. This can be illustrated by taking a look at a variety of authors including (though by no means confined to) Betty Frieden, Carole Pateman, Kate Millett and Ann Oakley.
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