“Analysis of Nussbaum’s List of “Central Human Functional Capabilities” as they relate to Dehumanization and Feminist Theory”

Martha C. Nussbaum, wrote an essay titled, “Women and Cultural Universals,” which was presented in Chapter 22 of the text book “Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology,” by Ann E. Cudd and Robin O. Andreasen.   Nussbaum in her essay presented a list to describe “The Capabilities Approach,” or the “Central Human Functional Capabilities,” which had to do with a measurement of quality of life and became relevant to goals in public policy. “The Capabilities” are listed as follows: 1) Life, 2) Bodily health and integrity, 3) Bodily integrity, 4) Senses, imagination and thought, 5) Emotions, 6) Practical reason, 7) Affiliation, 8) Other species, 9) Play, 10) Control over one’s environment. “In this essay, I will argue that, though Nussbaum defends the Capabilities Approach well, there are additional arguments she could have made (which this essay will provide) that will highlight areas for which “The Capabilities Approach” does not cover.”

Nussbaum illustrated two examples early in her essay of Becker and the other of Rawls. Becker in regards to “The Capabilities Approach,” she described as interested in satisfaction of preference or desire, altruistic heads of families and the maximization of utility and family interests. Rawls, on the other hand views of capacity has to do with liberty and opportunity, income, wealth and resources.

These two examples of Becker and Rawls illustrate that capabilities can be defined in vastly different terms and Nussbaum’s “Capabilities Approach” list may be basic and necessary, but not sweeping.

Nussbaum wrote briefly about the “To do” and the “To be,” which relates to things like work, or career, or labor or also to esteem, existentialism, and education. The “To do” and “To Be” were not extensively supported in “The Capabilities Approach” which appears to address more basic needs and rights driven however offers some protectionary measures. Labor and “division along gender lines” is discussed in Nussbaum’s essay and labor perhaps represents a sad indicator or disassociation between merit and work.

According to Nussbaum’s research, a life that does not possess, “The Central Human Functional Capabilities,” will not be a “good” human life. A life that does not possess the central themes illustrated for capacity or steps outside this range of capacity, may be dehumanized. All women may not possess, the “Central Human Functional Capacities” which would indicate that some women may be experiencing dehumanization and be regarded as oppressed. Here is an area where one can begin to draw lines between oppressed and not oppressed, those within these margins and those clearly outside. It appears that Nussbaum built “The Capabilities Approach” list to draw margins for oppression and humanization.

Establishment of judicial rights may need to integrate ideas from a basic list such as Nussbaum’s list of “Capabilities” in order to protect women and virtually everyone. Nussbaum argues that “The Capabilities Approach,” should be a goal of public policy.

Basic capacity becomes a necessity, when “incorrect emotion” is evident, as was exemplified by American slavery. When one group may assert itself, against another group and plan for oppressed conditions, it may then become imperative in regards to these base conditions to invest in a “Capabilities Approach” Research.

People require a basic design to meet humanistic standards. When pieces of this basic design are absent we move outside the boundaries of humanization or become, dehumanized. “The Capabilities Approach” necessity becomes accelerated in the presence of for example: slavery, misogyny or tyrannical force- when some or all of capabilities tenants are missing.

One approach is to box up the “Capabilities Approach as “public policy” and “humanization” and apply it against another box that is “dehumanization,” to decipher whether this “Capabilities Approach” outlined by Nussbaum is comprehensive, somewhat effective, effective or not effective. One approach will be to juxtapose the below list of common examples of dehumanization from literature that serves as subsequent dehumanization in education, that becomes how people think and exist.

The following list deals with specific common use terms and lexicon that writers and even feminists utilize that may effectively write dehumanization into history.

A reference commonly used in feminist literature is “Third World” including by Alison M. Jaggar in her essay “Saving Amina”: Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue.”

In Jaggar’s essay: “The image of Amina Lawal that flashed around the world in 2004 shows a beautiful African woman…..portrayed in bare feet as illiterate, she epitomizes the image of the oppressed “Third World woman” described by Mohanty.” In a second example where Jaggar employed the term “Third World,” “…to avoid forthright condemnation of injustice to women in developing or “Third World,” countries. It becomes in the first quote a description associated to an African woman that is derogatory (illiteracy and poverty) and in the second quote, “Third World,” is further associated to developing countries. Jaggar employed the term “Third World,” casually and often in her essay which would indicate the designation to a lower status of a specific group. Jaggar’s essay illustrated a position of rampant and overt racism, however buried in jargon. The example of “Third World,” was used to illustrate dehumanization in literature and for a future task to measure it against Nussbaum’s “Capabilities Approach,” to see if in fact, it is effective to eradicate conditions, even those in literature which represent dehumanization. If this, “The Capabilities Approach” were applied to public policy would it be adequate?

Clearly, it would not. It would serve a human to be only an existing human and protect a spectrum of this human’s issues, however “The Capabilities Approach” does not in fact eliminate dehumanization.

Another example of commonplace dehumanization is with the terminology of “Western” and “non-Western.” The first example is a quote from Jaggar’s essay in regards to an assertion she makes about “non-Western” cultures:

Jaggar claims that “Nussbaum and Okin both identify them-selves as liberal feminists, but both follow the radical feminists in staunchly opposing what they see as the oppression of women in non-Western cultures.”

In the above example, Jaggar expressed that she felt women in non-Western cultures are “oppressed.”

In another quote in Jaggar’s essay she wrote, “Western is influenced by Marxist critique of idealogy.”

In a third quote by Jaggar:

“What Narayan calls the colonialists stance presents Western cultures as dynamic, progressive and egalitarian, while portraying non-Western cultures as backward, barbaric and patriarchal.”

Three quotes by Jaggar:

“Treating discrimination and violence against women as intrinsic parts of non-Western cultures.”

“Western powers were engaged in slavery and colonization, or they had resisted granting political and civil rights even to large numbers of Western subjects including women.”

“Second the turning to poor women in poor countries, it’s hard to deny that Western powers are disproportionately responsible for designing, imposing and enforcing a global economic order that continues to widen the staggering gap between rich and poor countries.”

What becomes evident from the weaving of all these quotes is there is a specific group associated to slavery on Earth (Western). The specific group lives somewhere and had specific economic ideas they imposed on several cultures they will describe as “non-Western.”

“Third World”, “Western and non-Western” and even the term “privileged”- are associated to racist ideas which is documented by their presence in most, if not all cases. Other terminology common in literature that may inspire scrutiny are terms like “left” and “class” and even Marxist Theory which deals largely with ideas about class.

Examples of terminology and theory used in literature are cited to ascertain if what we have as real and tangible dehumanization can be eradicated by “The Capabilities Approach.” Does “The Capabilities Approach” suggest “incapability” was commonplace or does “The Capability Approach” indirectly suggest slavery? Capability means also incapability as an option or history. When I measure real and tangible examples of dehumanization next to Nussbaum’s model for Capability it seems as though Nussbaum is giving, some rights to a slave, not concretely protecting someone from dehumanization. It is as if, it was an afterthought, humanization of the human.

The list of Capabilities may have “beauty” and be similar to a “Bill of Rights,” or a “Constitution” or a “Theory for Divine Order of Being.” Regardless if Nussbaum is previously associated to slavery or embedded in the solution, “The Capabilities Approach” list begins a dialog around rights.

How does “The Capabilities Approach” measure up to “Discrimination” which Iris Marion Young, in her essay “Five Faces of Oppression,” said had to do “with exclusion of an individual from a position or activity.” “The Capabilities Approach” does not seem to protect against discrimination at all.

Young makes it clear in her essay that enjoyment of oppression may have to do with the maintenance of a ruling class.

The following are three quotes from Iris Marion Young in her essay, “Five Faces of Oppression,” that illustrate Young’s ideas about servitude:

1) According to Young, “In its derivation “menial” means the labor of servants.”

2) Wherever there is racism including in the US today, there is the assumption, more of less enforced, that members of the oppressed racial groups ought to be servants of those, or some of those, in the privileged group.”

3) “In the US today much service labor has gone public: Anybody can have servants if they go to a good hotel, a good restaurant, or hire a cleaning service.”

Young may have arcane ideas about service by people which may be included in her essay to maintain a feeling of superiority? The Feminist Movement may have been deeply tied to people who were utilizing superiority ideas and directed women’s issues towards hierarchy and equality instead of legitimate alleviation and solution. “The Capabilities Approach” in the face of subordination or servitude is also ineffective.


If one were to gravitate away from hierarchy driven initiatives and place the onus elsewhere and look to accurately reverse dehumanization, what would be the necessary measures be that would need to be implemented?

“The Capabilities Approach” does not impact dehumanizing language or lexicons, or discrimination or servitude, which in their totality represent prominent issues for dehumanization. “The Capabilities Approach” seems to teeter on that first rung and identify life and basic human needs, if not the most basic humanity.

“The Capabilities Approach” would be useful, for those just exiting slavery, who may not really clearly comprehend humanity. However, the range of modern problems with which people are faced requires dynamic solutions and reversals. “The Capabilities Approach” does have value and I do not know if it excluded ideas from Becker and Rawls and if so why? Nussbaum highlighted ideas about capacity, labor and gender lines but also excluded these from “The Capabilities Approach.” Nussbaum’s “Capabilities Approach” does serve as a basis from which public policy could be derived, however there are additional arguments she could have made that would highlight areas for which “The Capabilities Approach” does not cover.


Cudd, Ann E. & Andreasen, Robin O., Feminist Theory:  A Philosophical Anthology, Blackwell Publishing, 2005

Eastern Michigan University, Philosophy Dept., Feminist Theory with Professor Peter Higgins, Spring term 2015

Feminist Theory Class Essay #2

In Susan Moller Okin’s essay, “Toward a Humanist Justice,” she makes a case for gendered division of labor as a vehicle for oppression of women. In this essay, I wish to agree with Okin that gendered division of labor has a basis in the suffering that many women experience, however distinct male and female species require appropriate roles. I wish to address the vulnerability of women and arrive at principles of justice to map out a clear platform. Justice for women may not be achieved with a purely egalitarian direction.

Okin highlighted several issues in regards to appropriate roles for men and women including: the disappearance of social differentiation, division of labor resulting in injustice, paid and unpaid work, primary parental roles and sex role expectations. All of the above issues are significant but may be remedied with social and cultural change.

Alternatives that may be catalyst for the alleviation of women’s oppression are: self-supporting income, land allocation, rights and responsibilities, presence of children in the workplace, an independent place for children, education, flexible work hours and signing on and off and various protections.

Toward a Humanist Justice in theory sounds attractive, with common mantras like “equal work, for equal pay,” but may not be the solution. The solution may lay deep in culture and government. The solution may be birthright income or even the independence of children who can be free to have their own income and parts of town.

Okin argues for a shared parental responsibility which is common sense. Okin argues to protect the vulnerable and to increase justice for women. A humanist platform is meaningful and may have deeper resonance when juxtaposed with terms such as “humanitarianism.” Okin may have been looking for neutralization of gender roles, however a humanist root aligned with “humanitarianism” may include public service or community or “social” as a paradigm.


Cudd, Ann E. & Andresen, Robin O., Feminist Theory:  A Philosophical Anthology, Blackwell Publishing, 2005

Eastern Michigan University, Philosophy Department, Feminist Theory with Professor Higgins, spring term 2015

Gender Socialization and Oppression Analysis of Simone de Beauvoir’s “Second Sex”

The Introduction to “The Second Sex” refers possibly to women as a subordinate model or a second in line or rather a second woman, perhaps a transgender woman. If one were to become a woman, what would be regarded as the necessary traits that make up a woman? Beauvoir describes: “clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests and occupations” as specific details that may be significant in the classification of a woman versus that of a man. Gender socialization may have been seen by Beauvoir as oppression, which may have inspired a detour towards in fact a feminine male or a varied male species that replaces, what may have been thought of as oppressive. Beauvoir’s “Second Sex” may be a manifesto for a new female, not merely her designation or role in society but quite, literally a transgender woman who may be better equipped for man’s exercise of strength. “In this essay, I will argue, contrary to Beauvoir, that feminine gender socialization is not the cause of women’s oppression.”

It is not clear in Beauvoir’s essay if she has any admiration for woman or bares any likeness to the original female design. Beauvoir writes in the third page of her essay that “man can think of himself without women.” Beauvoir stressed examples such as “man as an absolute” and “woman as other” and “subjugation of the weaker by the stronger.” Feminine gender socialization suggests that girls do this and boys do that. Women may very well have been impacted by tyrannical forces desirous of domination with little regard for the peace or joy of their subject or conquest, however what specifically did women’s roles play in woman’s oppression?

In a girl’s hand, a mother can place a butterfly and in her son’s hand she places a stone. The girl grows up to be a fairy and the boy grows up to be a sage. Gender socialization doesn’t require oppression.   Gender socialization needs respect. Gender socialization in a healthy society not driven towards domination is collaboration to reach a goal and represents a cooperative model. The cooperative model utilizes unique species traits and assigns them to specific tasks. What dictates whether or not gender socialization is oppressive has to do with the design and health of parties involved as well as the design of their government and nature of their goals.

For example, the American South that partook in slavery is likely to be misogynistic, with a tendency towards male domination as was suggested by their historical behavior. Slavery may have more to do with domination, than it does with whatever jersey or skin those tyrannical forces may pursue. In a healthy society, gender roles may be complimentary, collaborative and cooperative and not represent an oppressive intersection, but a beautiful one.

Do we need to first ask, what are examples of gender socialization and what is oppression, then where and how do those two forces collide? Or for whom does this thesis hold true, are there specific groups for whom gender socialization is oppressive and others for which it is altogether different? Or the third point, that one species a “macho” is oppressing another species a “femme” perhaps due to their intrinsic designs.

Is gender socialization oppression?

Beauvoir highlighted extreme cases of oppression due to gender socialization even Jews giving thanks in their prayers to not have been born a woman. Beauvoir expressed that social causes may impact a woman’s disposition in such a way that she is unaware of its social origin. Woman may have had to battle for rights, for education, for work and to minimize the impact of domestic affairs which may constitute oppression derivative of gender socialization. However feminine gender socialization is not tandem with oppression, though historically perhaps dating back to the Middle Ages, may be wrought in despair.


In this essay, I argued, contrary to Beauvoir, that feminine gender socialization is not the cause of women’s oppression. Feminine gender socialization is not tandem with oppression, nor is it a requirement of oppression. In a healthy society, feminine roles may be employed to run a cooperative system or to collaborate or complement one another.


Cudd, Ann E. & Andreasen, Robin O., Feminist Theory:  A Philosophical Anthology, 2005

Feminist Declares Woman as Sacred, Not Subordinate Notes on Gender, Relationships and Key Areas Where Problems Exist

Feminist Declares Woman as Sacred, Not Subordinate
Notes on Gender, Relationships and Key Areas Where Problems Exist

By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu

It cannot be argued whether or not women are a subordinate to men or even a “female slave” as some have been told may have been women’s original status.  It cannot be argued, whether or not race has hierarchy, in the same light as women having hierarchy cannot be argued.  In order to march forward, a new platform needs to be established with empirical research that pertains to the role of women.

There are several key points I want to make to establish the role of women as positive-both to elicit a positive outcome and to suggest that women are in fact held in high regard.  The first point has to do with the identification of females around the home and key protagonists in the visible image of women.

It can be concluded that at this specific residence, there existed many examples of women that were derived from manufacturer’s product or artist’s art works.  It can be concluded that the image of women may be tied to the perceptions of women in those fields of manufacturing and art which were overwhelmingly positive and flattering to women.

The images that were analyzed were:  an image of “Kali” a multi armed women that was gilded in gold with gold coins spilling from her lap, surrounded by elephants and sitting in a lotus, a “Nativity Set” that featured Mary and Infant Jesus in a manger with lamb and Three Wise Men,  A Virgin Guadalupe Candle where it was inscribed on the back to “help all those in need,”  a woman and man image where the woman is playing flute in front of a peacock with two love birds and a crowned man wears a peacock feather in his headdress (both wear wedding rings), images of women on fabric patterns, images of women in the store circulars, a DuMouchelle Auction House Advertising that featured a women cast in marble with a pensive look wearing a draped skirt and shirt falling off her shoulders,  an etching in dry point and aquatint of a woman with her dress thrust behind her wearing stockings below and ruffled knickers, an urn with Elizabethan images, on a folder was a female appearance in the image of a Unicorn, The Morton Salt Girl, Sun Maid Raisins, Blue Bonnet Margarine, La Preferida Long Grain Rice, Kama Sutra Playing Cards, Tarot Cards, an Indian Tapestry of a Bride pulled by a camel, a harem scene that included one King and Five Brides spraying perfume on each other, Two Princesses with Gold Crowns playing flute.

Women appeared from this selection to be hard working, physically beautiful, sensual, even having fantasy, there was a double entendre of “Sun Maid” where women could appear the maid to her son or  or a cleaning person or born of the son (the father, the son and the holy ghost) perhaps biblical or a maiden harvesting fruits.

The Morton Salt Girl was also interesting to decode.  On the Morton Salt packaging there was a young girl in a mini dress with delicate legs walking under an umbrella in the rain while pouring salt behind her.  The image is beautiful and is further associated to the root “mort” which could refer to death or embalming or religious practice.  The Morton Salt Girl may be something biblical.  Salt in the bible means death when one dries or things crisp.  The young Morton Salt Girl may stand for life and the package may reflect life to death or from a young fecund virgin or from birth until death.   The Morton Salt Girl, I am told refers to a specific passage in the bible.

There were two images where women played flute that portray women as having a delicate voice.  The age range of the women portrayed in this particular house was diverse some gray haired Elizabethan’s and other young and fecund.  I found most if not all the images of women in this particular research to be sacred, held often as an object of worship and in a religious light. I conclude that the image of women in this study held women in a spiritual light that was consistently fantastical, iconic and sacred.

The key points had to do with the roles of women in imagery and the key protagonists plus the platform desire to initiate “positive advertising.”   Positive Advertising may involve media, product range, art or campaigns.  Positive Advertising creates a momentum for women; that is both positive and enduring.   This author aims to cast away the prevailing sentiment of women as a subordinate, oppressed or downtrodden and maintain her in a regal light, high upon a pedestal and sublime.  Women can begin to select their “bars.”


Cudd, Ann E. & Andreasen, Robin O., Feminist Theory:  A Philosophical Anthology, Blackwell Publishing, 2005










Gloria Steinem at Toledo Library November 18th, 2015 at 7pm

Authors! Authors!
Saturday, September 26, 2015
7:00 pm
Main Library
325 N Michigan St
Toledo, OH
Price: $10/general admission, $8/students

Doris Kearns Goodwin will headline the 20th anniversary celebration of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s Authors! Authors! series. Goodwin kicks off the 2015-2016 season with a reception and fund-raising dinner benefitting the Library Legacy Foundation. Gloria Steinem, Matt Groening, and Lynda Barry are also on the lineup for the season. For more information and ticket sales, call 419-259-5200 or visit web2.toledolibrary.org.