Posted by: f15eagle | November 14, 2007

What is the application of Feminist Theory?

Through the course of the term I have been finding myself becoming increasing alienated from Feminism and Feminist theory in general. A number of the readings I’m sure as a number of people have observed are older going back more than two-decades which brings up the question are the authors arguments valid or relevant given how things have changed significantly since they were written? Another point of contention has been the narrow mindedness of some authors to suggest that something is “bad.” (The article by Catharine Mackinnon on sexuality comes to mind). I find it very problematic for people to focus all their energies on repeatedly emphasizing one point or one arguement to also be alienating. What comes to mind for me when I think of this is how feminists blatantly refuse to acknowledge that somethings do in fact have a biological component to them, that gender might concievably, just possibly have some biological basis.

I really find myself wonding what the practical application of Feminist theory really is. Sociologist have not only theory, but actual research to support their ideas. The same bodes true for psychologists and scientists in general (although there is a lot of bad science that does get published or interpreted incorrectly out of stupidity or for the purpose of pushing an agenda). But what does Feminism have to support their ideas aside from our word and our experience that this is the way things are and the the way things are basically sucks unless you are rich and or famous?

At this time I can think of two things that I percieve as having similaries with Feminist theory. Philosophy and math. Pure philosophy is interesting and makes you think but often asks questions and brings up issues without neccesarily providing a clear anwser thus has limited applicability. And studying math by itself devoid of grounding it in a specific context (research, chemistry, physics, engineering, economics, making educated guesses and predictions) is both useless and pointless.  (Of course it could be argued that the utility and applicability of Feminist theory is diminished not because the ideas are not applicable but because of the marginalized position Feminism has within the larger context of society–at least here in the U.S.)

Reinterating one of my points one of the problems I see with Feminism is that it is strictly grounded in ideology and philosophy based on what we are reading and what I have read leading up to this point. It seems feminists are producing none of their own academic research/academic literature to either prove and support their theories or empirically and thoroughly provide some vision for how things could be/should be. The readings we have read so far only offer vague visions of what could be. And in many cases their ideas lack any interrogation or dialogue with sociological, psychological or economic theory except on a very ideological level never seeming to go into any depth or detail (although what we have read has been exclusively short essays not 100-500 page essays or books that thoroughly provide a theoretical working frame work for how to significantly reduce institutionalized gender bias in schools K-12 for example).

I hope I am not the only person who is having these thoughts.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. I think you are correct, to a degree, that “[i]t seems feminists are producing none of their own academic research/academic literature to either prove and support their theories or empirically and thoroughly provide some vision for how things could be/should be.”

    I say “to a degree” because there are some feminists who theorize and then research to see if the theory is empirically true. For example, Louise Fitzgerald at the University of Illinois has done a lot of research on the causes and effects of sexual harassment in higher education and the workplace.

    Sandra Graham-Berman at the University of Michigan has researched the causes and effects of domestic violence (e.g., how women abuse affects children’s social development, how to intervene). Those are two well-respected feminists who have taken the theory and done empirical research.

    As far as MacKinnon, her theory of equality has directly impacted when, and how, the law prohibits sexual harassment, which is illegal under law against sex discrimination.

    In addition, her theory has strong implications for whether affirmative action is consistent with notions of equality (MacKinnon argues that it is) which have had an impact outside of the United States (most notably in a Canadian Supreme Court decision).

    MacKinnon has also done some interesting work recently on what the law should focus on when prohibiting rape (she argues that the primary focus should be on the force used by the perpetrator, not the consent of the victim).

    In any event, I personally think you are correct in your frustration about feminist theory. My main point in writing is just to point out that there are some feminists out there conducting empirical research and also to point out some of the practical implications of MacKinnon’s theory.

  2. Wow, that’s a lot. I think I will address some of the points that you have brought up and try to link them with the text that we have engaged with in class. So, I am approaching the points you made assuming that you have read the texts and have been present in class for the discussion, which may or may not be correct.

    Regarding the relevance of past writing, this class is designed as a holistic approach to the evolution or dialectical evolution of feminist theory. That is why we investigate its early theoretical foundations; there we can find both strengths and weaknesses. That is why we focus on the validity of their arguments and engage with their ideas, hold them to the fire and move on. The syllabus explains this much, and may help you contextualize the earlier writings in feminist theory and the feminist movement.

    Regarding the theoretical framework that feminists have used regarding the (I believe false dichotomy) of nature versus nurture, that too has been addressed.

    “feminists blatantly refuse to acknowledge that somethings do in fact have a biological component to them, that gender might concievably, just possibly have some biological basis.”

    Recall Anne Fausto-Sterling in “Dueling Dualisms”; she used the “Mobius Strip” by M.C. Escher to highlight DST Developmental Systems Theory. This theory postulates that human development is not characterized or explainable by a parochial distinction between what “is nature” and what “is nurture.” The theory supposes that the social can influence the biological and that the biological can influence the social, that they are not distinct and compartmentalized. It is a continuously interacting and multifaceted process. DST theory as articulated by Fausto-Sterling does well to help heal the common tendency of the western philosophical disconnection of mind and body that even some feminist and queer theorists use to justify their arguments.

    Regarding the assertion that Feminist theory lacks any empirical base, I think it is important to remember that theory is a systematic explanation of observations that relate to a particular aspect of life, and that feminist theory has been huge in explaining the mechanics of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, gender division of labor (the double day), etc. Theory informs research and research informs theory. Feminists have engaged in both quantitative and qualitative research to justify the theoretical premises they produce. Some theory can be very limited and subjective but I would argue feminist theory has filled a huge analytical hole in social theory. I would also argue that many feminist theorists and researchers engage in the same research methods that many sociologists and psychologists employ in their social research and that the distinctions between sociologists, psychologists and feminists are not always very clear cut and or mutually exclusive. Many theorists also engage in research and many of been trained to use research methods of social science and several levels of research, whether qualitatively through ethnographic research or quantitatively through questionnaires or content analysis (for example, the depiction of sexist gender roles in popular media). Even those who are not “feminists” per se have used feminist theory to explain the results that they have found in their research. Randy Blazak’s qualitative study of white supremacists used feminist theory to in part explain the importance of patriarchal masculinity in white supremacist culture.

    As far as the applicability of Feminism, philosophy, and math, I think there are a few factual assumptions here. I would point out that feminism, philosophy, and math even in their “non applicable” state as you say have serious applicability. I would point out, and I already have, the applicability of feminist theory in understanding the mechanics of social and psychological phenomena. Be careful not to aggrandize the “hard sciences” without first looking at the contributions provided by “pure philosophy” in that philosophy has informed the fundamental bases for which the scientific method was born and what constitutes “good” science. Fast forward to the Donna Haraway’s article; it will cast some light on the so-called objectivity of the “hard-sciences” which so many hold to be the only valid representations of truth.

    I feel a little heated connecting the “futility” of mathematical theory and philosophy with feminism. First, because it implies that the former don’t have applicability when they have. Second, because it assumes that all theory must be used in some sort of western capitalistic sense; the same type of argument is used by the Bush administration and neo-conservatives who believe any and all social sciences not operating in the production of GDP or profit to be “useless and pointless”. Third, it insinuates that feminist theory and the feminist movement have also been futile, when in fact it is one of the must successful social movements ever with much potential not actualized yet. I won’t list the quantitative list of successes (like voting, attending a university) because I could never even touch on the qualitative, which might just be the profound knowledge of oppression “in all of its manifestations – ideological, institutional, organizational, [and] subject[ive] (278).”

    “But what does Feminism have to support their ideas aside from our word and our experience?”

    “Reinterating one of my points one of the problems I see with Feminism is that it is strictly grounded in ideology and philosophy based on what we are reading and what I have read leading up to this point.”

    Post-Structuralist theory would argue that none of us can simply or easily step outside of our own situated knowledge and that “knowledge” as such is constituted by the more powerful elements within societies. Lata Mani says “claims to universality and objectivity [whether found in empiricism or not] have been shown to be the alibis of a largely masculinist, heterosexist, and white Western subject (365).” So, I think it goes to say that no person or theory can sidestep their own subjective location even by evoking or using social or scientific research methods. No one who has ever written or said anything has had a zero degree perspective or “Objective” perspective of reality that has not been influenced by their particular social and historical context.

    I feel that the text and the discussion that has been included in the class adequately address the points that you have brought up.

  3. I feel that I am expericencing a profound lack of ability to articulate my thoughts today, but I do feel a need to respond.
    All of the privileges we enjoy (as part of whatever minority) that make us in any way closer to equal, such as attending a university have come to be because whatever theory that was pushing for the privilege was “proved” to be valid.
    I mean…I don’t believe that there is not empirical and scientific evidence to support feminist theories or agendas. And I also don’t think that that format of knowledge has to be presented for someting to be “true” or worth fighting for.

    I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that I do not understand how there could be a view of feminist theory that disconnects it from our existence so definitely. And I feel like the post made some disconcerting generalizations.

  4. I also often have trouble finding room for the practicle application of feminist theory. In having discussions and debates with people outside of a feminist background, it becomes evident that adoption of feminist ideologies has yet to take place in our culture in gereral, not to meantion on a widespread individual basis. We are definately a far way from an ideal feminist world, and in all honestly, I do not know if this will ever be attainable…
    However, I would not argue that there is no practicle application of feminist theory nor that feminism has not had a changing affect on our society and culture. In my view, work that furthers the feminist cause IS feminist theory in action. Lobbying for women’s rights is feminist theory in action. Working to help women escape domestic violence is feminist theory in action. Organizing for the rights of women immegrant workers in your town is feminist theory in action. So although some of the ideas presented to us by theorists may seem a bit lofty and hard to apply to real life, when we take the core concepts explaining the structures of oppression and heirachy we are able to make practicle applications which are rooted in feminism.

  5. I think one thing about feminist theory is, it that it takes all kinds. It takes all kind of people, experiences, situations, etc that contribute to feminist theory. I guess that is in some ways the beauty of it. To be able to see an argument that you completely and utterly disagree with yet still get something out of it. Even if at the very least it just pisses you off. Feminist theory is what you make of it Feminist theory is more than some women writing for themselves within the academy. Feminist theory doesn’t embody one specific school of thought. We could argue more about what the purpose of feminist theory is. I agree with what Priya said in class on Tuesday about seeing oneself in relation to things. I think this is a really important component of feminism. (If we think about knowledge coming out of experience) One person can not experience all of the individual systems of oppression that are happening simultaneously throughout the world. One can think about their places in the power structure and where they fit.

  6. I suppose my first post did come off as a bit harsh, but honestly I have found this class incredibly frustrating. I guess I had higher expectations…

    Philosophy and theory do have there place and purpose.

    The articles and essays we have read while not intended to provide solutions to oppression over night I suppose may be applicable to people who have not given much thought to the nature of oppression and are clueless as to the state of minorities in the world (I use the word minority in this context to mean people who have less power). However at the same time I mean all of us at some point have probably had good intentions to read book with the intention of starting some sort of exercise, weight loss program, or learn a language in 10 minutes every day and have stuck with it for a while and quit.

    So of all the people who may read or watch something that is suppose to inspire people to action how many people actually start that conversation about a contentious social issue in their relationships, in their community, or lobby their local, state or federal government. I guess I think people might be more inclined to act if they knew what they could do.

    As you can probably tell I am biased toward “doing something” other than just sit around and talk about all our good intentions. While we sit and talk people are suffering, dying even, for those people who are oppressed they cannot wait for change, they need things to change now.

    I don’t know what would you say to someone who lost a friends or family member because they didn’t have money to see a doctor and get treatment for something that could have been prevented? If they asked you why you personally have not phoned, written to, or e-mailed your representatives in the house of representatives and the senate about health care reform, what would you say to them? What could you say to them?

  7. I believe feminist theory provides valuable insight into the “gems” to the ways of knowing or thinking produced by individuals. Like coiled said, we can each look at ourselves and positioning in relation to other things. If we embody the knowledge that others have to offer (whether we ourselves believe them to be ignorant or insightful) we can develop our own analysis of what is right or wrong. When things are unfamiliar we may find them arrogant simply because we don’t understand them. Yet, at the same time, I realize that other people can reveal ones arrogance by sharing their own opinion. While feminist theory may be confusing in terms of applicability, I am certainlly thankful that I had the opportunity to look into the minds of others and evaluate the position of feminist theorists within my own perspective.

  8. In response to “As you can probably tell I am biased toward “doing something” other than just sit around and talk about all our good intentions.”
    and “So of all the people who may read or watch something that is suppose to inspire people to action how many people actually start that conversation about a contentious social issue in their relationships, in their community, or lobby their local, state or federal government. I guess I think people might be more inclined to act if they knew what they could do.”

    I feel like these comments serve to make the case for needing feminist theory. The people that are incited to make change do so because of beliefs within themselves. Inspirational can words bring a perspective one may not have considered before; they may reveal/conceptualize/contextualize sexism for the first time. Then the beliefs may change.
    I believe that taking action requires a force that drives it. I believe that individuals need to have an idea of WHAT to do before they do it. But I believe that more importantly, they need to know WHY. I feel like that is the purpose and application of feminist theory.
    I don’t think that it is the job of feminist theory to be a detailed outline of how to take action. I think its job is to inspire us to create our own blueprints and plans of action. We cannot expect any theory or movement to come with a set of directions. If it did, we wouldn’t need a movement, and we wouldn’t experience struggle.

  9. I think it’s important to critically analyze feminist theory, but your question concerning the application of feminist theory struck a chord for me. The practical application of feminist theory is to question and challenge why, as you put it, “life basically sucks unless you are rich and famous.” I would argue that the authors in our reader are examining how race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, social location, age, and other variables factor into the assessment of oppression.

    One aspect of confronting privilege is to address the ease of dismissing or colluding with oppressive behavior. In other words, often, those who don’t have to confront oppression, don’t.

    You wrote in a response comment: “The articles and essays we have read while not intended to provide solutions to oppression over night I suppose may be applicable to people who have not given much thought to the nature of oppression…”

    I would say that the theories we’ve read are arguably less useful to people who are new to feminism or who haven’t thoroughly examined what it means to be privileged in our society. I think that in order to proceed with the work feminism invites us to do, an examination of privilege must be done – and one doesn’t have to be a feminist to do that.

    It’s true that while we are talking about theory people are suffering – it is a very privileged thing to be able to sit in a class and discuss feminism – but consider that those who take justice into their own hands without consideration of the roles of domination, patriarchy, sexism, racism, colonization etc. may in fact contribute to the systems that legitimize oppression.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: