I alluded to a couple of things in my book review Sunday that I would like to address. First is that I have some knowledge in feminist theory, and the second is that I do not consider myself a feminist. I would like to take some time to explain both of those.
On the value of feminist theory
I believe that every person, regardless as to whether you consider yourself a militant bra-burner or someone who thinks feminism is the “real” f-word, should take a course or read up on feminist theory. If anything, it is a useful and intriguing historical insight into the way we view and see women today and how their place in our world is constructed. At best, it is a long, much-needed insight for many the layman who wish to comment on gender studies. It would keep a lot of misunderstandings out of the woodwork, and we’d have much more fruitful discussions and not quite as many horrible books written on the issue. It’s sorta akin to learning math, even if you never have a real practical use for it. It’s still important.
Feminism is a complicated and multi-faceted field of study with almost as many ideas within its framework as their are distinct political ideals in the political spectrum. So for someone to say they’re a feminist, it’s a pretty loaded term. Some people refer to the branches of feminism in waves (and usually there are three), but my course split them up into four different groups:
Sameness/humanist feminism — in essence, that the differences between men and women are small and thus, both genders should be treated the same.
Difference/gynocentric feminism — that men and women are inherently and diametrically opposed, and that society needs to accept femininity as an important cultural value.
Dominance/radical feminism — that political systems and the legal systems are constructed in a way that all actions taken by them are an act of dominance over women.
Post-Modern Feminism — theory based on post-modern epistemology, which says that each person has a different interpretive lens through which they see the world and thus objectivity and neutrality are impossible. Post-modern feminists tend to believe that a unified feminist movement isn’t possible for these reasons.
This wikipedia article gives a perhaps better approach.
Each one is different, and some of them are diametrically opposed to one another. Though there are general timeline/dates for when each of these was in prominence, it is hard to tell what “period”of feminism we are in today. There are prominent feminist thinkers in many of these camps who still write today.
So, it’s important to keep in mind when brandishing yourself for or against feminism, that there are a LOT of different things that you’re taking up, or you may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Either way, feminist theory presents a wide range of ways to look at our ideas of gender, society, and how we think about each other. It has given us many different ways of considering a variety of issues, and it should not be dismissed out of hand.
That being said, there is a lot about feminism generally that I take issue with. But that is a discussion for another day.
~V.A. Luttrell (who enjoys reading Feministing, even when we don’t agree.)