A feminism critique of science and technology springs out from the Foucauldian insights of the intimate relations between knowledge and power. Knowing the world is, through naming it, a way to control it, and it has real effects of oppression and control. Representations work on the represented, and thus, epistemology not only to an extent determines ontology, but by the same token it is a tool to change a world of inequalities.
A feminist critique seeks both to unveil actual structures of inequality, such as underrepresentation of women in important and world-shaping discourses of science and technology, and to criticise the culture of it, or the ideology, that invests it with meaning and hides power relationships. It is a project of criticising both the underrepresentation of women in science and technology, and the more or less dubious rationalisations and naturalisations of science and of womens place in it (see Kember 1996). Science and technology are extremely central areas for the production and use of contemporary knowledge. Both being matters of knowledge, they are social, cultural and historical entities, and not neutral or separate spheres from the rest of society.
Feminist critics have called for a new and better “successor science” (Stanley & Wise 1990), to replace what is seen as an essentially old, masculine, logo- and phallocentric one, and they have tried to say something about what this science should be. However, traps of essentialising the feminine have been lurking, in effect continuing the older preconceptions of essential qualities of woman.
Alternative and non-essentialistic conceptualisations of the relations across boundaries of machine and body, human and animal were in the beginning not very sophisticatedly explored by feminists of the 70’s and 80’s. Via an increasing awareness to unpack problematic categories of `women’ and `technology’, a more recent (80’s and 90’s ) direction of a postmodern bending of boundaries and shifting subject positions was explored by radical, post-modern scientists or feminists. Theorists such as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti have tried to open up for a nomadic and embodied – localised and contextualised – definition of women and female experience, nevertheless keeping a political agenda for social change. I will reflect on their contributions to feminist criticism of science and technology after an outline of some criticisms that preceeded them.
Feminism critique of science and technology
Women have been underrepresented in what is criticised as being an masculine endavour, a dominating and totalising science. Western epistemology and its oppositions between mind / body, rational thought / emotion, culture / nature, man / woman, modern / traditional are hierarchically structured to evaluate the terms to the left as superior and there to control the ones on the right. Judy Wajcman (1991) delineates a history of feminist critiques of science and technology, and notes that since science, technology and medicine provide us with our “icons of progress”, we revere the rational over the emotional and judge scientific and technological development as an index of society’s advancement. However, this century has ruptured our securities as to whether science endowes society with solutions or is itself the reason for destruction and crisis. A concern about gender, science and technology continues the scepticism, but is fairly recent.
Early critique from the 60’s and 70’s questioned the meagre access of women to scientific institutions and revealed structural barriers that hindered their participation. They also turned their attention to questions of how science had been abused by men to suppress women, for instance by providing scientific support for biological sex roles. In this view, science produced knowledge consistently smothered in male bias, but could quite possibly be put to better uses in the right hands. In these case, the motive was getting more women into science and the unfulfilment were seen to lie in women themselves and how their motivations were wrongfully shaped by expectations to feminine `natural’ interests. Science itself was not the problem. A similar essentially value-free science was seen as a possibility for radicals in the 60’s and 70’s, but continuing Marxist analysis revealed how the neutral ideal of science was itself a piece of ideology shaped by history and power, being as much a figment of ideology as were the essentialisms that placed women as `unfit’ to do sober, scientific work. In the 80’s, seeing science as patriarchal rose from problematisations of science within feminism itself. Whether science and technology was inherently masculine, or essentially neutral but male biased, it resulted in an inherent patriarchality and made feminists ask the question of “how a science apparetly so deeply involved in distinctively masculine projects can possibly be used for emancipatory ends” (Harding, ref. in Wajcman 1991:5).
In each case, what followed were attempts to find out what a better science would be – either an entirely new and feminist one or one cleansed of its male bias. In order not to just put more biological women into a masculine, power-driven and authoritiative science, science itself had got to be changed. Re-examining the scientific revolution and arguing that the emerging science wsa fundamentally based on the masculine projects of reason and objectivity, the dichotomies between culture and nature, mind and body, objectivity and subjectivity and public and private were seen as hierarchically evaluated – and gendered in that the latter part were systematically associated with the feminine. (Wajcman 1991:5) Feminists have argued for a feminisation of science, for a new “successor science” to replace the old masculinist one. The problem comes when one argues against dominating, oppressive and exclusive ideologies of women-not-in-technology, and at the same time tries to ground a new and better science on perceived `feminist’ values, as opposed to the `bad’ masculine ones. The pitfalls of a continuation of dichotomies and essentialism are still there. Eco-feminists celebrated conventional qualities of the feminine – of holism, care, empathy and being in tune with nature, and a psychoanalytically informed critique would posit that childhood separation put in men essential cognitive characteristics of establishing masculine power and identity through rigid control and separation between self and other – thus shaping science into an objectifying power game.
Haraway’s critique of feminism – against origin stories
Donna Haraway (1991) criticises feminism for continuing a just as totalising project of taxonomy of its own history and of women, as the ones conventionally conducted by Western science.
She identifies “traditions of `Western’ science and politics” as being “the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture”, and writes that her Cyborg Manifesto is an “effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode […] imagining a world without gender.” (1991:150) She is deconstructive and radical in her criticisms of Western capitalism as well as of certain versions of feminism put forward by some feminists. They are both caught up in a dualistic world-view, where one either is or isn’t, for instance, `woman’, `black’, or `human’, and she points out that feminists have constituted themselves as totalities; “how else could the `Western’ author incorporate its others?” (160) A polyvocality, of feminisms and of women, disappeared into attempts to establish genealogies of essences. All such quests for essence are articuations of Western humanism’s inclination to origin myths, where an original state of balance, fullness and unity was disrupted. A project of changing the world would in this vein be to search to reestablish the unity and posit essential shared – but subject to evolution or disruption – features between people. Haraway blames both Marxism and psychoanalysis of positing such stories of initial bliss and following rupture. We can draw the parallel further to colonial and anthropological divisions between the West and the Rest, or modern and traditional society, where the project was ordering a messy world of the First Encounter through representation of the other. Walter Benjamin’s concerns with mimesis, alterity and modernity is, writes Michael Taussig, “fully congruent with […] the (Euroamerican) culture of modernity as a sudden rejuxtaposition of the very old with the very new.” (Taussig 1993:20). A dualistic world-view, where `traditional society’ – sometimes seen as a lost Arcadia, sometimes as a savage earlier stage of evolution – is in opposition to modernity, as staticness is opposed to change.Destroying the other simultaneously with conquering them is the colonialist legacy and goes together with the anthropology’s world of a withering mosaic of tribes. Whether one sees modernity and Western science and technology as disrupting the world – as breach of a unity between nature and humans – or as the pinnacle of knowledge and the appliance of rational thought to lift the world from savagery and magic into Enlightenment and well-being for all – what is common is a dualistic world view positing origin stories and which through hierarchy, control and difference subjugates nature and other Others.
Feminist criticism have deconstructed the museums of scientific knowledge and the veils of naturalisations of women’s subordination.The structures of what meaning is given to `feminine’ and `masculine’ change through time, history and discourse, and science and technology cannot be seen to be in any way set apart from sociological power structures and semiotic meaning processes. It is not so that power or economic structures determine meaning processes – they influence one another, yet frequently cooperate to create ideology and underwrite hegemony. Getting out of ideology, of dichotomies that have shaped knowledge of the world and thus the world itself, doesn’t happen quickly or painlessly. Difficulties with getting away from essentialising a feminine identity, thus continuing connotations – real and symbolic – to subjugation, illustrates this general point. However, there is still a feminist project. Defining femininity based on hierarchy or one shared experience of being `woman’ spurring a pan-global identity is out of place, but further unwrapping of the concepts of `man’, `woman’ and `technology’ entails a beginning and a need for relativisation and localisation of definition and experience. The next step, reconstruction of a common feminine identity on which to base political struggle, have often stranded. Because in these attempts to recasts epistemology, they are out of touch with an ontological reality of different experiences, of a multiplicity of subjects who as a rule don’t subscribe to just one identity and one identity fully. As Wajcman concludes (with Harding) “there is no `woman’ to whose social experience the feminist empiricist and standpoint approaches can appeal; there are instead the `fractured identities of women'” (1991:11). The fractured identities come from social experience of gender as well as of class, race and culture.
That the Western / humanist / Enlightenment ways of viewing, dividing and ruling the world now should be well out of place, is illustrated in a delineation of the ontology of our contemporary world system, what Donna Haraway terms “the informatics of domination” (1991:161). A movement from an organic, industrial society – or the “White Capitalist Patriarchy” – to a polymorphous information system entails fundamental changes. Boundary-keeping absolute dualisms have been replaced by boundary-transgressing, relative positions in information systems. Science and technology lie behind blurrings of boundaries; biology and evolutionary theory questions the rigid division between human and animal. Information processing and reproductive technologies brings organism and machine, the physical and non-physical closer. These are deadly machines, because they are about the simulation of consciuosness. A crucial feature of biologics and communications sciences in the informatics of domination is their “translation of the world into a problem of coding” (164), parallel to the general trends of world economic systems who depend on uninterrupted circulation of information.
This radical rearrangement in world-wide social relations tied to science and technology entails that if it ever was possible to define the world and gain knowledge about it in dualistic and positive terms before, it certainly isn’t now. In this system, connections and affinity takes over the roles of belonging and identity, and are both necessary and possible; The consequences of the informatics of domination on “the home, workplace, market, public arena, the body itself” – dispersing and interfaced in myriad ways – makes potent oppositional movements “difficult to imagine and essential for survival” (163) As a fresh, clean slate unmarred by culture and history is not available, how can existing cultural signifiers of femininity, of technology be put to use, not essentialising, but still focus on women’s subjectivity and feminist politics? For Haraway, the figure of the cyborg provides a fiction to illustrate and put to strategic use in this process of survival. Cyborgs are “wary of holism but needy for connection” (151).
An ironic political myth
Donna Haraways cyborg, the figuration set up in A Cyborg Manifesto is first of all ontologically grounded: “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” (150) A cyborg being a cybernetic organism, an interface of machine and organism, and we cannot separate ourselves from technology or science that produces it. Moreover, our ontological cyborg-ness “gives us our politics”.
The cyborg is a fiction, an image, of humanness in a world where boundaries are broken, and the metaphor for a world of non-bounded entities, where shifting identities rise from positions in the matrices of economies, biologies and epistemologies. It is a fiction which is both imaginary and materially real. The “informatics of domination” is the life-world of the cyborg, and this world system is frighteningly feminising (making extremely vulnerable) work and people. Haraway sees the cybernetic system of informatics of domination as a massive intensificaion of social and cultural insecurity and impoverishment (172), without positing Marxist dualisms of base and superstructure. She thereby escapes a rigid understanding of domination and false consciuosness and can go on to look for subtler connections, emerging pleasures and experiences. The dualistic world-view mentioned before, incorporating Enlightenment science as well as Marxism, focus on modernity as loss or break from an earlier stage of harmony, or savagery. It has serious problems saying anything about postmodernist experience other as further fragmentation, and is not the theoretical framework to articulate emerging meanings of contemporary practices. Haraway spots the lack of “sufficiently subtle connections for collectively building effective theories of experience” (173), but still sees hope if we are able to learn from our fusions and boundary-transgressions instead of just being made vulnerable by them. Western capitalism, science and technology have produced an illigitemate offspring, the cyborg. Being the typical entity of the “informatics of domination”, it embodies difference and transgressions and inhabits a possibility f or strategic, political use. Communications technologies and biotechnologies are crucial tools defining our bodies (164) – and they hover somewhere between tools to embody new social relations for women and as myths enforcing essentialised meanings. Haraway, being a scientist herself, does not see science in itself as inherently or essentially masculine. The boundaries are permeable, the knowledge is constructed and technology are really social relations, and therein lies the possibility to navigate structures of knowledge to “seize the tools that marked women as other” (175).
Bricolage – seizing the tools
Cyborgs were created in a complex scientific-technological industry of military and medical science, serving as interfaces to enhance control, vision and violence. Seizing these tools, using the image of cyborgs, means working against the science that conceives itself of making objective tools to work on the world to create disembodied knowledge and instrumental technology. Structures and idioms of oppression and dominance have produced the elements of cyborg imagery, but they can be put to alternative use. I would like to parallel this with the opposition between Claude Levi-Strauss’ ideal types Ingenieur and the Bricoleur. Levi-Strauss (1972) treated science and bricolage as being two different but parallel modes of acquiring knowledge, that is, epistemologies.
The ingenieur is the one who makes new knowledge out of `nothing’. His tools and concepts are transparent means to an end, removed from the concrete world, and they are not bound up in previous practice or attached with meaning. Of course, contrary to what western science would like to think of itself, the bricoleur can be spotted as well. He builds on old meanings and of structures of power – he is creating knowledge out of fragments of meaning already found in the world. Bricolage was identified with magic and myth, and the bricoleur is adept in a large number of diverse tasks, even though the repertoire of tools is limited to “whatever is at hand”. They are finite and heterogenous and bears no relation to the current project. In discussing Haraway’s cyborg, it should be clear that meanings are given to gender, work and difference through the praxis of the social relations of technology in the informatics of domination. Mythical thought is a kind of intellectual `bricolage’, writes Levi-Strauss, and Haraway’s cyborg is a myth about identity and boundaries made up of the remnants of industrial society and the continued capitalism of the informatics of domination.
Levi-Strauss pinned the difference down to being compliant with literate societies versus pre-literate ones. The literate, scientific – Western – side is reflected in Haraway’s discussion of the writing and the name as being masculine and phallocentric. (175) Origin stories are phallocentric, but the cyborg writing is different. In a world where the boundary between the `primitive’ and the `civilized’ no longer holds, cyborg writing is not about searching for the perfect “name” of the singular work. To seize the tools that marked women as other to gain back a power to survival is the basis for cyborg writing, not original innocence. (175)
Western science has been based on the ideology of the rational ingenieur who creates anew, while overlooking the continuities, the guesswork, the axioms of mathematical rules and discriminatory gender differences, – overlooking the bricoleur in it who thrives on connotation, ideology and culture. Feminism critique of science and technology has helped revealing and debunking these structures, because they are dubious in their foundation and have excluded women from production of knowledge and technology. Assessing western science as cultural bricolage has been deconstructing its knowledge, in feminist and other critiques. However, stating that bricolage takes place, is not necessary to call for an abandonment of science altogether on the reason that it fails to live up to its objectivist claims. A bricolage does not result in pure relativism or subjectivity from lack of being objective, – it is objective in its being intersubjective. In using the cyborg imagery in order to construct a new feminist science, we are not trying to search out a new monistically objective science, but using `whatever is at hand’ politically, ironically and pragmatically to create a new epistemology that values different experiences.
If science has produced disembodied knowledge, or at least certainly told the story of objectivity and neutrality to itself, a new and feminist science is still possible according to Haraway. This is, as I have tried to show, grounded in old tools as well as contemporary experiences of fluid identities and contingencies. The cyborg is ironic and produces no monistic truth. Because it is a hybrid, it embodies difference, and the notion of partial perspectives provides a new basis of scientific objectivity, and this objectivity is enhanced, not weakened, by multiple standpoints and partial views.
Sarah Kember (1996) points out that embodied knowledge incorporates experience, desires and politics of the self, and therefore “cannot make universalist truth claims”. It can tell of others standpoints as well as one’s own, and recognise a multiplicity of equally valid feminist standpoints . They are put to the task of undermining existing epistemological structures and scientific hierarchical separations. Experiences of whom are named as `black’, `lesbians’, `old’ are embodied and can be told. Even though we try to avoid essentialising categories and names for people’s identities – or differences – it is quite possible to take these categories and names (`black’, `woman’) as a starting point, with the connotations they already have. They will include their own transgressions and contestations around labelling, escaping, meaning, identity and lack of identity, and become stories others can hear and share, and accept as some of many possible and equally valid feminisms and femininities. “There is no drive in cyborgs to produce total theory” (181) – but experience of boundaries, their construction and deconstruction. Donna Haraway argues against origin myths, dreams of original wholeness and future oneness. Cyborg politics is about revelling in boundary stories and transgressions, thus reversing and displacing the hierarchical dualisms of naturalised identities.
Haraway stresses the cyborg subject position as partial, ironic and faithful to blasphemy. Cyborgs are always on the move, always embodying difference differently, and the only thing it takes for granted is irony. Irony mocks power and the “dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” (1991:181) Science and technology have pushed their projects to the limits, revealing the blurred boundaries of mind and machine. She takes inspiration from the anthropologist Mary Douglas, who explores the connections between bodily boundaries and social boundaries. Body imagery provides idioms for a world view, and is thus a political language and a narration of society itself. She is Durkheimian in that the rituals and boundary-myths are all, really, about society and its perpetuation and wholeness. Bodily inscribed notions of pollution, purity and danger is at stake in the maintenance of social boundaries, and in ‘primitive’ society as well as in our own, bodily functions are socially treated; women are separated in menstrual huts, or they are being subjected to controlled choices surrounding conception and childbirth.
The cyborg embraces the possibilities inherent in the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine, and finds pleasure in these potent and taboo fusions. Science and technology needs to be positively recast – not written off – and the boundary-transgression involves being (in) the machine – in opposition to what earth mothers and technophobic feminists think; “machines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves. We don’t need organic holism…” (Haraway 1991:178). The imagery of implants and oneness with the machine is motivated by a political need to reconcile women with science. Science is not going to go away, and it is useful in that it still can provide objective views of the world – “they give accounts of the world that can check arbitrary power” (Penley & Ross 1991:2).
About longing for enchantment and unity
Why introduce the image of the cyborg? As Judith Squires (1996) has pointed out, Haraway’s feminist critique is really sufficient without it; “one can reject the homogenising strategies of grand narratvies and challenge the universal pretensions of modernist thought […] one can explore the possibilities of flexible, transitory identities … without ever making recourse to cyborg imagery.” (Squires 1996:206) She identifies the lure of the cyborg image as feeding the old will “to transcend the bodily nature of the female and exist purely in the cerebral realm of individual autonomy”. If Haraway herself never lost sight of “the nitty-gritty of lived social relations” (Squires 1996:207), her ungendered unconsciuos-less cyborg may be, as a myth and an image, too ephemeral to separate itself from an interpretation of a bodyless mind. The cyborgian transgression of boundaries entails both both “pleasure” and “responsibility in their constructions”, but it may seem that the construction that takes place next to deconstruction, and the political responsibility following affinities by choice could be overlooked.
Separating good and bad cyborgs is essential to Haraways political project; cyborgs that mock and check power are good, and the military-medical ones are bad. But these boundaries are, ironically, themselves blurred. The cyborg as it is found in medicine and military technology and in popular culture (e.g personalities of science fiction such as Terminator, Robocop and the like) are quite different from Haraways ideals, and give rise to speculation. One is the fetishistic use of body- or vision-enhancing technology, reinforcing a hierarchical relationship between self and other (Kember 1996:240), and intensifying the old opposition between mind and matter. For cyberpunks, it is a matter of “getting out of the meat”, the complete opposite to embodiment of female experience. The breakdown of boundaries is at issue here as well, but results in a pleasurable reinforcement of them instead of transgressing them to redefine difference. That “[the simultaneity of] the breakdown of clean distinctions between organism and machine and similar distinctions structure in the Western self […] cracks the matrices of domination and opens geometric possibilities” (Haraway 1991:174), that is somewhat inherent contradictions and paradoxes in the informatics of domination, give rise to speculations of a feminine revenge of technology on human patriarchy. Associations of the female to the technological matrix (which is the word for the webs of interconnected pieces of information technology as well as having the etymologies of `mother’ and `womb’ (Springer 1991:306)) and a natural force is known from ecofeminism as well as industrialisms linking of women to machines capable of vast, uncontrollable destruction (Springer 1991). `Old’, industrial age paradoxes of fear and love for technology are analogue to the paradoxical status of the image of the cyborg in the information age, and the object of the thrill and the fears has shifted from “huge, thrusting machines” to sleek microchips and “the thrill of control over information [and] the thrill of escape from the confines of the body”. As such, cyborg imagery serves to reinforce patriarchy, and as Claudia Springer goes on to note in an essay critical of the masculinist phantasies and “the pleasure of the interface”, “uncertainty is a central characteristic of postmodernism and the essence of the cyborg. But […] patriarchy continues to uphold gender difference.” (Springer 1991:310) Haraway’s political myth is apparently still waiting to become reality.
There is a danger in the production of myths and ideals, navigating in popular and scientific culture to put existing signifiers in new relations. That problem is of course that the project fails, in that old meanings that structures old social relations persist. The evoking of an elusive concept, urging it to be employed without giving any strict recipies is of course a great asset, and provides “goods to think with”. Being a Manifesto, Haraway’s article throws out new idea(l)s, and avoiding gendering her cyborg, or providing it with an unconscious, she escapes a couple of essentialisms of `women’ and identity. The paradoxical nature of the cyborg is, as Constance Penley puts it “a suggestive and productive one”, but she and Andrew Ross, in an interview with Donna Haraway (1991) wonder how a philosophy of partialism can become beat mainstream sciences promise for completion and become popular for “people who want to resolve a sense of loss or absence in their lives”. Popular culture seems to be more about looking for identity and wholeness than what vanguard theorists see as contingencies. Haraway still rejects holisms as “denying mortality” and a “deadly fantasy” (Penley&Ross 1991:16), but considers the question perhaps to be related to ones of psychoanalysis – which she in her Manifesto excluded from the image of the cyborg. However, in retrospective, she reconsiders the limitations of both the ungenderedness and the absence of an unconscious from her cyborg. She admits that a resistance towards psychoanalysis perhaps made the unconscious disappear when it was really the Oedipal stories about split subjects she wanted to avoid. An unconscious may account for a lived “subjectivity” and would add to the genderless cyborg a differentiation on the basis of sexuality, which could add a bit more `meat’, as it were, on the ideal cyborg. As Jaqueline Rose points out, the feminine unconscious is not a given original harmonious state then ruptured and split – it is a constant “`failure’ … endlessly repeated and relived moment by moment throughout our individual histories”. Coupling feminism and psychoanalysis, she holds that “feminism’s affinity with psychoanalysis rests above all … with this recognition that there is a resistance to identity at the very heart of psychic life” (Rose 1986:91). While Haraway resists the Oedipal stories because their persuasive power and their stories are all to familiar – and the narratives of the unconscious “much too conservative, muych too heterosexual, much to familial, much too exclusive” (Penley&Ross 1991:9), she would be open for more localised and alternative Oedipal stories.
Braidotti the nomad
Rosi Braidotti takes inspiration from Haraway’s cyborg in developing her own `nomadic subject’ as another feminist figuration, but in contrast to Haraway’s cyborg, the nomad is equipped with gender and an unconscious. Her nomadic consciousness is one feminists should cultivate, and it “develops the notion of a corporeal materiality by emphasizing the embodied and therefore sexually differentiated structure of the speaking subject.” (Braidotti 1994:3) Braidotti thus adds body and sexuality to the cyborg, and in stressing that the nomadic project “allows for internal contradicyiton and attempts to negotiate between unconscious structures of desire and consciuos political choices”, she equips it with a psychoanalytic unconsious, which consequently lets the nomadic thinking take in consideration of “the pain involved in processes of change and transformation” (1994:31). Change is desired, and to slowly transform representations, her method is to repeat them, to mime them. She evokes Levi-Strauss’ bricolage as an ideal method, also providing a way to transdisciplinarity – crossing the borders of phallocentric, monistic sciences. Her bricolage steals notions and concepts lying around from earlier contexts, and deliberately uses them outside those contexts. The mimesis involved in the reworking of established representation will expose them and consume them from within. The mimesis is a praxis of “as if”, based on “the subversive potential of repetitions”.
Michael Taussig evokes the mimesis as a kind of sympathetic magic – defined in the late 19th century by James Frazer in his huge ethnological synthesis The Golden Bough – and captured in the notion that “In some way or another one can protect oneself from the spirits by portraying them” (Taussig 1993:1). A need to set up a discontinuity, grab and hold, and then to scrutinise and reactivate a strange culture in ones own terms is the anthropological Western mimetic project. As explained by Michael Taussig, mimesis is a double process of reification-and-fetishization (Taussig 1993:13), of copying a unique existence and bring it in contact with one’s own body, and “[t]he ability to mime, and mime well […] is the capacity to Other” (1993:19). For Braidotti, the project is to “Other back” – because the copy is not just a copy, but reveals and displays connections and details never seen before, as in the photograph, it is a power tool. It is also a project of positive mimesis, of recreation and new construction of positive feminist nomadic figurations. The knowledge / power relation is still at work in Braidottis mimetic ventures; in the chapter Mothers, Monsters and Machines (1994), she states her nomadic style is best suited to make adequate representations of female experience. To mime representations without regard for disciplinary boundaries, she conjures up a history of intersecting historic conceptualisations of women, and treats them as discourses, not definite objects. The normative and controlling association of female difference with negative, monstrous, deviant distance is analysed, and Braidotti thus uncovers ideologies of essentialism, the ascriptions of womens monstrosity out of “lack”, “displacement; as sign of the in between areas, of the indefinite, the ambiguous” (1994:83). Evoking machines, Braidotti shows that the conceptualisations of negative female otherness were embedded in “scientific, political and discursive field of technology”, and adding biotechnology, todays links between the mother, the monster and the machine becomes obvious. Thus, she has traced historical roots to contemporary manipulation of life and mechanizing of the matenal function and images of the feminine in relation to reproductive and bio-technology.
Feminist critiques of science and technology have struggled with old essentialist concepts of womanhood. References to nature and sexuality are never unproblematic as they are always embedded and made by social relations of power and work. The task has been shown to be to go to work on epistemology, through deconstructing ideologies of gender and technology. Hopes for a feminist successor science have been problematic, in that science itself has been held by many to embody patriarchial ideas of power and monolithic knowledge. Even though a common experience of woman has not been defined, a common sense of marginalisation and of not being happy about the ascribed categories of identity lies behind any attempt to reconstruct feminism and science. Haraway’s cyborg is a good tool to think with, in that it stresses radical irony and faithlessness in established scientific projects that can be seen to threaten the survival of humans (as well as animals). It is grounded on a hope for a better science, not one that produces more knowledge, more data, but one which uncovers power structures awaiting a genderless society. As such, it is problematic and Utopian. Genderless cyborgs are not real cyborgs, but ideals. Braidottis additions of sexuality and the unconscious can in addition to writing similar revealing stories as the cyborg ones, account for lived experiences of subjectivity, of sexuality, of bodies and of the double desire and fear of change. Both represent blueprints for more stories – situated, `thick’, speculative, ethnographic or autobiographic accounts – that ironically and non-essentially can rework representations of women.
The figurations of cyborgs and nomadic subjects are often vague and cannot be discovered without a context of cultural discourse of technology and womanhood. Some, such as Haraway and Braidotti excel on mapping them out, but finding concrete embodiments of a sort of ideal cyborg is rather hard. The issue is not about making perfect heroes, but illuminating aspects of subjective experience of being a woman (or something differently gendered or othered) in a technological society. Social relations of science and technology form knowledge about the world and they also provide metaphors and reference points for drawing out a postmodern map of categories, sex and difference. Laurie Anderson is mentioned both by Kember as “a nomad who is perhaps as close to being a cyborg as anyone” and by Braidotti as “a great example of effective parodic nomadic style, in the “as-if” mode”. Her incorporation of high technology into subjective stories about attempts to gain control and backfiring, being a humorous prankster reversing situations and people as well as telling stories of loss, her deceptively simple performances and texts embodies one way of telling cyborg stories.
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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Introduction to Feminism, Topics: What Is Feminism?Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. However, there are many different kinds of feminism. Feminists disagree about what sexism consists in, and what exactly ought to be done about it; they disagree about what it means to be a woman or a man and what social and political implications gender has or should have. Nonetheless, motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, and political phenomena. Important topics for feminist theory and politics include: the body, class and work, disability, the family, globalization, human rights, popular culture, race and racism, reproduction, science, the self, sex work, and sexuality. Extended discussion of these topics is included in the sub-entries.
I. IntroductionFeminism brings many things to philosophy including not only a variety of particular moral and political claims, but ways of asking and answering questions, critiques of mainstream philosophical views and methods, and new topics of inquiry. Feminist contributions to and interventions in mainstream philosophical debates are covered in entries under "Feminism, interventions". Entries covered under the rubric "Feminism, topics" concern philosophical issues that arise as feminists articulate accounts of sexism, critique sexist social and cultural practices, and develop alternative visions of a just world. In short, they are philosophical topics that arise within feminism.
Although there are many different and sometimes conflicting approaches to feminist philosophy, (see "Feminism, approaches to"), it is instructive to begin by asking what, if anything, feminists as a group are committed to. Considering some of the controversies over what feminism is provides a springboard for seeing how feminist commitments generate a host of philosophical topics, especially as those commitments confront the world as we know it.
II. What is Feminism?
A. Historical ContextThe term 'feminism' has many different uses and its meanings are often contested. For example, some writers use the term 'feminism' to refer to a historically specific political movement in the US and Europe ; other writers use it to refer to the belief that there are injustices against women, though there is no consensus on the exact list of these injustices. My goal here will be to sketch some of the central uses of the term that are most relevant to those interested in contemporary feminist philosophy. For an overview of the history of feminist thought see: "Feminism, history of". The references I provide below are only a small sample of the work available on the topics in question; more complete bibliographies are available at the specific topical entries and also at the end of this entry.
In the mid-1800's the term 'feminism' was used to refer to "the qualities of females" , and it was not until after the First International Women's Conference in Paris in 1892 that the term, following the French term féministe, was used regularly in English for a belief in and advocacy of equal rights for women based on the idea of the equality of the sexes. Some feminists trace the origins of the term "feminism" in English as rooted in the movement in Europe and the US beginning with the mobilization for suffrage during the late 19th and early 20th century and refer to this movement as "First Wave" feminism. Those who employ this history often depict feminist as waning between the two world wars, to be "revived" in the late 1960's and early 1970's as what they label "Second Wave" feminism. More recently, transformations of feminism in the past decade have been referred to as "Third Wave" feminism.
However, other feminist scholars object to identifying feminism with these particular moments of political activism, on the grounds that doing so eclipses the fact that there has been resistance to male domination that should be considered "feminist" throughout history and across cultures: i.e., feminism is not confined to a few (White) women in the West over the past century or so. Moreover, even considering only relatively recent efforts to resist male domination in Europe and the US, the emphasis on "First" and "Second" Wave feminism ignores the ongoing resistance to male domination between the 1920's and 1960's and the resistance outside mainstream politics, particularly by women of color and working class women.
One might seek to solve these problems by emphasizing the political ideas that the term was apparently coined to capture, viz., the commitment to women's equal rights. This acknowledges that commitment to and advocacy for women's rights has not been confined to the Women's Liberation Movement in the West. But this too raises controversy, for it frames feminism within a broadly Liberal approach to political and economic life. Although most feminists would probably agree that there is some sense of "rights" on which achieving equal rights for women is a necessary condition for feminism to succeed, most would also argue that this would not be sufficient. This is because women's oppression under male domination rarely if ever consists solely in depriving women of political and legal "rights", but also extends into the structure of our society and the content of our culture, and permeates our consciousness (e.g.,Bartky 1990).
Given the controversies over the term "feminism" and the politics of circumscribing the boundaries of a social movement, it is sometimes tempting to think that there is little point in demanding a definition of the term beyond a set of disjuncts that capture different instances. However, at the same time it can be both intellectually and politically valuable to have a schematic framework that enables us to map at least some of our points of agreement and disagreement. I'll begin here by considering some of the basic elements of feminism as a political position. For an overview of different philosophical approaches to feminism, see "Feminism, approaches to".
B. Normative and Descriptive ComponentsIn many of its forms, feminism seems to involve at least two claims, one normative and the other descriptive. The normative claim concerns how women ought (or ought not) to be viewed and treated and draws on a background conception of justice or broad moral position; the descriptive claim concerns how women are, as a matter of fact, viewed and treated, alleging that they are not being treated in accordance with the standards of justice or morality invoked in the normative claim. Together the two claims provide reasons for working to change the way things are; hence, feminism is not just an intellectual but also a political movement.
So, for example, a Liberal approach of the kind already mentioned might define feminism (rather simplistically here) in terms of two claims:
i) (Normative) Men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect.On this account, that women and men ought to have equal rights and respect is the normative claim; and that women are denied equal rights and respect functions here as the descriptive claim. (Admittedly, the claim that women are disadvantaged with respect to rights and respect is not a "purely descriptive" claim since it plausibly involves an evaluative component. However, my point here is simply that claims of this sort concern what is the case not what ought to be the case.)
ii) (Descriptive) Women are currently disadvantaged with respect to rights and respect, compared with men.
Disagreements within feminism can occur with respect to either the descriptive or normative claim, e.g., feminists differ on what would count as justice or injustice for women (what counts as "equality," "oppression," "disadvantage"?) , and what sorts of injustice women in fact suffer (what aspects of women's current situation are harmful or unjust?). Disagreements between feminists and non-feminists can also occur with respect to both the normative and descriptive claims, e.g., some non-feminists agree with feminists on the ways women ought to be viewed and treated, but don't see any problem with the way things currently are. Others disagree about the background moral or political views.
In an effort to suggest a schematic account of feminism, Susan James characterizes feminism as follows:
Feminism is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified. Under the umbrella of this general characterization there are, however, many interpretations of women and their oppression, so that it is a mistake to think of feminism as a single philosophical doctrine, or as implying an agreed political program. (James 2000, 576)James seems here to be using the notions of "oppression" and "disadvantage" as placeholders for more substantive accounts of injustice (both normative and descriptive) over which feminists disagree.
Some might prefer to define feminism in terms of a normative claim alone: feminists are those who believe that women are entitled to equal rights, or equal respect, or…(fill in the blank with one's preferred account of injustice), and one is not required to believe that women are currently being treated unjustly. However, if we were to adopt this terminological convention, it would be harder to identify some of the interesting sources of disagreement both with and within feminism, and the term 'feminism' would lose much of its potential to unite those whose concerns and commitments extend beyond their moral beliefs to their social interpretations and political affiliations. Feminists are not simply those who are committed in principle to justice for women; feminists take themselves to have reasons to bring about social change on women's behalf.
Taking "feminism" to entail both normative and empirical commitments also helps make sense of some uses of the term 'feminism' in recent popular discourse. In everyday conversation it is not uncommon to find both men and women prefixing a comment they might make about women with the caveat, "I'm not a feminist, but…". Of course this qualification might be (and is) used for various purposes, but one persistent usage seems to follow the qualification with some claim that is hard to distinguish from claims that feminists are wont to make. E.g., I'm not a feminist but I believe that women should earn equal pay for equal work; or I'm not a feminist but I'm delighted that first-rate women basketball players are finally getting some recognition in the WNBA. If we see the identification "feminist" as implicitly committing one to both a normative stance about how things should be and an interpretation of current conditions, it is easy to imagine someone being in the position of wanting to cancel his or her endorsement of either the normative or the descriptive claim. So, e.g., one might be willing to acknowledge that there are cases where women have been disadvantaged without wanting to buy any broad moral theory that takes a stance on such things (especially where it is unclear what that broad theory is). Or one might be willing to acknowledge in a very general way that equality for women is a good thing, without being committed to interpreting particular everyday situations as unjust (especially if is unclear how far these interpretations would have to extend). Feminists, however, at least according to popular discourse, are ready to both adopt a broad account of what justice for women would require and interpret everyday situations as unjust by the standards of that account. Those who explicitly cancel their commitment to feminism may then be happy to endorse some part of the view but are unwilling to endorse what they find to be a problematic package.
As mentioned above, there is considerable debate within feminism concerning the normative question: what would count as (full) justice for women? What is the nature of the wrong that feminism seeks to address? E.g., is the wrong that women have been deprived equal rights? Is it that women have been denied equal respect for their differences? Is it that women's experiences have been ignored and devalued? Is it all of the above and more? What framework should we employ to identify and address the issues? (See, e.g., Jaggar 1983; Young 1990a; Tuana and Tong 1995.) Feminist philosophers in particular have asked: Do the standard philosophical accounts of justice and morality provide us adequate resources to theorize male domination, or do we need distinctively feminist accounts? (E.g., Okin 1979; Hoagland 1989; Okin 1989; Ruddick 1989; Benhabib 1992; Hampton 1993; Held 1993; Tong 1993; Baier 1994; Moody-Adams 1997; Walker 1998; Kittay 1999; Robinson 1999).
Note, however, that by phrasing the task as one of identifying the wrongs women suffer (and have suffered), there is an implicit suggestion that women as a group can be usefully compared against men as a group with respect to their standing or position in society; and this seems to suggest that women as a group are treated in the same way, or that they all suffer the same injustices, and men as a group all reap the same advantages. But of course this is not the case, or at least not straightforwardly so. As bell hooks so vividly pointed out, in 1963 when Betty Friedan urged women to reconsider the role of housewife and demanded greater opportunities for women to enter the workforce (Friedan 1963), Friedan was not speaking for working class women or most women of color (hooks 1984, 1-4). Neither was she speaking for lesbians. Women as a group experience many different forms of injustice, and the sexism they encounter interacts in complex ways with other systems of oppression. In contemporary terms, this is known as the problem of intersectionality (Crenshaw 1991). This awareness has led some theorists to adopt a different term. Earlier, during the 1860's-80's, the term 'womanism' had sometimes been used for such intellectual and political commitments; more recently, Alice Walker has proposed that a newly defined "womanism" provides a contemporary alternative to "feminism" that better addresses the needs of Black women and women of color more generally (Walker 1990).
C. Feminism and the Diversity of WomenTo consider some of the different strategies for responding to the phenomenon of intersectionality, let's return to the schematic claims that women are oppressed and this oppression is wrong or unjust. Very broadly, then, one might characterize the goal of feminism to be ending the oppression of women. But if we also acknowledge that women are oppressed not just by sexism, but in many ways, e.g., by classism , homophobia, racism, ageism, ableism, etc., then it might seem that the goal of feminism is to end all oppression that affects women. And some feminists have adopted this interpretation, e.g., (Ware 1970), quoted in (Crow 2000, 1).
Note, however, that not all agree with such an expansive definition of Feminism. One might agree that feminists ought to work to end all forms of oppression--oppression is unjust and feminists, like everyone else, have a moral obligation to fight injustice--without maintaining that it is the mission of feminism to end all oppression. One might even believe that in order to accomplish feminism's goals it is necessary to combat racism and economic exploitation, but also think that there is a narrower set of specifically feminist objectives. In other words, opposing oppression in its many forms may be instrumental to, even a necessary means to, feminism, but not intrinsic to it. E.g., bell hooks argues:
Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (hooks 1989, 22)On hooks' account, the defining characteristic that distinguishes feminism from other liberation struggles is its concern with sexism:
Unlike many feminist comrades, I believe women and men must share a common understanding--a basic knowledge of what feminism is--if it is ever to be a powerful mass-based political movement. In Feminist Theory: from margin to center, I suggest that defining feminism broadly as "a movement to end sexism and sexist oppression" would enable us to have a common political goal…Sharing a common goal does not imply that women and men will not have radically divergent perspectives on how that goal might be reached. (hooks 1989, 23)Hooks' approach depends on the claim that sexism is a particular form of oppression that can be distinguished from other forms, e.g., racism and homophobia, even though it is currently (and virtually always) interlocked with other forms of oppression. Feminism's objective is to end sexism, though because of its relation to other forms of oppression, this will require efforts to end other forms of oppression as well. For example, feminists who themselves remain racists will not be able to fully appreciate the broad impact of sexism on the lives of women of color.Furthermore because sexist institutions are also, e.g., racist, classist and homophobic, dismantling sexist institutions will require that we dismantle the other forms of domination intertwined with them. Following hooks' lead, we might characterize feminism schematically (allowing the schema to be filled in differently by different accounts) as the view that women are subject to sexist oppression and that this is wrong . This move shifts the burden of our inquiry from a characterization of what feminism is to a characterization of what sexism, or sexist oppression is.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of interpretations--feminist and otherwise--of what exactly oppression consists in, but the leading idea is that oppression consists in "an enclosing structure of forces and barriers which tends to the immobilization and reduction of a group or category of people (Frye 1983, 10-11). Not just any "enclosing structure" is oppressive, however, for plausibly any process of socialization will create a structure that both limits and enables all individuals who live within it. In the case of oppression, however, the "enclosing structures" in question are part of a broader system that asymmetrically and unjustly disadvantages one group and benefits another. So, e.g., although sexism restricts the opportunities available to—and so unquestionably harms--both men and women (and considering some pairwise comparisons may even have a greater negative impact on a man than a woman), overall, women as a group unjustly suffer the greater harm. It is a crucial feature of contemporary accounts, however, that one cannot assume that members of the privileged group have intentionally designed or maintained the system for their benefit. The oppressive structure may be the result of an historical process whose originators are long gone, or it may be the unintended result of complex cooperative strategies gone wrong.
Leaving aside (at least for the moment) further details in the account of oppression, the question remains: What makes a particular form of oppression sexist? If we just say that a form of oppression counts as sexist oppression if it harms women, or even primarily harms women, this is not enough to distinguish it from other forms of oppression. Virtually all forms of oppression harm women, and arguably some besides sexism harm women primarily (though not exclusively), e.g., body size oppression, age oppression. Besides, as we've noted before, sexism is not only harmful to women, but is harmful to all of us.
What makes a particular form of oppression sexist seems to be not just that it harms women, but that someone is subject to this form of oppression specifically because she is (or at least appears to be) a woman. Racial oppression harms women, but racial oppression (by itself) doesn't harm them because they are women, it harms them because they are (or appear to be) members of a particular race. The suggestion that sexist oppression consists in oppression to which one is subject by virtue of being or appearing to be a woman provides us at least the beginnings of an analytical tool for distinguishing subordinating structures that happen to affect some or even all women from those that are more specifically sexist. But problems and unclarities remain.
First, we need to explicate further what it means to be oppressed "because you are a woman". E.g., is the idea that there is a particular form of oppression that is specific to women? Is to be oppressed "as a woman" to be oppressed in a particular way? Or can we be pluralists about what sexist oppression consists in without fragmenting the notion beyond usefulness?
Two strategies for explicating sexist oppression have proven to be problematic. The first is to maintain that there is a form of oppression common to all women. For example, one might interpret Catharine MacKinnon's work as claiming that to be oppressed as a woman is to be viewed and treated as sexually subordinate, where this claim is grounded in the (alleged) universal fact of the eroticization of male dominance and female submission (MacKinnon 1987; MacKinnon 1989). Although MacKinnon allows that sexual subordination can happen in a myriad of ways, her account is monistic in its attempt to unite the different forms of sexist oppression around a single core account that makes sexual objectification the focus. Although MacKinnon's work provides a powerful resource for analyzing women's subordination, many have argued that it is too narrow, e.g., in some contexts (especially in developing countries) sexist oppression seems to concern more the local division of labor and economic exploitation. Although certainly sexual subordination is a factor in sexist oppression, it requires us to fabricate implausible explanations of social life to suppose that all divisions of labor that exploit women (as women) stem from the "eroticization of dominance and submission". Moreover, it isn't obvious that in order to make sense of sexist oppression we need to seek a single form of oppression common to all women.
A second problematic strategy has been to consider as paradigms those who are oppressed only as women, with the thought that complex cases bringing in additional forms of oppression will obscure what is distinctive of sexist oppression. This strategy would have us focus in the U.S. on White, wealthy, young, beautiful, able-bodied, heterosexual women to determine what oppression, if any, they suffer, with the hope of finding sexism in its "purest" form, unmixed with racism or homophobia, etc. (See Spelman 1988, 52-54). This approach is not only flawed in its exclusion of all but the most elite women in its paradigm, but it assumes that privilege in other areas does not affect the phenomenon under consideration. As Elizabeth Spelman makes the point:
…no woman is subject to any form of oppression simply because she is a woman; which forms of oppression she is subject to depend on what "kind" of woman she is. In a world in which a woman might be subject to racism, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, if she is not so subject it is because of her race, class, religion, sexual orientation. So it can never be the case that the treatment of a woman has only to do with her gender and nothing to do with her class or race. (Spelman 1988, 52-3)Recent accounts of oppression are designed to allow that oppression takes many forms, and refuse to identify one form as more basic or fundamental than the rest. For example, Iris Young describes five "faces" of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and systematic violence (Young 1990c, Ch. 2). Plausibly others should be added to the list. Sexist or racist oppression, for example, will manifest itself in different ways in different contexts, e.g., in some contexts through systematic violence, in other contexts through economic exploitation. Acknowledging this does not go quite far enough, however, for monistic theorists such as MacKinnon could grant this much. Pluralist accounts of sexist oppression must also allow that there isn't an over-arching explanation of sexist oppression that applies to all its forms: in some cases it may be that women's oppression as women is due to the eroticization of male dominance, but in other cases it may be better explained by women's reproductive value in establishing kinship structures (Rubin 1975), or by the shifting demands of globalization within an ethnically stratified workplace. In other words, pluralists resist the temptation to "grand social theory," "overarching metanarratives," "monocausal explanations," to allow that the explanation of sexism in a particular historical context will rely on economic, political, legal, and cultural factors that are specific to that context which would prevent the account from being generalized to all instances of sexism (Fraser and Nicholson 1990). It is still compatible with pluralist methods to seek out patterns in women's social positions and structural explanations within and across social contexts, but in doing so we must be highly sensitive to historical and cultural variation.
D. Feminism as Anti-SexismHowever, if we pursue a pluralist strategy in understanding sexist oppression, what unifies all the instances as instances of sexism? After all, we cannot assume that the oppression in question takes the same form in different contexts, and we cannot assume that there is an underlying explanation of the different ways it manifests itself. So can we even speak of there being a unified set of cases--something we can call "sexist oppression"--at all?
Some feminists would urge us to recognize that there isn't a systematic way to unify the different instances of sexism, and correspondingly, there is no systematic unity in what counts as feminism: instead we should see the basis for feminist unity in coalition building (Reagon 1983). Different groups work to combat different forms of oppression; some groups take oppression against women (as women) as a primary concern. If there is a basis for cooperation between some subset of these groups in a given context, then finding that basis is an accomplishment, but should not be taken for granted.
An alternative, however, would be to grant that in practice unity among feminists cannot be taken for granted, but to begin with a theoretical common-ground among feminist views that does not assume that sexism appears in the same form or for the same reasons in all contexts. We saw above that one promising strategy for distinguishing sexism from racism, classism, and other forms of injustice is to focus on the idea that if an individual is suffering sexist oppression, then an important part of the explanation why she is subject to the injustice is that she is or appears to be a woman. This includes cases in which women as a group are explicitly targeted by a policy or a practice, but also includes cases where the policy or practice affects women due to a history of sexism, even if they are not explicitly targeted. For example, if women are deprived an education and so are, on the whole, illiterate. And if under these circumstances only those who are literate are entitled to vote. Then we can say that women as a group are being disenfranchised and that this is a form of sexist oppression because part of the explanation of why women cannot vote is that they are women, and women are deprived an education. The commonality among the cases is to be found in the role of gender in the explanation of the injustice rather than the specific form the injustice takes. Building on this we could unify a broad range of feminist views by seeing them as committed to the (very abstract) claims that:
i) (Descriptive claim) Women, and those who appear to be women, are subjected to wrongs and/or injustice at least in part because they are or appear to be women.I have so far been using the term ‘oppression’ loosely to cover whatever form of wrong or injustice is at issue. Continuing with this intentional openness in the exact nature of the wrong, the question still remains what it means to say that women are subjected to injustice because they are women. To address this question, it may help to consider a familiar ambiguity in the notion "because": are we concerned here with causal explanations or justifications? On one hand, the claim that someone is oppressed because she is a woman suggests that the best (causal) explanation of the subordination in question will make reference to her sex: e.g., Paula is subject to sexist oppression on the job because the best explanation of why she makes $1.00 less an hour for doing comparable work as Paul makes reference to her sex (possibly in addition to her race or other social classifications). On the other hand, the claim that someone is oppressed because she is a woman suggests that the rationale or basis for the oppressive structures requires that one be sensitive to someone's sex in determining how they should be viewed and treated, i.e., that the justification for someone's being subject to the structures in question depends on a representation of them as sexed male or female. E.g., Paula is subject to sexist oppression on the job because the pay scale for her job classification is justified within a framework that distinguishes and devalues women's work compared with men's.
ii) (Normative claim) The wrongs/injustices in question in (i) ought not to occur and should be stopped when and where they do.
Note, however, that in both sorts of cases the fact that one is or appears to be a woman need not be the only factor relevant in explaining the injustice. It might be, for example, that one stands out in a group because of one’s race, or one’s class, or one’s sexuality, and because one stands out one becomes a target for injustice. But if the injustice takes a form that, e.g., is regarded as especially apt for a woman, then the injustice should be understood intersectionally, i.e., as a response to an intersectional category. For example, the practice of raping Bosnian women was an intersectional injustice: it targeted them both because they were Bosnian and because they were women.
Of course, these two understandings of being oppressed because you are a woman are not incompatible; in fact they typically support one another. Because human actions are often best explained by the framework employed for justifying them, one's sex may play a large role in determining how one is treated because the background understandings for what's appropriate treatment draw invidious distinctions between the sexes. In other words, the causal mechanism for sexism often passes through problematic representations of women and gender roles.
In each of the cases of being oppressed as a woman mentioned above, Paula suffers injustice, but a crucial factor in explaining the injustice is that Paula is a member of a particular group, viz., women (or females). This, I think, is crucial in understanding why sexism (and racism, and other --isms) are most often understood as kinds of oppression. Oppression is injustice that, first and foremost, concerns groups; individuals are oppressed just in case they are subjected to injustice because of their group membership. On this view, to claim that women as women suffer injustice is to claim that women are oppressed.
Where does this leave us? 'Feminism' is an umbrella term for range of views about injustices against women. There are disagreements among feminists about the nature of justice in general and the nature of sexism, in particular, the specific kinds of injustice or wrong women suffer; and the group who should be the primary focus of feminist efforts. Nonetheless, feminists are committed to bringing about social change to end injustice against women, in particular, injustice against women as women.
III. Topics in Feminism: Overview of the Sub-Entries[under construction]
- Alexander, M. Jacqui and Lisa Albrecht, eds. 1998. The Third Wave: Feminist Perspectives on Racism. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
- Anderson, Elizabeth. 1999a. “What is the Point of Equality?” Ethics 109(2): 287-337.
- ______. 1999b. "Reply” Brown Electronic Article Review Service, Jamie Dreier and David Estlund, editors, World Wide Web, (http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Philosophy/bears/homepage.html), Posted 12/22/99.
- Anzaldúa, Gloria, ed. 1990. Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
- Baier, Annette C. 1994. Moral Prejudices: Essays on Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Barrett, Michèle. 1991. The Politics of Truth: From Marx to Foucault. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Bartky, Sandra. 1990. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In her Femininity and Domination. New York: Routledge, 63-82.
- Basu, Amrita. 1995. The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women's Movements in Global Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards. 2000. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
- Beauvoir, Simone de. 1974 (1952). The Second Sex. Trans. and Ed. H. M. Parshley. New York: Vintage Books.
- Benhabib, Seyla. 1992. Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge.
- Calhoun, Cheshire. 2000. Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- ______. 1989. “Responsibility and Reproach.” Ethics 99(2): 389-406.
- Collins, Patricia Hill. 1990. Black Feminist Thought. Boston, MA: Unwin Hyman.
- Cott, Nancy. 1987. The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.“ Stanford Law Review, 43(6): 1241-1299.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas. 1995. “Introduction.” In Critical Race Theory, ed., Kimberle Crenshaw, et al. New York: The New Press, xiii-xxxii.Davis, Angela. 1983. Women, Race and Class. New York: Random House.
- Crow, Barbara. 2000. Radical Feminism: A Documentary Reader. New York: New York University Press.
- Delmar, Rosalind. 2001. "What is Feminism?” In Theorizing Feminism, ed., Anne C. Hermann and Abigail J. Stewart. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 5-28.
- Duplessis, Rachel Blau, and Ann Snitow, eds. 1998. The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women's Liberation. New York: Random House (Crown Publishing).
- Dutt, M. 1998. "Reclaiming a Human Rights Culture: Feminism of Difference and Alliance." In Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed., Ella Shohat. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 225-246.
- Echols, Alice. 1990. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Engels, Friedrich. 1972 (1845). The Origin of The Family, Private Property, and the State. New York: International Publishers.
- Findlen, Barbara. 2001. Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, 2nd edition. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.
- Fine, Michelle and Adrienne Asch, eds. 1988. Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Fraser, Nancy and Linda Nicholson. 1990. "Social Criticism Without Philosophy: An Encounter Between Feminism and Postmodernism." In Feminism/Postmodernism, ed., Linda Nicholson. New York: Routledge.
- Friedan, Betty. 1963. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton.
- Frye, Marilyn. 1983. The Politics of Reality. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.
- Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Grewal, I. 1998. "On the New Global Feminism and the Family of Nations: Dilemmas of Transnational Feminist Practice." In Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed., Ella Shohat. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 501-530.
- Hampton, Jean. 1993. “Feminist Contractarianism,” in Louise M. Antony and Charlotte Witt, eds. A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Haslanger, Sally. Forthcoming. “Oppressions: Racial and Other.” In Racism, Philosophy and Mind: Philosophical Explanations of Racism and Its Implications, ed., Michael Levine and Tamas Pataki. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- Held, Virginia. 1993. Feminist Morality: Transforming Culture, Society, and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Herrman, Anne C. and Abigail J. Stewart, eds. 1994. Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Heywood, Leslie and Jennifer Drake, eds. 1997. Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism.
- Hillyer, Barbara. 1993. Feminism and Disability. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
- Hoagland, Sarah L. 1989. Lesbian Ethics: Toward New Values. Palo Alto, CA: Institute for Lesbian Studies.
- Hooks, bell. 1989. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston: South End Press.
- ______. 1984. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston: South End Press.
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Other Internet ResourcesResources listed below have been chosen to provide only a springboard into the huge amount of feminist material available on the web. The emphasis here is on general resources useful for doing research in feminist philosophy or interdisciplinary feminist theory, e.g., the links connect to biliographies and meta-sites, and resources concerning inclusion, exclusion, and feminist diversity. The list is incomplete and will be regularly revised and expanded. Further resources on topics in feminism such as popular culture, reproductive rights, sex work, are available within each sub-entry on that topic.
- Feminism and Class
Copyright © 2002 by
Sally Haslanger and Nancy Tuana