Notes: feminism.

January 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm | In notes | Comments Off on Notes: feminism.

Occasionally, I note that some articles about feminism have people talking – but I’ve stopped reading them. On occasion it struck me that an article will approach the topic from a generational p.o.v. to ask how a new and younger generation has changed the thinking around feminism. (“New and younger” just makes me feel “old and older,” which might account for my not being as interested in the articles as I might be.)

But today I wondered how feminism is affected by the erosion of rationality under cultural relativism. Few people seem to want to defend reason anymore – it’s so Eurocentric, so white male, so incorrect. Instead, we’re supposed to be non-judgemental and “mindful” of “cultural differences” – even those, which by any measure, are barbaric. But then we’re not supposed to use that word anymore either, since it denotes our cultural elitism and western privilege.

Doesn’t the idea of feminism itself depend on Eurocentric rationality, on Enlightenment? When I read the following in Wikipedia, I still can’t shake the idea that a specific rationality is feminism’s founding insight, and it doesn’t placate me to think its goals should be relative:

During much of its history, most feminist movements and theories had leaders who were predominantly middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America.[14][15][16] However, at least since Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech to American feminists, women of other races have proposed alternative feminisms.[15] This trend accelerated in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the collapse of European colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia. Since that time, women in former European colonies and the Third World have proposed “Post-colonial” and “Third World” feminisms.[16] Some Postcolonial feminists, such as Chandra Talpade Mohanty, are critical of Western feminism for being ethnocentric.[17] Black feminists, such as Angela Davis and Alice Walker, share this view.[14]

Since the 1980s, standpoint feminists have argued that feminism should examine how women’s experience of inequality relates to that of racism, homophobia, classism and colonization.[15][18] In the late 1980s and 1990s postmodern feminists argued that gender roles are socially constructed,[19][20][21] and that it is impossible to generalize women’s experiences across cultures and histories.[22]  (source)

“…and that it is impossible to generalize women’s experiences across cultures and histories”: this sounds like a point of view that isn’t.

“…how women’s experience of inequality relates”: Feminism is relativized? Feminism as a project of knowledge management? (Ick.) Feminist theorists and scholars as knowledge managers? (Off topic: Not immediately related to the idea that feminism is managed, whether by an academic mandarin class or through education and programs, but I’m reminded that George Orwell wrote this great essay that analyzed and critiqued James Burnham, including his book, The Managerial Revolution. Memo to self: reread Orwell. When Burnham wrote his book, he was on a rebound from his first love, Communism. That his work inspired later hawks is another matter – as someone who studied post-war Germany, I don’t think his efforts in founding the OSS were that off-base since the counter-propaganda was massive and appealed to a many “ex”-Nazis who were only too willing to switch from one totalitarianism to another.)

The first principle is equality between men and women, in law and in practice. If we “relativize” that (or abandon it outright) and talk about “women’s experiences across cultures and histories” instead, do we still have a first principle, or just a never-ending series of stories, relative to one another – stories that may or may not cohere, that may or may not have a shape?

Can relativism provide what my neo-marxist intellectual heroes used to call – using the Greek word and exposing their culturally elite tendency – a telos?

Yeah, telos:

A telos (from the Greek word for “end”, “purpose”, or “goal”) is an end or purpose, in a fairly constrained sense used by philosophers such as Aristotle. It is the root of the term “teleology,” roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology figures centrally in Aristotle’s biology and in his theory of causes. It is central to nearly all philosophical theories of history, such as those of Hegel and Marx.” (source)

It’s not cool to talk about ends or purposes anymore, because to do so implies valuing one end over another. Ends cannot be relative to one another and still meaningfully be a telos or goal.

File under: Just wondering.

Also file under: Too long. (This was supposed to be a “note,” not an argument.)

Also file under: Gotcha, haha. (Why? My thinking relies on men – dead European white males, at that…)

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