feminism and standpoint
the most striking categories or patterns to emerge from my reading in feminist standpoint, lately, are the concepts of dualism and the Self. the reason i choose to focus, here, on two of these is because they are inexplicably interlocked and, as Sandra Harding states in her introduction to The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader, “claims of any sort only have meaning in some particular cultural context – that is, relative to some set of cultural practices through which the meaning of the claim is learned and subsequently understood. claims thus have meaning ‘relative’ to that context of practices” (Harding, 2004). what is the Self, if not a claim to being – a grand declaration? if, as Harding states, all claims are “necessarily socially located…and thus permeated by local values and interests” (Harding, 2004), then the Self, for females (and males), is always already located within a hetero-patriarchal framework that doesn’t allow for an “adequate representation of the world from the standpoint of women [or men]” (Allison Jaggar, 1983).
with specific regard to the dualism thread, it appears as though the underlying foundation for Self-identification is rooted, firmly and consistently, in a type of dualism (women/men, male/female, “the bodily mode”/”the abstracted conceptual mode” – Smith, as quoted in Jaggar, 1983) that allows only for relative and negative-identification (I am not that, therefore I am this – in this context). thus, my reading has suggested that our claims to being, as a people, are limited to a particular standpoint (or standpoints), recognized and understood via attendant and/or dominant terministic screens, in which we are always either/or. as Allison Jaggar contends, “a standpoint is a position in society from which certain features of reality come into prominence and from which others are obscured. Although a standpoint makes certain features of reality visible, however, it does not necessarily reveal them more clearly nor in their essential interconnections with each other” (Jaggar, 1983 – emphasis is my own), which solidifies the suggestion (to me) that any claims to being are limited to a particular standpoint/standpoints, recognized and understood via attendant and/or dominant terministic screens, in which we can always only be either/or – abstractions on a large scale. Susan Jarratt speaks to this foundation of dualism that i mention earlier when she states (in Speaking to the Past: Feminist Historiography in Rhetoric) that “We – i.e., those who wish to write feminist histories of rhetoric – can avoid that [the abstraction of identification], I believe, by moving in two directions: moving earthward in the gesture of locating oneself as a person writing in a particular context and moving outward from women’s experience to an analysis of how women are represented within a gendered system – never upward in a transcendence, attempting to supersede” (Jarratt, 2010). this leaves me in a liminal space, still. i know that i am typically uncomfortable with dualism, essentialism, and objectivity (in any sense), however i cannot yet say with any certainty that there is nothing essential, or pre-discursive about anything, much less sex and gender, and the experiences that come along with those categories. i’m at a crossroads – do i admit that there are essential and specific realities and experiences for males than there are for females, or for women than for men; or do i continue to eschew essentialisms in all forms (how poststructuralist of me), even in the face of the obvious and consistent inequitable and unequal treatment of female/women’s experiences and histories? it feels as though, to eschew essentialisms in such a way, is to limit possibilities, for feminist (and/or political) endeavors of any kind, for opening up new discursive spaces from which to understand and communicate about our realities and to make any real change. and, so, i edge ever closer to abandoning (at least some) of my misgivings about essentialism, and what it means to articulate the Self, and how to do so, in the “master’s house.” So, rather than a foundation of “simple dualism,” i find that my further explorations in feminist theory and masculinity studies push me to seriously interrogate Hartsock’s concept of dualism as “a duality of levels of reality, of which the deeper level or essence both includes and explains the ‘surface’ or appearance, and indicates the logic by means of which the appearance inverts and distorts the deeper reality” (Hartsock, 1983).
“I was suffering from academic schizophrenia and wondering how I would … reconcile…”
in applying theory to a specific situation in my own life, i am not sure it can accurately be named. i believe, as Jaggar discusses socialist feminism, that “a standpoint is a position in society from which certain features of reality come into prominence and from which others are obscured. Although a standpoint makes certain features of reality visible, however, it does not necessarily reveal them clearly nor in their essential interconnections with each other” (Jaggar, 60 – emphasis, my own). further, Chela Sandoval’s concept of differential consciousness – the “new subject position” that permits “functioning within yet beyond the demands of dominant ideology” in a paradigm that “makes clear the vital connections that exist between feminist theory in general and other theoretical modes concerned with issues of social hierarchy, race marginality, and resistance” (Sandoval, 1991) – complements and aligns with the above. i chose this amalgam of ‘positions’ to read my personal experience through because, 1) i am always uncomfortable with essentialisms or generalizations of any kind; 2) i am not yet able to concede that there is nothing pre-discursive, nothing essential; and 3) because this position (more differential consciousness, than anything) precisely because it “permits the practitioner to choose tactical positions, that is, to self-consciously break and reform ties to ideology, activities which are imperative for the psychological and political practices that permit the achievement of coalition across differences” (Sandoval, 1991).
my experience in Women’s Studies, during my undergraduate and graduate career, has been one of great learning and great disappointment. early on, my studies and research concerning feminist theory were eye-opening, perspective-shifting, life-changing experiences that allowed for me to view the world in an entirely different manner. it changed the trajectory of my scholarship and has had a lasting impression on my character and scholarly interests. much later, as i began to become more and more proficient and well-versed in feminist theory, i soon felt very out of place in the spaces where these conversations, debates, discussions – this learning – took place, as i began to question aspects of feminist theory in an attempt to understand how to place myself, epistemologically, and how that position stood with other theories, and in my own experience. i have never easily ‘fit’ into any subject-category that feminist theory has identified. i am a Man and a male, i don’t identify my self as subscribing to a particular sexual orientation, my familial heritage is a mixture of Caucasian and Central American, my ‘masculinity’ is atypical and amorphous, at best, and i am without religious affiliation. essentialism has always been tricky for me. i live in a strange margin – my own third and liminal space – in which the articulation of my Self becomes a contentious site of resistance and acquiescence to various socio-political structures, wherein the very body-space (that combination of physicality and positionality) that i move in is met with opposition to the a priori, en masse. my standpoint has been a blurry, ever-shifting, and conflicted site from which to view the world and myself – shaky terrain. inhabiting the contexts that i do (male, Man, bi/pansexual?, German-Mexican, atheist-ish), to quote Uma Narayan (1989), “exacts a certain price”. that price has been, in my experience, exclusion. i cannot say that i am one thing or another and remain comfortable in that dualistic landscape of black and white. i cannot say that i can shed light on Men’s or the Male experience, only that i can share my own experience as a Self (my own stories), which i am unfortunately forced to communicate and/or display in context and terms that find their origins in patriarchy (or it’s counterparts). but i also cannot say that i believe there is nothing essential. and, so, this space fraught with uncertainty has led me to question the theory that i grapple with, and any and all essentialisms, which has led to my feeling as an outsider – one who is perceived as being unable to understand that which he critiques, because he stands in a liminal space – whose critical questions (and very presence) seems not welcome in spaces where feminist narratives remain unilateral, despite our interventions (see Clare Hemmings, Why Stories Matter, 2012). what’s a guy to do? i’ll continue telling stories. because that’s what i can do to help to understand the position (space and place) that i occupy. we can all do that.
References & Such
Hartsock, Nancy. “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies. Ed. Sandra Harding. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. 35 – 53. Print.
Harding, Sandra. “Introduction.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies. Ed. Sandra Harding. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. 1 – 15. Print.
Jaggar, Allison. “Feminist Politics and Epistemology : The Standpoint of Women.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies. Ed. Sandra Harding. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. 55 – 66. Print.
Jarratt, Susan. “Speaking to the Past: Feminist Historiography in Rhetoric.” Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics: Landmark Essays & Controversies. Eds. Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan. Lafayette: Parlour, 2010. 19 – 35. Print.
Narayan, Uma. “The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a Nonwestern Feminist.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies. Ed. Sandra Harding. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. 213 – 224. Print.
Sandoval, Chela. “U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Differential Oppositional Consciousness.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies. Ed. Sandra Harding. New York, NY: Routledge, 2004. 195 – 209. Print.