Friday, 28 March 2008

Feminist Theory for a Feminist Revolution.

Today, I was going to post about the need for a feminist theory for a feminist revolution and then I made this comment at Twisty’s in a discussion about ‘sexy-feminism’:

The point is that it doesn't make any difference whether you pose nude or don't pose nude, because you damned if you do and damned if you don't. Under the patriarchy, they can be no truly feminist act; there can be no feminist sex. Because patriarchy is not (just) a behaviour that is performed and thus can be not performed; it is a way of looking and interpreting the world. That is why the removal of patriarchy needs a revolution; it needs us to entirely transform how we understand gender. As Firestone argues, it is not just about removing gender privilege; it's about removing gender distinction.

One of the key problems in my mind is the inability of the current feminist movement to envision a post-patriarchal world- to envision life free of gender distinction. This something that the RadFems of the Second Wave at least made an effort to do, and, yes, they were shot down for their inability to incorporate different world views (notably race and class difference) into their new hegemony- but they tried to do this. Part of the pro/anti sex debate is actually a discussion about the role of sex in post-patriarchy- but a debate that has failed to transcend the boundaries placed upon it by the patriarchy. We need to think bigger, broader and, yes, more radical. Because otherwise we aren't moving forward.

Feminists in academia are often accused of ‘not doing anything’; of being all talk and no action. And this is not always an unfair criticism. But if we want to get rid of patriarchy, we need to have a strategy for moving forward- and this is something that academic feminists engage with. Yet, we are still much better at unpicking and analysing the nature of the patriarchal system, of highlighting how it operates, and what parts need to go, than we are at envisioning a new post-patriarchal future. Part of the problem of course is that there is a feeling, especially amongst feminists in academia, that their vision will never be all in encompassing, and, creating a new hegemony, it will trample on the rights of others. Perhaps, we need, however, to envision a future that is not hegemonic, but is also free of gender distinction. This is not an easy or a straightforward task, but the time is right to start the revolution- we know we need it- and we know it needs to be done sensitively- and that is a start.

I know that this is a call that is easy to make, but less easy to achieve. So to that aim, I am going to give serious thought to what I, as a Feminist, want from the future and if I come up with anything revolutionary I'll let you know. Suggestions are welcome.


Dana said...

Well, on a simple level... my suggestion is to find ways of stemming conversation with men, women and children that point out patriarchy and why it's not good for our society...sort of like a guidebook.

I know when I first started being a feminist, I became surprised by all the things I suddenly started noticing were anti-woman. So it would help to give people starting off points, things like ... sexist terms in the media ... and then a guidebook on how to respond to such messages to point out the problem and explain why it is a problem.

As far as tackling this problem in a broad way, I don't really know... but I know that no one had a conversation with me about women's rights, so I think if you had to start somewhere, that's the place to begin.

Also, how about making women's studies a bigger part of history and English classes... especially in middle and high school? Looking back now, I was taught an awful lot from a white male perspective.

Feminist Avatar said...

That's a great idea. Because ultimately, getting people to change their understanding of the world involves getting them to realise that the status quo is problematic.

I know that in Scotland they are trying to 'put women into the curriculum', which usually means including women in history and the like. But this is fundamentally different from challenging how we look at women. I wonder who I write to to suggest it.

queen emily said...

Good point Dana. I also think there's a really dire need for putting a feminist perspective in the biological sciences.. When I did english at high school we talked about gender quite a lot, and there was a bit in history - if not enough - but yeah, nothing in science remotely resembling feminism.

Male science presumes male bodies as the 'neutral' model, and uses all kinds of phallocentric models that don't really exist anywhere in reality (eg the notion of the penetrative sperm isn't actually observable, afaik the egg is far more active than that. I forget who wrote that article. Bollocks).

Since the notion of the "natural" really constrains women, and reproduces gender and sexuality roles as essential and unchangeable, I think it's really necessary to disrupt that there as well as in humanities subjects. A humanities perspective on the patriarchal and heteronormative ideological investments of science would be pretty helpful too.

Just my two cents, anyway.

queen emily said...

On the topic of your post, I guess one question is what would "removing gender distinction" actually mean?

Would that mean, getting rid of the notion of gender altogether? There's no men, women, third gender people, there's just people?

Of course, the problem with the neutral as people like Irigaray have pointed out is that it frequently masquerades as an unmarked normative masculine. On the other hand, fundamentalists more than anyone rigidly insist on the impermeability of gender roles. So maybe there has to be some kind of movement between those two positions, that doesn't erase specificity but consititutes women as just regular people without us being constrained too much..

OR, would it mean that gender ceases to become meaningful? So, "woman" of itself would simply signify less, telling us nothing of desires, dreams, abilities and such?

You could take institutional steps towards that by removing gender from things like passports and forms because it tells us nothing, constructs and constrains people (and we have photo ID anyway). Social and cultural steps would be harder.

I also think that making the boundaries more permeable would be really helpful. Trans people problematise binary gender categories by pointing out they're changeable. Genderqueer or third gender people disrupt the binary in another. I guess, a million different genders would be A Very Good Start imo.

Feminist Avatar said...

How the removal of gender distinction works differs across theorists, but I like to think about it as 'woman' would signify less. So, it would like the difference between having blue and brown eyes. The physical difference is real, but it doesn't mean much, and it certainly doesn't define your fate. And as such, changing sex wouldn't be such a big deal (to the world- it would still be significant to the individual), because there wouldn't be so much riding on it, just the happiness of the individual.

I think removing gender from things like passports is a good idea. I know that some people wouldn't like it because they would argue that it could lead to gender discrimination, but with no way of monitoring it- but equally by focusing on gender we reinforce the binary.

Speaking of male-centric teaching, my husband, a computing teacher, came home from school having seen the biology lesson- where students were taught that when a man puts his penis in the vagina it brings pleasure for both parties FULL STOP. No discussion about consent or technique- it's just a biological fact. I was dumbstruck.

queen emily said...

Oy, that's horrible. Sex ed would be another good place for a feminist intervention. Trying to remove the phallocentric notion of "foreplay" leading up to penetrative sex would be good to make sex more female centred. And being more queer friendly, obviously.

>>>And as such, changing sex wouldn't be such a big deal (to the world- it would still be significant to the individual), because there wouldn't be so much riding on it, just the happiness of the individual.