Feminist Theories: Dualism, Objectivity, Intersectionality

The definitions of “Feminism” and “Feminist” from “The Feminist Dictionary” (Paula Treichler and Cheris Kramarae) and “Lexicon Of The Debates” (Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Barttowski) provided a nicely succinct overview of the histories and components of the major feminist theories.

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One thing that has always attracted me to feminism, which comes up in both articles, is the intentional challenging of our society’s dualist thinking. I particularly connected with the Rush and Mander passage from “The Feminist Dictionary” which spoke of feminism as uniting previously so-called incompatible elements into “harmonious parts of a whole” (Treichler & Kramarae). It also spoke of feminism being a path, a world perspective which is constantly growing and changing.

I have never believed in ideas like objectivity, or dualism; perhaps it was because I wasn’t raised with strict religious beliefs, but I’ve never had much of a problem with not knowing the “ultimate” truths or with new ideas coming in and challenging my paradigm. As I’ve learned more about political ideas—particularly feminism—this has proved to be an asset: I do not fear new ideas and hence, growth. Feminism strikes me as a “friendly” ideology in that way; it encourages such new ideas and growth. In fact, “feminist” is one of the only labels I feel comfortable giving myself, because I (if not many others) understand it is a concept that encompasses many levels of awareness and opinion.

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An idea that came up a number of times in “Lexicons” is intersectionality. A critique of second-wave’s focus on straight, white, middle-class women, it encourages women of all social locations to announce themselves as individuals with differences among other women. It recognizes that we are shaped not just by our sex/gender, but by sexuality, race, social class, and a myriad of other identities and positions. Intersectionality also challenges dualism by insisting that it’s not just about men and women, but about a oppressive system that survives on othering people for a variety of reasons.

I believe that ignoring our differences or comparing oppressions will not get us anywhere. It’s just what those in power want—if the little people squabble amongst themselves, then they’ll certainly never be united enough to actually overthrow anything. That’s why ideas like bell hooks’ and Audre Lorde’s are so important—we can recognize our differences and examine them in order to better understand the social circumstances of oppression.

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