Defining Feminist Theory Essay, Research Paper
Criticism. The word just looks scary, and it s something most people are a little afraid to receive. However, I am afraid to give criticism. As the only male Women s Studies major on this campus, and the only male student who wants to learn about Feminist Theory, I ve learned very quickly to know my role . This course has served as a wake-up call to me that I am an outsider in the feminist movement and that this movement is not my movement. So for me to criticize a movement that I m deeply involved in, but not completely a part of, that scares me. I ve asked myself, what right do I have to tell the women involved in the feminist movement why I think what they re doing is wrong? Why do I think I know a better way, when I can t ever fully grasp what we re talking about? I will trudge through this paper, with the philosophy of when in Rome
I signed up for Feminist Theory for several reasons. On the lower end of the scale was the actual content of the class. I had no idea what Feminist Theory was, or what the class would be about. I was sure I ve read some of this theory in my Intro class, yet I wasn t sure, since I had no working definition of the term. What is theory? I think I can answer that fairly confidently. What is theory for? Who is theory for? How do different feminist writers do theory differently? I ve learned that much like the feminist movement itself, the answer to that battery of questions is going to be different for every one you ask.
bell hooks says that theory is a liberatory practice. For me personally, I ve come to agree whole-heartedly with her stance. I ve come to use (informally) theory as a way to explain things about myself, and the entire gay/lesbian/bisexual community that I never understood, or liked. The process of theorizing what society sees as cultural abnormalities or weaknesses has helped me to turn things around. I no longer agree with society in what they view as abnormalities or weaknesses. Instead, I believe their views are counter-productive, and weaknesses. I learned that theory could be a healing place . (hooks, 61) The most productive side effect of theory is healing. The writer gets to understand the world from a different angle. The writer gets to re-evaluate the society that has caused her/him pain in their life. The writer gets to hope for a better future. The writer gets to dream of what their life would be like in a more perfect world. There is no greater good that can result from personal theorizing than personal healing. The two should (and will) always be connected to each other. You can t create theory without healing yourself to some degree. That s the main thing it is (healing process) and what it does (heal).
Theory also serves other purposes. I believe a second benefit to theorizing is teaching others to theorize. Reading the feminist theory I have in this class so far, I ve learned that it s acceptable to examine, and believe in alternative explanations than our society has taught us since birth. A third level of theory is presenting new ideas to feminists. As Jane Gallop says, thinking about things you ve never thought about before is learning . (Dateline Video, 1998) I can think back to class, and remember during Identity: Skin Blood Heart , when Leah started crying while reading a paragraph of the article. I look back and wonder how an accounting professor would react to the information they teach causing a student to cry. I remember feeling uncomfortable, scared to make eye contact with Leah. But I also remember being overjoyed, and thrilled for Leah at the same time. I knew that reading that article had made a change in her life that would forever effect her. That s the most positive reaction a feminist theory writer can hope to achieve from her or his writing.
The last thing I think feminist theory does is to educate non-feminists. When I say non-feminists, I don t mean the feminists who are afraid to give themselves the label of feminist. I mean people who do not believe in feminist issues. I purposely list educating non-feminists last, because this is something I think rarely happens. The unfortunate part of theory is that the people who need to read the information the most are the ones who would never ever pick up the book.
Who is feminist theory for? There are two groups of people to examine to this question. The first group is the writers. They benefit the most from their theorizing. The second group is the readers. Unfortunately, the readers aren t the right people.
When I theorize (again, admittedly very informal and unprofessional) about gay/lesbian/bisexual issues, I feel better. I think to myself that I can use these theories to change people s opinions about issues. I think I m starting to change the world in my own little corner of the world. In writing this paper, I m realizing that there is a very direct target audience for my theories. The gay kids, the bisexual kids, and the allies in IMPACT. No one new. No one whose mind can be changed from one extreme to the other. At the end of every week, no matter how many theories I come to, there will still be the same number of GLBT supporters as there was at the beginning of the week. There is also the same number of GLBT opponents. None of that s changed. Regardless of what theories I come up with for myself, the only people who are learning anything new are the people who were supportive of my thoughts anyways.
This is a problem with feminist theory as well. It s great that Leah had a monumental learning experience from Pratt s work. Yet, whether Leah had read that article or not, I don t think she would ve ever voted for any legislation that wouldn t be seen positively from a feminist perspective. Even though Pratt s essay was outstanding, and made every one think about things we ve never thought of before if you cross Main Street and enter a frat house, no one there has changed their opinions of women. Pratt s work was excellent, and they don t care.
When I speak of criticizing feminist theory, this is what I criticize. I think the feminist movement is relying on theory because it affects most feminists personally when they read it. It s a great learning experience for every one involved. Which is a good thing. However, the people who need these learning experiences are simply not getting them. We haven t found a solution to that problem yet.
So when I title my article This Can t Be It , I am criticizing feminist theory. I recognize that feminist theory is extremely vital, and I would never suggest eliminating it. Yet, this can t be it. Not if things are supposed to change. Key issues in the feminist movement are rape and body issues. How many future rapists sign up for a Women s Studies class? How many future rapists attend college to begin with, the first place where it s offered to them? The men who constantly criticize and objectify women will never be sitting next to me when I receive my degree in Women s Studies. We can learn a lot from theory but we re already half way there.
Minnie Bruce Pratt s article is amazing. Jane Gallop s book is titillating, entertaining and intriguingly different. bell hook s writings are always thought provoking. I personally love reading them, and during the summer, when it s not required of me to do so, I m quite sure that I will do it anyways.
But I would never vote for a pro-life president. I would never vote for an anti-gay president. I will write letters to my congressmen and senators. I will write letters to businesses. Not to say that I don t still have a lot to learn, but I do not need to be reading this information nearly as much as a member of Life Beat, College Republicans or Campus Crusade for Christ.
Minnie Bruce Pratt has changed my life. She s changed Leah s life, and hundreds of other people s lives. Yet, until we find a way to get through to the people we need to get through to she s not had a fraction of the impact on the world that she s capable of.
When I say, this can t be it , that s what I mean. There has to be another way. There has to be a better way. Otherwise, we re running into a brick wall. Until we find another tool to break down the walls of sexism, racism, sizeism, classism, heterosexism and ableism, they will always be there. As sad as it is to say, we just can t break down the walls with our heads.