Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

Hello bloggers,

I thought I’d reproduce for you here the note I sent out to my friends and family to mark International Women’s Day this year.

Things with me are alright. thanks to those of you who have emailed to day hello — it’s always good to hear from you.



Dear friends and family,

today marks International Women’s Day!  It’s a day of worldwide celebration for the achievements women have made, recognition of the difficulties and challenges women still face daily, and recommitment to fighting gender-based discrimination through the promotion of women’s substantive equality.

I encourage you today to reflect on the sacrifices women have made over the years in order to further women’s political and social equality in the face of much resistance from society at large that believes women should know their place, that women are naturally inferior to men, that women already have enough equality.

Here in Canada, there is still much to be done to further women’s equality.

  • Aboriginal women still don’t have equality in their communities in terms of property rights and representation in the governance of their communities, and are at a highly disproportionate risk of becoming victims of domestic and sexual assault. Before European colonizers arrived in Canada, Aboriginal societies were gender-egalitarian — meaning that our Canadian government has created this gendered hierarchy in Aboriginal communities with such measures as Indian Residential Schools and the Indian Act, which prevented Aboriginal women from holding land, voting in their band’s elections, taking away their status if they married a non-Aboriginal man, and preventing both Aboriginal women and men from learning their cultural traditions and languages to pass on to their children.
  • Access to abortion services in Canada are measly and inadequate. Women often incur travel costs to get from their small rural/isolated Northern communities to larger urban centres to access abortion services, taking time off work and often necessitating child-care services; most often, these expenses are not reimbursed by our health care system (there is a small travel budget for Northern women). Women in Prince Edward Island have to travel outside their province to access abortion services in Halifax; there are 0 abortion providers in PEI. Women in New Brunswick have to obtain letters of referral from 2 separate doctors stating that an abortion is “medically necessary” in order to access abortion services at the 1 hospital in the province that provides them. Women who need timely access to abortion services (which is in their best health interests) often have to pay out of pocket for abortion services at private clinics because the wait time to access services in a hospital setting is too long. Despite that abortion is not illegal in Canada, and that our government’s health care policy holds as one of its 5 pillars “accessibility,” Canadian women still face challenges in accessing abortion services – including vilification by many conservative and religious groups.
  • Women are still being sold into slavery in this country in the form of trafficked persons. 80% of all trafficked persons are women, who are forced into domestic and/or sexual exploitation once they arrive in their destination country. Here in Canada, statistics estimate that about 800 women are trafficked to Canada every year. Canada only took a legislative stand against human trafficking in 2006, after the release of a highly embarrassing report exposing our government’s complete negligence on the issue. Since then, 10 cases of human trafficking have been opened. These women are going largely unnoticed through our borders and in our communities, and they need help.
  • in Canada, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, despite that Canada’s economy is soaring – our economy is the fastest growing in the G-8. A quarter million people in Canada are homeless, 1.7 million households live on less than $16,400 USD a year, and the majority of these are households run by single women. 5.5 million live on less than $8200 a year (24% of all tax filers), and again, the majority of these are women. As our Employment Insurance program is sitting on a billion dollar surplus, only 3 out of 10 unemployed women are eligible for benefits according to current criteria, which disadvantage workers with part-time or irregular hours, which, again, are mostly women, thanks to society’s expectation that women are the primary care-givers for children and the elderly. Social programs are increasingly out of reach for the poor due to reduced spending in the service of increasing Canada’s GDP – in fact, it appears as though one of the primary reasons for Canada’s economic success (GDP has increased 55% in the last 10 years) is BECAUSE of social program funding cuts, meaning the economic success of this country is dependent on the poverty of women.
  • Lesbian women are still suffering widespread discrimination in Canadian society, and face legal barriers to being able to care for their partners during end-of-life situations and inheriting property from their partners – even homes that they have been living in for decades. these situations are deeply painful, as the families of these women’s life-partners swoop in and take away every evidence that their daughters were gay and had partnerships with other women.
  • Transsexual and transgendered women face unique barriers to equality. Sex reassignment surgery is under or non-funded by the Canadian health care system, and ancillary services to allow for greater integration into their physical gender are completely outside funding. Pre-surgery transsexual women often turn to prostitution in order to fund their surgical and aesthetic interventions, and when in prison are placed in male detention facilities and have difficulty obtaining the hormonal therapy needed to maintain the process of transformation.  In order to have any government funded access to sex reassignment surgery, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, they must go through psychological counselling and live for a year as a woman, despite being considered legally and physically a man.These women face deep misunderstanding by society and are highly vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic male violence.

These are only some of the problems affecting women in Canada. Immigrant and refugee women, sex workers, (dis)abled women, and women of colour all face significant and specific kinds of barriers to equality. Federally, the slashed funding to Status of Women Canada means awareness about women’s issues in Canada is waning, and the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program and the courts’ aversion to allowing equality groups to intervene in cases involving women’s issues means women’s equality is not being adequately advocated in our justice system. Our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being interpreted and applied by our courts in such a way as to limit rather than protect and enhance women’s equality.

There are different problems affecting women in other parts of the world. Women are raped en masse as part of genocidal wars in Congo. Girl children as young as 8 are married off in India. Girls as young as 4 are subject to female genital cutting in northern Africa. Women are displaced in the Sudan. Women and girls are not permitted to go to school in Afghanistan. Women aren’t even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Girl children are abandoned in China. Women are forcibly sterilized in Tibet. Women are being denied access to contraception worldwide through USAID and PEPFAR, and have no way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even when they know they risk transmitting HIV to their fetuses.

It’s pretty obvious that there is still much work to be done, both at home and abroad, to gain full equality for women. this International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about what I can do to help. I believe women are not second-class citizens. I believe women do not deserve 15, 25, 50, or 65% equality. I believe women deserve 100% equality, no matter where they live or what barriers they face.  Today, I recognize the courage and dedication of women who have been fighting this struggle since before I was born, since before my mother was born, and I am deeply honoured and grateful for the important progress they have made on my behalf. Today, I rededicate myself to continuing this struggle, for myself, for my sisters, for my mother, for my aunts, for my cousins, for my friends, and for all of our daughters.

to the women in my life — I celebrate you today! You are, quite literally, the reason I do what I do. Thank you for your inspiration and courage.

to the men in my life — I look for you to be partners in the fight for women’s equality. This takes some strength, but I know you’re up for the challenge.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to attend a session held by a local anti-trafficking group, during which I heard the most wonderful speaker, Benjamin Santamaria. He spoke less about what his organization does, and more about the issue overall, and the culture under which this problem has been permitted to flourish.

Human trafficking is a terrible problem; it’s hard to know how many people are trafficked every year, but women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sex as well as domestic slavery. Victims generally are stolen or sold from less developed nations and taken to wealthy western countries for these purposes, or are held within their own country or a neighbouring country and used by wealthy westerners who come to less developed countries for the purposes of sex tourism. It seems a lot of trafficked persons have family situations that make them vulnerable, from extreme poverty to abuse to orphanism. These are often people that are vulnerable because nobody is looking for them; they are disappeared and nobody knows.

Ben talked a lot about white western culture as a culture of domination. [this particularly incensed the young woman I was attending the talk with, for typical white liberal “white people shouldn’t have to feel guilty for what our ancestors did” reasons, but that’s not really what I want to talk about just yet; please keep it in mind for later, however.] He spoke of “white is right” attitudes, about how white settlers on this continent felt they conquered the indigenous populations who were already here (they didn’t), and that gave them the right to [attempt to] obliterate indigenous culture, language, and spirituality, replacing them with the laws, language, and religion of the white homeland (didn’t do that, either, but not for lack of trying – for the indomitable spirit of indigenous peoples). He spoke about the continuation of those attitudes in the here and now, and the richness that is missed by shutting ourselves off from learning from other cultures. He spoke about a lack of sprituality the dominance of religion can bring. He spoke about the soullessness of capitalism, the attitude that everything can and should be commodified – even human beings, human lives.

but, while this is a large problem that takes place at a societal level, Ben was careful to offer a solution. He expressed that the solution of public policies and international treaties was important, but that the underlying attitudes of individual people are what will really matter most.

hold on.

We spend a lot of time here and on other forums talking about patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, capitalism as being overarching structures, a “culture not a conspiracy.” We say, “we’re not talking about YOU as an individual; we’re talking about your default position within relations of power that are larger than just you, don’t take it personally, try to see yourself and your position as one within the matrix.”

Well, it hit home to me, listening to Ben speak, that this is true, but it also isn’t the end of the story.

Going back to how the woman I was sitting with was infuriated by Ben’s slam against white culture. She was completely and utterly pissed off by this, ranted on afterward about how white people have a culture too, and it’s just as important as other cultures, and how other cultures can’t be so great really because after all, look at how they treat their women. [yup, seriously. this is a woman who has done a lot of international development work. just goes to show you, I guess…]

I felt none of that righteous anger toward him for saying such things. I was nodding along with him! I wasn’t offended by anything he said about white people at all! Why is that? I thought about it for a while. At first, I just felt like, “well, he’s not talking about ME.” Not in a pin-a-rose-on-my-nose, I’m-not-a-racist way, but more in a culture-not-conspiracy kind of way. but then, that wasn’t quite it, either.

What Ben was talking about was individual responsibility. He was talking about how these attitudes are ingrained in the fabric of our society, but that we are individually responsible to and capable of unravelling ourselves from that fabric. He described a lot of things that we could do, individually, to change how we felt and believed some of the underlying attitudes that make human trafficking possible, that make it possible for people to be bought and sold on a global marketplace and used like they mean nothing.

He spoke about spirituality – not religion, not dogma, but spirituality. Belief that everyone has a soul, a spirit, a spiritual life that needs nourishment, that needs fulfilment. He spoke about sexism, and how men must not force women to do or be what we don’t want to do or be, but allow us to develop into our own beings, support us, get the hell out of our way. He talked about the mistreatment of the animals we use, from labour to entertainment to food. He talked about racism, and the belief held so dear by so many that white culture is dominant because it is superior. He spoke about capitalism, the commodification of everything under the sun – the land, the water, the sun itself – and how screwed up that is, because the earth is for everyone, it can nourish all of us, and yet we scramble to get our little tiny piece of it all for ourselves. He spoke about not buying these things, not buying into the capitalism matrix, not buying goods from countries where humans are trafficked, not watching TV, not watching CNN.

And you know? yeah. I felt myself nodding, moved by this message. YES! We are, individually, responsible for the attitudes and beliefs that we hold. We can only, ourselves, change those attitudes and beliefs. And that is the difference. When we work to achieve attitudes of love for others, of spirituality, of equality, of harmony with the world around us – that is when the guilt fades, that is when the righteous anger dissipates.

I know I’m not perfect. I know that my placement within the social stratification system of this country, this culture, gives me unearned privileges that I can’t exactly back out of. But. I know that I am trying. I know that in my heart, I am moving from those negative, overarching, dominant and dominating atittudes, maybe a little everyday, as an individual person. And so, I know he wasn’t talking about ME.

I say this not to hold myself up as a shining example of light, or for congratulatory backslaps and praise. I say this because it clicked a little deeper for me that day.

We ARE individually responsible, within this culture of domination. We must be HELD individually responsible for atrocities that happen to others, because OUR ATTITUDES OF DOMINATION have led to, have supported, have made possible, those atrocities. It’s not about guilt. It’s about movement. It’s about change. It’s about evolution. It’s about revolution.

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Dear misogynists –

here it is:

I’m tired of holding your fucking hand, being sweet and nice and understanding, calmly explaining things of a feminist nature with patience, giving you the benefit of the doubt. I’m tired of letting you get away with comments, quietly simmering, feeling the pressure build up inside me. I’m tired of  letting you define the terms, twist my words to use against me, read unintended meaning into what is said. I’m tired of your fucking ‘counter-examples’ that are meant to be some kind of silver bullet to the fact that things have been this way for thousands of years in the great majority. I’m tired of taking care of you in a discussion where you begin by saying, “so, you want to debate feminism with ME, do you?” (Answer: feminism is not up for debate, asshole.) I’m tired of watching you pack up your toys and go home when you can’t “win your point” and shut me up or down, and I’m tired of being blamed for your inadequate arguing skills and the fact that you know you’re wrong and if you can’t win you don’t wanna play. I’m tired of being accused of being a “wet blanket,” a “stick in the mud,” “humourless,” and being unable to take either a joke or a compliment. I’m tired of having my and other women’s experiences of misogyny in action made light of, taken over or sidelined by, and compared to men’s experiences of the world that have nothing to do with the discussion, in order to make some kind of point that “shit happens to everyone, it has nothing to do with your gender, stop whining about sexism, you’re bringing it upon yourself by seeing it everywhere, if you didn’t look so hard you’d see that it was something else, you’re reading too much into it.”

sick and fucking tired, I am.

because the thing is, the fact that you are arguing about it means you so aren’t even there yet, with enough internalization of  basic feminist principles, to even have such a discussion with me. I am not debating the basics of feminism. I am not questioning the validity of feminism as a system of thought or a framework for looking at the world. I am not suddenly going to give up on feminism because you think you’ve found a brilliant counter-argument to support your misogyny (like “not all guys are like that! you’re pigeon-holing all men! that’s just as sexist as what you’re complaining about!”).

the truth is, the guys who get it, don’t argue about it. And they don’t get so riled up by feminist theory, discussion, etc. that they freak out whenever a feminist has something negative to say about men in general or even just one specific man who has, oh say, chased and threatened her in the street. Because they know, I’m not talking about them.

so, stop trying to make me feel bad because I’m making you upset to be reminded that your privilege is unearned and undeserved, even as you’re using it like a club over my head.  I’m not the one who should feel bad about that. I don’t have to worry about your feelings, your ego, your pride, whatever – you clearly aren’t worried about me and mine. In fact, I’d say your entire purpose in discussions like these is to “bring me down a notch,” yes?

Stop casting me in some role of male caretaker – I’m nobody’s mother, nobody’s nursemaid, and nobody’s wife. I get no benefit, emotional or otherwise, from taking care of you. Demanding that I do so is reinforcing the gendered roles that have me so infuriated to begin with! This is not about social graces – it’s about demanding that even during a discussion about sexism, I have to play a gendered role that necessarily means giving way to you.

so, don’t tell me to be “reasonable” (as opposed to emotional? which is so bad, right?). based on thousands of years of evidence, I think I am being pretty fucking reasonable, actually, in analyzing the world in the way that I do and responding to it in the way that I do. I’d prefer to be pleasantly surprised by a non-sexist man than unpleasantly surprised by a misogynist.

This is how we survive. and yeah, it is that serious.

so, fuck you. holding your hand, taking care of your ego, being a “nice lady,” giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re one of the few men I have ever met in my entire life that isn’t sexist, is not my fucking job. Sometimes, I’m going to tear you a new one. Sometimes, I’m going to give you a look of utter disgust, scoff at you, and turn and walk away because that day I refuse to engage with assholes. Sometimes, I’m going to school you with a stream of theory and not stop to explain the basic principles because you should already know them. Sometimes, I’m going to have more patience and answer your inane questions. But, no way am I going to assume some kind of caretaker position for you and your ego, or avoid pointing out your misogynist behaviour, or break my analysis of the world into easy to digest morsels for you. I’m no babysitter; I don’t cut anyone’s meat for them. I’m no nursemaid; I don’t repair fractured egos. I’m no teacher; I don’t have to instruct you on a gotdam thing. You wanna know about feminism? you wanna have a meaningful discussion about feminism? you wanna be one of the few men I’ve met in my life that aren’t sexist patriarchs?  start by not asking me to do your work for you. go to a library. catch up with the rest of the class. think long and hard about it – you’re not just studying history, you’re studying a living body of work that reflects the lives of women, today, right now. set down your macho armor and talk to women about what it’s like to be a woman in this world. think about the role you play in that world, and start by assuming that you are sexist, and you do benefit from  male dominance. because you do, whether you want to admit it or not. admit it. and move on.
the end.

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just got in the door from an evening out with some new friends from school. on the way from the streetcar stop to my corner, all of a two minute walk, I experienced some street harassment. guy crossed the street and followed me in the opposite direction to where he was going to do it. fell in step behind me, started calling out to me, “hey, slow down, I’m not going to do anything to you, I just wanna talk to you, you’re so beautiful, hey baby” bullshit. I try to ignore him, but he was persistent. Lucky for me, on my corner is an all-night pizza place. so I walk in there. no way am I going to allow this idiot to see where I live. mama didn’t raise no fool. once I’m in there, of course he follows me in. I decide, no. no more street harassment for this girl.

so I turn on the guy. I tore him a new one for harassing me in the street like some piece of meat, threatening me and following me. he tells me he jsut wanted to compliment me, can’t I take a compliment, why am I so uptight? I tell him no I can’t take a compliment from a strange man calling out to me in the street at 1:30 in the morning when I’m walking by myself, I don’t give a shit what he thinks,  why does he think he has to right to harass me in the street, I’m not public property, and fuck off.  a nice couple from my streetcar asked me did I need help, offered to walk me home, which they did, making sure he was gone by then, and that was the end of that. she was much more understanding of my predicament than he was, no surprise there, he was like, you only live two doors down? and she was like, well, she didn’t want him following her to her door, did she? (with ‘you twit’ just dripping from her voice.)

this reminds me of an argument my friend and I had recently with a friend of her boyfriend. we told him that many women view men as potential rapists in certain contexts, that women were raised with the fear of rape burnt into our brains from an early age as simply the worst thing that could ever happen to you as a woman (not that it is or isn’t, just that this is what women are taught). He was completely offended and pissed off by this statement, and of course took it personally to mean that we both thought he was, as a person, capable of raping someone. He got so mad that he packed up his toys and went home, actually. there was no seeing reason for him that night, that the stats simply add up for women to view men this way, particularly in situations of vulnerability. and of course, no way for him to drop his male privilege for even a second to try to understand where we were coming from.

well, there you go. combine the culture of the fear of rape with general street sexual harassment by men, and this is what you get. was I actually afraid of this guy? well, I was nervous enough to walk into that pizza place rather than walk the twenty more feet to my door.

and I hate that. I hate that I couldn’t walk the literally three and a half minutes to my door from the streetcar stop without being harassed. I hate that I felt afraid of a guy who I probably had 20 pounds and 5 inches on. I hate that I had a couple walk me to my door. I hate that if I had been dressed differently, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I hate that I actually felt bad about using the pizza place as a refuge and bringing that confrontation into their place of business. I hate being viewed as public property by some random asshat in the street. and I hate that this happens every day to billions of women all over the world, to varying degrees of severity. I HATE IT.

when that couple offered to help me, I had my cell phone in my hand to call the police. what would they have told me? would they have done anything to make me feel safer, or would they have laughed at me? if that couple hadn’t been there, would someone else have offered to help me? would I have had to wait until that guy left? would I have had to ask someone to intervene, throw the guy out?

so, what can we do about street harassment? I don’t want to have to make sure that I never go anywhere by myself. I want to have the freedom to walk down the street, by myself, dressed however I want, at any time of day or night, without being harassed. and I want every other woman to be able to have that too. it’s simple really.

how can we make this happen? I think street harassment is just as important a topic to deal with as sexual harassment in the workplace. it’s like blue-collar vs. white-collar crime, you know? so what can be done about it?

[by the way, I remember a discussion about street harassment somewhere not too long ago (someone remind me where and I’ll provide a link) that intimated that more men of colour were street harassers than were white men. This guy was white. the real question is, would I have rounded on him in the same way if he wasn’t? would I have felt more less threatened by a harasser of another shade?]

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alright people, here we go

OK, so I’ve been in this weird haze thanks to my move – some of it wine-induced and sleep-deprived, I’ll admit! getting your life re-ordered after a move, while starting law school, is sometimes a bit overwhelming, and as many of you know, I am not much for the administrative details of life – “administrativia”, as I like to call it! However, it was kind of nice, like being in a sensory-deprivation chamber, oblivious to everything going on in the outside world…
but this snapped me out of that, and fast.

Apparently, women have to cover themselves up now in order to get on an airplane. Two women were told to adjsut their clothing because they were wearing clothing that Southwest Airlines employees found too revealing or risk not being permitted to use their airline tickets. This, after “come fly the friendly skies” of the 1970s, when “stewardesses” as they used to be called had a far different dress code of hot pants and low cut blouses, to better serve their patriarchal male customers, I’m sure.

boy oh boy am I glad those women contacted the media to tell their stories. cuz I’m sure I would have simply lost my mind, issued a stiong of profanities, and not been allowed on the plane because I appeared completely deranged and out of control. What is this, the Victorian era? Are we expected to look and act like Puritans just to get a seat on an airplane? Last time I looked, women are allowed to have jobs and actually earn their own money with which to purchase airline tickets, so what gives on the other end of actually using those tickets?

Southwest Airlines, I shame you. fascist pigs.

which is my new favourite way to end a post. in case you were wondering.

PS: this just in: Southwest is actually using this incident for publicity!!!!!!!! capitalizing on their discrimination by offering “skimpy fares” to “honour the miniskirt”! Seriously! 

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Aulelia hipped me to this one: an interview with hip-hop producer Palow Da Don, in which he calles himself “King of the White Girls” and talks about how submissive white women are, how uppity black women are, and how he prefers a woman who knows her place in the “divine order” of things.

AllHipHop.com: Now, you call yourself the “King of All White Girls.”  Elaborate on that for me.

Polow Da Don:  Just the “King of the White Girls.” I ain’t self proclaimed but I run with it. [Laughs] There was a stage in my life where I went crazy with dating white women. I have nothing against black women, but they’re raised differently. White women are raised to respect and serve their men.  Black women are taught to question [their men]. Black women look at submission as being weak. White women look at submission as being a woman. And anyone who has a problem with this statement is ignorant.  Just look at the divine order; it goes man, woman, child.

mmmm.  if you can stomach reading this idiot’s incoherent misogynistic and racist bullshit, and the equally idiotic comments on the article, here’s the link.

I don’t know about y’all, but I am utterly disgusted with this asshole. Black women are too hard to control because they aren’t submissive? so avoid them, because they challenge the “divine order”? and your fucking male privilege? And white women are better because we’re submissive? we define ourselves as women by being submissive?

give me a fucking break.

do I look submissive to you? I didn’t think so.

Why the man is hating on black women I have no clue. Black women are not a monolith. When can people actually get treated like individuals? hmm? when? instead of all the same as one another? because we’re not all the same. Not black women, not white women, not women. period.

just because he has had better luck dominating the white women he has met than he has had dominating the black women he has met doesn’t mean he gets to make broad generalizations about either group of women. Man’s not looking for a partner. not in any sense of that word. Man’s looking for a fucking servant, someone he can dominate and control. Misogynist motherFUCKER!

ok, that’s my 5 minute rant for the day. gotta run, more packing to do!

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one of the ways I like to write papers is to read a lot of papers. I read voraciously every article I can find on the topic in question, and make detailed and copious notes. Then, I compile those notes, study them closely, and make connections between them until I have a little family tree of ideas on the topic in question. Then I look for gaps, and try to fill them in, or lead branches in a different or renewed direction.

That’s how I approached my thesis.

Here are some of the notes I compiled about standpoint theory. I have 24 pages of notes, so not all of them will appear here. but I may put together some more posts with more notes if y’all want more. References appear at the top of each section. Those sections in colour are the ones that I actually used or referenced in my thesis. The rest just informed my understanding of the subject.

Sorry if the formatting is wonky. Also, this might be a bit long. It’s not everything, but this seemed like a good break, post wise. If there are more posts, then the next one will include notes from a kind of dust-up between philosophers interested in standpoint theory.

Harding, Sandra. 2004. “Introduction: Standpoint Theory as a Site of Political, Philosophic, and Scientific Debate” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies, 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 1-15.

           Standpoint theory has been a controversial topic, in part because it challenges the theory that politics obstructs and harms the production of scientific knowledge. (1)

          Standpoint theory is not just an explanatory theory, but also a methodology (1)

          Standpoint theory is normative, empowering political theory and epistemology (2)

          Standpoint theory is presented as “a philosophy of both natural and social sciences, an epistemology, a methodology… and a political strategy.” (2)

          Standpoint theory is based in Marxism (2)

          Standpoint Theory insisted that feminist concerns be acknowledged as valuable (2)

          Standpoint theory is an organic theory that can arise around any oppressed group. It’s also a folk history (3)

          Despite criticism, standpoint theory doesn’t go away (3)

          Standpoint theory “helps to produce oppositional and shared consciousness in oppressed groups – to create oppressed peoples as collective ‘subjects’ of research rather than only as objects of others’ observation, naming, and management.” (3)

          The voice of scientific discourse has been male, androcentric (4)

          The point of science has been objectivity – timeless truth free from political and cultural influences (4)

          Science could never/has never achieved this, because “the conceptual frameworks themselves promoted historically distinctive institutional and cultural interests and concerns, which ensured that the knowledge produced through them was always socially situated.” (4-5)

          Science’s commitment to ‘objectivity’ that mandated social neutrality was itself not socially neutral in its effects (5)

          Feminist research projects often produced more empirically accurate accounts (5)

          Traditional frameworks obfuscated power relations and reasons for women’s oppression, as well as who actually benefits from this state of affairs (5)

          The remedy for these inadequacies is to begin research projects from within a standpoint, even though these projects would be “outside the realm of the true” according to traditional frameworks (6)

          Women need “to understand the conceptual practices of power… through which their oppression was designed, maintained, and made to seem natural and desirable to everyone.” (6)

          There is a general and widespread need in social and scientific discourse to see past dominant discourses and see the realities of women’s lives vs. the conceptual practices of social institutions. This requires political engagement – “to gain access to the means to do such research,” “to create women’s collective, group consciousnesses,” to produce insight.

          There have been some questions about “whether it is women’s experiences, women’s social locations, or feminist discourses that are to provide the origin of knowledge projects.” (7)

          ***Knowledge is socially situated – knowledge is based on experience, and different situations result in different knowledges. But more than this is at stake. Oppressed groups “can learn to identify their distinctive opportunities to turn an oppressive feature of the group’s conditions into a source of critical insight about how the dominant society thinks and is structured. Thus, standpoint theories map how a social and political disadvantage can be turned into an epistemological, scientific, and political advantage.” (7-8)***

          standpoint is an achievement, not simply a perspective. Standpoint requires politics, and can result in empowerment (8)

          standpoint theorists have struggled to create a different kind of decentred subject of knowledge and history, which has largely been accomplished by developing theories of intersectional social locations (8)

          ***Epistemic privilege that is possessed by marginalized groups is not automatic, but the result of political struggle (9)***

          The question of relativism is one that continues to come up in relation to standpoint theory. Some points to bear in mind in response to the charge of relativism are: (11-12)

1.       Some research areas are motivated by specific values and interests that are not universally held and yet these are not considered inferior because of this – an example is medicine

2.       All knowledge claims only have meaning within particular cultural contexts

3.       Choices are made between value-laden interested claims all the time without being paralysed by these competing claims

4.       If all knowledge claims are situated and hold values and interests that are local, then it makes no sense to insist that one set of claims are not situated.

          Standpoint theory arises in several disciplinary contexts – so “standpoint theories” is more clear. These differ from dominant epistemologies but also from each other. (12)

 Smith, Dorothy E. (1974) “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies, 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 21-33.

           “from the point of view of ‘women’s place’ the values assigned to different aspects of the world are changed.” (21)

          It is not enough simply to add on marginalized analyses as an addendum to dominant discourses because this ignores the relations of power between them that contribute to the suppression/privilege situation. (21-22)

          Women must think of the world through concepts and terms devised by and imposed by men (as dominant) – “women are alienated from their experience” by androcentrism and the hegemonic structure of male privilege/female oppression. (22)

          The governing of society is done via concepts and symbols. Everything in sociology is governed by a “view from the top” that shapes and decides what is important/relevant, what is “fact” (23)

          Ethic of objectivity is a research practice that requires distancing the knower from what is known, and particularly from what she already knows (24)

          All investigations of the world happen from within a particular location – an embodied location. Sociology aims to transcend this. (25)

          “Women are outside and subservient to this structure” (26)

          Men are permitted to leave their location, to alienate himself from it in order to transcend it. This alienation from bodily/material concerns is always incomplete and requires someone to help him take care of his material and bodily needs – that is most often a woman, who “provides for the logistics of his bodily existence.” (26)

          Marxist alienation doctrine – the relation between work and external oppressive order is “such that the harder she works the more she strengthens the order which oppresses her.” (26)

          Methods and theories of sociology as a discipline takes for granted the conditions of its existence. It is not capable of analyzing this relation because the sociologist as an actual person who is socially located has been erased by the very process of sociological investigation which requires him to distance himself from his knowledge. (27)

          Female sociologists cannot do this because the duties of womanhood do not allow for it (27)

          “ If sociology cannot avoid being situated, then sociology should take that as its beginning and build it into its methodological and theoretical strategies” (28)

          “The only way of knowing a socially constructed world is knowing It from within. We can never stand outside it.” (28)

          We must always “begin from where we are located bodily.” (29)

          “Our kind of society is known and experienced rather differently from different positions within it.” (30)

          Seeing the world from where we are located, seeing THAT we are located, allows us to know that what we know is conditional upon that location as part of a relation existing between locations. (30)

          “The observer is already separated from the world as it is experienced by those she observes.” (30)

          How our knowledge of the world is mediated to us is a problem because it is organized FOR US prior to our participation as knowers in that process. (31)

          “It is not possible to account for one’s directly experienced world or how it is related to the worlds which others directly experience who are differently placed by remaining within the boundaries of the former.” (31)

 Jaggar, Alison M. (1983) “Feminist Politics and Epistemology: The Standpoint of Women” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies, 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 55-66.

           “Socialist feminist view knowledge as a social and practical construct and they believe that conceptual frameworks are shaped and limited by their social origins. They believe that, in any historical period, the prevailing world=view will reflect the interests and values of the dominant class.” (55)

          The establishment of a more just and reliable world-view requires “the overthrow of the prevailing system of social relations.”” (55-56)

          “In order to arrive at an adequate representation of reality, it is important to begin from the proper standpoint” (56). Within liberal epistemology, this standpoint is the neutral, disinterested observer – the Archimedean standpoint. Marxist epistemology says there is no such standpoint: “All systems of conceptualization reflect certain social interests and values.” (56)

          social production of knowledge is controlled by a certain class, so knowledge produced reflects the interests and values of that class. Prevailing science and knowledge interprets reality from the standpoint of the ruling class. The ruling class has vested interest in concealing the way it dominates and exploits oppressed classes, so this knowledge will be distorted – “suffering of the subordinated classes will be ignored, redescribed and enjoyment of justified as freely chosen, deserved, or inevitable.” (56)

          dominant group is insulated from suffering of the oppressed, which leads to them being convinced by their own ideology. “They experience the current organization of society as basically satisfactory and so they accept the interpretation of reality that justifies that system of organization.” (56)

          The pervasiveness and relentlessness of their suffering pushes oppressed groups to find out what is wrong with the prevailing social order and develop new and less distorted ways of seeing the world. (56)

          “The standpoint of the oppressed is not just different from that of the ruling class; it is also epistemologically advantageous.” It is “more impartial because it comes closer to representing the interests of society as a whole.” The oppressed are able to see relations of power between ruler and ruled. “Standpoint of the oppressed includes and is able to explain the standpoint of the ruling class.” (57)

          “Standpoint is discovered through a collective process of political and scientific struggle.” (57)

          Relation between feminist standpoint and radical feminism

          Standpoint does not guarantee that reality is revealed clearly – it doesn’t necessarily reveal causes of suffering or even that this is oppression (60)

          “Women face another obstacle as they seek to develop a systematic feminist alternative to the masculine modes of  conceiving the world. This obstacle is the typically feminine set of attitudes and modes of perception that have been imposed on women in a male-dominated society. […] While women’s experience of subordination puts them in a uniquely advantageous position for reinterpreting reality, it also imposes on them certain psychological difficulties.” (60-61)

          In the end, an adequate representation of the world from the standpoint of women requires the material overthrow of male domination.” (61)

          All knowledge reflects the interests and values of social groups, so objectivity can’t mean devoid of values, and impartiality can’t mean neutrality. Rather, we must make sure that the interests of women are represented in a comprehensive way. (61-62)

          “The socialist feminist conception of women’s standpoint specifies certain interpretations of verification and of usefulness. It asserts that knowledge is useful if it contributes to a practical reconstruction of the world in which women’s interests are not subordinate to those of men. Whether or not knowledge is useful in this way is verified in the process of political and scientific struggle to build such a world, a world whose maintenance does not require illusions.” (62)

          Differences among the social locations of women need not be a source of division. (63)

          “A representation of reality from the standpoint of women must draw on the variety of all women’s experience. In order to do this, a way must be found in which all groups of women can participate in building theory.” (64)

          “Only when women are free from domination will they have access to the resources necessary to construct a systematic and fully comprehensive view of the world from the standpoint of women.” Because differently located women have unequal opportunities to speak and be heard, women should theorize together as apolitical act and achievement. Women must also find ways to work with men without being dominated by them. (64)

          “Socialist feminist standpoint is not a perspective immediately and only available to women, but to a way of conceptualizing reality that reflects women’s interests and values and draws on women’s own interpretation of their own experience.” (65)

 Harding, Sandra. (1993) “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is ‘Strong Objectivity’?” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies, 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 127-140.

          “Starting off research from women’s lives will generate less partial and distorted accounts not only of women’s lives but also of men’s lives and of the whole social order.” (128)

          “All thought by humans starts off from socially determined lives.” (128)

          Science eliminates social interests/values from the results of research that differ within the scientific community, but not of the values/interests that are SHARED BY the community. “Thus culturewide assumptions that have not been criticized within the scientific research process are transported into the results of research, making visible the historicity of specific scientific claims to people at other times, other places, or in other groups in the very same social order.” (128-129)

          Standpoint is not ethnocentric – theorists argue that “marginal lives that are not their own provide better grounds for certain kinds of knowledge.” (129)

          Standpoint is not relativism – “It argues against the idea that all social situations provide equally useful resources for learning about the world and against the idea that they all set equally strong limits on knowledge.” Just because standpoint rejects universalism doesn’t mean it is committed to relativism. “Standpoint theory provides arguments for the claim that some social situations are scientifically better than others as places from which to start off knowledge projects.” (131)

          The subject in empiricist epistemology is supposed to be “culturally and historically disembodied or invisible because knowledge is defined as universal.” (132)

          The subject in empiricist epistemology is supposed to be different in kind from the objects of scientific investigation. But are they really? Should we think of them this way? Is this useful? Is it possible? (132)

          Subjects in empiricist epistemology are meant to be transhistorical, and knowledge is produced by individuals and not social groups, according to science. Subjects are homogenous and unitary so that knowledge is consistent and coherent.

          In standpoint epistemology, subjects are: embodied, visible, historically and culturally located; not fundamentally different from objects of knowledge, as objects and subjects are both social; communities, and not individuals, who produce knowledge; multiple, heterogenous, contradictory, and incoherent. (134)

          “Starting off thought from a contradictory social position generates feminist knowledge.” (134)

          Heterogeneous subject recognizes intersectionality (134)

          “Subject of liberatory feminist knowledge must also be… the subject of every other liberatory knowledge project… because lesbian, poor, and racially marginalized women are all women, and therefore all feminists will have to grasp how gender, race, class, and sexuality are used to contruct each other.” (134)

          “If every other liberatory movement must generate feminist knowledge, it cannot be that women are the unique generators of feminist knowledge. Women cannot claim this ability to be uniquely theirs and men must not be permitted to claim that because they are not women, they are not obligated to produce fully feminist analyses.” (135)

          “Strong objectivity requires that the subject of knowledge be placed on the same critical, causal plane as the objects of knowledge. Thus, strong objectivity requires what we can think of as ‘strong reflexivity.’ This is because culturewide… beliefs function as evidence at every stage in scientific inquiry.” (136)

          “The subject of knowledge – the individual and the historically located social community whose unexamined beliefs its members are likely to hold ‘unknowingly,’ so to speak – must be considered as part of the object of knowledge from the perspective of scientific method.” (136)



Narayan, Uma. (1989) “The Project of a Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a Nonwestern Feminist” in The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual & Political Controversies, 2004, New York and London: Routledge, 213-224.

          Integrating women’ s contribution into science and knowledge will result in a shift of perspective that will change the very nature of the practices of knowledge. (213)

          Western and Nonwestern feminism have very different critiques and concerns. Western feminist concerns function within a context of a discourse that places a high value on women’s place – as wife, mother, etc. Nonwestern feminist concerns take place within a context that does not vale highly women’s contribution – “Nonwestern cultural context values woman’s place as long as she keeps to the place prescribed… The danger is that even if the Nonwestern feminist talks about the value of women’s experience in terms totally different from those of the traditional discourse, the difference is likely to be turned around by the louder and more powerful voice of the traditional discourse, which will then claim that ‘what those feminists say’ vindicates its view that the roles and experiences it assigns to women have value and that women should stick to those roles.” (215-216)

          There is a conflict between the feminist critique of culture/tradition, and the desire to affirm the value of the same culture/tradition within a postcolonial global context. (216)

          IT is not easy to compare oppressions across cultural-historical contexts. (216)

          A critique of positivism may be misplaced – non-postivist frameworks are not more tolerable. (216)

          “We must fight not frameworks that assert the separation of fact and value but frameworks that are pervaded by values to which we, as feminists, find ourselves opposed.” (217)

          Groups living under oppression are more likely to have a critical perspective on their situation, partly created by “critical emotional responses” to their situations – emotions often help rather than hinder understanding of their situations (218)

          Western feminists tend to participate in the dominance of Western culture by assuming a universality of their theories. (219)

          We should be suspicious of those expressing an interest in concerns that belong to or affect groups of which they are not a part – they may try to appropriate the concern for themselves, thereby distorting it by taking it out of the original context, or they may try to speak for those whose concern it is rather than allowing a space to be created in which those whose concern it is can speak about it for themselves and be heard with validity. (219)

          It is a mistake to assume that because knowledge is socially constructed based on position/location, then those who are differently located can never attain some understanding of or sympathy for the experiences of others. This would require a commitment to relativism that isn’t necessary or useful. (219-220)

          Non-analytic forms of discourse like fiction and poetry might be better to communicate across social locations (maybe because ‘reality’ or disbelief is already suspended) (220)

          “Sometimes one sort of suffering may simply harden individuals to other sorts or leave them without energy to take an interest in the problems of other groups. But we can at least try to foster such sensitivity by focussing on parallels, not identities, between different sorts of oppression.” (220)

          Contextual knowledge doesn’t require commitment to relativism, but we can argue that it is easier and more likely for the oppressed to hold critical insight into their own oppression (220)

          It is common to fail to understand the complexities of lived experience under another oppression; we tend to carry our knowledge gleaned from one experience into their perceptions of another. (220)

          Nothing one can do can make them one of the oppressed if they are not (221)

          We need to allow space for the oppressed to criticize the dominant group’s blindness and myopia (221)

          Dominant groups however have a need to control discourse (221)

          Epistemic advantage is a kind of double consciousness: knowledge of the oppressed includes knowledge of dominant groups because the dominant group’s ideology controls and is embedded in social institutions. Subordinate groups need to have knowledge of the dominant group in order to survive in society. There is no similar pressure on dominant groups to acquire knowledge of oppressed groups. Therefore, oppressed groups must “inhabit two mutually incompatible frameworks that provide differing perspectives on social reality,” which affords them epistemic advantage. (221)

          Nonwestern feminists are less likely to see their situation of inhabiting both frameworks as an advantage, however (221)

          Some ways to deal with this double consciousness:

1.    dichotomize one’s life, reserving a different framework for different contexts, i.e., live a public life in masculine ways but a private life in feminine ways

2.    reject practices belonging to one’s own context and try to adopt those of the dominant group as much as possible, which means losing knowledge of one’s own context

3.    reject the framework of the dominant group and assert the framework of her own context, despite the risks of further marginalization by the dominant group

4.    make the choice to inhabit both contexts critically, even if it means alienation from both, which may result in a feeling of rootlessness. “However such a person determines her locus, there may be a sense of being an outsider in both contexts and a sense of clumsiness or lack of fluency in both sets of practices.” (222) for example, learning a new language.

          Certain types and contexts of oppression seem to make double vision possible, but some seem to preclude any critical insights (223)


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