Tuesday, February 2, 2010

For those who haven't seen this yet...

I am not sure this article merits a response or deserves my time but I am going to try to respond to the following: Women's Studies is still with us. While responding to this, I am going to pick out particular arguments they make and attempt to understand where they are getting these ideas. At best, I can guess that they may have flipped through an introductory women's studies' textbook and taken it with the assumption that because a student reads one particular theory he or she must automatically believe it. This was written by the National Post Editorial Board - I am not entirely sure who or how many individuals this means. The article begins with stating,

"The radical feminism behind these courses has done untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women."

I am always skeptical when people use the term "radical feminism," especially when they then apply to mean "all feminism" and "all women's studies students." The term "radical," defined by the dictionary application on my computer, means, "relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough... characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive." Another definition: "advocating thorough or complete political or social reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party" and, "of or relating to the root of something." Defined this way, "radical feminism" is an attempt to find the root of female oppression and may involve complete social or political reform. From Wikipedia:

"Patriarchal theory is not always as single-sided as the belief that all men always benefit from the oppression of all women. Patriarchal theory maintains that the primary element of patriarchy is a relationship of dominance, where one party is dominant and exploits the other party for the benefit of the former. Radical feminists have claimed that men use social systems and other methods of control to keep non-dominant men and women suppressed. Radical feminists believe that eliminating patriarchy, and other systems which perpetuate the domination of one group over another, will liberate everyone from an unjust society."

One important issue of radical feminism (and it is important that just as radical feminism is a branch of "feminism," there are still many branches of radical feminism) is to challenge heteronormative beliefs; that is the social assumption that heterosexuality and other qualities such as monogamy and reproduction are normal relationship standards. This obviously does not mean that each woman graduating from Women's Studies rejects relationships with men and it also does not mean every lesbian is a lesbian because she hates men or wants to be a political statement. There are theorists, however, such as Catherine Mackinnon, who go on to construct all of heterosexuality as a dominance of men over women. MacKinnon was very important to current understandings of rape and did much work to bring this topic into the public arena and to draw attention to how often rape happens. She then went, at least from my perspective, a bit too far to suggest that all heterosexual sex is rape. She does still bring up some interesting ideas. In her essay, "Toward a Feminist Theory of the State," she writes,

"To be clear: what is sexual is what gives a man an erection... All this suggests that what is called sexuality us the dynamic of control by which male dominance - in forms that range from intimate to institutional, from a look to a rape - eroticizes and thus defines man and woman, gender identity and sexual pleasure." (Feminisms 354)

This quote on its own might still have merit. I think definitions of sexual are changing in today's culture, not always towards a feminist expression but not always on man's terms. At the same time, however, much of what is defined as "sexy" is essentially what advertisers expect men to find sexy. I word that intentionally. To say all men agree on one definition of sexy is highly problematic but I do see some merit to what MacKinnon says.

HOWEVER. And this is an important however, MacKinnon then continues to argue,

"Male sexuality is apparently activated by violence against women and expresses itself in violence against women to a certain extent." (355)

MacKinnon does not define what she means by violence here...it could be violence to women's intelligence, independence, etc or it could be physical violence. She continues:

"Rape and intercourse are not authoritatively separated by any difference between the physical acts or amount of force involved but only legally, by a standard that centers on the man's interpretation of the encounter." (356)

MacKinnon raises an important issue of creating a space for women to discuss and define their own sexualities and what they find sexual, but I do not see why she must compare ALL heterosexual sex as rape. Perhaps she feels there is no space at all for women to speak up and only do what men want. The point here, is that when I read this I do not automatically agree with MacKinnon. I instead read the article and find points that I can agree with and parts that I must question and wonder where she is coming from. Is this what the National Post means when they write,

"Over the years, Women's Studies scholars have argued all heterosexual sex is oppression because its "penetrative nature" amounts to "occupation."" ??

MacKinnon has only come to my attention because I have done quite a bit of research on violence against women and rape but obviously there has not once been a professor presenting her theory, or any theory for that matter, as fact. Not one of my professors has told me I am oppressed because I have a boyfriend, and not once has a professor tried to tell the class that we should all become lesbians. This is why I feel there is no point responding to this article. All of this seems so obvious. That being said, this will probably be followed by another post to respond to more of the article.

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