"Now I Have Something That Is Mine": Women's Higher Education Gains as Feminist Standpoint

Article excerpt

Abstract: Whose legacies of resistance are remembered? Whose are not? What meaning can we extract from feminist standpoints uncovered? Dominant societal structures record women's lives in institutional memory where traditional scientific empiricism validates this as truth. Corrective in measure, this paper uses feminist standpoint to see and analyze five stories detailing segments of women's higher education life challenges. Subjectpositions within these stories counter distorted realities.

A European woman raises a family then penetrates the ivied walls of the academy. An Argentinean national discovers her autonomy through furthering her ex-husband's career. A mid-westerner moves through the upper echelons of male-dominated academia with little social capital paving her way. These descriptions highlight women's educational gains, yet the legacies within these stories remain largely invisible to others. Memory serves as an important device of public record. Women's lives recalled in public memory, when documented via traditional scientific empiricism, chronicle stories lacking depth and nuance. These flattened misrepresentations produce what becomes faulty andocentric-based knowledge that goes on to occupy a dominant space of institutional knowledge. Largely reflective of national memory, this dominance tells a societal version of truth narrowly informed through male-centered scientific method. Personal standpoint corrects misrepresentations by giving voice to women's standpoints. Subject-positions within the standpoints here counter distorted realities produced through male-centered scientific method, thus exposing the often glossed over challenges to women's educational path frequently lost in data-driven study. Moving voices of female subversion into public view distinguishes ways in which women's personal acts become operational but overlooked variables essential to advancing educational equity outcomes. Informed through feminist standpoint theory (Collins, 2004; Harding, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 1986; Hartsock, 2004; Hekman, 2004; hooks, 2004, 1984; Smith, 2004; Weeks, 2004; Wylie, 2004) this paper maps excerpts from five women's higher education stories. Beginning with a discussion of narrative analysis, readers can understand objective dimensions of subjective practices and consider ways positioned standpoint validates and advances feminist thought.

Feminist Standpoint Theory (FST)

Feminist Standpoint Theory (FST) provides a theoretical response to overcoming instances of marginalized, ignored voice within the context of a culturally accepted dominant, authoritative voice. FST also seeks to establish a feminist research model that operates free from patriarchal bias. Much of conventional science produces knowledge understood through male-oriented language and worldviews that isolate women from their own realities (Smith, 2004). Tagged as "bad science," these Western, affluent, masculine doctrines frequently constrain rather than emancipate women's knowledge (Harding, 1986; Minnich, 2005). Counter in measure, FST does not add women into research; rather, it initiates discovery in women's perspective, accessing standpoints which then reformulate our social order understandings (Harding, 2004a; Letherby, 2003). Woman as the research fulcrum challenges the presumption that conventional scientific empiricism is a homogeneous fit-all-method (Harding, 2004a, 1986). The contention that women fall outside this dominant research overlay makes the relationship between FST and knowledge production and practices of power fundamental to its origins, purpose, and use.

Feminist scholars advocate FST as means to see and authenticate women's lived experiences by exposing the colonized spaces of tension and resistance in which they evolve (Collins, 2004, 2000; Harding, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 1986; hooks, 2004; Hartsock, 2004; Jaggar, 2004; Minnich, 2005; Smith, 2004; Weeks, 2004; Wylie, 2004). Strategic in purpose, FST teeters between a science-topolitics dynamic, functioning as a scientific tool to uncover situated knowledge otherwise obscured by patriarchal dominance, and as a political leverage to free women's voices otherwise read discursively though male controlled knowledge systems (Jaggar, 2004, 1983). …