Feminist Approaches to Theory and Methodology: An Interdisciplinary Reader

By Sharlene Hesse-Biber; Christina Gilmartin et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Feminist Skepticism and the "Maleness" of Philosophy

SUSAN BORDO

In the late 1970s in the United States, contemporary American feminism took an important turn. From an initial emphasis on legal, economic, and social discrimination against women, feminists began to consider the deep effects of the gender organization of human life on Western culture -- on the literary, scientific, and philosophical canon that we call "the Western intellectual tradition." Earlier feminist works had criticized that tradition for its explicit gender biases: objectionable images of women, misogynist theory, the lack of representation of women's concerns and voices, and so forth. In the late 1970s, however, a deeper "hermeneutics of suspicion" emerged among feminists. We began to realize that gender bias may be revealed in one's perspective on the nature of reality, in one's style of thinking, in one's approach to problems -- quite apart from any explicit gender content or attitudes toward the sexes.

Recently, some contemporary feminists have taken yet another critical turn. Criticizing what they see as the historical oversimplifications and unconscious ethnocentrism of earlier feminist readings of culture, more recent perspectives urge a new caution, a new skepticism about the use of gender as an analytical category. These perspectives, like much contemporary thought, are informed by what might be called a "theoretics of heterogeneity" -- an attunement to multiple interpretive possibilities, to the plurality of interpenetrating factors that comprise any object of analysis and to the "differences" that fragment all general claims about culture. According to such perspectives, to theorize culture or history along gender lines -- to speak of "male" and "female" realities or perspectives -- is to homogenize diversity and obscure particularity.

Although most commonly associated with postmodern continental perspectives, 1 such a theoretics of heterogeneity, particularly with respect to its implications for a cultural understanding of philosophy, is strikingly and articulately exemplified by the Anglo-American analyst Jean Grimshaw. In Philosophy and Feminist Thinking, emphasizing what she describes as the "extremely variegated na

Susan Bordo, "Feminist Skepticism and the 'Maleness' of Philosophy", in Elizabeth D. Harvey and Kathleen Okruhlik, eds. Women and Reason ( Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992): 143-62. Reprinted by permission.

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