The Power of Perspectives: A Case for Feminist Leisure Theory

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To the reader of feminist scholarship, and those with secondary interests in feminist intellectual values, an impressive body of theory has developed in academia over the last thirty years. The work which comprises feminist literature extends from the initial social and political developments of the 1960s that articulated concepts of oppression, sexism, and patriarchy, to the philosophical and psychoanalytical work of recent decades which has defined phallocentrism and speaks of the female as other. In the literature, feminist theoretical platforms have been developed to challenge traditional discourses in philosophy, sociology, politics, history, and science, resulting in expanded discourses which seek to enlighten or fail theory by feminist standards. Through feminist challenges to knowledge it is possible to progress to more representative theoretical frameworks which reflect female principles omitted from the inherited theories of malestream. The key to representative theory is accentuated in this paper as more than a claim for space within existing theory but as a call for new theory. Such theory would admit perspective and by this admission resist the cloak of universality which has enabled masculinist perspectives to be presented as universal truth. Feminism has practiced diversification through critique and construction, developing an ability to criticise its theory and thus prevent it from congealing into dogma. Griffin (1982) has pointed to the risk that even liberal ideology (dogma) can imprison itself as a reaction to the threats of theories of liberation which are new to its world view. To avoid imprisonment, a project of feminist leisure theory can be the construction of theoretical perspectives which do not promote universality.

The term 'feminist leisure theory' is presented here as referring to more than a consideration of the implications of feminist thinking applied to leisure theory; the intended proposition is that a theory base devoid of feminist perspectives is incomplete, or represents limited perspective, and therefore in terms of a philosophy, sets down an unfinished or illusionary version of 'truth'. If the theoretical base in leisure studies is representative and not intentionally sectarian (masculinist), feminists in the field could assume that feminist work is welcome in juxtaposition to other existent leisure theory. In the last few years there is some evidence that feminist contributions to theory have been recognised within the field (e.g. feminist special editions of journals). However, because of the origins and type of developments in feminist theory, most commentaries and research contributions in leisure studies have represented predominantly liberal and leftist feminist perspectives. Such work clearly establishes a juxtaposition between established feminist theory (liberal/leftist), leisure theory (often also liberal/leftist), and woman as topic. Other feminist positions like the autonomist orientation developed from more radical feminist positions, are less often presented. Nevertheless, their placement in reserved tangency to these discourses rather than apposition, is valuable because of their low dependence on sociopolitical patriarchal traditions. That is, autonomist critique has more capacity to admit or reject portions of work, to develop points of crossover and points of intellectual resistance, without deference to masculinist ideology. Autonomist feminism is more fully discussed in this paper under An Explanation of Feminist Methods; basically this type of critique is more concerned with values than value inheritance, and female values (women's experiences and perceptions) take precedence in autonomist feminist theory. In acknowledging the worth of autonomist perspectives, the paper argues the usefulness of stances where leisure theory is read through rather than alongside feminist theoretical work; that is, a transfusive reading is encouraged to define or correct rather than accommodate male-sided theory. This attempt to delimit leisure theory is as worthy as any attempt within disciplines to curb the dominance of masculinist universal theory. As in recent developments in feminist philosophy, there are precedents for transforming as distinct from reforming theory; a project of redefinition beckons the attention of feminists in leisure studies. In this context, the paper begins an exploration of the relevance of an autonomous feminist orientation (philosophy) to leisure theory. It should be remembered that leisure studies, as an interdisciplinary field of study, is likely to be profoundly influenced by feminist arguments stemming from all its disciplinary bases and, certainly, leisure theorists could be interested in feminist philosophy in particular. The paper proceeds from this premise to explore feminist analysis and methods as applied to leisure theory.

Origins and Categories of Feminism

To understand the value of feminism to leisure studies, it is first necessary to distinguish discussions on 'women as the topic of inquiry' from feminist arguments; the two are not the same. Since the second-wave of feminism began in the 1960s with the rise of the women's movement, women and later the academic establishment, identified new topics related to the problems of women's social position. Originally, these 'women's issues' were raised by feminists in fairly hostile public environments. Academic acceptance of Women's Studies (Boxer, 1982) eventually led to their incorporation into a plethora of other social problems that were deemed worthy of interdisciplinary study, subject to analysis through existing methods, and susceptible to existing interpretive models. The academic and public discussion which has arisen from this acceptance is not always feminist, and the treatment of women as topics in research, texts, or discussions should be distinguished from producing feminist research, texts, or discussions. While the former may be inclusive, the topic of women is treated with a reliance on existing theoretical assumptions and structures (i.e. methodologies), whereas feminist analysis is often alert to masculinist prejudice in theory. As well as a distinction between accepting women as a topic for analysis and applying a feminist analysis to a topic, the various feminist perspectives at play in feminist thinking need to be understood (Eisenstein & Jardine, 1987).

Some feminist positions demonstrate a higher level of acceptance for masculinist theories by redirecting them to apply to women, while more critical feminist approaches question theory traditions and call for creative new thinking. In Eisenstein's (1990) overview of the historical development of feminism she reminds readers that during the 1970s: its project of ending the subordination of women, feminism drew upon three streams of political and social theory: political rights, as defined in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberalism; economic rights, as defined in nineteenth- and twentieth-century socialist theory; and sexual rights, as defined in twentieth-century theories of sexual liberation.

In dealing with these approaches, feminist theory developed along three basic orientations which are described as liberal, structuralist, and radical. Definition of liberal and structuralist positions is uncontroversial but the term 'radical' is somewhat confusing and needs clarification. The category, radical feminism, has clear currency for those of us who have been reading feminist theory since the 1960s; we recognise the position as broadly cultural feminist. However, for classification per sea problem of general clarity arises as some leftist theories have been popularly known as radical. The risk of confusion between these and cultural feminism is significant; for the sake of clarity and the readability of feminist work it is helpful to define with more precision. In her work on feminist critiques, Grosz (1988) defined feminist critical responses in theoretical writings as liberal feminist, structuralist feminist, and autonomy-oriented feminist. These categories not only order the relationship of theory but are unambiguous as classifications, and are the preferred categories for the purpose of this discussion.

Liberal and structuralist theories are well established in mainstream literature. Since the development of feminism, theorists have been reforming theory seeking applicable models in order to speak of women as well as men. The socialist feminist Phillips's (1991) recent modifications of liberal democratic theory to accommodate feminism is a case in point. Not surprisingly, as paradoxical as some models of democracy are shown to be, the power of democracy in egalitarian politics is still a magnet to feminist analysis. A question at the centre of feminist work on democracy is whether the system which has presided over female oppression can be reworked to acknowledge women. Feminists like Phillips are working on these modifications. Structuralist theory is equally tantalising (Game, 1991). Theories of equal rights or class are employed to demand/explain inclusion/exclusion; possibly at unnoticed costs related to a subscription to masculinist methodologies and explanations which are modified to apply to women. By contrast, an autonomist critique questions traditional and leftist knowledges as phallocentric or representative of male perspectives, and seeks to challenge models of knowledge as often inappropriate to women and female thinking. This style of critique argues that different knowledges (feminist) are probably at least equally right. Autonomist critiques not only reject the representation of knowledge as neutral (a phallocentric claim) but question the representations of feminine thinking in patriarchal discourses. These critiques suggest that a re-evaluation of the feminine by female definition is a necessary step towards female autonomy (Sky, 1992); feminists must define their thinking, exposing lacks in existent theory in order to create new theory.

These undertakings are complex and courageous given that 'knowledge' is institutionalised and guardians of the tabernacle are convinced of what they 'know'. New ways of knowing are, as always, received emotionally. However, feminists must move beyond the exclusion and co-option that has been exposed in feminist academic work (e.g. Harding & O'Barr, 1987 on science; Moi, 1987 on history and philosophy; Strouse, 1985 on psychoanalysis; Mitchell & Oakley, 1986 on sociology). Moving beyond theoretical obstruction to feminist thinking has begun in a number of disciplines with ramifications for methodologies. An Explanation of Feminist Methods

In western circles, the social feminist theories which have predominated are empirical and speak of the authority of experience, women writers, and a homogeneous female tradition. In this framework women in their own right became the object of study included in social accounts. However, alongside this Anglo-American social/political theory, autonomist feminism has initiated a philosophical perspective. This position is theoretical rather than empirical, and speaks of 'feminine' writing and marginalised 'female' contribution to patriarchal traditions. Feminists of this view shift women from being the object of study to be the subject of knowledge, and theory becomes the object of study from a female perspective or as seen through women's experience. Universal knowing is not sought, but acknowledged perspective is employed to expose universality and to present representative theory. Applied to the leisure studies literature, liberal and structuralist feminist accounts make predominantly political criticisms about unequal access and constraints on women's leisure. These positions identify androcentric biases in the field of study and want an emphasis placed on equal treatment for women as a legitimate topic (object) of study. Feminists working within liberal and structuralist frameworks may try to develop these theories to include women, but their challenge is not to 'knowledge' or methodologies, but to the unfair exclusion of women as object of the practice of theory. Feminists work at different levels of these theories, from the liberal 'unequal opportunity' complaints, to the more unpopular criticisms of the predominance of men in the field which is said to lead to women's questions being ignored or seen as unimportant. However, in liberal and structuralist feminisms, 'knowledge' is retained, and perhaps supported, by applications which locate feminism within traditional or leftist theories. So feminists in leisure studies produce work on exclusion, barriers, and constraints using liberal appeals and structuralist explanations to argue the case. These approaches have been a valuable means of describing women's practice of leisure, but have limitations which are sometimes ideological.

Work from an autonomous feminist position would take a different focus. Here androcentricity would be located in ideology itself which leads to claims of possible biases in interpretations and methodologies, not just of sample type (i.e. whether male or female), but related to the intellectual orientation of theory. Patriarchal bias would be acknowledged as going deeper than social structure and identified as trained into thinking. Feminists responding to this view must contend with more than sexism; they must find ways to challenge 'truth'. The idea that knowledges are gender-inflected and subsume women's views within masculinist theories that claim universality and neutrality (Sky, 1992), provides points of challenge to universal paradigms of leisure and presupposes engagements of feminism with theory.

Only after experiencing both exclusion from and co-option by patriarchal discourses and knowledges are feminists able to affirm their own point of view and thus to gain the necessary distance to form independent judgements about the very systems within which many were trained. (Grosz, 1988, p.92)

Given that feminist approaches to questions of female experience have changed throughout the decades, there are continuous themes in the trend of feminist inquiry: women's exclusion, assumption, subsumption, and co-option. In this view political/social and philosophical theories collude. However, a powerful benefit of the autonomist approach is the ability to construct applicable methods and theories which challenge value inheritance. Numerous possibilities emerge from this type of feminine thinking which apply to leisure theory. Dichotomy, Universal 'Truth', and Paradigm

Feminist contributors in leisure studies are having to address theory in its middle development phase. Leisure theory, as indeed most thinking, proclaims from a pervasive history of traditional philosophies which accredit masculinist value, define paradigmatic methods, and divulge universal 'truth'. In her discussion of Western philosophy and science Frye (1983) observed that in the academic tradition, and in leftist alternatives, the simplest theory which justifies the frame of reference or data, is exalted as the true theory while, If something seems to be unintelligible, you can decide it is unnatural or unreal. Or you can decide it is what is really real and then declare that you have discovered the Problem of Knowledge. Or, having declared what seems unintelligible to be the really real, you can claim it is, after all, intelligible, but only to the extraordinary few (who, in spite of being so few somehow can be normative of what Man really is). (Frye, 1983, p.71)

The academy pursues simple, universal truth in paradigmatic explanation of phenomena. In crisis there may be an exchange of paradigms based on a new intelligence which becomes known with confidence as the right 'truth'. For example, concepts of right and wrong were, of course, referenced and clearly set out in the Pythagorean tables of opposites. Autonomist positions dispute universal 'truth', logical dichotomy, and incomplete (masculinist) paradigms. On these counts, we can begin to unravel leisure theory.

In traditional philosophy, rationality depends on fixed entities. For example, dualistic logical dichotomy exists where two irreducible principles are arranged in binary opposition (male/female). Traditionally, sex and gendered behaviour have been explained in rational terms of genetic formations of male/female, which determines the 'natural' place to women and men. In terms of a philosophy, feminists criticise gender dichotomy as part of a patriarchal discourse which prescribes definitional place to 'male' as the primary describer, with 'female' as an oppositional value. However, autonomist analysis would emphasise that beyond this sexist structure, the theory model of logical dichotomy is flawed. For even when the female becomes the primary reference by reversing positions within the dichotomy, the regressive method remains; the binary oppositional structure insists that one thing be defined as opposite to the primary de-terminer (Sky, 1992). In an attempt to classify, philosophy has structured rational theories as fundamental to an ordering of the world. That theories are sexist fails them on one account, but when they are flawed, rationality and consequent duality is shown to limit understanding not just bias it, and a dependence on fixed entities is brought into question. By this type of analysis, contrary distinctions start to assume validity, and definitional structures which acknowledge continuum rather than dichotomy become appealing as a means to representative theory and methods. This analysis should also apply to leisure theory.

The definition of leisure has preoccupied modern academic inquiry for decades, with current general acceptance that leisure as time, activity, or experience, covers the range of ways to theorise about leisure. Much of this theory has attempted to understand leisure (i.e. time, activity, experience) in a relative sense; to define leisure as an oppositional value to work using work/leisure dichotomy in a fundamental role in theory. Disputes have frequently revolved around the issue of which term in the dichotomy is the primary definer: work or leisure. Some classical texts in the field have focused on the issue of work centrality as ultimate reference. Leisure has been defined as time outside work, or activity devoid of work connotation, and paradigms have been presented to rate work-relation (high or low) as a means to value the leisure experience. Work has been used to define leisure, but in most instances, work defined relative to leisure has referred to employment (i.e. male experience) and not the unpaid work which constitutes much of women's time. Theoretically, there is some difficulty in valuing the employment relation of those engaged in unpaid domestic roles or sets of experience. Paradigms reliant on work/leisure binary oppositions are powerless to describe women's circumstances. By contrast, leisure and work defined in their own terms as contraries on a continuum of intellectual and social experience, would serve theory in ways not accommodated in dichotomy. It is likely we could gauge experiential criteria (e.g. levels of pleasure) without knowledge about work-relation, so leisure defined in its own terms is potentially definitive in its own right. To move beyond disputing the primary term in the work/leisure dualism, it is useful for leisure theory to question whether binary oppositional structures are helpful to definition. The discussion in this paper suggests they are not; they limit understanding by constructing leisure as not-work where work is given masculinist value. This raises the issue of so called objective values ascribed to theory, and the influence of biased models on methods. Certainly, paradigms relying on work as a primary variable to the meaning of leisure have been prominent in the field for decades even though they are more reflective of male perspectives of leisure than of women's experience as unpaid or dual workers. The objectivity of such theory must be questioned and labelled, as is occurring in other fields of study where the notion of objective theory, methodologies, or observation is under review.

An irresistible example of anomaly in objective observation can be found in physics. Physicists have come to accept that electrons can be measured as wave or particle, and the observer's preconceptions determine whether questions about the wave-like qualities or the particle behaviour of electrons are formulated. Answers then depend upon the observer's decision in the first place about the kind of question to ask; it is this which has led to the realisation -at least in atomic physics- that the human observer cannot be said to stand, objectively, outside the system, but is intrinsically part of it by virtue of that initial decision. (Birke, 1986, p.94)

This simple example defies simple theory. An observer unaware of the complete behaviour frame of the thing observed could, on the basis of misconception, ask specific questions which predetermine the range of answers ('truths') arrived at. Theory is representative of perspective, as in the work/leisure example, and dominant perspective can determine methodology. How then should we approach theory? One answer is through developing alternative perspectives and methods. That is, by refuting universality in favour of perspectivism.

Feminist theory openly takes up a position in relation to masculinist theory (i.e. theory which does not acknowledge gendered perspective but presumes to represent universal, neutral knowledge). Feminist care to clarify position results from the deep engagement with the theoretical discourses within feminism which acknowledge perspective (liberal, structuralist, and autonomist orientations) and recognise the way theory links to practice. An example can be drawn from the 1970s slogan 'the personal is political' which set down a distinctive feature of feminist thinking that had ramifications for methods. The notion that personal experience and private life could determine (i.e. support or reject) public political life, was a feminist revelation with powerful consequences. By questioning the traditional demarcation between private/public and acknowledging that each influences the other, feminist theory began to recognise the degree to which experience or perspective bears on theory and method. Feminist discourses of perspectives have been cultivated through a preference for qualitative analysis and methods, and this trend sustains autonomist inquiry which continues to acclaim female thinking, and seek representative theory. Leisure studies and interdisciplinary theory stand to be advantaged by these projects to confirm truth. Conclusion

The paper takes the position that 'knowing' is incomplete without feminist epistemology. A discussion of the main feminist orientations to theory (i.e. liberal, structuralist, and autonomist) argues that women's leisure, and other experience, is better understood through the insight of feminist theories. These theories are shown to employ different types of analysis. The autonomist feminist approach which discloses the basis of knowledge as biased and in many ways incapable of accurate (whole) analysis, is promoted as most appropriate to the clarification of theory. This approach is applied to discuss the work/leisure dichotomy used in the field to define leisure, revealing an example of logical classifications in leisure theory which excludes female experience. Autonomous feminism is presented as more searching of theory than liberal or structuralist positions because of its stance that masculinist 'knowledge' is incomplete. A progression to more representative theory is seen as occurring through perspectivism in theory rather than through modifications to universals. The paper challenges contemporary feminists to unravel knowledges and their theoretical models and techniques, to discover the truths and defects in existing theory with the goal of creating new theories.


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Pauline Sky is Head of the School of Sport and Leisure Studies, The University of New South Wales, St Georges Campus, P O Box 88, Oatley NSW, Austalia 2233.