Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

'Glossing Over' Feminism?: A General Semantics Critique

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

'Glossing Over' Feminism?: A General Semantics Critique

Article excerpt

It makes sense that the term feminism would find its way into an array of glossaries, because the function of a glossary, in general, is to define and clarify difficult terms. In our culture the word "feminism" covers enough ideological, intellectual, practical, and sensational territory to stir any number of map-makers into action. A General Semantics glossary, with its tools of analysis (e.g., et cetera, dating, and indexing) would appear to be an excellent forum to explore the diverse philosophic systems that make up the territory of "feminisms."

In Robert Pula's first Installment of his "A General Semantics Glossary," he states, "I affirm that a pedagogical device designed to ameliorate the agony of students of any discipline constitutes a potentially good thing and should be attempted" (GSG:I, 462. See references at end of article). The authors of this article agree. We have avidly read and appreciated Pula's glossary definitions. However, his all-too brief description of contemporary feminism, presented in Part XI of this series, seems more appropriate to us as an editorial, than as a glossary entry, for editorials tend to involve a greater degree of intensionality.

In order to develop a more effective extensional orientation Pula, himself, suggests that one ask the following questions: "How do I know that? Why do I say that? What evidence might I discover, which might disconfirm what I am claiming, what I have just said?" (GSG:VIII, 225). Pula, in a manner similar to philosopher Karl Popper's technique of "critical rationalism" or "falsifiability," suggests these questions as a means to curb the influence and errors caused by one's belief-systems. It is in this spirit, that we would like to offer a general-semantics critique of ETC.'s latest glossary entry. In the process, we would also like to present to Pula, and his readers, some additional theoretical, historical, and practical "evidence" toward the enterprise of describing the field of contemporary "feminism."

One of the major areas of concern for general semantics, as well as for several trends of feminist thought, is the issue of moving beyond the traditional, either/or methods of Aristotelian categorization to a more multi-valued, and therefore "truthful," system for interpreting our world. (1) In the strong words of Pula, "if we willfully (or stupidly) simplify a blatantly, unapologetically complex structure, we do violence to it and ourselves" (GSG:I, 463). As "general semantics-feminists" (one female and one male), the authors of this essay were surprised, then, that Pula cited Christina Hoff Sommers's controversial book, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women, as one of the two primary sources for his glossary entry on "feminism," the other being Pula's own lived experience vis-a-vis his parents and family (GSG:XI, 208-209).

Although we were intrigued and entertained by much of Sommers's book, and although we were sympathetic to some of her concerns, we found her two-dimensional method of analysis simplistic and far afield from the practices of a general-semantics investigation. Sommers unequivocally divides the many voices that make up the complex field of feminist criticism into two distinct, either/or camps -- "equity feminists" and "sex/gender feminists." Pula uses Sommers's binary description of feminism as the basis for his glossary definition by explaining that Sommers has provided him with two differentiating, rather than oppositional terms (GSG:XI, 209). But how do Sommers, and in turn Pula, operationally define and apply those terms?

"Equity-Feminism" vs "Sex-Gender Feminism": An Either/Or Proposition

Sommers's polarizing "equity vs sex/gender feminism" classification system echoes the age-old division of women. It attempts to divide the "good girls" (equity feminists) from the "bad ones" (sex/gender feminists) on the basis of their "sexual politics." And, in the process, this system distorts, rather than describes the terrain it endeavors to explain. …

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