Academic journal article Hecate

Australian Women and Feminist Men

Academic journal article Hecate

Australian Women and Feminist Men

Article excerpt

How is it that one of the most recent feminist volumes on Australian women(1) has its final, theoretical chapter written by a man?(2) Are we to assume that no Australian woman is capable of, or interested in, presenting a well-argued, clearly-written analysis of, or commentary upon, theories of gender? Is this an indication that women are still unable to provide `theory'? Are some Australian feminists confused, or have academic feminists once more lost touch with the relationship of their work to the politics and aims of the women's movement?

Recent contributions to Australian feminist thought, Feminist Challenges: Social and Political Theory,(3) for example, illustrate the very high quality of theoretical work achieved by local scholars in both feminist and non-feminist analyses. Some of the essays in Australian Women: New Feminist Perspectives(4) also indicate the capacity of Australian women to provide `theory'. We must conclude then that a final theoretical chapter to Australian Women could have been readily supplied by an Australian female scholar. This being the case, the question arises as to whether or not the theoretical chapter is actually an example of feminist scholarship, no matter what the gender of the author. This is a matter I shall examine in more detail shortly.

The problem of the relation of men to feminist scholarship is a topical one. All women and all feminist journals, meetings and conferences are increasingly faced with the need to discriminate between work which is simply `about women', and work which is both informed by a feminist critique and addressed to the political needs of women. It is, of course, possible to argue that non-feminist work `about women', can be very useful and that a feminist analysis need not address current political problems directly, but such a formulation of the feminist enterprise puts aside the concerns which first inspired the search for a feminist knowledge, the very bases of feminism itself. And if, as Bronwen Levy proposes,(5) the attempt to separate politics from academic analyses is part of the way in which radical criticism is co-opted by an academy which remains resolutely masculinist, then these questions have some urgency. The need to discriminate feminist from pseudo-feminist and non-feminist scholarship raises questions not only about the theoretical framework and political aims of feminist discourse, but also that of how to deal with the work of men, particularly those who attempt to confront the claims and aims of a feminist critique of knowledge.

These matters are currently being discussed in Hecate. The book which sparked debate there and which brought the question not only of men and feminism but that of male feminists to the fore, was Feminist Literary Studies: An Introduction(6) by Ken Ruthven. Yet feminist concern over the role of male feminists arose much earlier. British lesbians have had extreme political difficulties in their relations with the gay men's movement(7) and have been forced to canvass the practical politics of male feminism at length. In France, Christine Delphy wrote pungently of the male friends of Women's Lib in 1977.(8) She wrote:

They (male feminists) do not claim to be our allies for long, anyway...They soon abandon the carrot for the stick; `Take care', they say, `not to alienate those men who are well-disposed towards you'. But why should we be careful not to alienate men? Haven't they agreed woman's liberation depends upon women? Their warning reveals that our friends, who claim to believe we are the agents of our own revolution, are merely mouthing our words as a tactic. They do not believe a word of it. They think that the `support' of a minority of men is more important for women's liberation than raising the consciousness of the majority of women.

We hope that the support of some men -- or rather, of some individuals who have abandoned the privileges of their position as men...will be useful from time to time. …

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