Response to Julie Marcus

By Stone, Janey | Hecate, May 31, 1989 | Go to article overview

Response to Julie Marcus


Stone, Janey, Hecate


Julie Marcus, in her review of a recent book Australian Women: New Feminist Perspectives,(1) reminds the reader of Bronwen Levy's plea for political awareness in writing academic and theoretical work(2) and, in this spirit, incorporates into her article a discussion of the significance of men writing on feminism. Marcus' purpose is to question the "validity of accepting men as contributors to an explicitly feminist enterprise" (p 99) and, beyond that, to ask "what the more general political results of including men contributors will be" (p 100).

In doing so she criticises Connell for a lack of rigour in presenting his case. "Instead of scrutinizing his own argument for its limitations and inconsistencies, he asserts that the problem lies in the female literature" (p 102). Marcus nowhere scrutinizes the basic assumptions of her own feminist positions. Instead she asserts that the problem lies with the male gender.

This seems to be a central problem in the work of many who call themselves feminists. I do not propose here to write a different review of the book or of Bob Connell's article. Nor will I enter into the question of the good faith or otherwise of the editors or the appropriateness of the title. Rather, I would like to discuss some of the issues that Marcus' approach to the subject raises, in particular her feminism as it is revealed by her discussion of Connell's article, and to consider the political implications.

It might be argued that it was not Marcus' purpose to give an outline of her feminist views. But she emphasises strongly 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" (p 98). Marcus' review is full of arguments based on what is or isn't feminism and who is or isn't a feminist. She writes of pseudo-feminism, feminist knowledge, non-feminist scholarship.

Yet there is no definition of feminism offered. How are we to know whether we (men or women) have reached her exacting standards if we don't know what they are?

Although Marcus does not define what she understands by the term feminism, it is possible to locate her position within a body of political argument. Marcus clearly subscribes to the way of thinking often called patriarchy theory, which Iris Young calls dual systems theory.(3)

While these vary, they all have in common the argument that society cannot be explained by class analysis. Instead they seek a theory which places gender differentiation at the centre of the analysis, at least for women. Marcus clearly locates herself in this tradition: "Gender classifications are embedded in the moral community and in consciousness in a way that class is not, and one body of feminist thought argues that gender categories underly those of class and race, are radically disconnected from them and indeed, that gender is at the base of the moral community...gender categories are of quite other epistemological and ontological status" (p 102).(4)

Marcus does not actually argue for this position except to indicate in a footnote that she is working on the subject. But it is so fundamental to her point of view that any critique of her position must begin with some general comments on these theories.

Iris Young divides dual systems theories into two categories. The first regards the system of patriarchy as essentially ideological and psychological, and independent of social, economic and historical relations. The second attempts to delineate an area of social relations relatively independent of the relations of production which Marxists traditionally analyse. Marcus' emphasis on gender relations seems to place her in the first school. That is, she locates the oppression of women in the personal interaction between men and women, and in gender roles.

The problem with this approach, as Joan Smith has pointed out,(5) is that it confuses women's oppression with the ideological manifestation of that oppression. …

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