What Are We Missing?

 

August 2013

 

Allow me to shed some light on the feminist movement, which, to my disappointment, I still hear people conflating with misandry. Indeed, widespread attitudes since the nineteenth century have stigmatized Feminism, personifying it into some vicious contrarian. Some rebel-without-cause, man-hating sister of Racism.

 

What this attitude does is it shuns people from fully expressing their beliefs; in a modern society where minimalism and hash tags dominate the online world, those with well-formed arguments and well-intended desires to change the community become unappreciated “try-hards.” Their inputs are ridiculous, easy to make fun of, and thus dumbed down to simple conventionalism. No wonder some of us are too lazy or afraid to say something different. Don’t worry, I am not here to preach “speaking your mind” or cliché transcendentalist philosophy. Take me seriously. Not only does this opposition create a chilling effect, it is also baseless, unwarranted.

 

The actual aim of the feminist is to empower women, not to subordinate men. This is very a simple response, though, so I am wondering why we still struggle with reconciling the clash between feminists and antifeminists - and why “feminist” is still a “bad word.” My point here, then, is to elaborate on and defend the feminist agenda, starting with a common ground within the debate: epistemology. As the study of knowledge, the way it is attained, as well the way it should be attained, the epistemic project has great influence over rational agents. With its seer-of-all nature epistemology serves as a starting point for issues pertaining to societal, scientific, and moral advancements. Thus, I point towards flaws in the way we come about knowledge as a way of examining socially accepted power structures that disfavor the woman. One such flaw in epistemology is gender and its relation to situated knowledge.

 

Situated knowledge, or subjective knowledge, is knowledge about a certain object that can vary depending on how the object is perceived. We do this all the time, since we live under different cultures, political designs, and communities. We also live with varying genders and identities, with which we interact and learn about the world around us. One form of situated knowledge, therefore, is gendered knowledge. That is, knowledge influenced by socially constructed gender roles that are assigned according to sex e.g., that men are to expected to be aggressive, whereas women are to demonstrate more passive behavior. What is so fascinating is that the acknowledgment of such situated knowledge can help us recognize androcentric characteristics that underwrite moral dialogue as well as the way we study sciences.

 

Take for example the famous Kohlberg study from 1958. In Psychology class, students use the study to learn about moral reasoning and development in children. However, further researching would reveal that Kohlberg used boys almost exclusively for his study (whether or not this was intentional does not matter). There are two implications: firstly, it confirms the reality that women are treated as inferior. In this example, it explains women’s exclusion from science studies. Secondly, and more specifically, the Kohlberg study has implicitly characterized girls‘ forms of reasoning as more relationship-oriented, or negotiation-oriented, and that girls have more permeable boundaries of the self, thereby enforcing gender roles. Further support for this claim comes from object relations theory, which suggests that the mental process of forming a self and other cognitive tasks such as learning about one’s surroundings take place simultaneously such that that the two re-enforce one other; gender roles and norms, in this way, contribute greatly to how we identify ourselves and how we see the world.

 

Often is feminism seen as a vicious predator against society. Misunderstood. But, as we see, the way we think about cognition, reasoning, and rationality, is historically and fundamentally intertwined with the denigration of women. This part of the feminist agenda, under-appreciated, is lurking underneath the depths of our discourse. I am not claiming to easily achieve equality between sexes in the status quo. I am saying, however, that viciously hacking and challenging our epistemic projects using a feminist approach would allow for the construction of better inquiries, and that this is nothing short of imperative if we are to implement social change.