Feminism: The Recasting of Political Language
Feminism: The Recasting of Political Language
Abstract and Keywords
The latter part of the twentieth century has seen the emergence of a number of groupings of political thought that attempt to escape from the morphological and interpretative constraints of the older established ideologies. One way of effecting this has been through the processes of redefining the domain of the political, reconceptualizing the ideational elements of the contending ideologies, renaming the components of political vocabulary, and revalorizing marginal political concepts. Another has been through decreased internal integration in comparison to existing ideological families, the outcome being the formation of thin‐centred assimilative ideologies, which then either challenge the relevance of additional ideological baggage, or thicken by ingesting the patterns of other ideologies. This chapter and the next examine two of the more prominent exemplars, and illustrate a potentially deep divide among analysts: are these ideologies extensive but eclectic or unique but truncated? Here, feminism is examined; the eight sections of the chapter are: (a) The feminist core: between critique and prescription; (b) Gender and power; (c) The political domain; (d) Paradigms lost and regained; (e) Postmodernism: an alliance of convenience?; (f) Equality and the feminist traditions; (g) An ideological reading of ideologies; and (h) The role of the concrete.
A key problem attracts attention when reading contemporary analyses of feminism. Feminists commonly portray their beliefs as a stark departure from existing, male‐constructed political theories and ideologies. As Coole has put it, ‘many of the questions traditionally posed by political theorists are either irrelevant or marginal’.1 That claim deserves serious consideration. At the centre of much contemporary feminist argument is the contention that, in speaking traditional political languages, people are necessarily engaged in articulating a linguistic surplus of value (or disvalue), of which they are only partly conscious. In the terminology of this study, the insights of feminism reinforce the finding that decontestation is a principal device in the analysis of political ideologies. The implication of that device is that the choice of any combination of conceptual decontestations necessarily has an impact, directly or by deliberate exclusion, on an indeterminate range of known, as well as undetected, proximate concepts and their decontestations. Hence the certainty introduced by ideological language into one area of political discourse is always, in the larger sense, an admission of the indeterminacy and essential contestability of political language in general.
The role of feminist arguments with reference to political thought has been to discover domains of surplus meaning and to suggest that, by reading the surplus back into the employment of words and arguments by past and current mainstream users of political theory, a significant new interpretation of political conduct and its purposes emerges. That interpretation centres on the problematic position of women in the political world and the construction of an alternative world acceptable to feminists. It consequently necessitates the reordering of the conceptual morphology employed by (p.489) political theorists so as to give an account of political relationships perceived as correct, as well as a basis for normative recommendations, with the aim of producing an intellectually and emotionally sustainable political theory. On one interpretation, this surplus semantic field posits a synchrony that precedes diachrony, inasmuch as the question ‘are women's rights discovered or do they evolve?’ may be answered by reference to universal claims for equal treatment that exist in the social categories called ‘woman’ or ‘gender’, irrespective of time or place. On another interpretation the question may be answered diachronically, inasmuch as it involves the gradual cultural and historical deliverance of women from the constraints of a language that, at worst, enlists patriarchal notions in order to subject them to severe dehumanization and, at least, enlists rights talk that conspires to reduce women to men by equalizing them androgynously.
Nevertheless, a salient theme in the development and currents of feminism is its categorization into liberal, socialist (Marxist and non‐Marxist), and radical types.2 The very forms feminists seek to transcend cast their shadows on the new ideological product. Those categorizations are not unhelpful for a broad‐brush accentuation of some of the features of feminism. But they divert attention from the distinct conceptual structure of feminist positions in three ways. First, by ignoring the internal logical and cultural decontestations that simply cannot be explained away by references to the historical associations of feminists with major ideological schools. Second, by importing unsophisticated generalizations, in particular concerning liberalism and socialism, that overlook the intricacy and malleability of configurations within those ideological families. Third, by disregarding the extent to which some feminists have reinterpreted liberalism and Marxist socialism and claimed to uncover new core concepts in the morphology of those ideological families.3 Whether sufficient features of other ideologies have been injected into feminisms to merit their hyphenated description, whether indeed, from one possible perspective, such feminisms are an offshoot of older ideologies to the extent that one could talk not of a liberal feminism but of a feminist liberalism, not of a socialist feminism but of a feminist socialism, requires further reflection. Moreover, whether radical, second‐wave feminism, in particular in its postmodern varieties, has in fact abandoned the (p.490) conceptual proximities and preferences of earlier feminisms must be put to an empirical test.
Three major approaches to the analysis of feminist ideology are thus possible, each of which provides important insights for political theorists, and none of which rules out the others. The first examines the contribution of various feminisms to the handling of mainstream political concepts and especially to the liberal, socialist and (less pronounced) conservative packages in which they are presented. The second investigates the challenge feminists have mounted to the chief concerns of predominant political thought and their attempts to propose alternative methodological paradigms. The third explores the family of feminisms in terms of the unintended ideological positions to which they, too, resort. The first two are central to the self‐perception of feminists; the third is essential, though on its own insufficient, to an adequate account of feminist political thought‐behaviour. This chapter will address all three, but not in a lexical sequence. These perspectives are interwoven and mutually illuminating.
The greater dependence of feminist theory on already existing ideological languages, a tradition of working in part through those languages, and a clear focus on the customary subject‐matter of political thought—the political conduct of, and relations among, human beings and their formal regulatory institutions—suggest that the morphological range of feminism may be more comparable to mainstream ideologies than some of its exponents might claim, and—to pre‐empt the argument in the following chapter—rather more successful in doing so than green ideology is. Yet it is also the case that feminism is not about political and social arrangements in general (however defective other ideological solutions to those arrangements are deemed to be) but about the problems and aims of women in social, temporal, and spatial contexts. For instance, the logical adjacencies between women's claims for equality, and the bearing of such claims on other questions of social and political equality, are curtailed from being applied more widely by cultural adjacencies held by feminists concerning the privileging of women's issues, or the current advantages already enjoyed by men.4 A responsible account must balance these different considerations as well as harbouring an awareness of the complexities of assimilating feminist thinkers into analytical frameworks with which they often have ambivalent relationships.
The core concepts of feminism are still in a state of flux, and the advent of second‐wave feminism allows for some internal competition over their precise morphological status. The first core concept is undoubtedly the centrality of the role of women or, more precisely, of gender in politics, and many feminists make no apology for an ideology they see as directed to the advancement of women alone. This gender‐based assertion leads logically to the second core concept: the relationship between women and men is a key problematic in social organization and practices. Put differently, a crucial characteristic of social relations is the overriding importance of their gender‐based dimension. Attached to that is a third core concept: the male–female relationship is a power nexus in which women are dominated, exploited, or oppressed by men, a relationship which has to be transformed or integrated. The centrality of the role of women is itself subject to a theoretical dispute over its desirability or otherwise, relating—as will presently be shown —to the equality–difference debate. Moreover, the logical connection between the first and the second core concept is one that some feminists deplore and would prefer to be overcome culturally. As MacKinnon critically comments, women's status is ‘defined through relations with men’, those relations being not personal but structural.5 Some feminists might prefer a more explicit notion of power, such as patriarchy or sexuality, to be named specifically as a core concept, but the latter are nevertheless decontestations of the former.6
It is important to note that the above core—especially the third core concept concerning power—is that of feminism in its critical ideological mode. This may appear similar to the structure of Marxism, but Marxism's critique of capitalism is predicated upon a clear conception of human nature which emerges dialectically (that is, logically) from the negation of the negation. In contradistinction, the ideological recommendations of the family of feminisms have no sharply demarcated and positively valuated core concept of human nature which could underpin their arguments collectively. Some feminists rest content with the elimination of power relationships between men and women, some replace them (p.492) with social virtues drawn from values which reflect and respect the closest concerns of women, others assume emancipated women and men may generate a common pool of human attributes. The disagreement over whether the adjacent features of human nature are those of women alone (culturally, historically, or biologically) or those men can adopt as well is pronounced. Others again believe in a multiplicity of developmental and expressive directions human beings can take. Not a few exclude the concept of human nature from their ideological network altogether, by insisting that it is a social construct—although that, of course, simply attempts to deny the ideological nature of feminism and the ubiquity of such social constructs in all ideologies. In short, it may be sufficient to state that feminism aspires to revalorize practices and ideas that express the centrality of the first core and solve the problematics of the second. The addition of the third core concept reflects the tension between critique and recommendation that at this point in the development of feminism is weighted in the direction of critique. Finally, there are feminists who decry any attempt to conceptualize feminism which, on their account, is a set of concrete practices. While there is no disputing this central point, they are wrong in their anti‐theoretical stance: not only is that an atypical view among feminists, who have to the contrary developed complex theoretical apparatuses, but the practices these dissenting feminists emphasize are replete with theoretical significance, as befits the relationship between conceptual periphery and core.
In addition to its core structure, feminist morphology is crucially affected by the indeterminate role of the concept of equality. At times, equality batters on the gates of the core, demanding full membership in the inner sanctum. In that event, it is perceived as indispensable to feminist discourse. At other times, it is the most significant of the adjacent concepts of feminism, seeking to route theoretical elaboration and concrete specifics through its midst. But it also intersects with the concept of difference, as shall later be noted. The result is a range of decontestations reflecting a spectrum of cultural positions within a broad logical network. It is the key to the morphological decoding of contemporary feminist ideologies.
(b) Gender and Power
A discussion of feminism can usefully commence with the core concept of power and its adjacent concepts. Feminists have always (p.493) pointed to the inequality of power between men and women, from the days when the gaining of political power seemed to be mainly a question of securing the vote—ostensibly, equal access to public decision‐making. Initially, the integration of the concept of power into feminist ideology followed accepted routes. It was expanded through socialist interpretation to cover social and economic inequalities, deliberate or not, personal or systemic. However, an exclusive contribution of feminism to the decontestation of power has been to discover it in a previously unrecognized form of social relationship: patriarchy. This is a prime example of feminist reconceptualization.7 It is of course not the case that a new type of power has been registered. Rather, further sets of social practices are included within the domain of power, and the identification of a new source of power leads to a reorganization by feminists of conceptual proximities within prevailing ideological positions. As Millet has contended, patriarchy as sexual dominion is ‘perhaps the most pervasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power’.8 It is both ubiquitous and entrenched. For patriarchy is only a partly conscious phenomenon. It has, on one level, been clear to its practitioners that men could and did control and command women. However, the attribution of naturalness to that array of practices deprived it of its transparency as a power act, just as the current control of children is seldom seen as the exercise of power by parents. In both cases no counterfactual is assumed to apply; from that perspective the attribution to power of manipulation, exploitation, or domination cannot make sense. Here, then, is the unconscious dimension of patriarchy, now uncovered by feminists as a temporally and spatially anchored practice with high human costs (as in the case of Marxist alienation) both for those who practise it and for their objects.
The decontestation of power as patriarchy allows for two further interpretations: power is either decontested in terms of the object towards which it is directed (in this case solely a group called women),9 or in terms of a particular practice‐cum‐attribute of the power‐wielders (in this case solely sexuality). The two are analytically distinct, though the theories in which they appear may employ them side by side. An exponent of the first tendency, Pateman, has explained patriarchal power partly as a function of (p.494) removing the notion and practice of consent from social relations involving women. Only the social power of men drawn from other men remains a matter of the choice and voluntarism incorporated in contract. As far as women are concerned, nature replaces consent as a concept adjacent to, and supportive of, the power‐enabling aspect of men's actions.10 Many feminists would regard the involuntary enabling of men by women as a central source of men's power, as well as a manifestation of the power of already male‐dominated social and intellectual practices. Moreover, as Coole has noted, the removal of consent seriously marginalizes other key adjacent political concepts—legitimacy and obligation.11
An exponent of the second tendency, MacKinnon, highlights male sexuality (albeit itself a social construct and hence alterable) as ‘the primary social sphere of male power’. For her, ‘sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality’. Indeed, she draws a structural parallel with Marxism: ‘Sexuality is to feminism what work is to marxism.’12 The morphological flexibility occurs over the positioning of sexuality either as the key facet of male power—evoking its perimeter manifestations through controlling social practices such as rape or pornography—or as only one of its expressions. The concept of eroticization, and its misuses, is politicized by its introduction into a semantic field lorded over by power. This decontestation is an act of competition over the acceptable rubric of a critical and engaged political vocabulary. Whether it is an extension or a reduction of the range of that vocabulary depends upon whether it tolerates other meanings of power or crowds them out. That is not entirely clear in MacKinnon's analysis.
If, as MacKinnon asserts, power—like work—undergoes alienation and is therefore retrievable to its rightful possessors, it cannot be claimed that feminists regard power as a wholly negative concept and phenomenon. Power may be detached from its ‘maleness’ and positioned in an idea‐environment where it has beneficial consequences. Feminism does not differ from liberalism or socialism in incorporating a theory of control. While opposing male domination, it sees women as controlling, and being responsible for, their own lives. It refers to ‘the empowerment of woman as a group’,13 and emphasizes the ‘collective power of all women . . . free from all forms of domination’.14 One prominent, if contested, example is Firestone's vision of a technology which will permit (p.495) women to regain ‘ownership over their own bodies . . . the seizure of control of reproduction’ and of child‐bearing and rearing.15
The ambivalence towards the worth of power is echoed in equivocation towards the state. First‐wave feminism, under the impact of the evolutionary curve of nineteenth‐century liberalism, may have regarded the state as the final court of appeal, a potentially benevolent institution whose laws and practices could reflect the enlightened views of its members, even if as a concentration of political power it had to be constrained from overriding the rights of its members. Many second‐wave feminists, reacting against the perceived defects of liberalism, have peripheralized the state, moving it from adjacent to marginal positions in their ideological constructs. As Bryson notes, for radical feminists ‘the state is but one manifestation of patriarchal power, reflecting other deeper structures of oppression’.16 They have associated it either with male power or with an abstract and distant organization removed from the smaller and more personal fora they prefer as emancipatory social arrangements. But they have frequently done so without abandoning the welfare function seen as part and parcel of a more interventionist state. Welfare, however, as adjacent to the concept of the state, may be decontested either as contributing to women's equality and life‐chances, or as locking them in to positions of yet greater dependency on a patriarchal agency. The evident affinities with conservative and libertarian arguments must be tempered by an appreciation of the different idea‐environment in which such dependency appears—an individualism that values enterprise and free markets and sees the state as a stifling influence, or the devalorization of a group which sees the state as caught in a net of beliefs and practices that conspire specifically to diminish women. From a slightly different stance, the respect of advanced liberal systems for privacy and individual rights nevertheless permits an indirect state interventionism. By means of apparently progressive legislation, a series of perimeter notions and practices has emerged which perpetuate arrangements that many feminists see as oppressive to women.17
Each of these cultural interpretations carves out a different path from the core concept of power to conceptions of the state, identifying and evaluating its practices. MacKinnon has summed (p.496) up the problem: ‘feminism has been caught between giving more power to the state in each attempt to claim it for women and leaving unchecked power in the hands of men.’ There may be more truth to MacKinnon's assertion that feminism has no theory of the state than she had intended.18 Whether it is the rule‐observant and inclusivist liberal state or the exploitative Marxist one that inspires feminist analysis, its ‘dual role in trying to mediate and therefore coopt the subversive potential of feminism and its incapacity to do so fully’19 makes even its approximate location in feminist morphology difficult to establish.
But power also appears in more complex forms. In line with theories that detect power in social structures and practices, often unintentional as well as unobservable, and not merely in deliberate and overt human interaction, contemporary feminists have emphasized the power of silencing women's voices, or rendering them incomprehensible, encompassed not only in social institutions but in human language. As Rowbotham has commented, ‘Language conveys a certain power. It is one of the instruments of domination. It is carefully guarded by the superior people because it is one of the means through which they conserve their supremacy.’20 Even in Western societies that pride themselves on freedom of speech, such as the USA, ‘the First Amendment protects those who have already spoken’.21 Such silencing can reflect the absence of restrictive legislation directed at the articulately powerful, causing women to concede defeat in the face of heavy institutional odds stacked against them, or it may be that their voices go unheard in a culture dominated by male concepts. More importantly, some theorists contend that women are denied a voice in a language and culture whose patterns and paradigms cannot conceptualize their needs and demands. The intensions of concepts, and the rivalry over shaping those intensions, are so male‐controlled as to disable women from giving shape to their own concerns. Second‐wave feminism is preoccupied with precisely that enterprise and its discourses demonstrate to the best possible effect that ideologies are competitions over the legitimate meanings of words, and that their morphologies are permanent sites of conceptual reconfiguration. One example of this is the inventiveness (p.497) of Daly in coining new terms or valorizing old ones.22 It is what Spender terms a ‘reclaiming of the right to rename’.23 Another is internal to the family of feminisms, involving the ignoring of black women's history. Silence is imposed on black women by assimilating their experiences into the world of white feminists.24 Spender observes of silencing in general: ‘The silence of women has been a cumulative process. Conceptually and materially excluded from the production of knowledge, their meanings and explanations have been systematically blocked and their invisibility has been compounded . . . Women's meanings cannot just be added on . . . new cerebration, a new way of knowing is required.’25 Silence, in morphological terms, is therefore not just the debarring of certain conceptual patterns from an ideological room. Obviously, it may be that too, whether through disallowing their intellectual validity and legitimacy, by political fiat, or through establishing conditions which prevent the development of such conceptualizations to begin with. But for Spender the importance for women of naming is to reshape conceptual morphology in toto, not just to extend its intension. Even if naming, as we have seen, does not necessarily invent new concepts, it helps in identifying what one wishes to fashion or relocate. Ideological reality, however, has not yet matched that ambition, nor do all feminists share the objectives of this grand project.26
(c) The Political Domain
Humm has asserted that ‘the single most important feature of second wave feminism is its challenge to traditional political concepts’.27 That challenge, albeit, applies not only to redefining existing concepts or introducing new ones but, as has been argued throughout, it entails rearranging their internal relationships. The outcome of that reconfiguration has been a partial reformulation of the notion of the political. It queries the decontesting of the political as the social institutions and conduct located in the public realm. To the extent that this view is paramount in the study of politics, it is associated by feminists with the classic liberal distinction (p.498) between the public and the private. We will defer the question to what extent typical feminist representations of liberalism are accurate and to what extent they are made to serve feminism's ideological purposes. What requires prior consideration is the feminist challenge to the public/private distinction and the consequent conceptual alterations that challenge generates.
The second‐wave feminist contention that politics is not solely to be found in the public domain is hardly new. Marxism politicized human activity in general—at least in its alienated form—by asserting that the state and its ideological apparatuses dominate and pervade all social arrangements and reinforce material and historic economic relations between classes. But post‐war American political science also extended the sphere of politics by identifying it closely with power relations, ubiquitous among human beings. As Robert Dahl wrote in the 1960s: ‘almost every human association has a political aspect’.28 The novelty of feminism lies in another dimension: its singling out of the family as the prime arena of political practices, whether because these permeate from the broader social environment, or because they are shaped and exported from the smaller institution. This feminist theme aspires to restructure adjacent‐peripheral conceptual proximities in a threefold process. First, by establishing close contiguity between the public and the male, the private and the female; second, by a range of reformulations of the concept of privacy, the end result of which is either to remove it from the feminist ideological room, or to devalorize and marginalize it by comparison to its location and status in other Western ideologies; and third, by emphasizing certain human practices, attached to the family and hitherto marginalized at the peripheries of other ideological morphologies. This process runs on parallel paths. The one attempts to break down the dichotomous relationship between the public and the private, though in an inverted way it reconstructs it by standing it on its head: the ostensibly personal/private becomes the core of the political,29 and the public merely derivative of constitutive personal and familial relationships. The other endeavours to locate significant political acts not in general and distant systems and structures, but in the details of everyday (women's) life.
The conceptualization of the public as male is achieved by a close liaison between a spectrum of political concepts that, in Pateman's view, include ‘freedom and equality, rights, contract, interests and citizenship’, all of which pertain to men's activities.30 (p.499) It is simultaneously achieved by exposing male exercises of power as consciously or unconsciously directed at containing women and their typical (if not always wished‐for) practices within the private sphere. In this feminist historical version of pre‐feminist morphology the social construction of public/private simply restricts the population to whom liberal values apply or, as Pateman stresses, tolerates the public personae of women only in conjunction with additional adjacent conceptualizations that do not apply to men. The ‘public’ political concepts that could have recognized women's status and catered to their socio‐economic needs are constantly mediated through and coloured by an awareness of their sexual characteristics and socially constructed gender attributes. Moreover, the terms of membership of the public are such as to deny further political values and concepts advanced by women any centrality in their construction of the socio‐political world. Deprived of the possibility of reinterpreting that world in a manner appropriate to their interests and cultures, they operate at a level of disadvantage which—depending on what feminist theory is preeminent—is dehumanizing or dewomanizing. In other words, the privatization of women's activities excludes them from full participation in the public world of politics.31 Specifically, important perimeter practices and activities such as mothering (child‐bearing and rearing) and domestic work are marginalized, if not totally depoliticized, by their designation as natural,32 and hence irrelevant to the political worlds of social design, individual intention, reward, and status.
The reading of the private–public relationship as entirely dichotomous colours feminist interpretations. In their understanding of the divide, the public is the repository for positively connoted (male) values and, dialectically, the private is devalorized in two possible variants. The first, noted above, associates it with the disparaged domain of women, the domain of domesticity. The second, building upon the Hegelian relationship between state and civil society, limits the private to the province of the egoistic, atomized entrepreneur,33 that of the bourgeois. However, the liberalism against which they primarily react34 does not lend itself so easily to such a reading. Specifically, liberalism constructs a robust (p.500) contiguity between the private sphere and individualism and, as has been seen in Chapter 4, the development of individuality is a major cultural decontestation of individualism. Not all feminists, even among the radical variant, wish to marginalize the concepts of individual development or choice in their ideological morphologies. Thus Eisenstein advocates a radicalized right to privacy for women, and Young takes note of the liberal distinction between public as open and private as personal space,35 the merits of the latter being consonant with the kind of values radical feminists would endorse.
To assert that the personal is the political—a decontestation that has both logical and cultural plausibility—does not entail that suitable social arrangements cannot carve out an area of private activity.36 The personal can be both political and private—in the decontested senses of, first, participating in and reflecting macro‐social practices concerning power, distribution, and decision‐making; and second, of providing people with areas over which they may exercise some personal control. Logical consistency can be maintained as long as three cultural constraints are attached to the preservation of the private: it is understood that individual development can be attained by limiting external intervention, that such intervention is occasionally necessary to ensure that development because privacy may be enhanced through the actions of others and can never be total, and that a holistic view of social relationships must necessarily append political significance to private individual development as having consequences for society in general.
If feminists are loath to proceed on that path of argument, it is because a particular dichotomous view of the private sustains the internal cohesion of their ideologies. MacKinnon, for example, voices a specific view of the individual solely as a male ideological device that obscures the problems of women as a whole. In so far as the notion of the private as the realm of personal freedom and development can be retained, it can only be so for men. For women the private is the realm of violation and abuse, neither free nor personal, in the sense of the experiences of isolated individuals.37 The ‘personal is the political’ is thus endowed with negative import, because of a temporal focus on current and dominant male practices and concepts, rather than on accentuating the virtues (p.501) already present in the feminist conception of the personal, which future social arrangements and discourses would recentre. This variety of decontestations suggests that for some members of the feminist family there is no possibility of the cultural rehabilitation of either privacy or individuality and that a new political vocabulary would be needed to effect a decisive break with the present.
These feminist arguments abandon the concept of the ‘private’ because of a particular decontestation of the concept of ‘public’. In some usages the public is a ‘spatial’ concept designating social structures and practices external to those of particular individuals and groups. In feminist discourse those groups are narrowed to one—the family. On another dimension, in many ideological usages the public is an ethically laden concept designating the arena of the res publica. In feminist discourse negative ethical import is frequently assigned to that arena on account of its ‘maleness’. In addition, given the feminist assertion that motherhood and family life are political, they only become public as well if political is collapsed into ‘public’; i.e. if child‐bearing and rearing display the universal, rule‐bound, citizenship‐oriented features of the conventional ideal‐type public dimension of politics or, conversely, the conflict of interests and power struggles of its concrete public dimension. On other understandings of the ‘public’—that which is open to general access, or a non‐divisible good—motherhood and family life are decisively non‐public. However, the latter understandings are of little use to feminist arguments, because they imply a dialectic of public/non‐public abhorred by most feminists, and would have the effect of reviving the notion of the private by default.
(d) Paradigms Lost and Regained
The issues of domination, patriarchy, public and private, ultimately extend well beyond the domain and adjacencies of the concepts of power, as well as the nature of the political. For second‐wave feminism has engaged a further ideological tool of great import, one whose ramifications are not always consciously realized. It has arrogated to itself some of the key debates about the validity of philosophical and scientific paradigms—questions relating to reason, universality, binary analyses, and the like—without too much awareness of the fact that this is an act of appropriation. It has also valuably contributed to and enhanced those debates, but—by redesignating those questions as features of a male vocabulary—it (p.502) has restricted the image of their purview and detached them from alternative frameworks in which they have been functioning. Feminist thinkers have consequently put into effect a prime device of all ideologies: the absorption of independently available arguments to consolidate their internal conceptual structure; the harnessing of available knowledge to empower the validity of their decontestations and combinations. But in so doing, feminists have also attempted to rebut the method of ordering and relating concepts in prevalent ideological patterns. Their success or failure may tell us something about the enduring, and the pliable, in ideological morphology.
Put briefly, radical feminists, in alliance with an important subgrouping, postmodernist feminists, maintain that the oppressive male–female bifurcation is a product of dominant patterns of theory and epistemology which have organized the perceptions and interpretations of the natural and social worlds. Human beings have been prone to present obvious differences—the male–female ones being particularly prominent and fundamental in common perceptions—as opposites, and to extrapolate from these ‘opposites’ a general and grossly oversimplified reading of both nature and society as dichotomous.38 Furthermore, specific substantive generalizations have been promoted by such dichotomies. Dichotomies are abstracting devices that highlight differences and present them in a zero‐sum relationship. Philosophy and scientific theories have consequently developed as detached from the concrete complexities they are supposed to explain, and devoid of historical and temporal anchoring. The greatest abstraction of them all is the dichotomy between the abstract and the concrete itself or, more accurately, between the universal and the rational on the one hand, and the particular and arational on the other.
Some of the methodological difficulties with the dichotomy were noted in Chapter 1. Those related primarily to its postulation of either–or situations and its eschewal of gradations and continuums. For the purposes of analysing ideologies the configuration of ideational units in multiple variations and patterns was considered to have greater explanatory power. Indeed, criticisms of dichotomies are well‐established in philosophy and the social sciences and the feminist objections are not novel in themselves. Rather, the incorporation of the concept of dichotomy into feminist ideology, and its identification as a negatively valorized target of criticism, (p.503) decontests that concept itself as pertaining to the male–female binary opposition, and any of its major manifestations as inspired or contaminated by that opposition. As Humm contends, ‘Feminist theorists . . . argue that the Cartesian dualisms of subject/ object and culture/nature categorise women and men in terms of their differences from one another with emotion/nature/body symbolising women and femininity and science/mind/reason being reserved for masculinity.’39 In their extreme form these feminine features are devalorized, as Pateman has acutely suggested, by presenting them as a disorder which prevents women from fully functioning as human beings (=men). This ‘means that they pose a threat to political order and so must be excluded from the public world’.40 The public/private dichotomy is hence one of the most insidious features of political theory. For other feminists, as we shall see later, different kinds of dichotomy emphasize the virtues of women as contrasted with men. Justice versus nurture and rights versus responsibilities are some of the more frequent conceptual antonyms employed in these cases. From a morphological viewpoint the role of these dichotomies in feminist ideologies is to keep logical as well as cultural adjacencies firmly apart, by anchoring concepts in non‐contiguous areas within its ideological room through challenges to the prevailing manifestations of both logic and culture.
The feminist critique of universalism and rationality cannot however be reduced to a reflection of the ubiquity of the men/women divide. Often the reverse happens, namely, feminist arguments subsume within their structure doubts generated outside the feminist family about the viability of universalism and the superiority of reason. Their subsequent attachment to issues of masculine power reinforces the feminist project of marginalizing, if not eliminating, all male attributes whose function it is to perpetuate the inequalities and oppressiveness of gender relations. The decontestations of universalism permit the development of a spectrum of criticisms, amenable but not specific to feminism. Universalism logically implies the existence of a single voice, as it is a viewpoint transcending time and space. As Young has observed, this is ‘universality in the sense of laws and rules that say the same for all and apply to all in the same way’.41 The path, she contends, is (p.504) thus open to a homogenizing totalism42—which of course, while harmful to women, is not exclusive to their situation. The problem (shared with postmodernists) is the linkage between this interpretation and the bestowing of unchallengeable authority on the view from nowhere. Politically, citizenship and rights are expressions of universality, but in effect these contain only the practices of male patriarchy and, at best, women are co‐opted into the sphere of the universal as ‘lesser men’.43
A central task of feminists is therefore the severing of the spatial proximity between universality and rights, rightness, impartiality or neutrality, and objectivity. MacKinnon effects that displacement in one manner, employing a two‐step process. In the first instance, universalism‐cum‐objectivity is unmasked as a particular historical perception and construction of the social world: ‘The problem is that the generalized, universal, or agreed‐upon never did solve the disagreements, cohere the specifics, and generalize the particularities . . . Situated theory is concrete and changing rather than abstract and totalizing’.44 This argument is transported from Marxist (and of course historicist as well as postmodernist) theories into feminism. In the second instance, through further decontestation, objectivity is identified as a specific manifestation of oppressive gender relations, by associating it with its Hegelian‐Marxist variant of objectification—now applied to the transformation of women into (sexual) objects of male power‐cum‐desire: ‘Objectivity is the methodological stance of which objectification is the social process.’45 Hence—reversing the sequence—a distinctive cultural path is privileged among various logical adjacencies, one linking forms of sexual oppression (the perimeter practices) with the adjacent concepts of objectification and universality (interpreted in the light of such perimeter practices) and the core concepts of power and gender relations (interpreted in the light of their adjacent qualifiers). This conceptual configuration stamps the feminist imprimatur on the ideology in question, though the ultimate preferred ideological position is the destruction of that path, ‘overthrowing the distinction itself’ between ‘knowing subject and known object’ and the emancipation of women from ‘subjective inwardness’.46
At the outset of this book some problems with the concept of rationality as an analytical tool of ideologies were examined. Feminists may not object to the contrast between instrumental (p.505) rationality and irrationality, but most take strong exception to the mutually exclusive counterposition of the concepts of reason and emotion.47 The prioritizing of reason over passion has a long pedigree, and one acceptable to an earlier generation of reforming feminists. Mary Wollstonecraft, while insistent on the equality of women with men, did so on the understanding that women, like men, were capable of that superior rationality: ‘Make women rational creatures and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives and mothers.’48 This retained the public/private distinction but valorized women's family activities by decontesting them as rational. However, the frequent disparaging characterization of women as emotional has set feminists on a dual path—the one attempting to revalue and legitimate the concept of emotion and its signifiers as worthy members of political language; the other denying the validity of the distinction as yet another instance of a false dichotomy. The former path emphasizes ‘feeling, emotion, and nonverbal communication’ as well as empathy and intuitiveness.49 The latter may do so as well but argues that ‘if we can be rational in our choices of the good and of values, affectivity becomes a part of, rather than oppositional to, rational thought, choice and action’.50
Contemporary feminists link reason with power, by interpreting it as the control and definition of knowledge by men.51 The sovereignty of reason is hence an exercise, often more unconscious than deliberate, of an epistemological monopoly. It is a further aspect of the silence imposed on women. An alternative strategy is to dismiss the significance of the mind–body distinction, inasmuch as the cultural concern of women with their bodies has suffered from the hierarchy of mind over body. Gilligan's emphasis on the concreteness of caring as an ethic of non‐violence is a case in point. It endeavours to introduce the concept of physical and emotional nurture into socio‐political discourse as a facet of the mutual responsibilities required by human needs. The notion of human nature undergoes an internal reorganization in which the emotional experiencing of relationships, including sensitivity and compassion, contributes to an assessment of human worth no less than (p.506) the right and impartial actions of human beings embodied in conceptions of justice.52 The morphological consequence is a distancing of justice from the core concept of gender relations and the converse politicizing of care by anchoring it in an adjacent position strongly supportive of the feminist ideological core.
(e) Postmodernism: An Alliance of Convenience?
Any analysis of feminism as an ideology must include a discussion of its postmodernist aspects, often subsumed within—though not identical to—radical feminism. It may well be that feminist ideology has found an ally in postmodernism because the latter is a useful tool in challenging dominant political and social paradigms that cannot be successfully altered from within. Most feminists are not clear‐cut postmodernists but harness the critically destructive power of that movement in order to destabilize the scientific, cultural, philosophical, and ideological assumptions believed to disadvantage women. As has been noted in Chapter 2, postmodernism contains an ideological strategy which exposes political concepts as the products of temporally and spatially contingent decontestations. This enables an exercise of intellectual power denied by the very nature of ideological discourse, aimed at redefining the semantic field of politics and reinterpreting the horizons of history. It shakes up existing links and proximities among concepts, offering, in good ideological fashion, a temporary flexibility prior to a new delimitation. As a result, a reordering of meaning is made possible, though the articulation of new decontestations obviously constitutes a decisive break with postmodernist indeterminism.53
The critique of universalism and rationalism has been partly inspired by postmodernism's insistence on the contingency of social, ethical, and even scientific, viewpoints. This contention has been advanced quite independently of questions of gender and power. In the words of one feminist theorist, ‘there is no force or reality outside our social relations and activity (e.g., history, reason, progress, science, some transcendental essence) that will rescue us from partiality and differences . . . Feminist theories . . . should encourage (p.507) us to tolerate and interpret ambivalence, ambiguity, and multiplicity’. . . .54 These views could be construed as negating any semblance of stability in the meanings and interconnections among the concepts constituting an ideology, and point to the potential annihilation of morphology as an attribute of political thought. That approach has already been challenged above. At the very least, irrespective of the substantive structural anchorage provided by enlightened deliberation and factual knowledge, the general theory of conceptual interlinkage which embraces the notions of decontestation, logical and cultural constraints, and quasi‐contingency suggests that ideologies will always appear in analysable and durable, though not static, forms. Feminists have themselves queried the tendency among some poststructuralists to reinvent an abstract and ‘highly figurative’ conception of creative woman because it bypasses the thoughts and actions of real women.55
There is clearly a hostility among most current feminists to essentialism, a position well in line with the methodology adopted in this study, according to which synchrony, diachrony, and morphology are indispensable to understanding political thinking in its ubiquitous ideological containers. But the criticism that ‘Feminists . . . tend at times to lapse into foundationalism and essentialism’56 is, from the viewpoint of analysing ideologies, merely a feature of ideologies themselves, and a reminder of the inescapably ideological nature of feminism. The observation that French psychoanalytic feminisms ‘propositionally decry essentialism even as they performatively enact it’57 is precisely what the analyst of ideologies would expect. The difference among feminists on this question is simply between those who accept it consciously and those who are unaware of the nature of (their) political language. As Evans observes, although postmodernism claims to have no privileged readings, the labelling of the condition of women by second‐wave feminists as ‘oppressed’ is of course a privileged reading.58 It is a normative conclusion derived from the singling out of particular practices involving women. What is known as standpoint theory openly and deliberately takes up particular interpretations by asserting, in Harding's summary, that ‘the (p.508) experiences arising from the activities assigned to women, understood through feminist theory, provide a starting point for developing potentially more complete and less distorted knowledge claims than do men's experiences’.59
Postmodernism has also been associated by feminists with a subjectivist outlook, and this permits two interpretations of the status of feminism in relation to other ideologies. On the one hand, subjectivism is employed to designate the absence of an objectivist, permanent, and socially distant perspective,60 and the presence instead of choice and pluralism, so valued by liberals, especially a pluralism that dispenses with the dichotomous distinction, which has undermined gender relations, between a subject and an ‘other’.61 On the other hand, subjectivism with its ‘anything goes’ implications and its indifference to ranking preferences is perceived as wanting the intellectual armoury for social and political change and hence endowed with strong conservative undertones.62 Whether there are more generally conservative elements in feminism is more difficult to ascertain, though the silence of white feminists about the voices of non‐white minorities of women has been interpreted as lending support to a social order based on racial hierarchies.63
(f) Equality and the Feminist Traditions
One of the peculiarities of the feminist family of ideologies, as was observed above, is that its morphology is significantly affected by a single adjacent concept. That concept is equality, narrowly failing to attain core status because of polysemic interpretations within feminism itself. Early versions of feminism concentrated heavily on the achievement by women of full equality with men, a liberal formal and legal universalism that denied the relevance of gender to political practices.64 This notion of sameness has sometimes, but misleadingly, been termed androgyny, a concept better reserved for the elimination of or transposal of sexual as well as gender (p.509) differences.65 Liberal feminism was later trenchantly criticized as abandoning the gendered concept of ‘woman’ by collapsing it into ‘man’; as Coole writes, ‘the liberal goal is . . . less one of androgyny than of a generalized androcentrism’.66 Adjacent to liberal equality was a conception of universal rights that permitted women, as individuals, full access to the political process, when that process was conceived as participation in national decision‐making through the vote. That was the aim of the early suffragist movement, which also entertained some notion of equality of opportunity, predominantly decontested as equality of legal treatment and respect. On the whole, the drive for women's equality in pre‐First World War Britain reflected that older liberalism and rarely incorporated the more radical views of equality available at the time from the new liberals.67 For cultural and tactical reasons that option was not pursued, not the least because the terms of suffragist discourse had to be couched in language accessible to the ruling élites.68
Marxist feminism, again caught in the argumentative flow of a host ideology—Marxism's critique of capitalism—followed the Marxists in a different decontestation of equality, extending the concept to include the bridging of social and economic differences by attaching it closely to the concept of need. At the same time, the concept shed other elements from its intension, in so far as the impartiality of the legal system now seemed entirely inadequate to recognize and nourish those needs. The Marxist solution was to advocate a conceptual configuration by which power, freedom, and equality were defined in a mutually supportive manner. If its immediate objective was the liberation of the dehumanized from oppressive human relationships, the logically entailed universalization of power—the empowering of all—was an act of equalization. Hence a particular decontestation of concepts adjacent to power could lead by means of the conferring of equal power to its annihilation or transcendence.
An additional problematic in Marxist feminism arises from the Marxist category of class, which cuts across that of gender. Women are thus equal to men in so far as they are members of the same (p.510) class, while many feminists have construed Marx and Engels as holding to traditional views of women's roles and spheres, regarding women's exploitation too narrowly as a consequence solely of the development of private property, and ignoring the exploitation of women among the proletariat.69 The Marxist contention that the elimination of capitalism—the most advanced system of private property—would remove its subsets of gender oppression and the sexual division of labour has been accused of overlooking other sources of women's inequality and oppression.70 The capitalism/ patriarchy debate has prompted animated dialogue over the central morphological organizing principles of feminist ideology.71 A stress on capitalism means that male dominance is decoded as an adjacent ideological instrument, rooted in the emergence of private property and employed by the capitalist system to ensure its survival, with the consequence that human beings are impoverished and alienated. A stress on patriarchy, as preceding capitalism historically, is interpreted to mean that men have used economic institutions and the division of labour specifically in order to alienate women and control them, though they have also resorted to other means to do so. These institutions and practices become adjacent to power, decontested as the superiority of one gender over the other. In the first case inequality reflects the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small class—capitalists. In the second case inequality reflects the concentration of power in the hands of a large group—men. Hartmann has pointed out that what makes the task of feminists difficult is that ‘the same features, such as the division of labour, often reinforce both patriarchy and capitalism’.72 The analysis of ideologies may contribute to easing that task by clarifying the differential structural positions occupied by the division of labour, and the inequality to which it is logically attached, in each feminist variant, generating different decontestations in each instance.
Left‐liberalism, to which twentieth‐century liberal feminists increasingly subscribed, took aboard some of the deficiencies of the prior liberal understandings of equality. It included social and economic inequalities within its ideological remit without adopting the historical materialism or philosophy of alienation of the (p.511) Marxists, and without abandoning the core liberal concepts. Instead, it employed a perimeter concept to flesh out equality: affirmative action, not as a transformation of human relationships, but as a compensation for the disadvantages suffered by women within existing political systems. If this was equality of opportunity it is undoubtedly the case that, in Evans's words, ‘pushed to its limits, the suggestion of equality of opportunity becomes very radical indeed’.73 Additionally, the liberal conception of universal rights was retained, while modified to allow for the protection and prioritization of what was deemed socially necessary for human flourishing. Hence women's rights were now understood to include perimeter notions catering to special needs, such as those of mothers and expectant mothers, as well as guarantees for equal treatment at work. The ‘endowment of motherhood’ scheme and family allowances74 are prime examples of this more interventionist liberal view of social responsibilities, also shared by moderate socialists.
Recent developments in second‐wave feminism have exhibited a fundamental affinity with pluralism, inspired by a realization of the diversity of human societies and the groups that constitute them. Against a background of American cultural constraints that accorded increasing significance to the differential claims and needs of such groups, encouraged by similar pressures emanating from the civil rights movement, and later from ideals of multiculturalism, the concept of equality now intersected in feminist ideology with that of difference. The valorization of difference against the homogenizing tendencies of societies—tendencies symbolized in the American image of the melting‐pot—accounts for the partial integration of ‘difference’ within the concept of equality and its struggle for core concept status in some versions of feminism. Within the emerging feminist ideologies it illustrates the migration of a marginal concept, with an objectionable connotation of inequality decontested as negative otherness in comparison to men,75 to a central—if not core—position with a positive connotation of pluralist distinctiveness. And pluralism, as applied to social and cultural units, is of course one construal of equality. In parallel, French feminists were exploring Derrida's notion of différance,76 which refers (p.512) to the ‘unconceptualizable’ deriving from the postmodern impatience with all fixed, binary, or hierarchical identities, as well as the gap between different idioms of signification. The concept of difference, in contradistinction, has deliberately been employed to perform the decontesting function of all ideologies, namely, to determine and prioritize, though not necessarily in binary fashion. Decontesting is on this view quasi‐contingent: ineluctable as a category, but open to varying contents.
The idea that the notion of difference should be incorporated within the concept of equality is far from new and, as we have seen, one that socialist and left‐liberal ideologies have put into effect. The ineliminable components in equality, the according of commutable status and value to all units through the idea of a common humanity, and a comparison which denies irrelevant differences,77 do not rule out the distinctiveness of such units. The novelty of ‘difference’ as employed by feminists lies, first, in its morphological salience; second, in its de‐emphasis or silence concerning—but not denial of—the notion of a common humanity of women and men; and, third, in the indeterminacy which the controversy over its location and its contiguous concepts still imparts among feminist thinkers. That indeterminacy can, in some instances, weaken its association with equality, and may lend itself to innate biological or psychoanalytic views of women. This correspondingly qualifies notions of the social construction of gender,78 and curtails feminism's morphological flexibility through a series of cultural constraints, based on physical facts or psychical assertions about reality. Irigaray, for instance, wishes to maintain difference on the basis of sexual characteristics, and claims that ‘equality between men and women cannot be achieved unless we think of genre as sexuate’.79 Occasionally this is coupled with a separatism that marginalizes the notion of equality entirely.80 Alternatively, difference is attacked as an ideological device, when ‘ideological’ is akin to ‘masking’. MacKinnon calls it ‘the velvet glove on the iron fist of domination’ for legitimating the compensation of women ‘for what they are or have become distinctively as women’. Difference then designates a distance from the male standard.81 However, that is not the prevalent feminist decontestation (p.513) of difference. Young aptly identifies the distinction between difference and the redistributionism of compensatory equality: ‘The political claim for special rights emerges not from a need to compensate for an inferiority, as some would interpret it, but from a positive assertion of specificity in different forms of life.’82 Here is the cultural fork in the logical tree, channelling feminism from its common core either towards an equalizing exercise for disadvantaged individuals who just happen to be women, and one in which individual conduct converges on acceptable norms, or towards an equalizing (and occasionally even a separating) exercise for social categories that wish to have their distinctiveness recognized and retained.
From the vantage point of ideological morphology, the pursuit of the latter path involves supporting the concept of difference through the emergence of a range of further adjacent concepts in close proximity to difference. Female values or virtues are identified and advanced to strategic positions in their ideological rooms, forcing (as already noted) their deprivatization. While disparaged features of women have included subjectivity, partiality, passion, and unreason, among the valued and revalorized attributes are nurturing, care, responsibilities, sisterhood and solidarity, the capacity to form and sustain human relationships, as well as the category of emotive attributes already discussed. Are these additions to a political vocabulary? Jaggar rightly suggests that feminism extends the domain of the political to these concepts.83 They enter the sphere of ideologies by contributing to the moulding and changing of the political worlds which feminists inhabit; they have produced perimeter notions and ideas which have informed political practices; and they have competed with other concepts over their legitimacy. However, once in the ideological room, the perimeter concepts quickly move into close proximity to conventional concepts in political theory, such as liberty, individualism, development, sociability, and even the much‐maligned reason. The emancipatory logic of difference feminism is after all a decontestation of liberty as the removal of oppressive power. More specifically, the demand for ‘reproductive freedom’ incorporates individual choice, though it may well be anchored in a vision of transformed social conditions that permit such choice.84 Alternatively, the feminist focus on love and sociability as the spontaneous outcome of self‐determination and the abolition of authority (p.514) may, as with Emma Goldman, be attached to the language of anarchism.85 Reason, too, is far from being abandoned by difference feminists who would include within the compass of rationality ‘forms which contextualize problems and speak explicitly from an articulated point of view’.86
One interesting aspect of the feminist treatment of difference is its close adjacency to the group as the unit of analysis. Structurally, this alone could account for the hostility of most radical second‐wave feminism towards an individualist liberalism, though we shall presently note that the version of liberalism serving as feminist foil is itself a highly specific one. The overall perception of oppression—as well as the facts of power relationships that establish perimeter notions such as those concerning pornography, abortion, or the division of labour—initially gave rise among feminists to a cultural self‐conceptualization of women as predominantly an undifferentiated group. In MacKinnon's words: ‘Feminism sees women as a group and seeks to define and pursue women's interest. Feminists believe that women share a reality . . . ’.87 The employment of ‘interest’ and ‘reality’ in the singular is instructive of this particular decontestation. This concept of ‘group’ is structural and may alternatively be seen to be the consequence of a pernicious gender categorization in which women dialectically emerge as socially constructed, to their disadvantage. As de Beauvoir observed, from a perspective critically upholding the individual creativity of women: ‘Women belong to the family or group; and not to themselves.’88 One view of such a group may even be assimilated into standard American pluralist theory, according to which groups are in a competitive relationship, and operate to all effects and purposes as individuals, the question of intra‐group pluralism being ignored.89 Sisterhood can consequently be a mirror‐image of male solidarity and fraternity.90 Other feminist approaches, however, place concepts such as solidarity and sisterhood in the immediate proximity of ‘group’, while linking them to the collective values of interdependence, sharing, and care, (p.515) seen as female virtues.91 The defining features of community may then appear as a reflection and prime location of women's values. Questions of political representation are then also dealt with through the prism of key groups.92
Recent feminist thinking has retreated from some of the homogenizing and anti‐individualist implications of siting the group in a position contiguous to the core concept of gender‐based relationships. Young has emphasized the intrapluralist importance of ‘difference within and between subjects’. She distinguishes between the ‘oppressive meaning of group difference . . . as absolute otherness, mutual exclusion, categorical opposition’ and its positive meaning as ‘specificity, variation, heterogeneity’.93 There is also an increasing interpluralist awareness. Evans has noted that ‘middle‐class white heterosexual women do not a movement make’ and that feminists have not entirely come to terms with variations between groups and categories of women.94 Expressing the identity of women may require more sophisticated analytical tools. As Frazer and Lacey contend, ‘within any single society the definitions and expectations of what it is to be a woman will vary greatly, by race, by class, by status, by generation’.95 In fact, despite the endeavours of some feminists, and notwithstanding the solidaric features to which feminism aspires, it is difficult to associate the feminist idea of group too closely with that of community. For one, there is no suggestion that anything like a group‐will can develop. For another, women as a whole have common gender attributes, but are not necessarily solidaric.96 The concept of the group hovers uneasily and indeterminately between a political unit with shared ends and a classificatory category with overlapping characteristics.
(g) an Ideological Reading of Ideologies
Like all ideologies, feminism engages in an interpretation of other ideologies that is a product of its own morphology, and that reinforces the conceptual decontestations at its heart. Because feminism emerged most powerfully in societies in which liberalism was a central ideology, and because feminism itself went through (p.516) a liberal phase and its later variants have had to take cognizance of those intellectual foundations, liberalism has been subjected by feminists to particularly critical probing. We have already explored some of the features with which feminists endow it, such as the public–private divide, its universality, and rationality. Those features certainly are in pivotal, even core, locations within liberal morphologies; however, they are decontested by second‐wave feminists in ways that give succour to the conceptual arrangements they favour. Put differently, many feminists construct liberalism retrospectively and abstractly to counter their own arguably concrete image, unconsciously internalizing the attributes (abstraction and dichotomization) which they most deplore in that reconstituted liberalism. The critique of self versus other, a disjuncture which they pin on Western thought‐paradigms and, politically, on liberalism, resurfaces in the dualism between feminism and non‐feminism, and even more specifically between feminism and liberalism. The constructed world of a dichotomized liberalism unwittingly elicits a feminist reliance on general binary distinctions in order to make sense of the world as experienced. These act as cultural constraints on the logically possible relationships within feminist morphology.
A few further examples will suffice. As contended in earlier chapters, the abstractions apparently involved in a universal rights language and in a concern only with processes and formal citizenship are not a feature of the family of liberalisms, but a feature of some of its members. Rights can be concrete and related to human needs even within the liberal tradition, which has expanded citizenship beyond a narrow political participation to include a broader sharing in social goods and a discharging of social responsibilities.97 Phillip's gloomy conclusion that ‘the best of liberals . . . still find it hard to switch their thinking to groups’98 is surely more a comment on some current liberals than on liberalism. Of course, if liberalism is conceived as primarily concerned with autonomy, and autonomy is decontested as the capacity for individual judgement in a situation of non‐intervention, and as cultivating an individualism based on rational egoism and self‐sufficiency,99 then a feminism which promotes solidarity, care, and concern for others is ipso facto non‐liberal. The further ascription of neutrality to liberalism, (p.517) and of gender‐neutrality as one of its manifestations,100 reinforces the disjuncture between a disinterested liberalism, mired in procedural niceties, and a committed feminism, engaged in the material improvement of the condition of women. This does scant justice to organic liberal theories, in which human agency is enhanced through mutuality—reconceptualizing the notions of autonomy and individuality—but it also neglects the strong liberal developmental themes still evident in second‐wave feminism.101
Not all contemporary feminists have rejected current philosophical liberalism. Witness Okin's adaptation of Rawls's theory of justice which, she claims, has ignored the role of women and the family. Hers is an endeavour to revitalize feminism by fertilizing it with the currently powerful theories of an ostensibly neutral philosophical liberalism. She too questions the gender‐neutrality of liberalism with respect to relations within the family, but sees the argument from neutrality as a critical thought‐exercise from which to challenge those unequal relations, moving to a ‘just future [which] would be one without gender’. Significantly, Okin insists on a decontestation of rights and justice which incorporates care and empathy, rebutting the dichotomy between the former and the latter pairs, and considering the different views of all individuals.102 In general, and unsurprisingly, because liberalism contains multiple variants, their assimilation or rejection by feminists results in complex relationships with the family of liberalisms. While some interpretations of liberalism are unpopular among feminists, liberal themes concerning self‐development and liberty‐cum‐choice, as well as a politically activist reaction to the post‐structuralist ‘death of the subject’,103 are quite important in feminist debate, even if their location in feminist ideology is less central and hence more specific than in liberal ideologies, and is qualified by a recognition of the commonalities of a group. Eisenstein speaks for these tendencies: ‘All feminism is liberal at its root in that the universal feminist claim that woman is an independent being (from man) is premised on the eighteenth‐century liberal conception of the independent and autonomous self.’ But she is quick to point out that these are necessary though insufficient components of the feminist configuration.104
The case of Marxism and its relation to feminism is slightly different. It incurs not so much the generalization—as with liberalism—of (p.518) one of many variants to represent the whole, as a concentration on a few Marxist tenets on which a feminist case is built. Feminism has not fully confronted the possibility that liberalism may be an ideology in a non‐Marxist sense and that feminism itself cannot escape such strictures. On the other hand, feminist Marxist and socialist argument has cultivated internal dialogues which recognize that Marxism itself may, on the Marxist understanding of ideology, be an ideology, while assuming that the ideological mode of thought of Marx and Engels can be overcome by a more aware feminism. Consequently, feminisms reflecting Marxism run into difficulties with respect to the role of ideology. The Marxist notion of ideology induces a view of gender not only as a social construct, but as an inverted reflection of a distorted reality, and the abolition of capitalism—as the epitome of human alienation—entails the elimination of ideology, hence of gender.105 At the same time, feminists wish to argue that ideology, as predicated on power, is grounded in factors other than the predominant mode of production.106 Above all, even though some feminists are prepared to analyse ideology as concerned with meaning, not just with ‘false consciousness’, the Marxist conception of ideology has blinded them to the ideological status of their own beliefs and theories, as contestable assertions and decontestations.107
Marxism has had considerable impact on feminism through a particular rhythm of discourse, in which the oppression of the proletariat by capitalists has served as an analogy to the oppression of women by men, and the concept of production has found an echo in that of reproduction.108 Many second‐wave feminists have been scathing about these analogies, but usually because of their inadequacy in describing the condition and plight of women—especially their implication that women cannot engage in transformative work—and not because of their faulty representation of Marxism.109 The multiple decontestations of reproduction, for instance, lend themselves to strategic associations with or distanciations from traditional Marxism.110 Even then, prevailing perceptions within feminism often involve the reduction of Marxism to a single (p.519) model, based on a critique of Marx and Engels themselves. At any rate, the (negatively appraised) priority of capitalism in Marxist feminist morphology has created a configuration which highlights economic relations as the main arena of gender conflict. That has often entailed reducing these issues to material questions of family work and women's wages, or to the undesirable economic dependence of women on men and—by dint of their receiving the benefits of free domestic labour to facilitate their own careers—of the effective economic dependence of men on women.
All these are valuable insights, but they underestimate the multiple forms in which alienation occurs,111 and the role of individuals as well as groups in women's emancipation. On another dimension, a curious parallel is effected between those liberals who interpret all choices as equally valuable and those Marxist feminists who interpret all work (women's work included, of course) as equally valuable.112 In either case, the value of all choices or all work may be questioned, as may the reduction of women to choice‐makers or to creators alone. Then there is the question of the inclusivist perspectives encouraged by Marxism, with its own, non‐liberal, dichotomous division of society into classes. In addition, Marxism and its variants encourage feminism to emphasize that power is at the base of human relationships and that exploitation is an adequate term for describing them. It has directed feminists to focus on situated practices, but has promised more from group consciousness than women, as a disparate and differentiated gender, can deliver. By rejecting the accuracy, though not the principle, of Engels's distinction between the oppression of bourgeois and proletarian women—the first mainly engineered by men, the second by capitalists—feminism has also paradoxically come to ignore other internal divisions within genders.113
More generally, the strong historicism of Marxism, and the transhistorical universalism of the Marxist vision of the future have made it intellectually problematic for feminists under its impact to come fully to terms with revived conceptions of innate difference. Finally, as with Marxism, the focus of feminist analysis is directed at the iniquities of past and present power arrangements, leaving relatively little space for theories of liberation. When these are aired, they appear in a variety of forms such as Firestone's technological (p.520) release of women from the role of child‐bearer, or in detailed advances in women's self‐determination within existing social frameworks, in areas such as wage‐earning or independent legal status. Feminism is vague, as is Marxism in its domain, about grander emancipatory schemes which could spell out the revolution in social relations that would fundamentally empower women.
(h) The Role of the Concrete
Feminism has been crucially forged out of women's experiences. Even its postmodernist incarnations rely heavily on an appeal to the concrete. In that sense it is a movement whose objective is the political and social reform of lived practices and institutions, and a number of feminists have concentrated on the activism involved, for example, in the establishing of women's refuges.114 As Christine Delphy has argued, feminism is about changing the reality of women's lives, not their subjective evaluation of that reality.115 It lays emphasis on the local, on the active.116 Yet it has also borrowed from Marxism a recognition of the importance of consciousness in supplying the momentum from which critical and proper reform can emerge.117 A tension in feminist morphology is hence evident. While perimeter concepts assume an unusual importance in the self‐image of much second‐wave feminism, so that its ideological centre of gravity is atypically removed from a generalizing core, the analysis of feminist discourse suggests otherwise: the theoretical conceptualizations of feminism are still the key to its structure, and its periphery is as much shaped as shaping. MacKinnon suggests that feminism is exceptional in that, unlike phenomenology or Marxism, ‘both the fundamental substantive analysis and epistemological approach of feminism, the feminist stance as a formal theoretical departure, are nonetheless embodied in its practice of these principles’.118 But that is to underestimate seriously the role of perimeter concepts in other variants of socialism, or in liberalism, to say nothing of conservatism and green ideology.
The periphery of feminist ideology contains a number of marginal (p.521) concepts which are, as we have seen with respect to the downgrading of some liberal and socialist notions, standard concepts in political theory. Authority and legitimacy have been uncovered as vehicles of male power and deprived of some of their positive connotations, and consequently of their salience. The concept of reason is subject to a tug of war between feminists who have demoted it as reflective of certain (male) thought‐patterns, which impose a particular bias on an understanding of the social and political worlds, and between feminists who wish it to occupy a position more prominently adjacent to their core concepts. Feminist perimeter concepts, however, pertain to the social practices expressing male–female relationships, with a strong emphasis on those harmful to women. They may include abortion and rape as practices which indicate (partially) unconscious attitudes towards women and which serve to construct and shore up those attitudes. They will also include work and pay practices, as well as roles women perform in families.
Pornography, for instance, is a perimeter concept which identifies practices that negatively sustain feminist arguments. It does, however, perform somewhat disparate roles in different feminist morphologies, so that diverse links are forged with core feminist concepts. Terming certain sexual practices as pornographic may establish a route through the adjacent concept of violence119 (for some this route is endemic to all pornography) and thence to the core concept of power decontested as male force.120 Even detaching pornography from violence establishes routes through which the humiliation of women is attached to the adjacent concept of (in)equality, periodically employing the adjacent concept of formal consent to mask its substantive absence, thus downgrading women's status in society. Alternatively, a path is paved through which the reduction of women to objects of men's sexual pleasure props up adjacent dichotomies—such as passion/reason or passivity/activity—between women's and men's natures. This then ties in with the core concept of the gender‐based nature of social relationships. As MacKinnon has written, pornography ‘makes inequality into sex, which makes it enjoyable, and into gender, which makes it seem natural’.121 On occasion pornography and rape are highlighted as central social practices and made to underpin all forms of male power, now decontested as sexuality. Thus the perimeter concept (p.522) of rape is decontested negatively as a deliberate and rational act of ‘degradation and possession’ which can attach it to conscious acts of control,122 that is, construe it as an extension of (male) politics into the sphere of the (hitherto) private. Following from this, reform of laws of rape and pornography are seen as crucial to the elimination of male power, the devastating consequences of which are the focus of feminist ideological conceptualizations.123 For libertarian feminists, pornography may be in a more marginal location, and its legal removal entails a much impoverished conception of liberty.124
Another significant area relates to the argument that undesirable practices, considered outside the domain of politics, have in fact been endorsed by state activity. Pornography, as MacKinnon asserts, gains legitimacy through applying a liberal conception of state neutrality, whose function it is to transform it into official policy.125 MacKinnon sustains the criticism that such neutrality may be no more than an endorsement of whatever current practices exist, in so far as they are decontested as private. Different rules for women's pay, ostensibly the domain of private employers, or absent in the domain of the household, methods of inheriting property settled in social custom, and discriminatory taxation, also obtain state legitimation—by default or assent—and are removable from their perimeter status only through capturing the state for feminism.126 For reform within a male‐dominated state may simply increase the power of men. Forms of medical practice, for instance, intended to improve female fertility or professionalize conditions of childbirth, may utilize technologies in which male doctors impose choices on female patients.127
Conversely, many perimeter practices are prized by feminists and buttress the conceptual structures they wish to promote. Abortion and contraception may offer important morphological support to liberal feminism, as concrete instances of free choice adopted with some enthusiasm by middle‐class women eager to augment their independence,128 and extended in socialist feminism as emancipatory empowerment.129 Eisenstein, for instance, regards reproductive (p.523) rights as absolute, thus locating the concept of the inviolable rights of women immediately adjacent to the feminist core, but extending its substance far beyond the traditional liberal feminist position.130 Family allowances played vital perimeter roles as steps towards greater equality of opportunity—although, frequently being paid to the male breadwinner, they also sanctioned the sexual division of labour—or, in early socialist feminism, as the recognition of the social significance of motherhood and child‐rearing.131 If domestic work is devalued as demeaning or insignificant drudgery, it will be steered in the direction of a particular cluster of adjacent concepts such as traditionalism, exploitation, a socially constructed division of labour, unequal status, and dependence, and from there attach to the core concept of the male–female power relationship. But if it is revalorized as highly productive labour, it may be guided towards the creation of welfare—that is, individualized and based on care.132 It can then still be assimilated into Marxist or reformist socialist frameworks as expressive of human needs, or into capitalist ones as having a high market value.133 Mothering abilities may be associated with the concepts of care and responsibility increasingly evocative of women's virtues, decontesting the core concept of the centrality of the role of women in terms of the specific contribution it can bring to social life. But mothering is also a deskilling process,134 impinging on the concepts of liberty, independence, and equal economic opportunity intended to bolster the core concept of (restructuring) male–female power relationships. In addition, as will be noted in Chapter 14, the ecofeminist hybrid reinforces the link between mothering and an innate, difference‐oriented, conception of women. But the biology of reproduction, as we have seen, may lead to adjacent concepts relating to the innate views of women's capacities or to adjacent concepts of reform and control involving advanced technology. Particularism or universalism, traditionalism or social revolution, may be the alternative consequences. In sum, the same perimeter notions may have diverse functions in different varieties of feminism, when in each case they are linked to different clusters of adjacent concepts. The above examples serve merely as illustrations of a vast network of conceptual configurations within the family of feminisms.
(p.524) The location of women's issues in a temporal context raises the interesting question of history as a concept informing feminist ideology. Both liberal evolutionism and Marxist historicism have imprinted their conceptions of time on feminism. There are two aspects of the link between feminism and history. First, for feminists who are not biological determinists, history is appreciated as a concrete arena of the development of practices inimical to the good of women, but therefore also removable in principle. History relates to contingent time. Second, many feminists display an evolutionary view of the history of women's movements and women's theorizing. The perceived transition of feminism through liberal and Marxist phases to various types of second‐wave feminism suggests a strong conception of history as developmental and increasing in sophistication; that is to say, structured by means of the concept of progress. Ultimately—and with teleological undertones—that history will witness the liberation of women from former and present oppressive practices and will generate a political language appropriate to that end. In the course of that process, past horizons are diminished by second‐wave feminists, although some aspects of liberal equality are retained. A variation on this theme is offered by Julia Kristeva, who identifies within the evolutionary process of women's history a movement from linear time through cyclical time to their transcendence through infinite, monumental, temporality.135
Such interpretations of history are perceived by their articulators as almost entirely the product of the independent development of women's consciousness—aligned with the conception of women as a group—though they may be decoded as profoundly influenced by and dependent on Continental critiques of modernism and by the prominence of politically active new social movements since the 1960s. But women's consciousness too is strikingly influenced by the concern of feminism with the concrete, in particular because current modes of talking about society and politics are inadequate for the expression of women's thoughts. This has led, as noted above, to a suspicion towards theorizing as such. A weighty aspect of feminist projects consists of challenging conventional theory by creating or, at least, attempting to legitimate, different literary forms for expressing women's feelings and thoughts as ways of consciousness‐raising.136 Consciousness‐raising is itself (p.525) a concrete practice as much as a mental activity, involving the formation of women's discussion groups.137
In one crucial way feminism is an ideology par excellence (except that it is loath to accept the term), concerned with the relation between action and its conceptualization and alert to the subtleties of political language and concept‐formation and reformation. In its relation with other ideological families it adopts a complex position of emulation, critical evaluation and rejection, and innovation. That last strength surmounts the pitfalls of eclecticism and presents a unique conceptual profile, however indeterminate and contentious some of its components are. Yet here too is feminism's limitation as an ideology. Its indeterminacy is not merely a reflection of internal disputes, but represents a social doctrine that is unspecific when it comes to all members of a society. It is also often indifferent or even silent when it deals with some political concepts—justice, democracy, rights, political obligation, to name a few138—to which many women and men, not solely liberals, still attach importance. This is not intended as a reproach; it is a comment on a morphology that is insufficiently comprehensive to carry a general ideological programme in direct competition with the major ideological families.
(4) Cp. Evans, Feminist Theory, 44.
(6) Cp. ibid. 235; Pateman, Disorder of Women, 2.
(7) Cp. Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 252.
(9) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 35.
(10) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 11, 74, 84.
(11) Coole, Women, 257.
(12) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 109, 113, 3.
(14) Coole, Women, 254, citing L. Segal, Is the Future Female (London, 1987), 2.
(18) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 161, 157.
(21) Evans, Feminist Theory, 156, citing J. Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man (London, 1990), 168.
(24) Barrett, Women's Oppression, pp. vii–x; Evans, Feminist Theory, 21.
(25) Spender, Man Made Language, 59.
(29) Cp. Coole, Women, 255–6.
(30) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 4.
(31) Cp. N. Fraser, ‘What's Critical about Critical Theory? The Case of Habermas and Gender’, in M. L. Shanley and C. Pateman (eds.), Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory (Oxford, 1991), 260.
(32) Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 113.
(33) Cp. Pateman, Disorder of Women, 34.
(34) ‘ . . . feminist criticism is primarily directed at the separation and opposition between the public and the private spheres in liberal theory and practice’ (ibid. 118).
(36) Cp. Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 176.
(37) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 95, 168.
(38) For a criticism of linguistic dichotomies see Cameron, Linguistic Theory, 57–71.
(39) Humm, Feminisms, 59.
(40) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 4.
(42) Young, Justice, 165.
(43) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 20, 197.
(44) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, pp. xv–xvi.
(45) Ibid. 124.
(46) Ibid. 120–1. Italics in original.
(49) Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 95–7.
(51) Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 16.
(53) Thus some feminists plausibly see postmodernism as a transitional epistemology (see S. Harding, ‘Conclusion: Epistemological Questions’, in Humm, Feminisms, 321).
(56) N. Fraser and L. J. Nicholson, ‘Social Criticism Without Philosophy: An Encounter between Feminism and Postmodernism’, in Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/ Postmodernism, 20.
(57) Ibid. 33.
(58) Evans, Feminist Theory, 126.
(59) S. Harding, ‘Feminism, Science, and the Anti‐Enlightenment Critiques’, in Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, 95.
(60) Ibid. 96–7.
(61) A. Yeatman, ‘A Feminist Theory of Social Differentiation’, in Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, 289–90.
(62) Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 6.
(63) Cp. Humm, Feminisms, 122, and A. Lorde, ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’, in Humm, 138–9.
(64) Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 37.
(65) Cp. MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 219–20; Firestone, Dialectic of Sex, 193.
(66) Coole, Women, 153.
(67) See Bryson, F eminist Political Thought, 86–98 for other undercurrents. See also O. Anderson, ‘The Feminism of T. H. Green: A Late‐Victorian Success Story?’, History of Political Thought, 12 (1991), 671–93.
(68) ‘Woman Suffrage, whatever it was to feminists and their allies, became to the Liberal cabinet a part of the left‐over franchise business of the nineteenth century.’ (D. Morgan, Suffragists and Liberals (Oxford, 1975), 151.)
(69) Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 51–69; Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 83; Barrett, Women's Oppression, 48–9.
(70) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 5, 9.
(71) Cp. Barrett, Women's Oppression, 14–18.
(72) H. Hartmann, ‘Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex’, in Humm, Feminisms, 106.
(73) Evans, Feminist Theory, 32.
(77) See above, pp. 159–60.
(78) Barrett, Women's Oppression, pp. xxiv–xxv.
(80) See e.g. Rich, Compulsory Heterosexuality, 22; Daly, Gyn/Ecology, 380–4. Separatism may be bolstered by lesbian perspectives.
(81) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 216–21.
(82) Young, ‘Polity and Group Difference’, 138.
(83) Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 7.
(84) Ibid. 319.
(86) Frazer and Lacey, Politics of Community, 64. See also Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 263.
(87) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 38.
(89) See also D. Haraway, ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, in Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, 200.
(90) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 41; Hartmann, in Humm, Feminisms, 103.
(91) Frazer and Lacey, Politics of Community, 123.
(93) Young, ‘Ideal of Community’, 305; Justice, 169–71.
(94) Evans, Feminist Theory, 6.
(95) Frazer and Lacey, Politics of Community, 10.
(96) Ibid. 132.
(98) Phillips, Engendering Democracy, 150.
(99) Young, ‘Ideal of Community’, 307; Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 33–4, 44–5.
(100) Ibid. 357–8; Frazer and Lacey, Politics of Community, 47–8, 66.
(101) For an argument developing in this direction see ibid. 180, 206.
(103) McNay, Foucault, 115, 192.
(104) Eisenstein, Radical Future, 4.
(105) See McNay, Foucault, 24–5.
(106) Coole, Women, 237.
(107) Barrett's measured reflections on different uses of ideology are a case in point. See Women's Oppression, pp. xvi–xix.
(108) For a discussion of these issues see respectively MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 3 ff. and Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 152–5 and passim.
(109) See e.g. V. Held, ‘Birth and Death’, in Sunstein (ed.), Feminism, 105–7; MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 12, 15.
(110) Cp. Jaggar, Feminist Politics, 136.
(112) Cp. Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 81–2.
(113) Cp. Barrett, Women's Oppression, 132, and her reservations about her own analysis in the preface to the revised edn.
(114) Humm, Feminisms, 56.
(116) E. Probyn, ‘Travels in the Postmodern: Making Sense of the Local’, in Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, 186–7; Humm, Feminisms, 56.
(117) Cp. Rowbotham, Woman's Consciousness.
(118) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 38–9.
(119) Millett, Sexual Politics, 288–92.
(123) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 174–83; 203–21.
(124) Bryson, Feminist Political Thought, 195.
(125) MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 213.
(126) See e.g. Barrett, Women's Oppression, 78, 227–47.
(128) Cp. J. Lewis, ‘Feminism and Welfare’, in ibid. 92–3.
(130) Eisenstein, Color of Gender, 171–2.
(132) Pateman, Disorder of Women, 192–5.
(133) Cp. MacKinnon, Feminist Theory, 65–6.
(134) Lewis, ‘Feminism and Welfare’, 96.
(135) J. Kristeva, ‘Women's Time’, in Humm, Feminisms, 216–17.
(136) See A. Rich, ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re‐Vision’, in ibid. 369–71.
(137) Cp. Spender, Man Made Language, 108–9, 129–32.
(138) Cp. Evans, Feminist Theory, 37.