Reading the excellent ‘Siren’ magazine (freebie copy gratefully received from Cork Feminista ! ) I found many post-inspiring items. Not least amongst them was Fleur Moriarty’s ‘Goodbye Feminazi, Hello Feminista’ in which she reviewed Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’. I was particularly interested in this as one of her comments resonated with many others that I’ve heard recently. In her review she refers to Caitlin Moran’s book as stripping away some of the ‘daunting elements of modern theoretical feminism’.
Theory may well be daunting and academics, and particularly feminist ones, have a big responsibility to address the presentation of information in user-friendly form. But the dauntingness of theory and what needs to be done about it are not what I want to address here. What I want to do is to point out the history and ongoing use of ‘theory’ as a very effective weapon of anti-equality.
‘Theory bashing’ is a very contemporary feminist phenomenon where any propensity to intellectual analysis is all too frequently derided as boringly anachronistic and as much a part of the ‘feminazi’ stereotype as hairy legs and armpits. It’s an attitude that sadly ignores the role that ‘theory’ plays in the processes of social policy decision-making that affect every level and every aspect of women’s lives, from the personal to the global. Many ‘Siren’ articles from Ailbhe Durkin’s ‘Are You Leading Me On?’ to Hannah McCarthy’s ‘Spotlight On Trinity’ highlighted continuing chronic imbalances in male and female representation in positions of influence from corporate boards to politics and academia. It’s not possible to influence decisions when you’re not there at all or when there are simply too few of you to count.
Social policy decision-making is a self-confirmingly circular process. Decisions are made based on upon empirical and theoretical research related to any given issue. But those who hold majority influence ( and the research funding purse-strings ) tend to determine the formation of that knowledge base…..which then confirms their own views…..which then justifies the decisions that they make.
Psychological perspectives, to take just one example, have been consistently created and used in this way to the detriment of women and their struggles for equality. Following the course of the development of psychological ‘theories’ about women over the last hundred years or so illustrates this point as feminist advances have invariably been accompanied by dominant ‘expert’ analyses that serve to negate and obstruct progress.
It can surely be no coincidence that Freud’s disparaging views on the deficiencies of the female psyche should find prominence in perfect synchrony with women’s demands for rights and suffrage on both sides of the Irish sea. Or that theoretical perspectives on the desirability of daycare for infants should be lauded when war-labour was required of women in 1940s England but overturned by those of maternal deprivation a decade later when men wanted both their jobs and their household status back. And if divorce came late to Ireland its women would do well to look across the water to the use that the UK Family Law system has made of psychological ‘theories’ that have facilitated the placing of children with provenly abusive fathers whilst imprisoning and sanctioning mothers who have tried to protect them.
When dominance makes decisions its interests have to be both reflected AND justified…which is exactly where theory comes in and why feminists ignore or deride it at their own cost.
Knowledge is power.
Don’t knock it…you have to be in it to win it.
Gaia Charis http://www.gaiacharis.com