Friday, October 26, 2007

Feminism and Theory

I'm having issues with critical feminist theory.

When I was in high school I felt very strongly that I was a feminist, but felt uncomfortable with the term...much the same way many liberal people seem uncomfortable with the term "liberal." The problem is that liberals who feel constrained by some of the potentially negative connotations with the term have "progressive" as an alternative. I was not sure in high school, nor am I now, what term I can substitute for feminism.

The issue is that, certainly on many levels I am a feminist. I feel a distinct level of disquiet in terms of the place of women in the workforce (i.e. equal pay for equal work) and am frequently frustrated by the clear devaluing of many traditional "female" well as my need to differentiate myself from "the girls." I feel the conflict and double standard between thinking of women (and myself) as sexually empowered and free to choose versus the woman as slut or as sexually objectified person. I feel the conflict between my own need to proceed in all things rationally and my sometimes uncontrollable tendencies toward emotional response. And I sometimes feel frustrated at my insistence on calling the later "behaving like a girl" with a distinct negative connotation.

All that being said, I'm a feminist. I desire equal rights, equal treatment and equal respect for my gender. And the crux, perhaps especially for women of my generation, is demanding this while also embracing the differences that are inherent to the sexes and genders (based as much an evolutionary-biological perspective, as a cultural perspective.) I'm not sure. But really, none of that has much at all to do with the issues I'm having.

Because of where many of my professional and academic interests lie (reproductive medicine and reproductive medical anthropology) I find myself reading a lot that seems to have been written by one form or another of a critical feminist. And I'm finding myself increasingly uncomfortable with the stands taken by said personages. I am, in many regards, a Neo-Marxist. I do view many issues of the world in terms of who holds power over whom and the resultant outcomes. However, I'm realizing that this does not extend into a strong critical feminist framework of thought in my brain, especially in terms of medical anthropology.

Too much of the feminist perspective is about the bio-medical complex trying to keep the woman down. I do believe that too much of the Western bio-medical complex looks at many things (not just reproduction and reproductive cycles) in terms of disease and ill-health, however I believe this is a problem system wide and not directed simply at women's issues. It's a problem with the cultural upbringing of the complex. Western bio-medical providers, at present, exist primarily as problem solvers. It's why more providers practice curative medicine than preventative medicine. In this country especially, it is probably due, at least in part, to the profit and corporation based system under which we operate.

Yet still, I'm a firm proponent of the bio-medical complex (something of which I someday intend to be a practitioner.) And it is difficult for me to believe that the system is still governed in an entirely patriarchal way that just hopes to point out how weak and unfit women are. The issue is not about being in control of women, it is simply about being in control. (Which, we must admit, has led to a lot of gains in terms of survival rates of humans in general, and particularly for women of child bearing age and their offspring.) The feminist perspective seems to be too wholeheartedly dismissive of medical intervention without firm scientific reasoning for such a standpoint. Yes, interventions happen unnecessarily, and probably too frequently, but it's a complex issue.

I'm currently reading this book, or trying to read, that I just ordered from I was all excited about it, just like the last one I ordered for the same purpose (a paper I'm supposedly writing on how immigrant women perceive the childbirth experiences here)...but find myself frustrated as I go along. I was able to deal with this perspective from the books that are 30 or 40 years old. A generation ago feminism NEEDED to be different. A generation ago feminism needed to be highly critical of our patriarchal system. A generation ago women really were being kept down as a whole.

But, the author of the book I'm reading now originally wrote it in the early 90's. A new edition came out early this decade. This women, as is the case with many women who are interested in the cultural transects of reproduction, are just too focused on the narrow feminist world-view which is, frankly, outdated. It just turns everything into too black and white an issue. Nothing is simple and black and white. All issues that deal with human health and human culture are complex and multi-layered.

Seriously, is the issue REALLY that the bio-medical complex views sperm as virile and aggressive while viewing the uterus and ovaries as passive receptors?

1 comment:

Trav said...

I think you're right.
Women have to ditch the sexual analogies and turn more to a rational, useful ideology.
They need to realize that in this generation the Man is keeping everyone down, without discretion.