Friday, February 02, 2007

The (Un)Happy Alliance Between Feminism and Philosophy?

I am working, and rather diligently, so I cannot believe I am diverting attention to write this post. But, this topic has been on my mind ever since I engaged in a brief discussion with anonymous coward in the comment section of this post, namely, how is an alliance between philosophy and feminism possible? Sure, there are plenty of scholars out there working in Philosophy on feminist issues, and there is a whole sub-field of feminist theory within Philosophy. But, at the end of the day, can the two really forge a happy alliance? After all, feminism is a political position, it is in its core revolutionary and desires not just to describe reality, but to remake reality. Can we say the same about Philosophy? Sure, Marx is famous for saying, in his Theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

One could reconceive of Philosophy as an instrument of social change, but, that was certainly not what Marx did. Rather, he harshly rejects philosophy for its failure to recognize that, at base, it too is an ideology that justifies certain power structures (see the German Ideology). Given this critique of Philosophy, it seems odd that it could ever be married to feminism, which in its more radical form (see, for example, bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center) calls for the elimination of all forms of domination and oppression, e.g Racism, Imperialism, Capitalism, etc.

Another problem with the alliance between Philosophy and Feminism is that Philosophy shouldn't really take sides on political issues, at least, that shouldn't be its motivating cause. If careful philosophical argument shows that a feminist position is the correct and just way to act, then good. But, it is clear that philosophical argumentation won't always come down on the side of feminist causes. Hence, I am left with my question: is this a happy marriage?

I can only answer for myself: yes. But, the reason I find this to be a felicitious alliance is because (a) I reject Marx's harsh condemnation of Philosophy as merely ideology, (b) I think philosophical skepticism and argument are healthy for any political position, including feminism, and (c)my feminist positions are far more nuanced as a result of my philosophical soul. Others might not agree with my assessment. They might, for example, be angry that I identify my "soul" as philosophical, rather than feminist. But, for me, the philosopher always wins, which, I hope, makes me more intellectually honest as a feminist.