"Feminism Across Cultures," Panel Discussion, Exploring Collaborative Contestations and Diversifying Philosophy Conference (Hypatia/CSW), May 2015

Feminist philosophers have recognized that there are vague boundaries and contested definitions regarding what counts as "feminism," let alone "feminist philosophy." Yet, we can recognize in all feminist works and perspectives essential features that identify these works as "feminist." Feminist work, most typically, seeks to deconstruct the explicit symbolic representations that are present within a culture and bring to light the underlying political relations of power that ground the use of these representations in order to oppress, dominate, or marginalize a group or a community of people within some society or culture. Thus the difficulty in identifying what counts as “feminist” or “feminist philosophy” is not that there are no essential features that serve as some criteria for demarcating feminist work from non-feminist work; the difficulty lies in the fact that structural relations of power, oppression, domination, and marginalization are differentially realized in one culture compared to another. A second difficulty is that such power relations are ever moving targets, not because the power structures are constantly evolving as old political structures are undermined and replaced, but instead because those who are related through pre-existing power structures are undermined and replaced. Given these two descriptions of the conditions that lead to the difficulty of identifying feminist philosophy as “feminist”, I propose a panel discussion of various feminist philosophers sharing their perspective on how certain works may be overlooked as “feminist” and how certain works ought to be rejected as “feminist” despite the fact that such works clearly employ feminist methods of analysis. For example, some feminist philosophers or activists may reject Andrea Smith’s work Native Americans and the Christian Right as “feminist” despite the fact that she employs feminist methods of analysis. I, however, would argue that although Smith’s work does not occupy a central position in feminist literature, it is on the cutting edge of feminist work. Smith not only challenges what makes feminist work “feminist” by challenging the standard feminist themes that depict the relation between the values and aims of various groups to be necessarily incommensurable due to the history of conflict that has existed between them, but she also calls us to question the degree to which such histories ought to be taken into consideration when understanding the perspective of those who are identified as “oppressed” or “marginalized.”

Cecilea Mun,
May 18, 2015, 1:04 PM