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carolyn.j's picture

Skeptical Feminism, cont.

Dever, Carolyn.  Skeptical Feminism: Activist Theory, Activist Practice.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.  141-161.  Print.


Dever’s chapter “Obstructive Behavior: Dykes in the Mainstream of Feminist Theory” in Skeptical Feminism considers how the conceptual and real presence of lesbians in the women’s movement has historically presented a point of disruption and challenge.  To begin, Dever notes that while feminism has historically had discourse about sexual revolution, it has been far less welcoming of sexual difference.  As such, it has faced disagreement both on the front of heterosexism within the feminist movement, but also the problematic, desexualizing expansion of the term “lesbian” to encompass all women.  Through her piece, Dever constructs “dyke” as a metaphor within feminist theory, representing the challenges confronting feminist theory both internally and externally.

Overall this section of Dever’s book was less directly applicable to the work I’ve been engaged in, either practically or theoretically (as interesting as it was to read).  However, Dever’s discussion of lesbians as presumed feminists struck me as analogous to the assumption that women’s organizations are feminist organizations.  Just as lesbianism does not necessitate alignment with feminist ideals and beliefs – though certainly I think there is a significant and not unrelated overlap between those two spheres – organizations that are women-led and/or cater to women should not be assumed to be feminist.

Such an assumption should be read and challenged from two perspectives.  For one, those organizations may not self-identify as feminist.  Just as there are female politicians who actively oppose women’s rights through such means as positioning themselves as anti-choice, there are women’s organizations who may object to feminist ideology.  Such a position may be ridiculous and frustrating (in my opinion) given that they are women serving women, but it remains that such groups exist and as such should not be cast as feminist.

On the other hand – and more complicatedly so – are organizations that may perceive themselves as feminist, but others do not.  But that begs the question, by what measure do we call an organization feminist?  There is no standard for feminism; and feminist critiques abound where one group or individual calls out another self-proclaimed feminist as not truly so.  Clearly self-identification is not enough – and nor should it be – but at the same time it is often difficult to settle the matter past that.  But to blindly assume that a women’s organization is feminist is not helpful in those instances when we can agree that they are not.       


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