Criticism and Construction

As a political movement, feminism has sought to undermine or overthrow the social mechanisms through which gender operates to oppress women. Because gender identity cannot be understood or even perceived outside its complicated interaction with other abusive power systems, feminists resist those as well. A feminist politics is not only a politics of resistance, however. It is also a politics of construction. It seeks to build a more just society—one that is as good for all kinds of women as it is for all kinds of men. So, for example, "first-wave" U.S. feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Lucretia Mott worked for the right of women to own property, not to be enslaved, and to vote.

As a field of scholarship, feminism likewise pursues two goals. The first is criticism. Feminists have uncovered and opposed gender bias in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, the arts, and professions such as law and medicine. Sandra Harding, for example, has criticized the view, widely shared by scientists themselves, that science is value—free. She argues that scientific knowledge is produced largely by men who command significant amounts of social prestige, and that the perspective of these men is necessarily colored by assumptions and values arising from the kinds of activities in which they engage. As science leaves this perspective unexamined, it assumes an objectivity that it does not in fact possess.

What Donna Haraway has dubbed the "god trick"— the ideal of a perspectiveless and timeless view from nowhere that purports to secure objectivity—strikes many feminists as both politically suspect and impossible to achieve. Feminist epistemologists such as Lorraine Code and Helen Longino argue that greater objectivity is attained by taking careful and rigorous account of knowers' social locations than by ignoring the effects of power on what kinds of knowledge is legitimated, whose knowledge is considered authoritative, and which knowers are ignored or excluded as a result.

As well as questioning sexist understandings of objectivity, feminists have criticized the gender bias that inheres in other key theoretical concepts and indeed in mainstream theories themselves. But like political feminism, academic feminism does more than criticize—it also constructs. Feminist economists, for example, have not rested content with condemning the masculine bias inherent in the individualism and competition of much economic theory; they have constructed economic models that begin from the fact of human dependency and connection. Feminist historians have not only pointed to the gender gaps created by their profession's focus on military campaigns and other male— dominated activity in the public sphere, but have used women's diaries, letters, and other writings to construct histories of women and of domestic life. Feminist constructions in philosophy include a shift from mainstream episte-mology's preoccupation with necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, to the theoretical importance of the social location of the knower. Equally significant has been the construction of feminist moral theory, particularly the ethics of care and feminist responsibility ethics.

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