Some reflections on feminism

In Morny Joy’s (2005) essay[i], she draws our attention to the way in which, within religious studies, the theoretical and methodological framework used to study religion has been one formulated from the white man’s perspective. Our understanding of what religion entails and how best to define it is rooted in a western, androcentric, rationalistic epistemological framework that fails to address and speak to and from the felt life of religion, as is happens in the lives of non-western women, for example. Western scholars have analyzed “third-world” religion in terms of their own presuppositions, regarding religion as a sort of intellectual assent to a set of doctrinal prepositions. When such scholars have seen and talked about religion in the “third-world”, it has been “official” religion— the textual, intellectual kind, where men are the authorities. Too often western scholars failed to take into account the eclecticism and syncretism of religion’s material happening, across time and space. Traditional folk practices and regional deities are regarded, within this western paradigm, as being somewhat “unofficial”, or not religion “proper”. Paul Reid-Bowen, in his comments[ii] (2005), as a researcher of Goddess religion, records how:

“My positioning along the old, and perhaps somewhat outdates, neutrality-commitment and insider-outsider (emicetic) continua of religious studies has shifted dramatically in the past few years, and I am now face with the possibility that I may be doing of writing feminist theology (194)”


“I am /…/ preoccupied with the degree to which I am taking perennial masculinist methodological concerns and imposing them upon a feminist religion that is actively opposed to them. In my research, the elucidation and systemization of thealgical reality-claims is a methodological concern; and that runs problematically against the claims of many interpreters and practitioners of goddess feminism (195).”

Goddess religion isn’t concerned so much with systematic theologizing as it is with mythopoetics and the more affective dimension of religion (cf. 195). The task is: how to think theology and philosophy different to than it has been thought within a patriarchal, androcentric epistemological framework.

When reflecting on the question of “why does a man/why did he become a feminist?”, Reid-Bowen recounts how sometimes he feels as though he should be able to express something akin to a conversion story. He says he has no such thing. I do, though. I look at my own writing today as a telling of this story, and a protest against the sort of androcentric methodological frameworks Reid-Bowen worries about bringing to feminism.

Reid-Bowen makes the interesting and refreshingly honest admission that his (and he thinks other men’s too) motivation to work alongside feminists is an— in the broadest possible definition of the term— erotic one (cf. 197). I’m not sure about this, but I do think that to take a romantic idea of feminism, as this one emancipatory thing, is illusionary. Feminism isn’t a credential to wear. After all, any one— and lots of people do— can call themselves a feminist. Feminism is emancipatory; but such an emancipatory feminism is performed, is carried out boldly within academia, in opposition to much of what is already in place.

I would instead want to look at the desire underlying my, and other men and women’s, involvement in feminism as a desire to stand in opposition to the legitimizing structures in place within the knowledge (re)producing machine we call “the academy”. So questions like: what methodologies are you using? What sorts of journals are you submitting to?

Is feminism not supposed to be a risk? It involves doing things in such a way as to distance one’s self from the matrix of intelligibility in relation to which persons are recognized as scholars.

I have learned a great deal from radical coloured women’s writings, lesbian feminism, and other more radical approaches, that take it upon themselves to be the “fuck you” in the face of a western-centric, andro-centric academy. This is a feminism the scholarly status of which is called into question by men.

I don’t feel the same sort of ambivalences as Reid-Bowen. I share in the Gnostic, antinomian impulse in feminism. Feminism is supposed to be an interruption in the conversation being had within academia. And it is for exactly this reason that a lot of western feminists have been critiqued by coloured, indigenous, and trans feminists for choosing only to interrupt that part of the conversation that is of concern to them. As Morny Joy quotes Chandra Talpade Mohanty:

“[F]eminist scholarship, like most other kinds of scholarship, is not the mere production of knowledge about a certain subject. It is a directly political and discursive practice in that it is purposeful and ideological. It is best seen as a mode of intervention into particular hegemonic discourses (for example, traditional anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, etc.); it is a political praxis which counters and resists the totalizing imperative of age-old ‘legitimate’ and ‘scientific’ bodies of knowledge (Mohanty, quoted in Joy 2005: 30).”

Again, feminism is supposed to be “pushy” as Sarah Ahmed says. It isn’t supposed to “contribute”. It is supposed to interrupt; it is supposed to be a “fuck you”.

Feminists— those who carry out feminism in such a way— will undoubtedly face a harder time finding employment within the academy. For their very work and method is deemed, in relation to the legitimization structures within academia, somewhat un-scholarly.

And in relation to all this that I’ve said, I very much like what Reid-Bowen says here:

“Men need to realize that feminism is not a tool or strategy that they can pick up, use and then put down. Feminism, as I understand it today, is about personal and social transformation and developing ways of acting and thinking differently in the world (198).”

[i] Morny Joy (2005) ‘Postcolonial and Gendered Reflections: Challenges for Religious

Studies’, in Gender, Religion and Diversity, by U. King and T. Beattie (eds.).

[ii] Paul Reid-Bowen (2005) ‘Reflexive Transformations: Research Comments on Me(n), Feminist

Philosophy and the Thealogical Imagination’, in Gender, Religion and Diversity, by U.

King and T. Beattie (eds.).


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