down girl part 1

Down Girl sets out to explore misogyny and feminism in a unique light and find a new approach addressing intersectionality and feminism. The introduction focuses on the terms “rape” and “strangulation”, and how those words have a misogynistic effect in the political sphere. Then the first chapter hones in on the definition of misogyny itself to prove how deeply ingrained it is in our society. 

What strikes me the most about this book is how Manne skillfully weaves relevant political cases into her argument. She does not restrict her argument to just be conceptual or just a social commentary. Instead, she embraces both, which strengthens her argument, and makes it easier for the audience to conceptualize and understand how Manne’s ideas are applied in real life settings. Additionally, many of these political situations are familiar to readers. For example, in the introduction to Manne uses several examples from our current presidential administration, including Donald Trump himself. She brings up how 50% of white women voted for Trump when he clearly represented many misogynist perspectives. 

Manne defines misogyny as “the system that operates within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination and to uphold male dominance” (p. 33). She noted how misogyny does not target all women but instead selects a unique few to punish. Misogyny serves to punish women that do not fit into the patriarchal norms.  This is a criticism of misogyny and sexism as the refusal to see women as human. Manne instead challenges what society is content with accepting to draw attention to a real problem, structures of power and inequality that perpetuate misogyny. 

In the first chapter of Down Girl, she discusses the case of Elliot Rodger, a mass murderer that targeted a sorority house, Alpha Phi at the University of California Santa Barbara. Subsequently, people subscribed that Rodger struggled with mental illness and argued whether or not he was truly misogynistic. They list the reasons that his actions and motives were not misogynistic: he was too obsessed with women and overly valued them causing him to act out, he was too obsessed with the men who could get the women that he desired that he acted out to punish women, he was obsessed with only “hot” women so there is no way he was misogynistic because he didn’t act out again ALL women, or maybe he didn’t even hate women on a fundamental level, and instead acted out to psychological distress. All of these reasons pivot the focus away from how violence is enacted against women in a structural manner, and Manne picks apart every little aspect of the case of Elliot Rodgers in order to prove her definition of misogyny. 

Deeper into Feminist Epistemology

In Uma Narayan’s The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a Non-Western Feminist, Narayan writes from her own experiences and understanding to critique and raise important questions about feminist epistemology and how her the intersection of her identity influences her philosophies. 

I really enjoyed reading Narayan’s writing, and the idea of the “dark side of double vision” really resonated with me, especially as I have discovered more and more about my identities and how they affect my everyday life. The concept of groups of oppressed peoples “derive an epistemic advantage” by being familiar with their own culture and the culture of the oppressors. For example, the idea of colonized peoples knowing their own native tongue and learning the language of their oppressors can be seen as epistemically positive. Through a secondary lens, however, it is important to understand that this occurrence is the product of oppression and should not be seen as positive.  

I feel like this concept is a very interesting idea when applied to more contemporary and modern practices especially those on a college campus. For example, when you think about student affairs positions, multicultural organization advisors are always people of color. From a less informed standpoint, many people may feel that this is an advantage that people of color in student affairs possess. I believe that this example makes clear why people of marginalized groups are not more “epistemically advantaged”. In regards to language, this is a very common view that I feel like people take–that people of color who speak more than one language are “lucky” in a way. In my own life, I oftentimes do not feel lucky because English has taken over my life. I have lost some much of my native language as a result of societal pressures of wanting to fit in, and that is something that I deeply regret and hope to prevent in my own children. 

In Black Feminist Epistemology, Patricia Hill Collins focuses on how blackness should be taken into account when discussing feminist epistemology. She challenges how oftentimes, painting feminist epistemology with a broad stroke can be damaging to marginalized groups. Collins unpacks this within the black female experience. 

“Implicit in Ms. Shay’s self-assessment is a critique of the type of knowledge that obscures the truth, the “thirty-four” words that cover up a truth that can be expressed in three.” 

Patricia Hill Collins

This quote is used to explain the difference between knowledge and wisdom and how knowledge itself can be divisive. Collins writes that knowledge is all that is needed for those in power, while those who are oppressed must possess wisdom in order to survive. Specifically, she states that the black woman has been able to survive due to wisdom in how to navigate through the white man’s world. This is a really interesting idea that connects well to the concept of “double vision” from Narayan’s article. 

This week’s readings were extremely interesting, and I am excited to see what everyone else thought about these topics and ideas. Both readings function really well to follow last week’s set of readings as we introduced the concept of feminist epistemology.

Feminist Epistemology

The introduction to the section of Alison Bailey’s and Chris Cuomo’s Feminist Philosophy Reader, “Feminist Epistemologies”, defines epistemology as “theories of knowledge, names the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature, scope, sources, structures, and limits of human knowledge”. The introduction explains how “traditional” philosophical thought can be problematic in feminism because it assumes that the gathering of knowledge has always been objective and unmotivated by biases. They explain how “feminist theorists challenge these assumptions by demonstrating how sexism and other harmful biases have shaped presuppositions about the nature of knowing”, and they give us context on how we can begin to conceptualize how to fix these inequities in knowledge. It was a great introduction to concepts and ideas that I was not previously familiar with before reading the assigned readings for the week. 

Allison Jagger’s Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, sets out to redefine emotion as an integral part of obtaining knowledge. The way that I have come to understand and process my emotions, especially the negative ones, is to understand that every emotion serves an important purpose. For example, I usually feel sad or lethargic when I am nervous or scared of failure, so my first reaction is to not even try at all. From a therapeutic perspective, this has been extremely helpful for me in my everyday life. While reading Jaggar’s article, this helped me greatly to understand how important emotions are in navigating the world. Jagger first explains how the dichotomy of woman and man have been equated with the dichotomy of emotion and reason within the western philosophical tradition, and then Jagger serves to deconstruct this relationship and explain its negative repercussions through defining emotions and unpacking different theories on how emotions affect the human faculties of reason and knowledge. Jagger concludes that “emotions are neither more basic than observation, reason, or action in building theory, nor secondary to them. Each of these human faculties reflects an aspect of human knowing inseparable from the other aspects”. 

One of the most interesting ideas that Jagger expresses, in my opinion, is how “the perspective on reality that is available from the standpoint of the oppressed, which in part at least is the stand-point of women, is a perspective that offers a less partial and distorted and therefore more reliable view. Oppressed people have a kind of epistemological privilege insofar as they have easier access to this stand-point and therefore a better chance of ascertaining the possible beginnings of a society in which all could thrive”. When I read this, it made a lot of sense to me, especially in through the feminist lens. It helped prepare me to better understand how Alcoff’s article as well. 

In Linda Martín Alcoff’s How is Epistemology Political, Alcoff begins by unpacking ideas on how socialization has created hierarchies in truths and perspectives. She discusses irrational ideas that occur because of how we are socialized as human beings. Alcoff notes how “bell hooks has argued that Black writers are too often read by whites as writing about “blackness,” whereas white writers are assumed to write about ‘life'” to further her point about how we have conditioned to believe that certain groups of people can only be experts in certain areas. Ideas such as these serve to maintain systems of privilege and oppression. The ideas of marginalized groups are considered lesser because they themselves are fundamentally lesser in some way. The recognition that these contradictions exist indicates an understanding that philosophical thought and “truths” are political because we only believe certain “truths”. 

I really enjoyed Alcoff’s discussion on how epistemology is political, and as a someone studying Letters, I have come to realize how much we value the “white man’s philosophy” and the classic civilizations’ history as the standard for “literature, philosophy, and history”. This semester, I have been lucky to take a wide variety of courses that have expanded my exposure to these subjects past just ancient Greece and Rome, including this class. This article made me think a lot back to the first day of class when Dr. Alavi spoke on how someone had told her that she would not be taken seriously as a philosopher if she studied “feminist philosophy”.  From then on, I have become more conscious of how the way we think about everything tends to be male-centered, and I have learned so much about how to unlearn those processes and ideas. 

Politics and women

In Marilyn Friedman’s Autonomy, Social Disruptions, and Women, she writes on how the concept of autonomy is male-centric and does not acknowledge the valuable role that relationships have in the human experience. She writes about how autonomy is socialized to be positive in the male experience and cites the example of impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Gauguin is hailed as a talented artist, but his personal past is never mentioned. In my personal experience of studying and enjoying impressionist art, this vignette shocked me. Gauguin abandoned his wife and family to pursue art on a whim, and his success somehow erased this behavior in praise of his autonomy. Female socialization often revolves around creating strong familial relationships. Motherhood is something that society assumes all women want to experience. A lot of the time, I believe that daughters are the ones that end up taking care of parents in their old age in place of sons. 

Before reading this article, I had not thought much about the idea of autonomy in the way that Friedman describes. A better word that comes to mind to describe the concepts of autonomy that was more familiar to me is independence. I have always seen myself as a very independent person, even from my adolescence. A lot of these self-perceptions came from being the oldest child, I am sure. As I read through Friedman’s article, I was made very self-aware of how my idea of independence was male-centric, and it revealed a lot about how I viewed my relationships through the lens of identifying as an independent woman. I continue to struggle to reconcile the great value of my relationships and the value I place in being independent. In the reading, Friedman widens my personal dilemma to apply to how society functions, and how this affects women particularly. Friedman’s article aptly unpacks the conflicting concepts of social harmony and individual autonomy and heeds for a balance and understanding of how one affects the other. 

When people from the majority in any population do not recognize their privilege, then changes in the name of equality can feel a lot like a disadvantage. I once told a friend in a moment of vulnerability that I received the Pell Grant, and she responded “oh, you’re so lucky!” without the full understanding of how the Pell Grant did not grant me special treatment, but made it possible for me to attend college. In Difference and Social Policy: Reflections in the Context of Social Movements, Iris Marion Young writes about how the idea of difference affects politic change and movements. Marginalized groups are defined as “different”, and she unpacks the definition of difference to illustrate how that affects how social movements are perceived in the pursuit of equality. 

Young touches on the difference between equality and equity without so going as far as mentioning those two words. She begins the article speaking to how “legal theory, policy discussion, and political philosophy have recently been much occupied with the issue of equal treatment versus special treatment”. One of my mentors, Paola Lopez, has an apt analogy for the difference between equality and equity that Young argues for in her writing. In a garden, if you plant two flower seeds, even if they are similar species of flowers, they will grow differently. One might be sooner to sprout than the other, and one might need more water or sunlight than the other. People are the same way, and they need different kinds of help and acknowledge in order to grow and succeed at the same rate. Young concludes “the goal is not to give special compensation to the deviant until they achieve normality, but rather to de-normalize the way institutions formulate their rules by revealing the plural circumstances and needs that exist, or ought to exist, within them”. 

Ampersands and Intersectional Feminism

A section of Alison Bailey’s and Chris Cuomo’s Feminist Philosophy Reader, “Race and Racism”, introduces race into feminist philosophy. They present the undeniable intersection that race and gender can have on a person, specifically addressing how feminism has been exclusionary in the past towards women of color. The introduction acknowledges the lack of women of color in the field of feminist philosophy and how the whole field seems “white-centered”. Adrienne Rich created the term, “white solipsism” for the societal tendency in the United States and around the globe, “to think, imagine and speak as if whiteness described the world” (Bailey & Cuomo, 2008, p. 262). Later,  Elizabeth V. Spelman highlights the difference that Rich closely defines: white solipsism is not synonymous with racism in the world of feminist thought, but instead refers to how people are “not [able to] see nonwhite experience or existence as precious or significant, unless in spasmodic, impotent guilt-reflexes” (Spelman, 2008, p. 277), which is detrimental in itself. The readings for this week focus on the importance of the insection of race and gender in feminist thought. 

The introduction asserts that Spelman’s article “addresses a crucial flaw in white feminist thinking: the idea that race, gender, and class are conceptually separable units that can be pulled apart and reconnect like the beads of a pop-bead necklace” (p. 262). when in reality, women of color must live with their race, gender, and class simultaneously. They are unable to pick and choose identities to leave behind at the door of feminist philosophy.

Elizabeth V. Spelman unpacks the “white solipsism” that exists in feminist thought, by exposing the different solipsistic arguments to be false in order to advance feminist thought to be more intersectional on issues of race and gender in Gender and Race: The Ampersand Problem in Feminist Thought.  In five different parts, she picks apart the assertions of feminist thinkers from past and modern times, appealing to logos in order to do so.  In the first part, Spelman points out how feminist writers have erased the existence of black women in their thoughts on sexism and racism and condemns this act. The second part consists of making the distinction that racism exists even when white people exist outside of racist behavior. Writers attempt to make the point that racism is a weaker ism than sexism because sexism is “more central to the positive self-concept of man” (p. 269). The third part asserts that sexism and racism are not stackable in oppression, that intersectional oppression is more complex than simple addition.  Part four argues for the importance of a positive self-image and understanding of the body as a part of feminism. The last part extends this understanding of the body to include race. Separating the body from the woman or the blackness of Africa-American attempts to separate an essential part of being that is not possible and is unethical. And Spelman concludes that the connection between racism and sexism is interlocking, and feminism needs to acknowledge this in order to progress forward to address sexist oppression in an equitable manner. 

In all honesty, reading Spelman’s article made me really upset with the feminist writers that she wrote about. I enjoyed reading the logical and powerful way she disputed and dismantled their ideas, but even just knowing that people believe that ism’s need to be ranked or that feminism is more fundamental than racism made me feel angry. As a woman of color, it sounded to me as if those thinkers were excluding me from feminism. I saw their beliefs as belittling the intersection of oppression that women of color face. “Fundamentality” of sexism sounded like an excuse to not confront racism before sexism was addressed, which leads to a huge problem when that definition caters to only white women.

My favorite idea expressed in Spelman’s article is, “As Barbara Smith has remarked, the effect of multiple oppression ‘is not merely arithmetic'” (p. 270). On the first day of class, the word that I used to describe feminism was intersectional. Though that was already my perception of feminism from the beginning, I am still learning about intersectionality theory and what that truly means. I believe that this quote simplistically describes how complex experiences are due to the intersection of oppressed identities. 

womxn

Feminist theory and arguments in its origin encounter a simple question: what constitutes a woman? Even today, people are still defining what it means to be a woman, though the definition has already been years in the making. In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex, arguing that woman was defined as an apophatic construct to man; everything a man was a woman was the opposite. And more recently in 2016, Sally Haslanger’s Social Construction: Gender and other Social Categories unravels what it means for something to be socially constructed and what that means for gender. Haslanger explains how gender is socially constructed, and how that does not negate the realness of gender and its effect on people. Defining gender and understanding how it came to be is integral in understanding feminism. 

Sexist oppression is different than other manifestations of oppression in that women are not a minority. Women make up around half of the population, and this is where it was hard to prove that discrimination on the basis of gender was even real. Defining womanhood is one of the very first steps to understanding the argument of feminist as sexist oppression. Cognizance of how gender and sex are constructed in our society gives insight into how inequality has been formed in the gender binary for women and other non-binary conforming people. 

Gender “marks social differences between individuals or about the location of groups within a system of social relations” according to Sally Haslanger’s Social Construction: Gender and other Social Categories.  Gender is a function of one’s role in a social framework or identification with someone who typically occupies said “gender role”, which will differ depending on a person’s race, class, ethnicity and more. Haslanger’s definition of gender is apt; it creates space for different cultural interpretation of women and also references the concept of how “woman” has come to be defined historically. One of the most fascinating points that Haslanger makes is how gender is a social construct, but that in itself does not invalidate feelings and sentiments of the individual about gender. 

The most interesting question that Haslanger brings up, in my opinion, is how the flaws in the binary sex/gender system should be amended. Should we expand our view of sex/gender to encompass more than one category? Or should we simply expunge any classification based on sex/gender? I feel like in our society today, we have begun to create a space that non-binary genders exist and are respected. Maybe this is because doing away with gender seems to hard an endeavor to successfully accomplish. The use of pronouns is an important part of our language (and many others). I also believe our social construction of gender is rooted so deep, it is hard for many to comprehend the damages that the social construct of gender has had on people. The construct is limiting and detrimental to the freedom that we hope to provide our posterity. 

Simone de Beauvoir focuses on the otherness that has historically defined womanhood in her Introduction to The Second Sex.  In understanding how a woman is constructed opposite men, Beauvoir demonstrates how the dynamics of power are interlaced in our very understanding of men and women as a binary. She discusses how men “profit… from the otherness” of women. This understanding of how sexism originates from the very construction of gender ties directly into how bell hooks defines feminism as a movement to end sexist oppression. Beauvoir’s “otherness” insinuates that women do not have “full membership in the human race” because they are lesser than the foil that they are defined to–men. This definition of women is closely linked with ideas of sexist oppression and connects deeply with contemporary feminist arguments, though it does not include other gender and sex identities. 

My title is “womxn“, which is a term that English-speaking feminists have more recently begun to use as a more inclusive term than “women”. “womxn” serves to shed light on injustices towards women of color and trans-women, and define “women” as independent and separate from “men” even in spelling. This spelling and concept can be seen as a  reclaiming of the word to stand alone from “men”, especially in light of how Beauvoir explicates how “women” is defined.