Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Critiquing Lorber.

I'm teaching Judith Lorber's book, Gender Inequality, and as the semester progresses, I'm finding that I have quite a lot of issues with this text. So, where does one go to air one's grievances? Why, to the internet, of course!

One of my problems with the book is with its approach. Lorber is a social scientist, and she seems to be heavily influenced by Gender Studies rather than Women's Studies. (Gender Studies is very often located within social science departments, notably Sociology.) Anyway, some of Lorber's definitions seem to come from somewhere I don't recognize, and I'm guessing it may be Sociology. For example, she says that the political goal of feminism is women's equality. However, as many decades of feminist battles, along with her own discussion of various trends of feminist thought, have shown us, that is a fairly white, heterosexual definition of feminism. Women of color feminisms, and lesbian feminisms, and working class feminisms, as well as transnational feminisms, have focused less on achieving equality with men and more on ending oppression, with a particular focus on women, of course, but with attention also to ending racial and other oppressions. This means that feminism has focused on things like access to health care, ending poverty, caring for the environment, etc.

Lorber also defines "transvestitism" and "transsexual" in ways that are at huge odds with these words' common usages. To Lorber, "transvestitism" is simply living as a member of the opposite gender but without having surgery, whereas being a "transsexual" means having surgery and taking hormones. To the rest of us, "transvestitism" is cross-dressing. "Transsexuality" is less about surgery - that's an outdated usage - and more about feeling certain that one's gender is at odds with one's body.

Lorber further states that "the current feminist movement is called the second wave" (3). While this may be a strong sense that many feminist scholars have, it is arguable that the second wave is fairly far down on the far side of the wave, while numerous other waves have cropped up. I'm not saying that the Second Wave is over, but rather that it is no longer the prevailing force of feminism - it is past its PEAK but not its EFFECTIVENESS, if that makes sense. I haven't yet read her section on Third Wave feminism, so for all I know, she'll locate Third Wave feminism WITHIN the Second Wave, which is ok, too, I suppose, but confusing.

I'm also a bit perturbed by her discussion of "Standpoint Feminism" and "Social Construction Feminism." First, I would argue that these are not particular kinds of feminism at all, but rather ideas/approaches within a number of different feminisms, disciplines, etc. These, too, comes from the social sciences. What irks me about her mention of "standpoint theory" in particular is that I have almost exclusively heard and seen it referred to in Women's Studies as "situated feminism" (the idea that one's position affects one's world view). I'm coming out of Women's Studies and this is a book about feminisms, so I feel that, just maybe, it should be situated more firmly in an interdisciplinary, feminist approach.

More to follow, I suspect.

No comments: