The Doll's House: Critical men, feminism and academia
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This paper reports on and further develops work carried out as part of an undergraduate dissertation on critical men in academia and their relation to feminism, and explicitly addresses how these men, self admittedly critical in their theoretical orientation, relate to feminism on both a public and private level. The many societal, economic, political, cultural and institutional changes from the mid 20th century onward – that have been popularly termed postmodernism (1) and later contested as intellectual illusion (Eagleton, 1996) – provide the backdrop for i) the subject positions occupied by these men, and ii) their relationship to feminism, women and feminists.
According to Lyotard (1979), conceptualisations of knowledge in modern society have altered dramatically. Grand narratives, particularly within science, have been challenged as little more than objectivist fantasies and consequently, emphasis has moved towards the investigation (and celebration) of locally and temporally contingent knowledge(s). Allied to this, the unitary subject of western thought has increasingly come to be seen as fragmented, plural and decentred (Sampson, 1989). At the heart of these critiques is a recognition that knowledge is social in origin rather than a veridical mirror of a pregiven external reality (Rorty, 1980). Analyses grounded in such an epistemology stand in stark contrast to objectivist endeavours to “discover” the world: here the focus is upon the linguistic, social and relational origins of reality – we construct rather than discover our world.
Many such positions originated within the academy, and academic institutions themselves, while often driven by less philosophically sophisticated concerns, have experienced a burgeoning of new technical languages of the growth of new disciplines and experts to support such disciplines. In this sense, knowledge production centres around and supports the development of various technological advances which in turn leads to the development of related forms of pragmatic knowledge. This supports particular organisations of university departments, sources and allocation of funding and a hierarchy of importance of particular disciplines in the machinery of knowledge production. Since the various paradigm crises in the social sciences, discourses have multiplied in journals, books and academic meetings where the future and existence of these disciplines is in question (Ryan, 1999).
Lyotard (1979) and Messer-Davidow (2002) have noted that different societal institutions, including academia and academic disciplines, organise and deploy their discourses according to their organisational structure and their character of knowledge production. Such processes of legitimisation limit or endorse certain discourses while excluding other, potentially separatist or deviant approaches, on the grounds of pragmatics. However, the limits of discourses are mobile and these limits are at stake.
Feminism, in its turn, has vanished from the centre stage of the 70’s and 80’s and retreated to academia as a last bastion (Stanley and Wise, 1998). The development of academic feminism has been received with mixed feelings by feminists, who have pointed out that academia as a mode of knowledge production is still very much organised around the institutionalised gender bias of patriarchy (Lowe and Lowe Benston, 1991). Liz Stanley (1993) and Rosalind Gill (1998) have questioned academic styles of writing - the reproduction of a neutral, distant and reserved voice - that employs a set of rhetorical devices to present ontological, epistemological and methodological concerns. This academic voice explicitly avoids experiential references and remains on the safe ground of theoretical, intellectual discourse. Academic organisations place men in key positions as decision makers about funding, and research interests rarely become problematised outside feminism. As such, the gendered societal inequalities in power are mirrored within academic functioning and in the apparent separation of the disciplines which are maintained through these gender inequalities (Campbell, 1992). The way scientific knowledge is fed back to society through the popular media further points to a circle where societal norms are reflected in the knowledge production of institutional organisations that, in their turn, influence society, hence reinforcing and further legitimising gender biases. This produces an “uneasy alliance” between feminism and academia (Wilkinson, 1997) and presents many challenges to feminists.
Feminism has arrived at a crucial stage in its history when many women express their wish, after the initial and necessary separatism (Whelehan, 1995), to include men in some form in the discussions about the future of gender relations for “many women do not wish to give up men” (Ussher, 1991). Many men have expressed their sympathetic positions to feminism and their willingness to participate (e.g. Morgan, 1992; Schacht, 2001). These positions can vary in their extent and their depth and generally on the impact they exercise on men’s lives but there is a general sense of “crises” of masculinity (Toerien and Durrheim, 2001).
It is widely acknowledged that feminism does impact on society and such effects have recently begun to be assessed in the social sciences, especially since the rapid growth of research into masculinities (e.g. Morgan, 1992; Hopkins, 1998). Since feminism questioned the basic constitutive elements of gendered subjectivity and such notions as femininity and masculinity, masculinity or rather masculinities, became salient and ceased to be taken for granted subject positions but rather started to be conceptualised as culturally constructed and maintained. Wetherell (1996) has pointed out the performative aspects of masculinity insofar as masculinity entails a set of choices that individuals can choose from in particular situations - however automatic those choices may be. Toerien and Durrheim (2001) have stressed that the content of masculinity is a collective product wherein the resolution of the conflict relies on individual resources. In studying those resources Toerien and Durrheim (2001) and many others have stressed that masculinity is discursively constructed and negotiated; different situations will call upon different discourses of the repertoire within a fragmented discursive field. Connell (1995) and Segal (1990) therefore suggest we refer to “masculinities” rather than masculinity. Furthermore, the research of Edley and Wetherell (1999) and Toerien and Durrheim (2001) suggests that men, in order to maintain a relative coherence, draw on different, often antagonistic discourses that can strategically be mobilised at any turn in support of the construction of discourses and subject positions. In fact, there is an emerging, widespread pattern, which has been termed by Sarah Riley (2001) as the “new sexism”, that is present in individual and institutional discourses alike. According to her analysis, men have a double standard in their construction of their discourses about feminism and feminists; there is an openly acknowledged support of feminist values but a negative view of feminists themselves. Riley maintains that these strategies serve to minimise the impact of gender politics on contemporary society. Her findings strike a chord with Billig’s (1987) findings about “new-racist” institutional and societal discourses that justify racist acts in non-racial terms. This has been extended by Rosalind Gill (1997) to anti-feminist discourses, and also supported by Edley and Wetherell (2001) who argue that feminists and feminism are portrayed in a Jekyll/Hyde manner.
Critical men in academia and Leftism (Cockburn, 1988) have been associated with sympathetic feelings to feminism, and in Critical Psychology, so as in Sociology, it is widely recognised as a major contributing force (Wilkinson, 1997). However, the extent and depth of the positive feelings towards feminism of critical men in academia and the political and private consequences of these have not been assessed. “Critical Psychologies in general are constrained not simply by the political limitations of their adherents, but by the institutional power of mainstream psychology” (Wilkinson, 1997, p. 249). One might also add that the private selves of male theorists and practitioners act as a further constraint, but this is rarely pronounced or discussed. The pronounced lack of an investigation of the “private” in male theorising is a common thread in all theoretical orientations within Critical Psychology and Sociology.
Much has been written about how Critical psychology is positioned to “Mainstream” Psychology, especially when it comes to generating truth claims and their political consequences (e.g. Parker, 1999; Stanley and Wise, 1998). Within Critical psychology, however, little has been said about how the private is negotiated and how, if at all, it becomes political.
Many critical men have described how feminism played an important part in their coming to acknowledge the oppressive practices of patriarchy (e.g. Morgan, 1992). However, while men’s position to the feminist movement(s) is problematic in academia - especially for those who are critical in their epistemological positions - the expectations, conflicts and anxieties that feminism might provoke from men on a private level are never mentioned, nor is there any discussion as to how their private and public selves are connected. This situation endorses the engagement of men in critical thinking but allows for a neglect of the private dimensions and consequences of their academic theorising. In this sense, men are able to implicitly bracket the private aspects of their relationship to feminism and feminist practice thus legitimating the lack of political and/or academic attention on this aspect of their lives. In the case of male academics the net result can be that they publicly endorse and teach feminism while simultaneously failing to adhere to its principles in their private lives. In light of this feminists have challenged Critical Psychology on the grounds that it i) is inherently apolitical, and ii) that it implicitly supports the patriarchal organisation of academia thus (albeit unwittingly) maintaining rather than challenging oppressive practices (Kitzinger, 1999).
There is a growing need expressed by some men to be included, but it can be a delicate process for both sides. Men might feel intimidated by their feelings towards themselves as oppressors (Morgan, 1992; Schachter, 2001) and their feelings for women might remain unsaid, not thought of, or hidden behind an academic façade. Reflexivity is one of the key words in feminist methodologies and it is widely recognised as an essential component of post-positivistic research, yet men are still reluctant to be reflexive regarding the more intimate aspects of their lives, and fail to explicitly link their private activities to the public domain – something that is commonplace within feminist research (Gill, 1998).
From a woman’s point of view, any men claiming to be sympathetic to feminism might raise suspicion, for men still argue from the dominant position, i.e. they are the ones who benefit from the Status Quo and are, therefore, able to decide which part(s) of feminism to accept, to ignore or to engulf (Morgan, 1992). However, as Morgan (1992) notes, despite the best intentions of men, because of inequalities in power, when men adopt feminist methods or choose a confessional stance it seems they justify their positions or sink into guilt, which makes political action impossible further obscuring gender inequality and power. Or by pointing to prevailing institutions and power structures they distance themselves from individual responsibility.
Morgan (1992) and Campbell (1992) have pointed out that male and female academic knowledge production goes on in two distinct universes and the lack of understanding has been mutually expressed. As academic theorising remains largely a masculine enterprise, the major ontological, epistemological, theoretical concerns of men in academia obscure other aspects of social life. On the other hand, and all too often, feminist concerns come to be considered as the theorising that women academics do for themselves with no direct implications for male theorists.
It might be argued in consequence, that some critical psychologies, by largely ignoring the gendered aspects and differences in the private and the political, still reproduce the “male voice” (Gilligan, 1994) within the discipline. This allows for separatism, ignorance, sidelining or the engulfing of feminism, epistemology and methods. It is also a possibility that men who are aware of the facts behind patriarchal oppression use feminist methodologies in their work in a purely intellectualised fashion, thereby mitigating the need to politicise their private concerns and thus avoiding any personal accountability.
Christine Griffin and Margaret Wetherell (1992) carried out the most extensive research into male academic approaches to feminism. They carried out interviews as part of an open forum organised by the journal
Feminism & Psychology
among academic psychologists and sociologists. The questions for male respondents centred around “desirability of separation between academic and political work, ambivalence towards the category ‘feminist men’ and the difficulties involved men confronting their oppression of women”. The responses were varied. However, there was a slight difference between psychologists and sociologists in so far as male researchers in psychology rarely adopt a critical perspective on masculinity and rarely include themselves in the research narrative. Psychologists have recognised feminism as adding to their intellectual, academic persona and they do not perceive gender as central. Clive Pearson, a sociologist, noted that it is unusual in his experience to find men who take on board feminist theory in their academic work and who are able to live it too in their daily lives. Mairtin mac an Ghaill talked about his recognition that it is in his choice as a male not to act out racist or sexist power.
Critical psychology in academia is a fairly new interdisciplinary approach, that comprises postmodern thinking and epistemologies that go against traditional, “mainstream” psychology and its implicit maintenance of the Status Quo of disciplinary power (Fox and Prilleltensky, 1997). Critical psychology is a political programme for many who are disillusioned by mainstream psychology and its pretensions of objectivity that merely hide power and serve to maintain societal inequalities. In the sense that critical psychology opposes “mainstream” psychology and tries to provide various political alternatives to oppressive practices there is a link between feminism and critical psychology. Critical psychology also draws on feminist epistemologies and methodologies as theoretical source.
The above findings of Toerien and Durrheim (2001) have indicated the nature of societal/institutional discourses of “new sexism” that seem to be widespread. The responses of the participants of Griffin and Wetherell’s (1992) research indicated that men’s public and private lives are clearly separated, in spite of the fact that all of them reported positive feelings toward feminism.
The aim of this research was to follow the interests of Griffin and Wetherell’s (1992) study and investigate men in academia, but also to extend the focus to critical men in academia and to investigate their views on feminism and how it impacts, if at all, on their academic and personal lives. “Critical men” in the context of this work means those men who are critical in their theoretical orientation towards oppressive, patriarchal, capitalist practices and/or towards positivist modes of knowledge production.
Questions asked by this research include:
How critical men in Psychology position themselves in relation to feminism?
How these men “do masculinities” (Morgan, 1992)?
What feelings (positive/negative/ambiguous) they have towards feminism?
How they experience their private and public selves in relation to feminism?
Methodology: “critical” men in a focus group
A focus group, comprised of four white male social scientists, was convened – two psychologists, a sociologist and a philosopher. The rationale behind focusing on men in the social sciences was that while they draw on the same discursive repertoires that are available to other men, they are also (for the most part) exposed to and accumulate a more systematic knowledge of feminism than anyone else in either the natural sciences or the general population.
Discursive repertoires: identifying the discursive objects and subject positions within the discourses
A brief summary of the various discursive objects and subject positions identified by this research is included below.
Feminism and its goals were described positively by all of the participants, and while they were initially unwilling to claim a “systematic knowledge” of feminism they did acknowledge that their place within the human sciences did ensure they were well informed in comparison to colleagues in other fields. All of the participants were able to identify feminism as a body of thought within academia, and were able to position themselves in relation to it. They also revealed some knowledge of specific feminist literature.
They acknowledged that their relationship to feminism arose from several sources - media representations, some forms of the literature (mainly 1970s, 1980s radical, liberal and psychoanalytic feminist literature) - and recognised the absence of feminism from the public sphere during the 1990s. These sources inform both their academic and private opinion of feminism. They reported that feminism could be conceptualised, from a male academic point of view, as a sub-discipline that could positively contribute to other social scientific disciplines; particularly in terms of stimulating research in such areas as disability research. However, as participants appreciated, academic exposure to feminism is dependent on the qualitative research interests of particular departments. In the human sciences, apart from gender studies, but especially in psychology, feminism is not often considered a viable subject in its own right; it has to be part of some broader interest or methodology.
There were several ways in which participants portrayed feminism and feminist practices both within academia and more broadly including a recognition that feminism, in most cases, is left exclusively to female staff. In this sense it is considered a sub-discipline, something intellectually distant and administratively separate (such separateness is exemplified by practices such as i) the organisation of dedicated conferences, and ii) feminism only being taught within certain academic departments).
In general there was a positive acceptance of broad feminist values, like basic feminist notions of equality, the importance of egalitarianism etc. which translates into a voluntary self-policing of behaviour on a private level, as a micro-political goal.
Participants referred to the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s as the distant past - marching with placards for causes - and they explained the contemporary disregard for feminism as a consequence of media representations, particularly during the 1980s, when feminism became a “scare word”.
Another theme was that men benefit more from the advances of feminism than women actually do. The already mentioned segregation of feminism within disciplines and within academia has explicitly been linked to an institutional refusal of qualitative theories and methods. There was some recognition on an academic, intellectual level of what feminism has achieved. However this was recognised as being constrained by the particular discipline it forms part of or the particular institutions which make feminist research, teaching possible or impossible.
There were some aspects of feminism that made participants uncomfortable. One of them complained that there was a sense in which feminism puts a pressure on men to prove their adherence to it in academia. He also found it difficult to accept when feminists within psychology maintain that feminism has primary importance and critical psychology should inform feminism, not the other way around. Another participant highlighted that feminism pressures women in academia to automatically consider themselves as feminists. One participant thought there were problems with certain intellectual arguments within feminism such as the
“feminist critique of identity thinking, the attack on logic somehow inherently embodies masculinist values.”
There were contradictions present in the participants’ discourses about feminism in terms of their relationship to it. One participant said, he was not sure he was qualified to speak about it. Here, the term “qualified” further references an academic style of discourse; i.e. the participant’s expectation was that he should have a substantial knowledge of feminism in order to be able to engage in a conversation about feminism with fellow academics and feminists; and if he could not talk about it from such a position, he would not engage in the conversation at all. Another participant highlighted that the important thing about feminism for him was the asking of questions rather than finding the answers because there are too many complications to even try to begin answering them.
They are present as objects of discourse in two ways, in the public arena, and in the private as partners or wives. There were several images of women in the public sphere, both past and present, that became salient during the focus group. The figures of the past included: the suffragettes who were praised for their effective political tactics, and feminists of 1970s and 1980s ( radical and liberal feminists) who received very negative publicity in the media at the time. One participant noted that during that period, women within universities who became professors in biologically oriented departments acted as positive role models contributing more to feminist oriented political goals than feminists and feminism itself. Today’s feminists in academia were mentioned as the radical feminists who are aggressive and use “illegitimate tactics”. One participant described a negative experience that he gained at a feminist event that he and one of his colleagues attended. When they tried to ask questions they got told to “shut up”.
Feminism, and the various expectations that attend it, has raised many difficulties for men and women alike, but one participant highlighted his concerns in terms of feminist expectations that are difficult to meet by men who are positive towards feminism in general. White, middle class females were portrayed as the ones who have it all: a good job in academia, a good education, and a comfortable middle class life. His position points to a specific problem, a contradiction, that feminism, notwithstanding the “private is public” slogan, cannot exist without the public sphere. It was also interesting that while feminists of the past (e.g. the suffragettes) could be portrayed positively or negatively, today’s feminists, particularly in academia, were discredited and portrayed as irrelevant as they are well paid, well qualified and have good, comfortable lives. In this sense the participant implied that oppression, for these women at least, is far from an everyday reality.
Women and femininity, the private world
Women were present in the discourses as wives and partners in the private sphere of these men’s lives, or as people “whom we are nice to”. Though gender inequality was raised many times during the discussion, wives and partners were still sometimes portrayed as inhabiting traditional gender roles. In addition, very little was disclosed regarding these women, further ensuring that the private remains exactly that. In this context, being nice to women emerged as a private political program in the form of the micropolitics of daily life. Furthermore, when instances of traditional oppression were identified they were more often ascribed to someone else; e.g. “I don’t do this but I know someone who does”.
Masculinity was a difficult area for the participants to discuss: for several reasons. Some found the notion of gender as performance uncomfortable and alien. Others thought of traditional masculinity as something that they did not know how to do anymore. Masculinity appeared in relation to feminism as a theory that made the issue of masculinity salient and questioned its normality. Considering the tacit nature of masculinity, and the centrality of masculine identity in defining reality, it is understandably problematic that these tacit notions have suddenly become highlighted and contested.
Public and private
Many of the participants drew an explicit distinction between the public and the private but debated the issue in terms of other people dividing their lives, thus very much engaging with the subject as an outsider or observer. While the existence of the public-private divide was acknowledged, it was discussed as an academic and intellectual issue and little reference was made to their personal experiences.
Participants raised the question of guilt in relation to feminism. They easily rejected the idea of guilt and further distanced themselves from it by relativising it, intellectually evaluating it and joking about it. One participant (as mentioned above) stated he had nothing to feel guilty about as the women of his acquaintance were well off, well educated and had comfortable middle class lives.
Relativity of experiences: relativity of discourse
A pervasive feature of the participants’ discussion was the use of intellectualised notions of both knowledge and practice that served to insulate them (as private beings) from the topics of discussion. Feminism, feminists, women and patriarchy were discussed as academic issues in need of academic solutions and matters of private praxis were rarely discussed. In line with this, various discursive strategies were mobilised to ensure this such private issues remained irrelevant to the topics at hand. For example, the portrayal of women friends and acquaintances as middle class and well educated (i.e. not oppressed) ensured that progressive political action remained a matter of public concern (in this case, academic and intellectual) far removed from their everyday (personal) lives.
There were a number of further discursive strategies that served to relativise women’s experiences, and hence minimize the impact of feminist arguments:
one participant mentioned that one of his male friends who, after his university studies, lost touch with his working class background. His view was that feminist concerns seemed trivial in comparison to the problems his friend endured.
Another participant set feminist concerns against the argument that in a third world country maybe people would be happy to be a racehorse to receive decent medical care before anything else. In other words, the experiences of Western women are so far in advance of their developing-world counterparts that feminist arguments seem relatively insignificant when contrasted to issues of trans-global poverty.
A third participant presented an argument based around women’s stated experiences versus feminist challenges to such experiences. He noted that sex-industry workers, e.g. pole-dancers, though commonly described by feminists as oppressed, sexually-objectified victims of patriarchy, often self-reported no such oppression, claiming instead that they exploit current gender relations rather than fall victim to such practices.
Such examples sometimes mobilise relativism as a resource while others challenge its validity. As a resource, relativism is drawn upon to demonstrate that women’s stated experiences often stand in contradistinction to feminist concerns; i.e. a woman may claim that she is not oppressed, that she is simply exploiting the system. In this sense, the notion that patriarchy is an objective and identifiable socio-structural feature of the world is undermined through appeals to such notions as voice and narrative. Alternatively, other arguments suggest that various socio-structural features of the world – such as class and poverty – are of more import than feminist concerns regarding patriarchy. Thus, in the former instance relativism is used to undermine arguments concerning the possibility of identifying objective features of the world, whereas the latter implicitly deny that such relativising “moves” are possible. Both discursive strategies relativise women’s experiences – directly or indirectly - but do so by drawing upon incommensurable conceptual frameworks.
Conclusion and further thoughts
A presupposition of this study was that critical men (i.e. men who engage in some form of criticism of positivist scientific theory and practice) would be favourably inclined towards feminism. However, this proved difficult to maintain, not least because of various difficulties in describing what was meant by the term critical in both theoretical and moral-political terms. A further problem is that as a result of postmodernism and postmodern theories in the human sciences, there are many forms of theoretical engagement that draw on numerous epistemological resources: thus it is difficult to identify a person with a unitary theoretical stance. What emerges rather is a patchwork of opinions informed by many discursive sources buttressed by specific discursive tactics that maintain these positions.
Men in academia draw on the same discursive repertoires that are available for other men, however they are also exposed to and accumulate a somewhat more systematic knowledge of feminism than the general population, or colleagues in the natural sciences or other academic disciplines. Furthermore, academics within the social sciences have access to other theoretical resources that can be brought to bear upon these issues (e.g. arguments concerning relativism, subjectivity and practice). During the focus group participants drew upon a wide range of academic discourses and positions. However, the various discourses and discursive devices employed all served to delineate feminism as little more than an abstract and essentially academic issue. The discursive devices employed were; strategically deployed contradictions, engaging with discourses on a purely intellectual level, the strict separation of the public and the private, a relativising of experiences, and a polite ignorance of feminism justified by reference to academic and hierarchy, the preference of certain types of theorising over others, and a stated lack of relevance as to white, middle class, feminist, academic theorising.
An important question that emerged during this research relates to the intellectual origins of particular ideas and practices and there are two conceptualisations that are relevant here. First: feminist theory, through its explicit focus on reflexivity, actively links issues of private experience to theory. It locates theory and research interests in womens’ lived experience. This feature is markedly absent from male theorising (Griffin and Wetherell, 1992). This was echoed in this study in that participants seemed to assume a common intellectual and masculinised framework wherein such issues are primarily treated as academic in nature. The consequence of such a position is that men are able to insulate themselves from issues of practice; by failing to engage with, for example, sexualised objectifications of women in the media that can impact upon male desire. In other words, this position supports the notion that societal values and norms do not have an impact on the purely intellectual engagement with theory and simultaneously denies the validity of women’s theorisations of these issues.
Critical psychology has created a gender-neutral world and imaginary place where ontological, epistemological and methodological concerns are paramount. The “real world” outside academia is not reflected as a “here and now” but as a site of potential critical intervention or, more rarely, as a futuristic ideation of the results of such a theorised intervention. In the everyday world, however, power remains unequally distributed. At the same time, the concerns of middle class feminists have become irrelevant. Rather like the heroine of Ibsen’s (1994)
A Doll’s House
, middle class women appear to have the best of everything. In the safety of the academic environment they can permit themselves the luxury to think about futile and possibly mythical things such as male oppression. However, as a consequence of postmodern notions of fragmentation, they no longer can speak for others and if they do, they risk accusations of essentialism, but if they speak about oppression they are politely listened to but disbelieved. Thus, it seems that the middle class feminist has lost her right to claim oppression; she has everything so has nothing more to achieve. With the successful segregation and marginalisation of academic feminism, feminism has become a place that men can visit if they so wish, and ignore if they do not. In this neutral academic world, where gender concerns are at best, secondary, and at worst, non-existent, male theorising seems to inevitably override feminist interests.
This overriding can be seen in the ways that participants relativised women’s experience to class and poverty issues; i.e. that middle class well educated women are seen as not oppressed. This highlights one of the fundamental problems with postmodernism; values and subject positions are mobile, there is no point of reference. However, because of the inequalities in access to power, it does make a difference who relativises the experiences of whom.
The most striking element of this study was the participants’ consistent and stark separation of the public and private aspects of their lives. This was most noticeable in the images of women and feminists portrayed, in the lack of an engagement with feminist practice (or engagement only on a private level that cannot be scrutinised), and the persistent intellectualisation of these and related issues. On an academic level feminism is acknowledged but segregated and, for the most part, politely ignored. The maintenance of a distinction between the public and the private can be considered as one tactic whereby academic men refuse to acknowledge gender inequality and power imbalances. This mirrors societal prejudices and, in terms of research output and the communication of findings to the public, societal norms and practices are further reinforced.
The subject positions of these men were constructed at the junction of many often conflicting discourses: critiques of masculinity, feminist discourses, academic theoretical discourses, academia that structures and reinforces societal inequalities, and societal discourses on gender and feminism. However, subjects are reflexive and the conflicting discourses enabled participants to question their masculinity (both personally and conceptually) and, while they are clearly aware of prevailing societal inequalities, this is not actively engaged with in their academic, intellectual lives. In fact, such an engagement is only present in their private lives: as a micropolitical “being nice to women”. Yet such activity is little more than gallantry and does little or nothing to acknowledge or challenge the structures from which these inequalities arise.
While postmodernism has provided a number of tools and theoretical resources that women have utilised to deconstruct and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions regarding both their role and their nature, it is arguable that it remains of more benefit to men than women. First: it provides men with a greater choice of theoretical sources they can draw on if they so wish. Second: it allows for a greater choice with respect to political engagement - it allows one to commit to certain causes or not, and it allows for the withdrawal from that political engagement at every turn. Third: its incessant revitalising of all positions and discourses makes the value of theories and human experiences relative. In this sense, arguments and disputes often remain tied to intellectual and abstract concerns and fail to ground themselves in any practical or liberationary activity. Thus feminist issues can be trivialised as yet one more position, subsumed under “wider” theoretical arguments, and discussed outwith the social and material circumstances of their origin.
The reasons for men’s seeming failure to engage with the macropolitics of feminism appear various - they have a vested interest in maintaining current gender-biased forms of intellectual life and traditional hegemonies in their private lives (or, more accurately, appear to have no interest in changing them). Furthermore, by portraying feminists as middle class women who have achieved everything life has to offer, they immobilize academic feminism and further distance themselves from any macropolitical engagement with feminism or feminist practice outwith the academy.
As mentioned above, a successful academic strategy to limit and channel feminist discourses - thus knowledge and potential power - is the segregation of feminism. This successfully de-politicises feminism. Another successful tactic is the continuous separation of the public and private which successfully marginalizes feminism and its interests. Both tactics are derived from various societal and institutional discourses and, in their turn, reinforce such discourses. It appears as though psychology and sociology approach this differently on an institutional level, which is reflected in the discourses, subject positions and objects alluded to by participants. Psychology seemingly refuses to integrate gender issues into the “mainstream”. In psychology, feminist concerns with gender inequalities are smuggled in under the guise of qualitative methodology (e.g. discourse analysis) or, increasingly, as critical psychology. Thus, the majority of psychologists only engage with feminism on a strictly private level, if at all. Sociology, with its broader scope of analysis of societal phenomena, has successfully integrated many feminist theories. However, the institutional segregation of feminism as a sub-discipline, subordinated to sociology, allows men to choose to engage with it intellectually or to politely ignore it, yet feminism remains for them as a fashionable theoretical source to draw on.
The relationship between critical psychology and feminism, however, is equally problematic. This discipline is concerned with questions of ontology and epistemology and is active in promoting qualitative research and methodologies. However, feminism is often subordinated as a part of the discipline, if present at all. Considering the present findings, it can be argued that within critical psychology, feminist interests and gender inequalities have become sidelined and silenced through the ignorance of, or failure to theorise and act upon, the public-private divide. This divide successfully depoliticises feminism and renders it as little more than a useful theoretical device that can easily be mobilised in much the same way as can other postmodern theoretical resources. Suzanne Moore (1988) argued that postmodernism is a masculine enterprise, that can visit and masquerade in the feminist realm to its liking. Postmodernism relativises discourses and, through its emphasis on the mobility of discourses and subject positions, enables men to escape theoretical and moral responsibilities through first, defining the parameters of their own morality and second, evade such a morality whenever it suits them.
Women, on the other hand, are hindered by postmodernism in that it fragments their interests, thus men benefit from postmodernism and women lose out, again. Postmodernism means that men can decide who has the right to theorise in a relevant and constructive manner, and what counts as relevant. Critical psychology cannot flatter itself that it is immune to these problems and this warrants, once again, a scrutiny of the public-private divide.
Such a divide ensures that, for men at least, individual responsibility in everyday interactions is intellectually distanced and this results in depoliticised private opinions. This begs the following question: if critical social theories have political programmes for social change, how is it possible that men, who live together and/or around women do not become engaged with feminism on a moral-political level? The so-called postmodernist public persona of the male academic can cynically claim any kind of moral-political stand and try on differing subject positions because postmodernism is a male owned intellectual academic exercise. Men can use feminism as a handy theoretical-methodological tool without having to consider the political implications. They can claim that white middle class feminists are irrelevant and that the whole issue of feminism has nothing to do with them, it is women’s business. Conversely, in their private lives, they can continue (if they so wish) to enjoy the benefits of various oppressive societal practices that facilitate the exploitation of women and can rest assured that these everyday practices will likely remain hidden anyway.
Post-modernism is understood here in the Eagletonian sense as a style of culture that reflects the historic change in the West to globalised consumer capitalism.
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