An old paper from a Gender & Philosophy class I took at EMU, dated April 23rd 1997, is going to the recycling: “On Removing Gender Labels from Ways of Knowing, and Listening to the Many Voices of Reality” It talked about gender labels, such as,
The tendency…, to identify the types of thoughts and behaviors that serve to maintain the male-dominated power structure as ‘masculine,’ and the types of behavior that don’t enable oppression as ‘feminine.’
I said that certain ways of knowing are encouraged by gender roles in society, and that we see evidence that “one sex might be taught different ways of knowing in different societies.”
I like a question I asked: “How could we ever be sure about what causes a person to think a certain way?” That “as we see no evidence for the entirety, or even a vast majority, of either sex having identical ways of knowing or thinking…we are left with no real evidence to think something about the experience of being a certain sex determines that we will know in a certain way.”
I also argued that labeling a way of knowing as “feminist” obscures that the way of knowing could be essentially equally available to either sex. And that “feminist” doesn’t mean “female” or “feminine”, yet the association is enough to be not particularly inclusive to males (and perhaps constraining to females).
I proposed that instead of trying to apply gender labels to ways of knowing, it makes more sense for any analysis of ways of knowing to focus on “the qualities (the appropriateness, the value, the usefulness, the fairness, the reliability, the accuracy) of our different perspectives and approaches.” This refocus would allow our attention to fall upon how well any given way of knowing suits our society, and which of these ways of knowing we want to continue to pass on to our kids for the benefit of the whole society.
“If an individual thinks of a belief of theirs as something tied directly with their sex, they may be less likely to change that belief that if they thought of the belief as being something they acquired from society, which could very well be replaced with another belief. Seeing beliefs and ways of knowing as learned puts the individual in control; in a position where they can examine the available beliefs and best ways of knowing and decide for themselves which are the best. Seeing these things as gendered makes it all the more difficult for the individual to make personal decisions in the face of inherited roles.”
Then on the topic of evaluating ways of knowing and presuming that Western culture has for so long had “one voice violently insisting upon its truth to the exclusion of all the other voices” and that as we collectively work on making design changes to our culture, we would do well to spend time listening to the other voices from our and other cultures – to all the other ways of knowing in the world.
This was a fine little gem: “Our lives are composed of irreducible moments from which we steal evidence of consistency. Any attempt to contain our experience within a conceptual super-structure, an ‘accurate model,’ will always be inadequate.” And recognizing the incompleteness of any world view “is essential to our eluding the insanity of monologue, and entering the community of listening.”
I think a big reason this and other old school papers I still have aren’t already in the recycling is because of any praise I got from my professors that are written on them. I think I keep these things as reminders that others have expressed clear approval of me, or at least my writing. Nice to get that praise, but it feels rather stale. I don’t think letting them go will change wanting that sort of approval. I’m mostly motivated to let them go because they are one of a couple hundred things in my office that sap my attention. It feels like it’s time to get rid of a bunch of nostalgic stuff.