This one has sat in draft since February 2008. I tried editing it to say the same things more crisply, but wanted to say slightly different things instead, so I’ve left it as it is. I had been lurking the trans-phobic rad-fem Michigan Womyn’s Festival stooshie when I wrote this.
The world is changing around us all the time: the world of 10 years ago was surprisingly different from the world today, and the world of the late 1980s even more so. So far, so obvious. But this means that political absolutism is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The world changes too much and too fast for any political or social dogma to last. All political views are specific to the place and time in which they are held. The ideas that last the longest either have a basis in scientific fact (racial equality) or else they are wishful thinking (the idea of human rights) .
So what should feminism be like, if it’s a dialogue not a dogma? Well undogmatic, for a start. Sentences such as “all men are rapists” are meaningless. So meaningless you’d think they would be impossible for an intelligent woman to utter, let alone for intelligent women, (sorry womyn) to listen to. The idea that trans-women pollute spaces occupied by “womyn-born-womyn” is another spectacularly nasty piece of feminist dogma. But the world is changing, including the space in the world that transssexuals can occupy and the way that children are raised, and unless one can demonstrate scientifically that all men are rapists, the statement is semantically void. Unfortunately it’s got a snappy little ring to it, and appeals to a certain kind of self-righteous and vicious mind.
In fact, the example of science is an interesting one. Science is just the sort of conversation that I would like feminism to be. At the edges of science – where science is being done – are conversations. Ideas are discussed with colleagues and turned into hypotheses, presented at conferences, tested experimentally, reformulated, restested, written up, peer-reviewed. The world that science inhabits does not change physically (planets don’t start spinning backwards, the laws of physics don’t change in response to a new PM in Number 10), but the world that science inhabits moves onwards, as the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know changes.
Academic feminism goes through the motions; I certainly get the impression that academic feminists like a good rant and love conferences. But feminism lacks the rigour that science has, because it cannot test its ideas empirically. But instead of recognising that the world it inhabits changes all the time, it seeks the reassuring solidity of fundamentalism.