Saturday, September 11, 2010

What passes for 'normal' these days?

This week I've been doing a lot of reading on Feminist International Relations theory.  Having been away from the feminist fold for some years - from an academic standpoint at least - it's nice to get back into the mindset of reevaluating the 'dominant theories' we learn in class and remember that the alarming majority of it has been constructed by white males.  And by nice, I really mean fascinating, but in a sort of 'oh look it's a car crash and I can't stop staring' kind of way.

The only readings I have had this year that have been written unabashedly from a woman's or a non-Western point-of-view have been given to us as 'interest' or 'fringe' readings - eg 'feminist' or 'Asian perspective'.  The other 98 percent or so of readings don't carry the label 'Western', or 'male'.  To be these things is to be 'normal'.   

And when you do the math, this is a really disturbing state of affairs.  Women make up a good half of the population across the board.  Across all ethnicities, classes, religions.  And the number of people in the world who do not consider themselves to be 'Western' far outweighs those that do.  So why are all these people's experiences and combined knowledge considered to be 'the other'? 

I'm not saying that this state of affairs is anyone's choice.  I don't believe it's some conspiracy-theory on behalf of the University, or the lecturers that construct the courses.  I believe tradition has a lot to blame.  A tradition where it was the males in the Western world who were literate, who had time to philosophise, who had the contacts in the public sphere to discuss their intellectual musings and even be published.  Of course, their audience - initially at least - was no doubt white and male also, and so on, a snowballing effect in which what passes now for 'absolute truth', for 'knowledge', can be traced back to a very small gene-pool of world experience which totally ignores the experiences of the rest of the (very diverse) population. 

And it feels at times as if this overwhelming history of white male knowledge, taught as 'objective truth', has left very little room for those of us that aren't white males to figure out our own truths.  For example, a lot of feminist theory I have read is either based on, or is reaction to, existing white-male theory.  For example, Marxist Feminism, or Liberal Feminism.  Or Psychoanalytical Feminism which has a lot of Freud-based theories. 

I don't pretend to have an 'answer' to all this.  Or even suppose that there might be one.  Many of the vary varied theories, covering all sorts of topics, I have studied over the years have made a lot of sense to me.  I'm not saying they should be discarded in favour of reinventing the wheel.  But it would be nice to know what else is out there.  Especially coming from a white, reasonably economically comfortable, literate background - what important knowledge out there in the rest of the world am I missing because it's being drowned out by a dominance in history of white male voices?

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