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Standpoint feminism is a theory that feminist social science should be practiced from the standpoint of women or particular groups of women, as some scholars (e.g. Patricia Hill Collins and Dorothy Smith) say that they are better equipped to understand some aspects of the world. A feminist or women's standpoint epistemology proposes to make women's experiences the point of departure, in addition to, and sometimes instead of men's.
Dorothy Smith, teaching at University of California at Berkeley when the women's movement was in its early stages, looked at the experience of female academics and began to ask about life stories of these women. As a feminist inspired by Karl Marx, Smith turned her attention to the development of "a sociology for women". She founded feminist standpoint theory which looked at the social world from the perspectives of women in their everyday worlds and the ways in which women socially construct their worlds. As theorized by Nancy Hartsock in 1983, standpoint feminism is founded in Marxist ideology. Hartsock argued that a feminist standpoint could be built out of Marx's understanding of experience and used to criticize patriarchal theories. Hence, a feminist standpoint is essential to examining the systemic oppressions in a society that standpoint feminists say devalues women's knowledge. Standpoint feminism makes the case that because women's lives and roles in almost all societies are significantly different from men's; women hold a different type of knowledge. Their location as a subordinated group allows women to see and understand the world in ways that are different and challenging to the existing male-biased conventional wisdom.
Standpoint feminism unites several feminist epistemologies. Standpoint feminist theorists attempt to criticize dominant conventional epistemologies in the social and natural sciences, as well as defend the coherence of feminist knowledge.
Initially, feminist standpoint theories addressed women's standing in the sexual division of labor. Standpoint theorists such as Donna Haraway sought to show standpoint as the "notion of situated knowledge...to counter the apparent relativism of Standpoint theory".
This theory is considered to have potentially radical consequences because of the focus on power and the fact that it challenges the idea of an "essential truth", especially the hegemonic reality created, passed down and imposed by those in power.
Criticism of standpoint feminism has come from postmodern feminists, who argue that there is no concrete "women's experience" from which to construct knowledge. In other words, the lives of women across space and time are so diverse it is impossible to generalize about their experiences. Standpoint feminism has absorbed this criticism, to an extent (see below).
Contemporary standpoint feminism
Many standpoint feminists now recognize that because of the many differences that divide women it is impossible to claim one single or universal "women’s experience". Because sexism does not occur in a vacuum, it is important to view it in relation to other systems of domination and to analyze how it interacts with racism, homophobia, colonialism, and classism in a "matrix of domination".
Contemporary standpoint feminist theory perceives that it is "a relational standpoint, rather than arising inevitably from the experience of women" (see difference feminism). Standpoint feminists have recently argued that individuals are both oppressed in some situations and in relation to some people while at the same time are privileged in others. Their goal is to situate women and men within multiple systems of domination in a way that is more accurate and more able to confront oppressive power structures. One of the critiques of this stance is that such an intense focus on the many differences between women obliterates the very similarities that might bond women together. If this is that case, trying to create a broad-based feminist community or building consensus on specific policy becomes problematic.
- Nancy Hartsock
- Cultural feminism
- Marxist feminism
- Material feminism
- Third wave feminism
- Harding, Sandra; Hintikka, Merrill B. (2004), "Introduction", in Harding, Sandra; Hintikka, Merrill B., The feminist standpoint theory reader: intellectual and political controversies, New York: Routledge, pp. 1–16, ISBN 9780415945011. Pdf.
- Hartsock, Nancy (2004), "The feminist standpoint: developing the ground for a specifically feminist historical materialism", in Harding, Sandra; Hintikka, Merrill B., The feminist standpoint theory reader: intellectual and political controversies, New York: Routledge, pp. 35–54, ISBN 9780415945011. Available online.
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