Aug. 2nd, 2013

An old friend has returned to school, where he's mixing hard science and feminism. Every once in a while he posts essays he's turned in to his feminist classes. I'd link them, but I'm disinclined to out myself that effectively, since what I'm saying here is neither popular nor clueful ;-)

Every time he posts, I feel a bit like I've wandered through the looking glass. It's a different language, and one where I've no clue how to start unravelling the threads. Common words have not just new connotations but sometimes new meanings entirely. Other words get used but never defined - at least, never defined where I see the definitions. Sometimes he gets asked to define a term, as well as use it. And that can be where I really want to call "tilt!"

Today's word to be defined was "discourse". It didn't mean what I thought it did :-( And the presence of a definition for "discourse" left me really feeling the lack of definition of other terms used, such as "patriarchy".

More importantly, though, it left me wondering who feminist scholars are talking to, other than each other. Among the authors cited (though indirectly) was "bell hooks", who makes a point of non-pretension by removing capital letters from zir name. This plays really badly, for me, with the multilayer use of jargon.

"Discourse", in particular, is already a term of art among academics. Varying that definition within one's own subfield seems designed to make the subfield impenetrable to outsiders. How does this differ from many of the complaints I see from these same feminists, uttered on behalf of "everywoman" (who clearly can't speak for herself, not being fluent in the argot of academic feminism!). I find this especially telling in a series of essays that regularly discuss "multiply intersecting oppressions", and expresses routine concern about the exclusion of anyone other than middle class WASP women from early feminist discussion (I'd say "discourse", but it would be in the more common sense). Could someone please find me a poor third world woman who has any remote chance of learning the language of current academic feminist discussion, or even a poor American woman? WTF is going on here?

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August 2013

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