WHAT IS FEMINIST DEBATE?
WHAT ARE SOME GOALS FOR FEMINIST DEBATE?
- To keep feminism effective, vital and relevant.
- To enable feminists to become clearer about what they mean, what they want, and what needs to be done.
- To allow feminists to engage with all of the conflicting interpretations—the irrepressible cacophony (J Butler) and contradictions (Jaggar)—that exist within and among feminists.
- To remain democratic, that is, to allow for as a wide a range as possible of different voices/ideas/perspectives, and to never shut down the critical discussion that results from those differences.
- To develop the best possible strategies/theories/agendas for feminism.
- NOT to battle against other feminists in order to prove the “rightness” of their own individuals positions and to win the debate, but to open up discussion to include more, potentially fruitful, possibilities.
- NOT to create further division between feminists but to enable them, through the process of critically engaging with the issue and each other, to create alliances and coalitions.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF US AS WE ENGAGE IN FEMINIST DEBATE?
FLEXIBILITY:The refusal to be fixed in one particular idea of how an issue should be understood or resolved and a willingness to look beyond our own positions in order to understand others’ perspectives.
HUMILITY: Never approaching the debate with an attitude of arrogance, believing that your position is the only correct one or that the goal of debate is to be the winner. Instead approach with a willingness to recognize the limitations of your own position.
OPENNESS: The resolution “to be as open and sensitive as we can to the diversity of interests and range of values involved” (Jaggar, 11).
PASSION FOR JUSTICE/GUIDED BY A BROADER VISION: To engage in critical feminist debate is to be motivated by a passionate and democratic desire to develop more effective agendas that account for a wide range of individuals and that lead to the elimination of injustice and oppression.
COURAGE: A willingness to be wrong and to allow others to be critical of our ideas, to not only recognize the limits of our own perspectives but to give up our position when it is proven to be ineffective, to change ourselves as a result of the debate, and to challenge others to do the same.
CURIOSITY: Cultivating a sense of wonder about the world in ourselves and others, and always exerting the effort to question and wonder about why things are the way they are and at whose expense.
PATIENCE: Taking the time to listen to the widest range of perspectives possible and refusing to come to easy/simple solutions in the interest of saving energy and time.
Some other things to think about…
- How does your approach to a debate change depending on who the audience is?
- Is feminist debate possible in an unsafe space?
- What happens when you are debating individuals who fundamentally disagree with you? Who wish you harm? Who refuse to listen?
FRAMING THE DEBATE
- How does the way we frame (and articulate) the debate affect how we debate?
- What kind of power is wrapped up in the ways in which we describe an issue and the debate surrounding it?
- How might this framing lead to the exclusion of some perspectives?
- When does our discussion of issues shut down the critical exploration?
- How can we frame the discussion and shape our response in ways that open up the discussion? That inspire us to think? That encourage us to challenge and to ask: Why? What if? At whose expense? Who made it so and why?
NO EASY RESOLUTIONS:
As Cynthia Enloe and Alison Jaggar both argue, feminist critical reflection is hard work—it involves exerting a lot of effort (Enloe) as we attempt to deal with the contradictions, conflicts, and democratic cacophony that is a necessary part of feminist movements. Consider what Jaggar writes:
“…there are no moral shortcuts capable of bypassing detailed and careful reflection on specific situations form as many points of view as possible” (10).
“Our commitment to ending women’s subordination inevitably leads us to confront complex, multidimensional problems that require us to balance a variety of values and to evaluate the claims and interests of a variety of groups or even species, including a variety of groups of women” (11).
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