Minutes of second planning meeting for Scholar and Feminist 1979, 1978

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TO: The Scholar and the Feminist Planning Comittee October 12, 1978 FROM: Christina Greene, Women's Center

SUBJECT: Minutes of Second Planning Committee Meeting, October 6, 1978

The meeting centered on a discussion of differences in which questions regarding the definition of theory, the meaning of power and women's relationship to it, the female body as the fundamental and inescapable "difference", and the problem of marginality were raised.

It was suggested that we must be careful to-define our terms. For ex- ample, the term theory has a very specific meaning when used in literary criticism. It was suggested that despite differences among disciplines regarding their definitions or theory, feminists essentially ask the same questions and address the same issues. Can we agree on a definition of theory?(the conceptualization process undertaken in the academy),

The discussion of differences began by reviewing the phases of conscious- ness through which we have passed - i.e. the original stress on the com- monality of the female experience has led to the present stage in which we are strong enough to deal with and discuss differences in a positive and constructive way - class, race, educational levels, levels of con- sciousness. However, it was also pointed out that for example, we

have still not found a way to address the theme of motherhood in terms

of differences; for example, the gay/straight issue, or approaching motherhood intellectually, as experience, or as an institution.

This led to a discussion of power and powerlessness. How much power do women as intellectuals have? What effect do women intellectuals have on others? Outside the academy? The theme of power and powerlessness was suggested later in the discussion as a way of bridging the international theme with inter/intra—disciplinary differences, by providing the connec- tionbetween theory and practice. It was pointed out that during the 60's we discovered the importance and impact of ideas and the role of the in- tellectual in society. But how and where does feminism and the intellec- tual process merge or fit together? Do feminist intellectuals have power? How do we use this power?‘ How do women inscribe themselves into the institution? (Through re-containent or co—optation?) What are the implications of power for women? It was asserted that women have diffi- culty in handling theory and power and have a fear of acknowledging power. Is this difficulty an incaficity or reluctance to enter the mainstream and be stripped fo our feminist perspective and values?

The notion of elitism was raised along with the questions: Does woman define herself differently once she becomes part of the elite? Does the definition of power that is attributed to the elite change once women have become part of this? What is the function of the elite? How does woman legitimize herself as an authority particularly in the presence of men who continually define her as different. It was pointed out that this fundamental difference centers on the body - women can never emerge from being the "female body", the sex-object. The outside world insists on defining us this way, partly as a result of our visibility, e.g. preg- nancy. This was used as an example of the fact that. Men can always


maintain a distinction between their public and private lives; women cannot. This notion of visibility, it was suggested, is connected to control of and access to information and power.

This raised the problem of difference in terms of the radicalization of difference. A schema was presented as a way of defining both the theori- zation process and the process of attaining power which women must undergo: beginning with the conception of the self as different and defined as different through the body; how then is that difference inscribed in language, hence in the articulation of theory? If we recognize the power mechanisms at work within the process of theorization, the question is: "Where do women get off?" Could the point at which there seems to be a disjunction between theory and power be examined? Specifically, since

the theorization process involves confronting male theories (e.g. Marxism, psychoanalysis), and since power is seen as male defined, how do women engage in these and still retain their feminist principles and perspective? A suggestion for a theme emerged from this discussion: the problem of as- suming authority within the institution. However, it was cautioned that we not discuss, How do I as a scholar function in the academy?, since this has been done before. Rather, we could explore the problem of power as it is related to the attempt to theorize. What happens to the woman who attempts to theorize or to formulate theory? Is there a lack of feminist theory or an inability to theorize? If so, why? There was disagreement on this point, as it was claimed there is not a lack of feminist theory. This

led back to a discussion of theory and power. We perceive theory as power- ful because it organizes information; however, we also perceive power as male. Thus, how can power be defined otherwise so that it will be ac- ceptable to women and so that women will want it? Can power be nurturing and supportive, rather than oppressive and repressive?

It was asked whether we wanted to approach this problem through an intra/ inter-disciplinary perspective, e.g. psychoanalysis, Marxism. Within terms of a specifid theory, at what point is it unacceptable to us?

e.g. Juliet Mitchell's analysis of Freudianism. Do we want to critique male theory with examples? It was suggested phat this should not be our approach. Rather we need to explore the process by which the woman in- tellectual moves, a process which involves moving beyond male theory.

At this point there was strong disagreement and dissatisfaction with the direction the entire meeting had taken. Why, was it asked, are we always assuming our weaknesses? Why do we continue to put ourselves down? It

was asserted that women are 595 afraid of power or theory, although the issue of women inpower is always problematic. Rather, it was proposed,

we might discuss the problem of power and theory from a more positive stance and explore the constructive aspects of female experience with power. For example, how can we use power? What have we learned from it? Because we have been conditioned not to use or flow easily into power, we have a breadth and sophistication that men lack. It was acknowledged that

indeed, women do theorize, but how much power does it have? It was countered that because women are not getting tenure, i.e. power, this does not dis- credit or effect women's ability to formulate good theory or do good work. The notion'of marginality was raised, particularly the revolutionary

potential of marginality. It was suggested that we distinguish between

a critical stance toward ourselves and a put-down or discrediting of ouselves. It was suggested that we explore the ways in which a conscious- ness of negativity provides a richness of perception, although we must be careful to avoid the trap of defining the negative ways in which others perceive us as different.

It was suggested that we begin to clearly articulate and pinpoint a theme for the conference. However, it was decided that more discussion was needed and that we must not rush the process.

The next meeting wil be Tuesday, October 17, at 11:00 at the Women's Center.