I did not decide to become a sociology student lightly. My undergraduate education was in women's studies, and I have a strong fondness for what is called radical feminist theory as a world-view and explanatory framework. At first glance, the notion that I want to study society from a theoretical framework would seem to make sociology the ideal place for me, but I had been worried that perhaps feminist theory would not be welcome, that the discipline and its various departments would have a tendency to exclude it from the range of viable theoretical paradigms. After all, I was warned! A fundamental primer for first-year undergraduate students of women's studies includes the observation that feminist studies programs have had to utilize the euphemistic term "women's studies" precisely because such programs,

...both academic and nonacademic, are often met with derision or intolerance, if not outright hostility. The same forces that limit the freedom, status, and power of women in the wider world limit women within academea pro-woman stance is very threatening to traditional attitudes and structures. The very word feminism carries a fearful connotation for many people and evokes a defensive response.
(Ruth, 1980, p. 5)

Well, one of the first sociology classes I took was a class in feminist theory, and for that class I wrote a paper for the professor in which I utilized radical feminist theory to derive my perspective on the subject matter, and received comments that ran something like this:

You show a good comprehension of radical feminist theory, but what is odd is that you chose it in the first place. Radical feminist knowledge depends on women's intuition, an emotional body-based process of transcending patriarchal ideology that is available only to women, who are blessedly in touch with nature because they have wombs and menstruate and give birth--hardly a scientific basis for social knowledge! There's no point of entry for men, the universal oppressor, so it can't be used as a tool for understanding and addressing men's oppression. It ignores the power of structured class interests and encourages liberation through essentially apolitical personal individual action instead of focusing around collective social change efforts. The reason we teach radical feminist theory is because it makes such a good critique of classical Marxism, which is grounded in the limited notion that class stratification is the source of all oppression. But radical feminism is just as much a mono-theory, since it posits sex stratification as the source of all oppression, and, furthermore, it's a bad mono-theory. Not only does it ignore the fact that what we feel and how we interpret feelings in certain situations is socially constructed and certainly not objective, it also represents another form of the naturalistic fallacy of Rousseau in that it sees woman as nature and man as culture, labels all social problems "culture", and then advocates overthrowing culture for the liberation of women. This is clearly presociological thinking. You should take a closer look at socialist feminist theory. I think you'll find it much less problematic.

"In other words", I thought to myself, "we'll pretend that we're acknowledging feminist theory in sociology as long as everyone agrees that we actually mean repackaged Marxism. We'll make no attempt to use feminism's own distinctive theory, which puts feminist analysis at the root of social understanding. On the other hand, at least the door is open now. Radical feminist theory was discussed in the class, and I can write my next paper as a reply to his charges and objections."

This paper is the result of that attempt to address the areas of disagreement between conventional sociological perspectives and the perspectives of radical feminism as I understood them. It has been completely rewritten four times since the original version, and even this fifth version has been modified and edited on several occasions to a lesser degree. Version four was accepted by the abovementioned professor and the department as a "track paper" (something along the lines of a miniature Master's thesis). Version five was my first real opportunity to write the paper with no distracting concern about the need to meet informal criteria for a theoretical track paper. Freed from the pressure to make a single, well-defined assertion that can be explained in the first paragraph and then developed and defended in subsequent pages (the linear declarative paper model), I returned to the original project of defending an entire world-view as an alternative to the operant world-view that informs sociology, because the answers that a radical feminist might give to almost any one of the professor's objections would invite further objections unless they were developed along with answers to the other objections, all more or less at the same time. From the level of major theoretical visions of what the social world is all about to the level of largely unexamined axioms about what makes good theories good in the first place-indeed, even the criteria for what constitutes a good, well-developed, properly-written academic paper-one's responses to a theorist's assertions may depend in large part upon which of these two world-views comes closest to that which one happens to hold. This has made the process of explaining difficult.

It is my hope that in this fifth version I've succeeded in finding a starting place where most of those who read this can follow from the beginning, and that from there I've chosen a pathway through the heart of this world-view that will enable you to see what I'm trying to say.


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