deconstruction and Feminism

Lois Shawver (
Thu, 16 May 1996 16:49:08 -0700 (PDT)

May I put in my 2 cents on the analysis of "feminism"?

I prefer not to define it as merely a social advocacy movement. I prefer
to see it as a deconstruction of the forces that make women (and women's
opinions, value, concerns, desires, etc.) invisible, or marginalized
(which I think means largely but not entirely invisible).
Deconstructing the status quo to make those forces evident has the side
effect, often, of creating desire in women to step more center stage, and
then women who have deconstructed their role in society (for themselves)
often become advocates, but they need not. And when men deconstruct the
traditional female role, they, too, need not become advocates.

Let me explain what I mean by "deconstruction". (This is consistent, I
believe, with Derrida's meaning for this term, and the explanation that I
give in a recent paper that I recently published an mentioned on this
list.) Suppose a young child was told that a certain scatter of stars was
a "big dipper." At first the child did not see it, but one day it struck
her. From then on, every time she looked at this little patch of stars,
she saw it as the "big dipper". After a while, she no longer saw the
stars as stars. She looked, and saw the big dipper. Then, one day,
sitting there talking about the big dipper with an astronomer, she was
reminded that this was just a scatter of stars. Still, everytime she
looked she saw it as "the big dipper". Then someone else showed her how
the stars that were part of the big dipper could be seen as one of a
different scatter of stars that made up different figures. Suddenly, the
stars stopped hanging together irresistably in her mind as a "big dipper".
She could see them as a "scatter of stars".

This, I think, illustrates what it means to deconstruct something. One
has a language and socially developed tendency to organize things
conceptually a particular way, and even loses touch with the possibility
of seeing the elements differently organized. Deconstruction helps
shatter the illusion that this is the only way things can be seen
typically by showing how the illusion is maintained. When feminists
point to the use of a masculine pronoun in examples, for example, this is
intended to deconstruct the illusion that such languge is theorized to
maintain. When women are put in status roles of power, this is supposed
to deconstruct the illusion that women cannot play these roles
successfully in our society, etc.

So, again, I think feminism is not just a social advocacy movement for
improving the lot of an underprivileged group. It is a systematic
deconstruction of our traditional and marginalizing way of conceptualizing
women and feminity.

..Lois Shawver