Feminist Epistemology and #YesAllWomen

I’ve been reading #YesAllWomen and related media cautiously–I’m the choir, and while it can be comforting to hear the preaching, it can also take an emotional toll. But this Slate headline–Men were surprised by #YesAllWomen because men don’t see what women experience–reminded me of a great online resource I stumbled across last weekend. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has great, comprehensive entries for Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science as well as Feminist Social Epistemology. They are lengthy, but important. You don’t need to be familiar with feminist theory to practice feminism, but theory (in whatever form it takes) can be incredibly clarifying and constructive in shaping how you make sense of and interact with the realities of sexism and other oppression. This theory is free on the internet and available for you to peruse and digest at your leisure.

Here is the gist of what’s relevant to this hashtag:

  • Epistemology is the study of knowledge.
  • Feminist epistemology focuses on the ways in which gender affects how we make, understand, acquire, and transmit knowledge.
  • An important precept here is that knowledge can be affected by things like gender. Feminist epistemology questions the concept of objectivity.
  • Because what you know depends on where you stand. Your gender, your class, your race, and your body can give or restrict your access to certain kinds of knowledge. Who you are makes certain kinds of information more salient to you, and may cause you to interpret information in a certain way.
  • In regard to social injustice, standpoint theory proposes that oppressed classes have an epistemically privileged knowledge of oppression relative to those who are not subjected to that particular social injustice. In this case, women have epistemically privileged knowledge of sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence relative to men, because women have direct, embodied contact with these forms of social injustice as well as an investment in ending it, while people who are not women may not have access to that knowledge  (through first- or third-person experience) and may be instead invested in preserving status quo or. . . something, I don’t know what.

The point of #YesAllWomen is testify to the forms of sexist oppression that many women experience because of being women. [Side note: The phrasing #YesAllWomen is a response to the #NotAllMen hashtag–as in “#NotAllMen perpetrate violence but #YesAllWomen live with the threat of it”–but obviously not all women experience this threat in the same degree and the same way. Other life circumstances or identities make certain populations of women more vulnerable to certain kinds of threats than others.] The effect is a cascade of individual experiences that add up to a sweeping portrait of social and systemic oppression, a spectrum that includes both #EverydaySexism and terrifying violence. #YesAllWomen testifies that the extreme act of violence  of last weekend doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that its perpetrator nurtured his virulent misogyny in a culture of misogyny, because no small number of people agreed with him. Still agree, some.

And because women are better positioned to have knowledge of sexist oppression, the epistemically savvy thing to do here is listen.

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