Feminist and Gender Theories


Dorothy E. Smith
Dorothy E. Smith is a sociologist who challenges preexisting principles not many chose to address. She was one of few who acknowledged that the original ideologies in which sociology’s foundation was built upon was from the perspectives of middle aged white men. In recognizing this reality she developed the profound notion of the standpoint theory. With stand point theory Smith documented that what a person knows is affected by where one stands in society. All of things that we know are from our experiences, what we know of the world, and of the “other” (p.561). Smith was not articulating that we can only interpret things from our own standpoint; it is much more open than that. Smith states that no one can have complete objective knowledge, that no two people have exactly the same standpoint, and finally that we must not take the standpoint from which we speak for granted. Not taking your standpoint for granted is a lot like acknowledging your privilege. You have to appreciate and embrace your position, while seeing the complications of it all at once. Smith stated that in essence that the founders of the subject unintentionally created masculine sociology; by solely focusing on labor wages, politics and formal organizations in which women were excluded from there was a divide put into place. “Erasing or ignoring women’s world of sexual reproduction, children, household labor, and affective ties- sociology unwittingly served as a vehicle for alienating women from their own lives” (Seidman 1994:212-213). Smith plays an essential role in shaping feminist theory. She makes it clear that there is a history of men being privileged, while women are continuously undervalued and disregarded out of most circumstances; the rich white male ultimately prevails.
Smith has a thought provoking concept of bifurcation of consciousness. This concept, much like W.E.B. DuBois’ double-consciousness, refers to the separation between our personal standpoint and the governing or central view in which we must adapt to. This means that sub groups are habituated to adapt to the dominant group’s perspective. The dominant group controls institutions and hold other powerful positions therefore we are accustomed to subconsciously conforming to the ascendant group. Smith’s bifurcation of consciousness stems from her being a mother and a professor in a male dominated area of study.
Patricia Hill Collins:
Patricia Hill Collins was greatly influenced by Dorothy E. Smith in reference to the standpoint epistemology. Collins however was focused on the standpoints of African American women. Collins’ work has been focused on the intersectionality of the African American woman. Not only are they oppressed by being a woman, they are oppressed by being black as well. Collins states that facing multiple oppression makes black women skeptical and vulnerable to dominant groups. In hone of her greatest works, Black Feminist Thought, she addresses many matters that pertain to being a black woman. She initially addresses the myth that black women are either passive aggressive or overly dominant. She makes it known that Black Feminism is very different from white feminism. To kind of sum it up, this is something that Sojourner Truth spoke about way before Collins’ time; however the message is still clear to this day. Sojourner’s speech is exactly what Collins conveys through Black Feminist Thought. Ain’t I a woman, despite my skin tone? Why must African American women fight a totally different battle than women in general? This speech is powerful and still gives me chills to this day.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain’t I A Woman?
Delivered 1851
Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

Critique: I absolutely loved this chapter. All of these women have a point to get across and I think they did it just fine. These women continue to help shape a world that still chooses not to recognize the dehumanization that occurs with women of color and women in general. I think that this was a great chapter to read since voting was just yesterday. Feminism took a loss. I know that the wages, birth control, and even the woman dominated teaching field will suffer due to the outcomes of the elections. Of course Collins portion had a great influence on me due to the fact that I am an African American woman. My standpoint attracts me to many of her readings and articles. This was definitely my favorite chapter thus far.



Possible Research Questions:
Has the acknowledgement of intersectionality created an even bigger divide amongst black feminist and feminist in general?

How has the Feminist Movement influenced their political powers?

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