“Ah-ha” Moments In Feminist Theory

Reading-Yellow-Shirt-Sitting Photo : Rachel Mandel

If there’s one thing I learned from Feminist Theory class it is that feminism is malleable. It adapts to the context in which it lives, critiques itself, and improves—always making space to include more people with a set of uniting beliefs.

I have been fortunate enough (and curious enough) to find myself in such a class within the last year. With every reading and theorist, I tried to examine my own feminism, hold it up to the light, and see more clearly how I define myself. While my feminist epiphany happened long ago, each new idea presented a kind of “ah-ha” moment, echoing that initial realization.

It was equally dissatisfying, when we arrived at Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay titled “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” that the “ah-ha” moment didn’t arrive.

Upon a first (and admittedly skimmed-before-class) reading, her talk of cyborgs, light beams, “epistemological electroshock therapy,” and “deconstructing truth claims of hostile science” was A LOT. It was as if she was shoving feminism into a weird sci-fi existential crisis and I was lost.

Throughout the class, however, we were encouraged to relate the theories we were learning to different aspects of our lives. For Haraway’s essay, I shrugged and gave her feminist cyborgs a pass—until we learned about “Standpoint Theory.” This is the idea that every individual has their own unique experience in life and from that experience derives truth and meaning. More than that, those lived experiences become revolutionary and vital to making change when they are shared.

Haraway writes:

“We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice—not partiality for its own sake but rather for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities not about isolated individuals.”

Those ruled by “partial sight and limited voice” are people not typically given the spotlight or mainstream conversation. But lack of visibility does not mean there are not powerful truths present. It is not dissimilar to the rhetoric of believing women when they’re in pain and trusting women to make decisions about their own bodies.

Women have historically been silenced— Black and brown women, people with disabilities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community especially. If it wasn’t for the brave people telling their stories over the years, the fields of medicine, science, art—anything, really—would look much different.

Black feminism has been employing Standpoint Theory for a long time. In the “Black Feminist Statement from the Combahee River Collective” of 1977, they declare:

“…we might use our position at the bottom to make a clear leap into revolutionary action.”

It’s pretty kick-ass, right??

I believe that individual experiences must continue to shape feminism because they have built feminism. Indeed, my own feminism is continually revealed through others’ stories—through listening to friends and examining how their understandings of the world are different to my own. These “connected experiences” lead to “unexpected openings.”

Haraway’s essay reminded me what it is I love so much about feminism and learning from the women around me. When stories are heard, when we put pen to paper and pass it around—or in the case of OWTL, share things on the internet—we can start to affect change. As Haraway claims, it is not about “isolated individuals” but building community on common ground.

With each piece I read on OWTL, we’re building that sisterhood and finding those common threads. I know how privileged I am to even be in a class learning about these things. You better believe I’m going to take every advantage of this opportunistic platform we’ve been given.

Perhaps French feminist Hélène Cixous said it a bit simpler:

“Writing is precisely the very possibility of change.”

Write on, fellow feminists. Create that change.


Molly Geoghegan Contributor Photo
Molly Geoghegan : Dedicated savory brunch fan and lover of all things French and film. Her only regrets are that she never knows the lyrics to songs and will always remain a Muggle. A true grandma at heart.