FEMINIST FOCUS ON THE FOUNDING FATHERS
There are three feminist strategies to be explored: how feminist sociologists have revisited and criticised the founding fathers central to the malestream grand narrative; how feminists have searched out alternative founding fathers; and how feminists have used ideas from the founding fathers to build feminist sociology.
At one level, the way the history of sociology is presented is a reasonable way to chronicle the history of the subject. Women in the European countries where sociology began after 1770 were denied access to formal education, could not attend universities, and had no scholarly occupations available to them. Women contemporaries of Comte, Marx, Weber and Durkheim were less likely to be able to
invent and develop sociology. It is unreasonable, and unscholarly, to expect a twenty-first-century sensitivity to gender issues in eighteenth – century and nineteenth-century people. No feminist sociologist would expect a twenty-first-century position on gender by nineteenth-century theorists. However, what feminists can reasonably expect, do expect, but do not find, is texts about founding fathers which alert students, novices, and even their peers, to the nature of sex roles in their heroes’ era, and sets their views on women into that context. Exegeses of founding fathers should, feminists argue, address what they thought about First Wave feminism (if that is known), what they wrote about women, and why they did not have female colleagues. These basic standards are simply not met.
Second, there has been a pattern of re-reading the canonical work, and the more minor, less well-known publications by the founding fathers, to see if they dealt with gender, at all, and if they did, to see what they actually said. Frequently, such re-readings discover that the founding fathers thought, wrote and theorised about gender issues, even though those ideas have been screened out of the malestream modern accounts of their central ideas. Such re-readings can discover that the founding fathers held positions on gender which were context- bound, stereotyped and unscholarly, but sometimes innovative and challenging material is found. Lorna Duffin (1978) re-evaluated Spencer’s sociological work. J. R. Martin (1984, 1985), not only re-read Rousseau’s Emile, but excavated Sophie, his much less well-known treatise on the appropriate education for girls. Taking the two texts together reveals Rousseau as a much more reactionary social theorist than he appears to be if one only studies Emile. B. D. Johnson (1972) scrutinised Durkheim’s Suicide in this way. Bologh (1990) presents a feminist reappraisal of Weber. Where founding fathers did write on gender, their work has been subject to feminist critique.
In this chapter I have taken Marx, Weber, Durkheim, the American Pioneers of 1890-1930, Freud, Parsons, Merton, Bourdieu and Foucault as founding fathers and Grand Old Men whose work has been scrutinised and used by feminists, and Engels as a theorist outside the normal grand narrative whose claims to be added to the canon are advanced by feminists.
Marx, Weber and Durkheim, three men, are the founding fathers, and feminist sociologists have to relate their epistemologies to those three. There is a clear difference between them. Marx (and his collaborator Engels) is still revered by Marxist feminists (Sayers et al., 1987), and sociological insight is still found in his writing. Contemporary feminism has a more uneasy relationship with Weber and Durkheim, partly because they did not have a collaborator who produced ideas adaptable by feminists. The American pioneers are not discussed in the UK, but
have received feminist scrutiny in the USA. Freud is massively problematic for feminism. Parsons and Merton make an interesting contrast: contemporaries, one of whom has become a feminist bogey, the other ignored.