of silverbacks and tree houses
When struggling to write this book I wondered why I had asked to do so. On hearing about the series I wrote to the editor Robert Moore and asked who was writing the gender/feminism volume. In part this was to ensure that feminist, and gender issues were included in the series: the price of feminist inclusion is often eternal vigilance. Had I been told that volumes had already been commissioned on women and/or on feminism and/or on gender, I would have rejoiced and got on with other projects. When Robert Moore told me that he had yet to organise any book on gender or ‘women and men’ or feminism or queer theory or men’s studies I stepped forward and said I was available as an author if that would suit him, even though writing a book like this is a poisoned chalice. However, I did also want to write it, because I had finished an introductory textbook on gender in modern Britain (Delamont, 2001) and that had led me to revisit and rethink where I stood on a whole range of topics in feminist sociology which I had not been addressing since I had finished Knowledgeable Women (Delamont, 1989b). Robert Moore and I discussed how gender, feminism, queer theory, and the new men’s studies might or might not figure in the series, and settled on the structure and perspective of this book. I got the contract, cleared the desk (metaphorically) and started to write, to read and reread, and to think and rethink. Writing a book on feminist sociology is not a recipe for a quiet or an apolaustic life: only for serious struggle. There have been six problems. These dilemmas are not unique to me, of course: most are old favourites. I have confessed to each, and to my solution, below. They are: (1) demarcating feminist sociology from feminist perspectives in other disciplines; (2) distinguishing feminist sociology from the sociology of women and/or of gender; (3) dealing with the malestream of sociology; (4) the temptation of messy texts and fictions; (5) the fear of rejection by my sisters; (6) and the lure of detective stories.
The biggest problem is the large, and rapidly expanding literature
on feminism, on gender studies and on lesbian and gay studies. Not only is it hard to keep up with that literature (there were three collections of feminist science studies published by one firm in 2001 and many many more in fields like cultural studies or literary criticism), there is also a definitional problem. How far is this work sociology? Take, for example, Ahmed et al.’s (2000) collection Transformations: Thinking through Feminism, which frames a book series of the same title. Is the book a contribution to sociology? Is the series? There are sociologists in the volume, but there are also scholars in other fields such as English and Philosophy. Oxford University Press have a series: Oxford Readings in Feminism Studies with 12 titles. There is no book on Feminism and Sociology, but many of the titles that do exist address themes central to sociology (the public and the private, science, race, cultural studies). A Glossary of Feminist Theory by Andermahr et al. (2000) is, similarly, a collaboration between two sociologists and a literary theorist: is it sociology or not? Deciding to exclude feminist work because it is not primarily sociological seems petty, yet the book is for a British Sociological Association (BSA) series, and is meant to be about sociology. The distinction is not trivial. Much of the dispute in Allen and Howard’s (2000) collection is between political scientists (Hekman, 2000) and sociologists (Smith, 2000), and focuses on feminist ideas becoming troubled at disciplinary boundaries. Smith robustly attacks Hekman: ‘Susan Hekman’s interpretation of my work is so systematically out to lunch it is difficult to write a response… Apart from a lack of care and thought, what is she doing that leads to her systematic misreading?’ (2000: 59).
Smith’s answer to her own robust and rhetorical question lies partly in disciplinary differences. ‘Speak for your own discipline, Susan’, she cautions. Sticking strictly to Sociology could involve leaving out many important and exciting ideas; even if we do not entirely follow the late Carl Couch’s (1997: 102) statement that ‘most sociologists are as dull as turnips’. Also, I have a weakness for straying into anthropology, my original discipline, while steering away from political science, philosophy, economics or psycho-analytic theory, where I feel alien. Some of the topics I have treated as sociological overlap with other disciplines. Domestic violence is perhaps the best example. This is a social problem that has been extensively researched by criminologists, and I have drawn on that discipline in my thinking about domestic violence.
Distinguishing feminist sociology from the sociologies of women and/or of gender is a second problem. There are certainly anti-feminist writings on women and on gender, and there are publications on women and gender whose authors may not self-identify as feminists, or who may self-identify but are unrecognisable as feminists to anyone else. In the 1970s any sociological research on women or on gender was potentially feminist because all the empirical areas were only just opening up, and so all the research done was mutually cited and integrated. In 2002 it is possible for a sociologist to do research on, for example, women and divorce, and not be feminist at all, not to cite feminist work, and not to be integrated with any feminist sociology. For this book I have charitably assumed that anyone who wrote about women or gender from a feminist perspective, loosely defined, in the period 1960-80 ‘counts’ as a feminist sociologist for this book. After 1980, I have narrowed the focus to include only those authors who have self – defined as feminist.
A third dilemma turns on men: should I focus on sociological work by, on, and for women, or scrutinise the impact of feminist perspectives on malestream sociology and men’s responses to feminist sociology? There is no easy answer to this: the dilemma is central to Chapter 5. This dilemma is shared by many distinguished feminist sociologists. Joan Acker (1997), for example, confesses to it. Here I know that I am going to annoy many feminists, because I am committed to changing the malestream. Throughout my career I have always been an advocate of feminist ideas being incorporated into a changed malestream. My whole academic life has been spent campaigning for qualitative methods and (liberal) feminist perspectives to be taken seriously by leading scholars in sociology. From this standpoint, my 30-year battle is nowhere near won. There is a continuing need to harry malestream sociologists to take feminist perspectives seriously, to cite women, to read women’s work, and to confess to previous sexist sins of omission and commission. I do not see any point in creating a feminist ghetto.
Here comes a diversion from the five problems. Talk of ghettos leads inevitably to thoughts of the golem (Collins and Pinch, 1993, 1998; Lichtenstein and Sinclair, 1999; Meyrink, 1915; Ripellino, 1995). Meyrink’s novel tells of a rabbi in Prague who, in 1580, created a golem from mud, to be a giant shambling servant, which one Friday runs amok. Collins and Pinch (1993, 1998) use the image playfully in their popularisation of key ideas from science, technology and innovation studies. Lichtenstein and Sinclair invoke the mythology in their unravelling of the ‘secret’ of David Rodinsky’s disappearance from his room over the synagogue in Princelet Street, Whitechapel. Princelet Street is only a few minutes walk from the former Fawcett, now the National Women’s Library’s new building in Old Castle Street, where our feminist legacy is preserved with lottery funds, both of course in the area where Jack the Ripper killed his victims. The image of the golem is a haunting one. As Lichtenstein and Sinclair evoke it:
Now a golem can be nothing more than a heap of dust, a few unidentified rags in a forgotten room. In the best fiction… the creature is
already a memory; it belongs in a fabulous but longed-for past. The
golem is that which has been banished, an atavistic cartoon. A dream companion. The ugly shape of something that has gone and cannot be recalled. A dark absence whose strange gravitational field sucks in the spectres of anxiety, paranoia, impotence. Miss Havisham is a golem. So is Mr Rochester’s first wife (and her pale avatar, Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous Rebecca). Strange how the English like to gender-bend their golems, turn them into women. The cobwebs of English romanticism are wisps of an unblooded wedding dress, memento mori for a mad bride in the attic. (1999: 180)
The feminist resonances are multiplex and blatant. This is the London of Sylvia Pankhurst, Annie Besant, Sarah Adler (who founded the first Yiddish Theatre in London with her husband) and Toynbee Hall, Bedlam itself. The very mention of Bedlam invokes the feminist classic Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979) The Madwoman in the Attic. The thoughts of Jack the Ripper and of fin-de-siecle moral panics about women’s changing roles conjure up J. Walkowitz’s (1992) City of Dreadful Delight. These are potent images of the world of the First Wave feminists, and the attempts by Third Wave feminists to preserve their legacy and our own: of the violence against women, and the madhouse as a prison for women. Identifying oneself with a gender – bent golem is a strange feeling.
x In that strange landscape where First Wave and Third Wave femi
nisms are multiply enfolded, modern sociological questions are raised. The spectre of the flaneur walks those streets, and it is here that the debate about the possibility of the flaneuse is contested. Ian Sinclair is, as Wilson (2000) aptly points out, the flaneur of modern London: the flaneur of the new economy of signs and space. In writing this book, the arcane dispute about whether or not there were, or ever can be, women flaneuses is ever present. Because the flaneur is a central concept in postmodernism, the possible existence or the impossibility of a flaneuse is important. (see Barrett, 1992; Wilson, 2000; Wolff, 1985.) It is an old idea: John Buchan (1919) has Richard Hannay apologise for mistaking a stout fellow for a flaneur in Mr Standfast, and in 1926 has a character warn a young man to take up a profession and not be a flaneur in The Dancing Floor, both very nineteenth – century novels. Parsons (2000) explores the idea of the flaneuse in a range of novels by women about cities in which the female characters draw their identity from the urban setting. The term has moved out of academic writing and novels. There is a Flaneur Foodhall in Clerkenwell where modern Londoners can buy gourmet specialities or eat guanaja chocolate cake with poached fruit in the restaurant. (And I do not know what guanaja is either.) This debate resurfaces in Chapter 7 but it runs throughout the book. Whatever image the sociologist has, whether flaneur, dull turnip, intrepid hero or deep thinker, women always have to ask: is this sociological identity a male only
one, or is it available for women too? Clearly, women can be turnips: but can we be flaneuses, heroines or deep thinkers?
My career has been a continual series of meetings at which I was the only woman, or one of a handful of women, who had to stand up and say: ‘You don’t mean men/chaps/guys, you mean people’, ‘We don’t want the best man for the job, you want the best person’, ‘That’s an allmale platform party, we need a woman’, ‘We can’t have an all-male committee/panel/team/board/collection/list: we must find some women’, ‘How many women have we elected?’, ‘Is that shortlist all men?’. The experience Lyn Lofland describes is entirely recognisable to me. She recalls attending an early meeting of the inner circle of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) of which she was just about to become President.
When I entered a private hotel room in New York to attend my first executive council meeting in 1980, the experience was very much that of the stranger intruding into a group of old friends; or perhaps a better analogy is of a girl wandering into the boys’ locker room. Except for me, everyone in the room was male, and except for me, everyone in the room clearly knew everyone else. (1997: 136)
Of course things have got much better during my career but I am still vigilant and wary.
About four years after Lyn Lofland’s presidency of the SSSI, Donna Darden became Secretary/Treasurer, a post she held for eight years. She writes:
because of her presidency, and maybe because the world has changed a little, and because our members are mostly good people, my experiences as sometimes the only and sometimes one of the few women in a group of men were different from hers. I experienced the SSSI and its leadership not as a group of old boys with a tree house to keep me out of, but as a group of professionals. (1997: 99)
An optimist would say that Darden is reporting a real change of climate in the SSSI. A cynic would say that doing all the routine drudgery of being Secretary/Treasurer is exactly what men like women doing, and Darden’s labour was welcomed because she combined two grotty jobs. I am glad that Darden felt part of a collegial group, but I wonder if they read her publications. I hope that Donna Darden also gets read and cited by the boys in the treehouse. I want to be in the treehouse, and I want the knowledge treasured in that treehouse to be suffused with feminist ideas.
The fourth dilemma concerns a temptation. For the past 15 years it has been more and more acceptable for sociology and anthropology to be written in non-academic ways, with poems, plays, dialogues,
stories, and so on. I love the freedom this provides, and I have enjoyed indulging in the inclusion of fictional episodes in recent books and papers. They are useful for lightening difficult patches of hard ideas in books for students, for heightening tension, for emphasising the important passages. Dialogues are excellent for exploring places when I am ambivalent. However, I have decided to minimise fictions and poems in this book. There is one episode of dialogue in this Introduction and one in the Conclusion: and I have a few vignettes from the fictional university of Burminster which I have created to bring the changes of the past 30 years alive. I have eschewed poems altogether although I enjoy writing parody versions of poems (Delamont, 2000b).
The fifth problem which arises in writing a book on feminist sociology is the most unmentionable. I write about it here with some trepidation, but it has to be said. Writing a feminist book exposes its author to the scorn and derision of most men (if they do not ignore it altogether), anti-feminist women by definition, and many other feminist women. Feminist academic life is characterised by cliques, schools, jealousies and arcane disputes. Every sentence of this book will be received with patronising scorn and howls of derision by some other feminists. As I sat writing this book watching England lose another Ashes series to Australia I did wonder why I was exposing myself to the critical gaze of my academic sisters. To be writing the only ‘feminist’ volume in the BSA series is a form of masochistic selfexposure akin to being the England No. 11 facing Shane Warne. Any reader who doubts the level of scorn that one feminist deploys on another can consult the disputes between Hekman (2000), Hartsock (2000), Harding (2000) and Smith (2000) or between Felski (2000) and Braidotti (2000).
The sixth temptation concerns detective fiction, not only my leisure passion but, for me, a repository of feminist ideas. I have written elsewhere (Delamont, 1996b) about the feminist agenda in the novels of Sayers, Marsh and Allingham in the anti-feminist era of 1919-49. There is always a temptation to write about golden age or contemporary detective fiction and its feminist functions. However, I have eschewed it here. My analysis of the importance of Rachel Wallace in the novels of Robert Parker (1982, 1985), or of Rosa Gomez and Helen Soileau in those of James Lee Burke (1993, 1998) has been sidelined while I wrote this, apart from the chapter titles. I have reserved for another time my argument that in the detective story the two great patriarchal institutions, the family and the liberal professions, are routinely revealed to be not what they seem. Neither is the safe haven in which women can place their trust: rather they are institutions in which women need to be vigilant and wary.
A PERSONAL NOTE
Feminist sociology was founded in the early days of the Third Wave of the feminist movement, when the two powerful slogans were ‘Sisterhood is powerful’ and ‘The personal is political’. Accordingly, I have concluded this chapter with a brief autobiography. I was born in 1947, went to a girls’ grammar school, to Girton College Cambridge, did a PhD at Edinburgh and became an academic. My mother was a feminist, although her feminism does not map easily onto any of the current perspectives. I was a PhD student when the Third Wave broke over us, and I am an academic feminist not an activist. I have been marginally involved in a few campaigns, for nurseries, with Women’s Aid, and for women’s studies degrees. I did march to keep the 1967 Abortion Act, against Clause 28, and I stood outside several rugby grounds with Welsh Anti-Apartheid, but I did not go to Greenham. As a child I was a tomboy – I was a cowboy, a pirate, a sailor in Nelson’s navy (we played Hornblower a lot). I did play with dolls, but mine went to school. They sat at desks and worked: their lives did not involve dressing up or having tea parties. At seven I decided to be a barrister, an ambition I only abandoned in the sixth form when all the men I knew reading law told me how bored they were and I discovered how much it would cost to be in chambers. As an adult, I dress like a 14- year-old girl’s idea of a feminist, without make-up and usually in trousers. My career has also involved being the ‘First Woman to’ on three or four occasions. However, because I am childless (by choice) and a workaholic, I am not a useful role model for women who want to be mothers and bank managers.
To conclude this Introduction, there is a note on the style of the text. Some of the language used in the book is colourful: I have written about silverbacks and treehouses, about the Gorgona, poisoned chalices and turnips, golems and flaneurs, rapiers to the heart, stags, locker rooms, blue meanies, chilly climates and sacred groves, and Monday morning quarterbacks. I also use an ornate vocabulary, which may send some readers to the dictionary to discover what I mean by sciolism, trivium and apolaustic. Also, in a very sparing way, I have used fictional characters. I have invented three fictional feminists in recent publications. They are Eowyn, an educational ethnographer; Sophonisba, a feminist historian; and Zenobia who was Eowyn’s PhD student. Eowyn is named for the woman warrior in Lord of the Rings; Sophonisba is named for the pioneer sociologist in Chicago; and Zenobia for the third-century warrior queen of Palmyra. Eowyn and Sophonisba are two aspects of my scholarly identity, Zenobia is a device: a character who only exists to have Eowyn and Sophonisba explain things to her. Hers is a dull life: she serves a purely textual function. Eowyn is an
ethnographer whose main aim has been to campaign for high standards in the qualitative research done in education and sociology. She sees herself as an ally of everyone else doing qualitative work, whether male or female, and her task is to defend qualitative work against its enemies. Virginia Olesen calls positivists ‘blue meanies’: Eowyn fights blue meanies. When qualitative research, or sociology of education is under attack, as they were in the late 1990s by James Tooley (1998) and Chris Woodhead (1998), she defends all ethnographers and all sociologists. Inside the charmed circle she is anti-positivist and sceptical about postmodernism. Eowyn wants people to go out and get good data, because there are so many aspects of social life about which we know nothing. Many of her intellectual allies and her friends are men, and Eowyn sees herself riding into battle in a largely male army: relatively few women have been active in qualitative educational research for 30 years.
Sophonisba is an historian and a stronger feminist: her work is on girls’ schools, women in universities, gender and science, feminism and sociology. These are areas in which very few men are interested, and the research is mainly of concern to a small number of feminist scholars. Sophonisba is frankly scared of postmodernism, because it threatens to sweep away all the gains of Third Wave feminism in the academy. First Wave feminism was destroyed, intellectually, by Freudianism. As the intelligentsia adopted Freudianism in the 1920s, it undermined, fatally, the moral authority and intellectual coherence of feminism. Sophonisba is worried that postmodernism could do the same to contemporary feminism, unless feminists learn to use its ideas and engage with them inside the frame of its discourse. Both Eowyn and Sophonisba have written this book although usually they do not write together. Eowyn writes empirical sociology and methods (e. g. Delamont, 2002a; Delamont et al., 2000a); Sophonisba writes ‘pure’ feminism (Delamont, 1989b, 1992a, 2002b). Hammersley (2001) has attacked my use of dialogue, I find it useful to dramatise ambivalence. Hammersley complains that an author who uses a dialogic format is hiding their own, true, evaluative voice behind a literary device, and is thus acting in bad faith by avoiding responsibility for their actions. His particular objection was to a book review where I had used a dialogue to explore one problem facing women academics. When one woman and one man are asked to write on the same topic, the women knows that if she does not write as a feminist, there will not be a feminist perspective. She may not want to write the feminist account, but if she does not, no one else will. This presents a dilemma between feminist duty and scholarly inclination. Hammersley attacked the device and, of course, complained that a feminist perspective was subjective and biased, while missing the point of the dialogue altogether.
Leicester: April 2002
The British Sociological Association is having its annual conference in Leicester. Sophonisba, Eowyn and Zenobia are having a curry in a restaurant opposite the station. Eowyn and Sophonisba have travelled down from Glasgow, Zenobia up from Kent. Eowyn passes the stuffed nan to Zenobia and says:
Eowyn: Please remind me to do a really systematic trawl of the pub
lishers’ exhibits: I need to find a new text to use for the gender course with the masters people. Can I have the daal?
Zenobia: Sure, here: I heard Sara Delamont was writing one in the
BSA Millennial series …
Sophonisba: I wonder why they asked her: she’s not very well known as
Zenobia: No – but then that means she’s not really in one of the
camps… not a Marxist, not a radical, not a postmodernist.
Eowyn: I think she’s a liberal feminist, and a symbolic interaction-
ist. If it’s out I’ll look at it, it might do.
Zenobia: I’m really nervous about my paper on Wednesday…
Eowyn: Don’t be. You’ll be fine – I think it’s a real argument – try
this lentil pasanda – it’s better than the one we used to eat in Sauchiehall Street…
Sophonisba: Are you going to the ASA in Chicago?
Eowyn: No – but I am going to Atlanta in 2003, I have promised
the group from Northeastern that we’ll present the stuff on chemistry technicians…
Sophonisba: I’ve said I’ll go to Atlanta too – the women doing the big
biographical dictionary I’ve written for are having a bash to celebrate the centenary of Marion McLean’s publication on sweat shops and asked us all to come.
Zenobia: Atlanta – in August – Yuk! – you’ll melt or fry: can I have
the prawns, please?
We will leave the three women in Leicester and rejoin them in the summer of 2003 at the end of the book.
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