feminist sociology and the malestream
his chapter takes its title from Amanda Cross (1981: 47) and is drawn out of a comment made by her heroine Kate Fransler about her lack of impact on and in Harvard: ‘Because as a woman… she was simply invisible.’ This chapter faces, Janus-like, in two directions. There are two possible responses feminist sociologists might wish for from the malestream. Feminist sociology could aim to become mainstreamed, so that sociology changed fundamentally and became nonsexist. Alternatively, feminist sociology could aim to be a separate, distinct territory within sociology. The latter aim would demand nothing from malestream sociology except benign neglect or tolerance. Just as a sociologist of medicine is neutral about political sociology or demography, so too non-feminists should be neutral about feminism. This is an improbably utopian vision, because different subfields are in fierce competition for funds, posts, prestige, students, and publications, and there are elaborate hierarchies of prejudice and esteem. Just as theory ranks above all empirical areas except stratification (perhaps), and within the empirical areas science ranks much higher than sport, education or rural life, so too feminist perspectives would have to fit somewhere in an hierarchical system.
As well as these two models for feminist sociology inside the discipline, there is a third future, outwith the discipline. The third model would be for feminist sociology to migrate from sociology to women’s studies, where it would be one of the many disciplines. This last vision is probably the easiest to imagine. Just as there are researchers from a variety of social sciences in business schools, or education departments, so too in departments of women’s studies or gender studies, sociology would be one discipline among others. Malestream sociology would be largely irrelevant, and making an impact on malestream sociology would be a low priority. Feminist sociology would be indifferent to malestream sociology as ethnomethodologists are indifferent to mainstream sociology.
For the purposes of this chapter that last model is irrelevant. Here the focus is on how far feminist perspectives have been mainstreamed or have become a distinct territory within sociology. If feminist perspectives were to be mainstreamed, then men would have to have read about them, taken them seriously, and treated them as rational contributions to rational debates. This is an unlikely scenario because: ‘Men… are for the most part not competent readers, if readers at all, of feminist discourse’ (Smith, 1999: 205). Mostly, men are not ‘readers at all’. There is a long history of men not reading feminist discourse.
When Clifford and Marcus (1986) produced an edited collection (Writing Culture) which opened up to widespread debate the problematic nature of textural representation in anthropology, there was only one woman contributor, Mary Pratt (1986), a literary critic and none of the scholars whose texts were analysed was a woman either. Justifying this, Clifford stated that women were excluded because their writing was not both feminist and textually innovative. As Behar summarised his argument: ‘To be a woman writing culture became a contradiction in terms: women who write experimentally are not feminist enough, while women who write as feminists write in ignorance of the textual theory that underpins their own texts’ (1995: 5).
Clifford could only have believed what he said if he had not read Zora Neale Hurston (1935, 1938) from an earlier era: he had certainly not been a competent reader of her experimental texts (see Hernandez, 1995). Such non-reading has been a very frequent occurrence throughout the 30 years of feminist sociology. Getting work published is the first hurdle, getting it read is harder. For example in 1989 Ruth Wallace could get the proceedings of a conference on Feminism and Sociological Theory, sponsored by the Theory Section of the ASA published in a series Key Issues in Sociological Theory, edited by Jeffrey Alexander and Jonathan Turner. This is about as high status a publication as any ASA theorist could have, but it was not cited by Collins (1994a, 1994b) five years later, or by Maines (2000).
It is because of such non-readings, and incompetent readings that the fully integrated model is, as far as I am concerned, hard to imagine. However, that imagining treats the discipline as one unitary whole, which, of course it is not. An exploration of the impact feminist perspectives have had since 1968 on sociology reveals that there is not one answer but many. As Chapter 3 showed, the high status area of stratification, class and social mobility has been transformed since 1980 by feminist perspectives. A whole new topic, women’s mobility, opened up. Fierce debates raged about how stratification and class were to be studied in late modernity (Savage, 2000). However, the new ideas are largely developing in parallel to the traditional debates between the established male figures, who continue their eternal struggle, like King
Kong versus Godzilla, without any serious intellectual engagement in the feminist work (Crompton and Scott, 2000). Feminist perspectives are much more mainstream in the sociologies of health and illness, and education, than they are in sociology of science, in theory, or in discussions of globalisation. The chapter opens with an analysis of one sphere in which feminist perspectives have made no impact at all, and then contrasts it with two spheres where they have been mainstreamed. The sphere which shows no impact is that of autobiographical reminiscences by the discipline’s American silverbacks. A silverback is a powerful, old, male gorilla, whose back fur has gone silver: it is a term used by academic feminists to describe the powerful senior figures in their disciplines. After an analysis of the ‘silverback narratives’ and a brief discussion of some men who are not silverbacks, the chapter turns to the sociologies of education and medicine, where feminist ideas are much more integrated.