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Feminist & Gender Theory

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Feminist & Gender Theory

In her book, Institutional Ethnography, Dorothy Smith recounted how her experiences in the women’s movement led to the academic interest in feminist theory: “Starting with our experiences as we talked and thought about them, we discovered depths of alienation and anger that were astonishing. Where had all these feelings been?” (2005). It was her standpoint as a woman in a male-dominated field, as well as her interest in both critical theory and key concepts of phenomenology, that led to the development of her “standpoint theory,” which was a key development in feminist sociological theory. Female theorists Collins, Connell, and Butler built upon her insight to develop theories which explained not only females in society, but also minorities and homosexuals; basically anyone who wasn’t part of the dominant white-male culture.

These theoretical concepts are particularly relevant in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential/congressional elections. Barack Obama won reelection by a margin that no one (with the exception of The New York Times blogger Nate Silver) expected. In the days following the election, strategists and politicos have dissected the reasons for Obama’s success, and one thing has become abundantly clear: racial minorities and women abandoned the Republican party in this recent election. Utilizing exit polling, entertainment website Buzzfeed posted a fascinating electoral map titled “What The 2012 Election Would Have Looked Like Without Universal Suffrage.” In the first image, it showed the electoral map if only white males were able to vote. If this had been the case, Obama would have lost with 37 electoral votes (compared to his actual 332) and Mitt Romney would have won the presidency with an overwhelming 501 electoral votes (Buzzfeed 2012).

Objective analysis clearly showed that the GOP had a problem with female and minority voters in the 2012 election. Prior to the election, Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were favored to win their senate seats, until both stumbled over the issue of rape with regard to pregnancy and abortion (Schultheis 2012). Both suffered resounding defeats, thanks in large part to the female vote. However, in a response that seems to illustrate Smith’s concept of “bifurcation of consciousness” with regard to the standpoint of the dominant culture, Charles Krauthammer, a contributor for Fox News and a columnist for the Washington Post, insisted that the Republican party doesn’t need to look at its policy, but rather they need to approach these issues more delicately, “speaking about culturally sensitive and philosophically complex issues with reflection and prudence.” (Krauthammer 2012).

This approach mirrors other statements by prominent republicans with regard to women’s issues, such as Romney’s answer to the question of equal payment for women with a factually inaccurate anecdote about “binders of women” which was wildly unpopular among female voters (Hicks 2012). Smith spoke about the dominant being “oblivious” to the worldview of the Other, and Connell expressly cited Rupert Murdoch (an employer of Krauthammer) and “highly conservative men” as being responsible for the “difficulty in expanding men’s opposition to sexism…” (2005). This is not to say that all women disagree with conservative ideology; Krauthammer points out that Romney did carry the married white female vote by 7 points (2012). However, as the fascinating map created by Buzzfeed illustrates, the female vote was pivotal in securing the reelection of Barack Obama, and because of the losses by Akin and Mourdock which were demonstrably due to their stances on the female body, God, and Rape, the US Senate remained in Democratic control.

Another concept important to Smith’s theory can be illustrated by how female politicians of both parties are different than men. Recent research found that “women of both parties are more likely than men to mention the needs of vulnerable populations when asked about the nation’s problems. (…) The most commonly accepted explanation is that women are more socialized than men to care for others.” (Mendelberg and Karpowitz 2012). This brings to mind Smith’s “two subjectivities,” and the “concrete” world that women embody. Interestingly, the research also found that female politicians were

perceived — by themselves and their peers



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