Lecture 1- Inaugural and Introductory lecture on Feminist Philosophy
A report by Pooja Raj
Online Lecture Series cum Certificate course on “Feminist Philosophy” (April-June 2021) is organized by Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi under the Minorities and Philosophy Project and The Philosophy Project. This lecture series is sponsored by ICPR. The course began with inauguration and a lecture on Introduction to Feminist Philosophy by Dr. Bijaylaxmi Nanda on 6th April 2021 at 10:30 am. The session began with a brief introduction of the organizing team and course details by Naina Bhargava. Dr. Reetu Jaiswal being the course instructor briefed the participants regarding the course structure and the eligibility criteria for the certificates. She then welcomed the speakers to address the audiences.
The welcome address in the inaugural session was given by Prof. Balaganapathi Devarakonda in which he emphasized that feminism is not homogenous in nature but has diversification within itself. He highlighted how the feminist stand point has expanded not just in sociological and political spheres but also in religious and aesthetical spheres. He also mentioned the work of Pamela G. Anderson in Philosophy of Religion and her rejection of Descartes' Mind-Body Theory which she further used to understand the notion of the body from a feminist perspective.
The session was followed by the Chief Guest address by Dr. Mamta Sagar. In her lecture, she talked about Understanding Philosophy Through the Feminist Perspective in which she lent analysis through a political, social and literary lens. She mentioned the works of Jawaharlal Nehru and some literary works such as Muddupalani by Radhika Santawanam. She highlighted the significance of the body of women and how it has been destroyed by patriarchy in the name of moral correctness.
Her lecture was followed by keynote speaker Dr. Bijaylaxmi Nanda, who also gave the 1st lecture of this certificate course. Dr. Nanda in her keynote address talked about the significance of feminist pedagogy in understanding philosophy through a feminist perspective.
To conclude the inaugural session, Puja Raj gave a detailed vote of thanks to everyone.
Post inauguration, Dr. Bijaylaxmi Nanda gave her lecture on Introduction to Feminist Philosophy, providing the roots for the whole series and the certificate course. In her lecture, she spoke about her field experience pertaining to pedagogy from a feminist point of view. Criticizing the mainstream pedagogy which takes men and the masculine as the norm, feminist pedagogy attempts to assimilate women’s point of view and helps in understanding the social, political, religious and methodological approach to feminist ideas.
1. Garry, A., Khader, S. J., & Stone, A. (2019). The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy (Routledge Philosophy Companions) (1st ed.). Routledge.
2. D., Foreword, G. R.-, Black, A., Buller, L., Hoyle, E., Contributor, T. M.-, Dowd, O., & Children, D. K. (2020). Feminism Is. . . DK Children.
3. Lerner, G. (1987). The Creation of Patriarchy (Women and History; V. 1) (Revised ed.). Oxford University Press.
4. Hooks, B. (2014). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (3rd ed.). Routledge.
Lecture 2- Feminist Epistemology
A report by Megha Arora and Urna Chakrabarty
According to Prof. Krishna Menon, the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic offers a good context in which to be thinking about feminist epistemology. The pandemic has revealed injustices and inequalities across the globe; the label “global leveller” is misleading. Now more than ever, we need to learn from and listen to each other, to embody what Prof. Menon calls “moving away from epistemic arrogance towards epistemic humility”
Menon also says that in the battle to secure epistemic justice, we in the academy must reject complicity and develop global solidarities with marginalized people in both the Global South and the Global North.
Epistemic honesty is also required from us as producers of knowledge located in the universities, and particularly as practitioners of feminist epistemology.
This would take the form of, for instance, acknowledging the unequal nature of the challenges that people from different contexts are facing today, e. g the struggles faced by India’s 1.5 million displaced and dispossessed migrant labourers who travelled thousands of kilometres on foot to get back home to their villages last summer.
Knowledge created about the pandemic is more often than not being based on the abstract category of the “citizen”, which occludes the fact that not all citizens are similarly placed. What of the experiences of the unemployed or underemployed, the itinerant, migratory, stateless, disabled, etc.? Many such elisions mark our accounts of the pandemic, and this must be changed because the knowledge we create about the pandemic determines our response to it.
Hence, epistemology is a very significant activity in today’s times. We might have had a more inclusive response to the pandemic if we’d created another kind of discourse about it.
Prof. Menon gave the example of how the lockdown led to the foreseeable outcome of increased domestic violence against women. From similar lockdowns in West Africa (after the spread of Ebola and Zika, in the last couple of years), we have learned that domestic violence is a common consequence of lockdowns, but the world chose to disregard this knowledge last year and implemented lockdowns anyway, which rendered thousands of women vulnerable within their homes. “Stay home stay safe” wasn’t an option for many women, during those months.
Professor Menon went on to ask: whom does the label “knowledge systems” belong to? Just to the academy, or does it also belong to crafts industries, art industries, cinema, etc.? We ought to challenge these so-called truths about the epistemological industry.
Feminist epistemology was defined by Prof. Menon as “insights and knowledge produced out of feminist political movements and consciousness-raising”. It is important for feminist epistemologists that the perspectives and theories produced by those engaged in feminist struggles are acknowledged, made visible, and not overwritten by professionalized academic writing.
Feminist epistemology celebrates the fact that it emerges out of and is linked with feminist action, activism, and feminist mobilizational efforts. It is committed to the view that knowledge is produced collectively, cooperatively, and collaboratively. The knowledge thus produced is dialogic, not finite and singular.
Since feminist epistemology exults in acknowledging its linkages w the feminist movement, it is also committed to acknowledging the socially interactive nature of knowers, i.e. the fact that epistemically, human beings are interdependent. For instance, original single authorship is more valued than collaborative work in academia. Feminist epistemology is uncomfortable with this sort of obsession with individual knowledge production, as it fails to acknowledge the collectively and informally produced lineage of ideas that come from outside the academy. Feminist epistemologies don’t seek to introduce a binary between different domains of knowledge (viz. academic and non-academic), but they try to create a continuum of knowledge.
Prof. Menon sketched out the historical background of feminist epistemology by pointing out that the gender question came into epistemology once concerns such as “how do women know, and how are they known, who claims to know them, and why, and in what manner and how is this knowledge situated morally, formally, politically?” were aired. Women have had a complex relationship with knowledge. Male-produced knowledge systems often joke about women being a mystery, having minds that work like a puzzle, e.g. “women are from Venus”. The underlying assumption here is that women don’t possess rationality, and they are imprisoned by their bodies and the cycle of hormones. By contrast, men are not regulated by their bodies, and so can live a life of the mind, which entails a universal, eternal, and dynamic engagement with the world. Women’s lives are seen as entailing repetitive cycles of reproductive and care activities in the realm of nature. This prevents them from producing the kind of knowledge men can because their activity (cooking, washing, dusting, caring) is unvarying. This in turn leads to women being perceived as childlike, intuitive, tempestuous, etc. Terms like “dadi ke gharelu nuskein” and “old wives’ tales” reflect an attitude of infantilization and condescension regarding women’s lives, their experiences, and the knowledge generated from these experiences. Men live in the domain of culture. Their minds can be cultivated as they are free from repetitive chores and cyclical body functions. Feminist epistemology calls out the unequal division of labour, whereby men have the leisure to produce creative and dynamic knowledge.
Prof. Menon recommended Sandra Harding’s The Science Question in Feminism (1986) for an introduction to the different approaches to feminist epistemology. Harding proposes three broad categories of feminist epistemology which are not watertight but overlapping and interactive:
Feminist empiricism: challenges the uncritical focus on men, advocates ADDING women to knowledge systems and knowledge production. Discomfort: just adding women is not enough because that doesn’t allow us to engage with the fundamental patriarchal assumptions underlying this kind of knowledge production.
Feminist postmodernism: sceptical of universal claims of reason and progress of science, argues that only political solidarities across social locations can ground feminist foundings. Says that there is no singular feminist epistemology. There are feminisms, hence there are feminist epistemologies.
Feminist standpoint theory: calls for a recognition of the situatedness of knowledge and the knower. Flags off a history of departures from conventional ideas of epistemology, such as:-
“knowledge is a priori, production of normative principles and values and frameworks”
“Knowledge should be objective and apolitical”
“Knowledge should be impersonal”: in fact, standpoint theory argues that “the personal is political”, and one must write oneself into the knowledge that one is producing. It is a sleight of hand to pretend that there is no tangible producer of knowledge, as personal experiences have a place when recording knowledge. According to standpoint theory, people may understand the same object in different ways, depending on the distinct relation in which they stand to it, i.e. their distinctive social location.
Standpoint theory also offers a critique of the individualism of modern epistemology. Epistemic subjects are reconstructed here as situated knowers since there is no “pure” individual knower holding zero social identities. Menon brings up the Cartesian beginnings of modern epistemology, according to which knowledge is viewed as the result of the careful exercise of an individual’s mental faculties, which leads to the notion that epistemic subjects are interchangeable, while knowledge is unchanging. Feminist epistemologists say that this characterization is inadequate.
Feminist epistemology argues against the traditional view that knowers are abstract and isolated individuals. On the contrary, knowledge production is collaborative. For instance, we depend on each other for specialized forms of knowledge, e.g. laypersons depend on the experts (interchanging label), and even within epistemic communities, there is interdependence (e.g. research teams have cognitive divisions of labour as per specialization).
There is a need to be mindful of power dynamics within these knowledge activities, even though knowledge is produced cooperatively. People in social authority have cognitive power, as they can project their knowledge as the normative standard, e.g. Rosalind Franklin’s work on DNA structure being stolen by Watson, Wilkins, and Crick, who got a Nobel for it, in an instance of the social authority that men have been mapped onto cognitive authority. Feminist epistemology is responsible for uncovering these power dynamics.
Individual knowers are conceptualized as generic in the mainstream framework, i.e. they are interchangeable in the act of knowing. In feminist epistemology, each knower comes from a specific location and brings to the activity of knowledge production their own experiences, e.g. sex-specific bodily experiences, like childbirth pain, that men cannot experience. One’s perspective shapes the limits of how and what one can know.
Certain groups in academia have long dictated the nature of “true knowledge”, but this is not some self-evident truth. The underrepresentation of women in STEM is a problem because women aren’t being given equal opportunities in this field, but the way scientific knowledge (discourse, experiment, discovery) is shaped also reflects only some dominant groups and their sensibilities. Hence the underrepresentation of women in STEM is not just a justice issue, but also an epistemic issue.
The knower’s self-identity, which is dependent on the ascribed social identities that are mapped onto their person, shapes how and what they know, and with what confidence they can produce knowledge.
Orthodox epistemology presupposes a standardized knower (everyone, and no one in particular), which has also been called the “god trick” by Donna Haraway as it implies seeing everything from nowhere in particular. But we have seen that the knowledge thus produced consistently benefits dominant groups. Hence, there is an unequal distribution of power in society, but if the knower cannot see from nowhere, the knowledge is seen as unreliable. This results in EPISTEMIC OPPRESSION. Those who have social authority also have cognitive authority, and so their statement has credibility. Everyone else who is marked with a specific identity can only talk about their experiences (which are dismissed as subjective and politicized opinions, rather than being facts)). Any resistance to mainstream epistemology is dismissed as coming from some bias.
Experience and Embodiment: people experience the world using differently located bodies.
Disability studies: challenges normativization of able bodies.
Anita Ghai: temporarily able body.
Knowledge reinforces notions of the “perfect” normative human body, which PRODUCES the disabled body in its arrogance, e.g. public planning, health, the economy--public washroom access for women, etc.
It is assumed by the dominant framework that a special interest group cannot be objective, as their experiences cannot yield knowledge. Our knowledge of ourselves differs from the expert’s knowledge of ourselves, and feminist epistemologies, therefore, call for us to move away from expert knowledge to experiential knowledge.
Feminist Critiques of Modern Medical Practices: women’s pain is often dismissed by doctors as fiction or some vague condition.
Several 19th Century practitioners gained fame as “Hysteria Doctors”. The belief was that the “uterus” is the root cause of all the problems. Marriages and Pregnancy were considered as the ultimate treatment of the “semen-hungry women”. These kinds of diagnosis became popular when women demanded their rights to gain access to Universities and professions in the U.S. and Europe. Falling rates of marriages and low birth rates coincide with these diagnoses that criticise the “new-women”.
Philadelphia-based psychiatrist, Silas W.Mitchell championed what he called the “rest cure”.
Sick women put to bed, ordered not to move a muscle, away from all intellectual and creative work. They were fed four ounces of milk every two hours and they were not even permitted to visit the washroom in many cases.
U.S. Women Artists and Writers were diagnosed with Hysteria, they were attributed as Rebels. This is all the outcome of overeducation, “Shameless-ness” etc. It was suggested that too much energy was going into their brains and instead of staying in the reproductive organs of the women and this is why women are behaving strange, popularly called them as “troublemakers”.
U.S. suffragettes were also thought of in the same way. They were treated as “hysterics” in prison. Prof. Menon has also provided examples of Indian society, calling women mad and witches when they demand their property rights or do unconventional activities. These women are forcibly treated and forcibly institutionalized.
If you have heard of the rest cure, chances are you learned about this once-popular treatment for nervous illness through Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s semi-autobiographical short story, “The Yellow Wall-paper” (1892). The narrator of this harrowing tale is a mother suffering from depression and her controlling husband, John, confines her to a nursery in hopes that “perfect rest” will restore her to health. When her recovery stalls, John threatens a more drastic treatment. The narrator relates, “if I don’t pick up faster he will send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don’t want to go there at all”.
This story reflects how a husband who thinks of himself as an expert/doctor belittles her experience. Her experience of loneliness, postpartum depression that she was going through. She was not allowed to do anything and suggested lying in bed. Prof. Menon recommended the book to the audience and wanted them to relate it with it.
One of the most influential theorists of the new feminist epistemology was political scientist Nancy Hartsock (1983), who formulated and named feminist standpoint theory. Prof. Menon believes her theory is significant in the lecture.
She argues that women’s contribution to sustenance i.e., daily maintenance, care-work, child-rearing that women employ, that results in a systematic difference of experience across genders. The kind of work women do routinely provides a different experience about life, relationships and social structures. These activities place them in a socially underprivileged position. Theoretically, they aren’t “working” and “earning”.
Despite that this becomes the basis of privileged epistemic standpoint, because they can get access to a perspective with a deeper understanding of patriarchal institutions and ideologies can be reached. In simple words, women can see their lives and the systematic marginalization that one experiences despite the primary role one is playing. The under-privileged position and powerlessness are evident to the women. One can see that by the work they are doing other members in the society are living the life of pleasure, privilege and leisure. When one can make a connection, one acquires a feminist standpoint. This becomes a moment of epistemic privilege which women could acquire. Prof. Menon believes it has connections with Marxist theory.
Prof. Menon has mentioned a Malayalam movie, “The Great Indian kitchen” (2021). She recommends this movie to the audience. The film showcases the daily grind of domesticity the protagonist engages in contrasted with the life of leisure man enjoys because it is remarkable.
Standpoint theory is sometimes understood as an “achieved stance”, not as a “perspective” alone, one acquires Epistemic Privilege (“privilege” here means, a position from where one can perceive the connection ). Many women experience this and understanding that it happens in different socio-temporal regions is crucial.
Two important ideas here are:-
1. Shared Marginalization: Understanding that there are many others differently located subjects feeling the same thing is crucial.
2. Systemic Activity: A systematic practice that is non-accidental.
The idea of “Intersectionality” by Patricia Hill Collins has broadened Feminist Epistemology. Feminist Epistemology leads us to the Experiential and Relational aspect of Knowledge Production especially in the institutions of knowledge like Universities. Like Indian Universities are also the agents of social transformation, however, sometimes universities collude with powerful interests, hence lending credibility to certain forms and kinds of knowledge.
Prof. Menon mentioned “Rhodes Must Fall”, a protest movement that began on 9 March 2015, originally directed against a statue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that commemorates Cecil Rhodes. The campaign for the statue's removal received global attention and led to a wider movement to "decolonise" education across South Africa.
The History of imperialism, slavery, loot etc., provided so much wealth and prosperity to these centres of epistemic knowledge production, what kind of knowledge they will provide when their foundations are based on marginalization?
Is their knowledge ethical?
Non-consultative, authoritarian institutions cannot produce epistemic systems that are democratic. Universities and classrooms are the sites of liberation but “Dalit Women's Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination” by Shailaja Paik showcases an important point how classrooms, especially for marginalised communities become a site of intimidation, hurt and humiliation which can turn into the deaths of marginalised students. Prof. Menon establishes the promise v/s practice aspect of these institutions. Distrusts amongst different social locations if strong, then friendships are a good way to bridge this gap between people. Dalit and OBC students complain that despite accessing the popular institutions, they are kept outside the social circle.
The feeling of Exclusion and Isolation thus seeks its way inside. Feminist Epistemologists in the domain of epistemic oppression talks about persistent exclusion. Prof. Menon, mentioned, “Raya Sarkar’s list of alleged sexual predators” (2017) which a crowdsource Facebook list about sexual harassers in Indian Universities is a key example of the sexual exploitation women face in Universities.
iranda Fricker in her book “Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing” (2007), has argued that undermining subjects in their capacity of the knower is grave. However, Hermeneutical Injustice undermines them in their capacity as interpreters of their own social experience.
Prof. Menon has given the example of women experiencing sexual harassment and has given the account of Kancha Ilaiah. She concluded the lecture with her remarks on dealing Pandemic with a situated-ness aspect of Feminist Epistemology.
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2. Haraway, Donna. "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective," Feminist Studies 14:3 (1988).
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Rethinking Society and Politics
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Lecture 3- Postcolonial Feminism
A report by Shivi Singh
Dr. Mahadevan talked about postcolonial feminism emerging as a critique of western feminism and also as the need to engage with differences. She discussed various post-colonial feminist thinkers like Gayatri Spivak, C.T Mohanty, Roop Rekha Verma, and so on. She further said that for any critique to have any validity, it has to be complete and for that, we need to engage ourselves with cast and gender.
She also talked about decolonizing feminism and bringing intersectionality into it. She pointed out that theoretical feminist interventions in the Indian academy have to confront the dogma of Eurocentrism. Quoting Chandra Talpade-Mohanty she elaborated that, many Western feminists subject non-Western women to their imperialist gaze by branding them as tradition-bound. She discussed the feminist philosophical debate in India from the postcolonial perspectives with the help of the works of many scholars like Roop Rekha Verma, Shefali Moitra, Meena Kelkar, Deepti Gangavane, Kanchana Natarajan, Ruth Vanita, and so on.
Dr. Mahadevan also talked about C T Mohanty’s critique of “western feminism’s colonizing gesture”. In which she elaborates the three models of feminist interaction between women who are advantaged and those who are not: the feminist as a tourist, an explorer, and as someone in solidarity with the other’s struggles.
In addition, she put forth the need to listen to the underprivileged by those who occupy the position
of privilege. Therefore, when the oppressed represent themselves, can they be heard? If the subalterns speak, can we hear them?
She discussed the example of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri’s suicide and its problematic representations. Further, she highlighted that, as those such as Shailaja Paik, Sharmila Rege, Urmilla Pawar argue, Indian feminism despite being visible with reference to critiques of patriarchal family or dowry deaths has been indifferent to the exploitation and neglect of Dalit women by the larger feminist framework.
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