What Relevance Does Feminist Theory Have In

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What Relevance Does Feminist Theory Have In Academic Geography? Essay, Research Paper Traditionally, geography has recognised the existence of women but has made little effort to investigate the role they have played in society other than in terms of an adjustment to a male-dominated and male-determined order. In 1978 however, Tivers wrote a paper that suggested geography dropped this patronising attitude and began to study how “the other half lives” (cited in Women and Geography Study Group of the I.B.G., 1984). The momentum caused by this paper, and the movement in general, thrust feminist analysis into the forefront of geographical (and many other disciplines) research in the 1980s, signalling its emergence as a social, political and academic force to be reckoned with.

As with all other subdisciplines there are a number of different approaches within feminist geography, but broadly speaking it is “a geography which explicitly takes into account the socially created gender structure of society; and tries to alleviate this gender inequality in the short and long-term” (Women and Geography Study Group of the I.B.G., 1984). Its emergence as a distinct form of analysis owes much to the appearance of the postmodern epistemology. Postmodernism “seeks to recover that which has been excluded” (Bondi, 1990) and hence has resulted in women and ethnic minorities etc. being ‘recovered’ from the academic wastelands. This ‘recovery’ has been effected on the basis that one ‘universal’ (predominantly male) perspective cannot accommodate the

myriad of perspectives offered by different genders, races and ethnicities. It is for this reason that some intellectuals have suggested that postmodernism entails a shift “from the masculine to the androgenous” (Bondi, 1990). Feminist geographers (in particular the Women in Geography Study Group of the Institute of British Geographers; established in 1984), latched on to this postmodern principal, commenting that most geography studies ‘mans relationship with the environment’ and ‘man as an agent of change’ and therefore portrays humanity as being entirely male. They saw academic geography as denying the existence of women in the spatial world, arguing that ‘contemporary’ analysis and teaching centred on male activities; for example, three-quarters of geography

students were taught about industry, focusing on the declining secondary industries that involved full-time, full-waged male labour, with little or no mention of the expanding part-time service sector that involved women (Williams, 1993). They concluded that if geographers were only willing to study the male half of the world’s population, then their theories and analysis of past and present issues were going to be incomplete. It was for this reason that feminist geographers decided to produce a new body of literature, specifically orientated around women and women’s activities in a wholehearted attempt to “make women visible” and “re-value their domestic labour” (Foord and Gregson, 1986). This literature, as well as stressing the value of women and the part they have

to play in society, also pointed out the important differences between men and womens interpretation and use of space. In making this concern one of their key issues, feminist geographers were hoping to highlight the validity and usefulness of fragmenting standard theory to allow an open and widespread study of women that may accentuate their plight, force people to reconsider and add an extra dimension to current geographic enquiry that would make it more holistic. Whereas traditional studies focused on men and the ‘public’ sphere (waged work and political activity etc.), feminist geographers were focusing their attention on ‘promoting’ the contrasting ‘private’ sphere of women (home, family and domestic concerns etc.). This can be seen as an attempt by feminist