Theory, a term that throws itself around like a everyday noun. Unaware by most that the word theory causes controversy with every syllable spoken. Tension caused in many debates among feminist center around the word theory. What causes such a riff to form around such debaters? Maybe theory, a word used everyday by some, has more meaning, not just a simple idea. This essay will explore the relationship of theory and social structure. Three authors, Bell Hooks, Kath Weston, and Mary Evens analyze the topic of theory and how it effect feminist views. Critiquing the authors by examining their essays gives a better understanding into the thoughts of feminist. Many definitions of theory presents itself in essays, articles, and ideas.
Theory, a form of ideas. One question to consider is, who’s idea. According to the social hierarchy intellectual individuals have more right to theorize than others. The Dictionary defines theory as “a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based” (Dictionary). Taking that definition into consideration, experience leads to theory. Or so thought. Limitations of theory are the academic forces and intellectual white women. Experience discredit women of color and working class women. Their actions when made into theory are not credited as such. According to Bell Hooks, “…identifying writing by working-class women and women of color as ‘experimental’ while the writing of white women represents ‘theory'” (Hooks 38). Biases set in when theory is presented. Women of color experiences do not count, as far as white women are concerned. How can one experience presided more importance over another. Different ideas make up the definition of theory. How can theory compose itself into a theory without the comparison of other ideas to make it such. Kath Weston agrees with Hooks on the idea that theory cannot limit itself to one race or gender. “In and of itself, theory is neither subversive nor elitist. It need not be confined to a certain discipline or set of disciplines. It is not by definition raced or classed or gendered in particular ways (although people can do theory in such ways as to make it so)” (Weston 42). Manipulation of certain practices is not uncommon among people who consider themselves superior than others. Engineering ideas excludes people who are considered unworthy of such knowledge such as theorizing. Theory in definition has no preference to one gender or race than others. Theory defines itself as presenting ideas, ideas do not discriminate. “It comes with complete reference to European philosophers, fancy footnotes, and words that haven’t yet made it into my students college dictionaries. It has the power to seduce and intrigue as well as intimidate. Most of you know it when you see it. Enough said” (Weston 42). Theory belong to everyone who dares to theorize on issues. Passionately Weston describes what theory can do. It can be everything anyone dream it can be and does not belong to white western philosophers who have claimed the credit of theory. Nor does theory belong to people that claim higher education. Mary Evens agrees with Hooks and Weston, “…the production of feminist theory is in itself often suspect, in that it increases the discrepancy between highly educated women–able to write, and presumably understand, theory–and those women with little or no higher education” (Evans 47). Feminist themselves decides who is able to understand theory and who does not. Even in the institutions of learning, reading centers toward white women. Their actions equals theory while women of color’s actions equals experience (Hooks 38).
A broad definition theory has but limited is its reach. Feminist theory taught in academic institutions limits who can and cannot access it. “The development of feminist theory serves the career and professional interests of those involved in its development, makes experts of a small group and…denies the rank and file of the movement access to decision making and control of the formulation of policy” (Evans 46). In the past and now in the present many people do not have the means to attend academic institutions. Working white women and women of color are banned from learning in past years and not thought of as being smart enough to learn of theory. If thought and ideas did not fit into the mold, then those women were excluded. Theory was thought of as belonging to men. “None of the courses can be said to have been welcomed with wild enthusiasm by the male academic establishment: at best a benign tolerance has allowed academics to teach courses about half of the population which has been generally invisible in much of traditional scholarship” (Evans 45). In the development of theory many people even men and women of color contributed to the idea. Yet women were not allowed to learn in these institution, women were frown upon and not thought of as intelligent. Women’s studies is not thought of as a course, even now in modern times. Women had to fight for their right to learn in academic institutions. Without action or experience of women there cannot be theory it would stay an idea. “As long as the university remains ‘the’ central site for the development of the feminist scholarship, it will be necessary for us to examine the ways in which our work can be and is undermined” (Hooks 38). Real experiences of women are not taken seriously. Their worldliness thought of as a joke, theory is not anything that can be explained to everyday folk according to men and so called well educated white women. Theory and women studies do not only have to be taught in institutions but can be discussed in everyday conversation. ” …what cannot be read can be talked about, and talking, both in lectures and in everyday conversation, is the effective way to share information about feminist theory as is published material (Hooks 40). Just because theory is not taught in a institution does not make it non theoretical. It can be just as much theory in outside conversation then not. Academia is turing theory and women’s studies into something unteachable. It is turning into something robotic, not taking into account different women’s ideas. “Much of the little theoretical work done by women of color is not readily accessible–yet it can be found (Hooks 39). Material from people all over the world can be found but it is not thought about. Women’s studies like to stay in a safe zone. All theory should be brought to the table to create better theories, new theories. The idea that theory belong to the elite needs to be done away with. Any one can create theory and that needs to be known.
Theory, a more complicated word then one would know. Students learn about theory at a very young age and would not think about theory belong to only an elite few. First thought about theory is, it belong to everyone because anyone can create theory. There is not a right or wrong theory and discussing who’s theory is correct takes away from time that can be done to change what the theory is suggesting. By comparing and analyzing three different writing styles, there is a deeper understanding of what theory is about. More complications come with the word theory than imaginable. Theory, not just for the academic but for everyone who wants to present their idea.
Evan, Mary. In the Praise of Theory: The Case for Women’s Studies. Feminist Kemp & Squires eds. Oxford: Oxford up, 1997.
Hooks, Bell. Feminist Theory: a Radical Agenda. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston: South End, 1989.
Weston, Kath. Theory, Theory, Who’s got the Theory or Why I’m Tired of the Debate. GLQ. vol.2, pp.347-349. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers SA, 1995.
Dictionary. www. dictionary.com