Last Updated 10 Aug 2020

Feminist Movements and Ideologies

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Feminism can simply be defined as a very complex perspective which looks at various political and ideological movements and also believes in the sharing of a common goal. According to Humm (1995), feminism shares three major perceptions which are: (a) gender is a societal construction which oppresses women more than men, (b) this societal construction is shaped by men, and (c) women’s experimental knowledge would be responsible for a future non-sexist society. Feminist groups also seeks to establish educational and professional opportunities for women.

Empiricism on the other hand, according to is the philosophical belief which believes that sensory experiences is the sole or primary justification of knowledge (Anderson, 2000).

Feminist empiricism, therefore can simply be defined as a perspective within feminist research that combines the objectives and observations of feminism with the research methods and empiricism. Hundleby (2011) believes that it draws in various ways on the philosophical tradition of empiricism which gives importance to knowledge based on experience.

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Origin, Proponenets, Variations

Feminist empiricism proposes that feminist theories can be objectively proven through evidence. Feminist empiricism critiques what it perceives to be inadequacies and biases within the mainstream research methods including positivism. Feminist empiricism is one of three main feminist epistemological perspectives. The other two are standpoint feminism and post-structural/postmodern feminism.

Broadly speaking, feminist empiricism is any epistemology that combines empiricist methodology with feminist political goals. It is a matter of controversy, however, whether this combination is viable. Many feminists believe that empiricist methods are by their nature incompatible with the pursuit of feminist political goals. Sandra Harding, for example, has argued that the goal of removing sexism and androcentrism from science cannot be achieved by applying the existing empiricist norms of scientific inquiry.

Her argument is that empiricist methodology, because it is rooted in positivism, ignores the role of contextual values in science and lacks sufficient reflexivity and objectivity to situate itself in the same plane as the objects under study.

From the classical empiricists to some early twentieth-century theorists, empiricists held that the content of experience could be described in fixed, basic, theory-neutral terms for example sense data. Most also supposed that philosophy could provide a transcendent or external justification for empirical or scientific methods. Quine revolutionized empiricism by rejecting both these ideas. For Quine, observation is theory-laden. It is cast in terms of complex concepts not immediately given experience, which are potentially subject to revision in light of further experience (Quine, 1963).

And epistemology, far from providing a scientific vindication of science, is just another project within science, in which we empirically investigate our own practices of inquiry (Quine, 1969). In these respects, feminists empiricists are the daughters of Quine. However, Quine accepted a sharp division between facts and values that feminist empiricists argument cannot be sustained within a thoroughly naturalized empiricism.

Feminists empiricists consider how feminists values can legitimately inform empirical inquiry, and how scientific methods can be improved in light of feminist demonstrations of sex bias in currently accepted methods. Their version of naturalized epistemology therefore does not follow Quine in epistemology to nonnormative psychological investigations, but rather upholds the roles of value judgments in rigorous empirical inquiry (Campbell 1998, Nelson, 1990).

Position About Knowlwdge, Its Existence And Acquisition

Though feminist empiricism appears in these ways to be consistent with empiricist tendencies, further consideration reveals that the feminist component deeply undercuts the assumptions of traditional empiricism in three ways: feminist empiricism has a radical future. In the first place, feminist empiricism argues that the context of discovery is just as important as the context of justification for eliminating social biases that contribute to partial and distorted explanations and understandings.

Traditional empiricism insists that the social identity of the observer is irrelevant to the goodness of the results of research. It is not supposed to make a difference to the explanatory power, objectivity, and so on of the research in its results if the researcher or the community of scientists are white or black, Chinese or British, rich or poor in social origin. But feminist empiricism argues that women as a group are more likely than men as a group to produce claims unbiased by androcentrism, and in that sense objective results of inquiry.

It argues that authors of the favoured social theories are not anonymous at all: they are clearly men, and usually men of the dominant classes, races and cultures. The people who identify and define scientific problems leave their social fingerprints on the problems and their favoured solutions to them.

Goals For Pursuing Knowledge

Feminist empiricism makes the related claim that the scientific method is not effective in eliminating social biases that are widespread as androcentrism. This is especially the case when androcentrism arrives in the inquiry process through the identification and definition of research problems. In view of this, feminist empiricism’s goal for pursuing knowledge on a general platform is to try and understand the world around them by grounding their methodologies in what their senses can know as well as what their methods can really measure.

They, thus, also seek to:

  • Ensure that empirical questions and methods are pushed and addressed so that the biases that led the traditional positivist paradigm to produce less than objective results are rectified.
  • Ensure that issues that the traditional positivist paradigm research neglected and made invincible are addressed. Among these are issues that deals with women and their experiences and perspectives as the direct research subject to be questioned, examined, and known through the research process.
  • Ensure that women are included in the questions that the social sciences and natural sciences have traditionally asked.
  • Impact on inquiry of social practices relating to gender, race, class and other bases of inequality.
  • Advocate a socialized epistemology which is treated as a fundamental social process with the subject of knowledge as communities or networks of individuals.
  • Ensure that problems such as androcentric biases and stereotype reconstruction identified with the traditional positivist paradigm redressed.

Truth And How To Verify It

Feminist empiricists believes that there are multiple truth and that these can be found ane formed through experience (Leckenby, 2007).

They also believe that truth is dependent on the uses to which it is put and that many of such truth are practicable and are derived from social interests.

Finally, to feminist empiricists, truth is acquired through enquiry.

Criticism To Mainstream Epistemic Position

Initial concerns that women have been left out as objects of research led to the discovery of androcentric bias in research design and in theory construction. Feminist scholars turned from developing the now substantial body of discipline-specific work to a critique of the scientific method, its use, and application.

These criticisms, found in feminist empiricism, themselves raised significant questions about objectivity and subject neutrality that challenged the basis of the empiricist epistemology underlying traditional science. These contradictions led feminist standpoints theorists to reject empiricism althogether. The questions of ontological position raised in turn by standpoint theory were taken up by the postmodernists, who are elaborating an even broader challenge to the enlightenment ideals of universalism and unitary truth.

An awareness of women’s issues and the gendered nature of social relationships has entered the field of planning. Research has been done on women and gender issues in land use, zoning, housing, economic development, transportation and urban design. In all these areas, the gendered nature of spatial patterns and relationships has been explored, and the disparate effects on women and men from policies that previously had been seen as nongendered have been analyzed.

Feminist empiricism rarely receives complimentary treatment in overviews of feminist epistemologies and science studies, in large part because it has been misunderstood. The theoretical conservativeness of empiricism does not entail a political conservativeness. The most potentially regressive approach to feminist empiricism may be naturalism because it defers to scientific input, which inevitably reflects the status quo. Yet the reflexive revolutionary spirit of naturalism challenges even its own empiricist precepts.

Connection To Development Theory

Employing empiricism provides feminists with valuable purchase in the dominant culture and access to the power of scientific resources. These advantages imbue empiricism with a radical potential that both critics of feminist empiricism (Harding, 1986) and defenders of it (Campbell, 1998; Nelson, 1990) recognize to include strategic rhetoric and to go far beyond rhetorical significance.

Further, supporters argue that feminist naturalism demonstrates the radical future of feminist empiricism because it holds all the strengths of the early alternative approaches known as feminist standpoint theory and feminist postmodernism. Feminist naturalism, specifically, provides clear grounds for evaluating not only beliefs but also values and practices that include political views (Tuana, 1992). The broad scope of naturalist critique allows potential support for rationalism, showing that, not only in principle but also in practice, naturalism has revolutionary potential.

Implications For Development

Naturalism’s open-endedness suggests further that feminist empiricism may be mutually complementary with other feminist epistemologies, and encourages treating epistemological choices as provisional, according to the problem at hand, rather than as definitive. There is no one feminist empiricism, but many feminist empiricisms, an epistemological plurality that can be justified—both politically and epistemologically and from an individual and a community level—according to the various views of feminist empiricists.


It cannot be ignored entirely. It must be noted, first, that if Harding is correct that feminists are marginalized, and if it is correct that marginalization confers epistemic privilege, one wonders what happens when and if feminists achieve their goals. The standpoint case for feminist science hinges on the claim that feminists, by virtue of being a repressed political minority, acquire a special insight into the nature of natural processes.

This is a blatant non sequitur. But, even worse, by this very argument, should feminists achieve political equality, they would thereby lose any claim to epistemic and feminist science would accordingly lose its claim to superiority non-feminist science. Also, if Harding chooses to use the philosophical arguments that she believes license a standpoint theory of knowledge, arguments relying on Kuhn and Quine and theorizing associated with the Strong Programme, then she must own up to the logical consequences of such views.

Thus, it becomes inconsistent for her to say, on the one hand, that every epistemology is a tool of the power elite and at the same time maintain that a particular epistemology, feminist standpoint, will generate "less distorted" methods and beliefs. The first claim forecloses the possibility of justifying the latter type of claim on behalf of any particular epistemology.

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