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Who is Hélène Cixous?

Hélène Cixous (1937—) is best known to philosophers for her The Laugh of the Medusa and Sorties (both 1975). These works constitute an anti-essentialist exhortation for women to reclaim their bodily experience in a new form of feminine writing, écriture féminine. Cixous has been interpreted to advocate bisexuality and multiplicities of sexuality in ways believed to have prefigured queer theory.

Why are LBGT studies and queer theory part of philosophy now?

They have become part of philosophy along with an overall interest in expanding cultural studies to include attention to issues previously neglected. This change has been part of the humanities, generally, and philosophers have focused on conceptual issues related to these fields.

Queer theory emerged in the 1990s, along with LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual) studies, as a positive affirmation of sexual difference that does not fit into any of its predecessor categories, including lesbianism. Good overviews on the subject may be found in Naomi Schor's Feminism Meets Queer Theory (1997), and helpful works on transsexuality are Susan Stryker's Transgender History (2008), and Laurie Shrage's You've Changed (2009).

Why has there been a third wave in feminism?

According to its critics, the second wave was presumed to speak for all women while it merely propounded the interests of a small group of white, privileged American intellectual women. Two books crystallized this complaint: bell hooks' (she spelled her name in all lowercase letters) Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981) brought attention to oppression due to race suffered by women of color. Elizabeth V. Spelman pointed out the problems of a universalizing trend within feminism that left out differences among women in Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (1988).

White feminist complaints about "glass ceilings," or invisible barriers to top positions in business, on the one hand and the stultifying aspects of home-making on the other, did not resonate with all other women. Poor women and women of color had worked outside their own homes, in factories and fields, or the homes of other women, for centuries; the "second shift" was not new to them. Because of this, a third wave was needed to address all women's needs.

How did race become important in feminist philosophy?

The complexity of feminist issues of race were underscored by University of California at Los Angeles law professor Kimberle Crewshaw's groundbreaking paper, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics" (University of Chicago Legal Forum 139-67, 1989). Kimberle's work introduced the problems of intersectionality, whereby oppressions due to race and gender can't simply be added because they result in distinctive new identities that form a situation of new forms of discrimination.

Kimberle argued that black women are not protected by either discrimination laws for women or by discrimination laws for blacks—white women take precedence over them in the first instance and black men in the second. That is, anti-discrimination laws are satisfied in the letter of the law by protecting groups of women in which white women dominate, and groups of blacks in which men dominate. The result is that black women are not legally protected as black women.

What is the problem caused by intersectionality?

The result of all the intersectionalities has been a widely accepted equation that race + class = gender, resulting in a multiplicity of women's genders that prevents the possibility of women working together or even identifying in the same way. And the result of that is an unspecified number of feminisms. Once different women's genders are recognized, it can be very difficult for them to reunite as women. For example in their essay "Have We Got a Theory for You!" (1998), Maria C. Lugones and Elisabeth V. Spelman use a dialogue to show how some differences in Angla and Latina cultural experience simply cannot be translated into each other's framework of understanding.

Can the problem of intersectionality be solved?

Many theorists believe it can if there is a shared understanding of what women have in common. One possibility, developed by Naomi Zack in Inclusive Feminism: A Third

What further problems of inclusion did second wave feminists face?

The problem of not having addressed racism was compounded by neglect of social class inequalities in the second wave. Furthermore, while the goals of Western feminists appeared to be androgynous equality with men, women in the Third World were constructing feminisms based on their traditional roles as wives and mothers in times of political upheaval. Some of these projects are discussed in Decentering the Center: Philosophy for a Multicultural, Postcolonial and Feminist World (2000), edited by Uma Narayan and Sandra Harding, and Haleh Afshared's Women and Politics in the Third World (1996). The way in which poor American women have been left out of the abortion debates is treated by Laurie Shrage in Abortion and Social Responsibility: Depolarizing the Debate (2003).

Wave Theory of Women's Commonality (2005), is that all women share a relation to an historical category that has been oppressed: the group of mothers, or birth females, or men's heterosexual choices. A second, developed by Cressida J. Heyes in Line Drawings: Defining Women Through Feminist Practice, is that women share Wittgensteinian "family resemblances."

Why is the unity or commonality of women important?

Although the entire world knows which human beings are "women" and not "men," if feminists cannot agree on this matter then it is not clear how feminism can advocate for the well-being of women. Third World, poor, and racially marginalized women need the support of First World women, who in turn might learn from the practical forms of organizations developed in less advantaged countries and cultures. Without a perceived commonality among women, there is no basis on which common political ends, such as health care, education, child care for working mothers, and preservation and care of the natural environment, can be collectively pursued by feminists.

 
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