Smitha Radhakrishnan Discusses Feminist Theory

View Segments Segment :

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Link
  • Help
  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Link
  • Help
Successfully saved clip
Find all your clips in My Lists
Failed to save clip
  • Transcript
  • Transcript

    Auto-Scroll: ONOFF 
    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING][Feminist Theory][What is feminist theory?How would you define it for your students?]

    • 00:14

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN: So feminist theoryis an interdisciplinary field of study and theorization[Smitha Radhakrishnan, PhD, Associate Professorin Sociology, Wellesley College]that tries to recognize, examine,critique inequalities between men and women,and gender inequality more generally.But that's really the beginning of it,because once you start looking at this thing called

    • 00:35

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: gender inequality, or gender relations,it opens up this Pandora's box of other ways of thinkingabout differences that appear natural to peoplebut aren't really.So you can't really, anymore, think about feminist theoryindependently of things like critical racetheory, or post-colonial theory, because allof these types of differences are

    • 00:56

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: things that most people in our day-to-day livestend to think of as being natural.And feminist theory allows us to open up that idea of what'snatural and think more carefully about the contextthat produced it.So feminist theory, as I mentioned,is very interdisciplinary.In sociology, though, it serves a particular purpose,because in sociology, we want to try to explain what

    • 01:18

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: we see in the empirical world.We want to try to explain what we're observing.So in that sense, feminist theorygives us a language to think about the gender inequalitiesthat we observe in the world.It gives us a language to talk about it.So it's useful to us because it gives usthat set of tools that we wouldn't otherwise have.[What first inspired you to start academic workin the field of feminist theory?]

    • 01:42

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: What inspired me to start pursuing feminist theory,studying it, thinking about it, engaging with it,really comes from my own life experiencesof growing up and observing various forms of gendering.I probably wouldn't have thought of itas gender inequality in the world.But observing that men and women were doing different things,were valued differently.

    • 02:03

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And there was something that I didn't like about it,but I didn't really know why.And the usual justification is, well,that's just how things are.You have to understand these things.And also being a witness to my own socializationand seeing how I was also gettingsocialized to be a woman-- first a girl,and then a teenage girl, and then a woman.And I was very conscientious about that,

    • 02:26

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: but didn't really have a languagewith which to talk about it.And I think being exposed to studies of gender,as an undergraduate, and then, later on,really coming into this world of feminist theoryas a graduate student, it just something clicked for me.And I could, then, have a languagewith which to think about all those thingsthat I had observed, and say, OK,

    • 02:46

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: what could be some of the possible explanations for that?And I think that's also why it's compelling to students.That students also have these observations.We all have these observations about the world.And we might all also have some discomfort with arrangementsbeing the way that they are.Usually, those of us who experiencesome lack of privilege in some part of our life

    • 03:09

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: are usually quicker to observe those types of inequalitiesthan those of us who are privilegedin every possible area.All of us have some privilege and some disadvantage,so it's complicated.But that, I think, students reallyalready come in with certain observations about the world.And so feminist theory offers this opportunity to really say,

    • 03:31

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: let's start with where you are.Let's start with your observations of the world.And then here's some different explanations.Here's some different ways of thinking about itthat you might not have considered before.And so let's try to examine them.And then, as a sociologist, you can alsodo the work of saying, does this fit?Is this satisfying?Does this really explain something in my world,

    • 03:51

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: or does it not?And so that also engages the studentas a really active participant.You know, theory is not dead.It's not static.It's not something that is the purview of dead white men.It's something that we all have to engage in, and make real,and breathe with it.And that feminist theory very muchoffers that opportunity, as much, if not more than,

    • 04:12

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: any other field of theorizing.[Can you provide an example of an experience that a studenthas had that applies to feminist theory?]It's come out of just introductory sociology.So I teach an Intro to Sociology class.We have a week on gender.And I engage students.And it comes up throughout the semester,because it's a constitutive form of difference.

    • 04:34

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: It interlocks with class, and race, and sexuality,nation, so many other things.And so I try to get students to thinkabout complex inequalities from the intro level.I don't think it's something thatshould be the preserve of graduate students.I think that's one of the fundamental thingsthat sociology has to offer.So I had this one student, in a recent semester, whom,from the very outset, when-- I go around the room.

    • 04:56

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: I teach at a small college, so I can do this.I go around the room and ask people, saya little bit about themselves.And this was one student who grew up partly in India,but had spent most of her life in the United States.And in every interaction, she was very much ill at easewith her own identity, belonging.

    • 05:17

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: You know, she said, I grew up partly in India,but I've lived mostly here.I really don't know what my culture-- I don't know muchabout my culture.And she always seemed to be apologizing for it,and I found it very puzzling.Why?What's so upsetting about that?And she clearly displayed some discomfortaround that in many different situations.And then we came to the gender week, and it came and went.And she came into my office hours.

    • 05:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And we were trying to talk about-- shehad to write a paper about something that pluggedinto her own experiences.And she said, well, I just, I don't know,I don't-- She kept on coming back to this.I don't know anything about my culture.I don't know anything about-- I don'tknow anything very Indian.And she seemed really guilty about this.And so we started talking more.And then she happened to mention that her mother passed away

    • 06:00

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: when she was quite young.And I said, really?Your mother passed away.How old were you?She was like, oh, I was a child.And my dad raised me.And I said, well, I noticed that you constantlymentioned that you don't feel like you'rein touch with your culture.But, you know, for Indian families in the US,keeping up culture-- that's women's work.

    • 06:21

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: That's something that women do.And if you didn't have a mom, it wouldhave been really hard for your dad to do that work for you.And she just-- this look on her face, like she just--like something clicked for her.And she was like, I never thought about it that way.And I said, so if your dad was busy raisingyou and your siblings, and was busy trying to give you

    • 06:44

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: the best education, and do all the other things that he wassupposed to, he's not socialized to also teach youabout Indian culture, and take you to all the functions,and organize all the community stuff,and do all this diasporic work.That's something that women do.And that's how, within the culture,that socialization takes place.And so it wouldn't have occurred to him that that's something

    • 07:05

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: that he should do.And that really-- I could just see her whole face change.This thing, this big thing in her life,had fallen into place, because she got it suddenly.I was like, there's nothing to be ashamed or sad about,that you don't know this, because youhad this incredible loss in your life early on.

    • 07:26

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And because of the ways that we're socialized,your dad didn't do anything wrong.Nobody did anything wrong.You didn't have--And this thing of carrying on cultureis so divided, and so gender-specific,and so undervalued, that we don't even realizethat it's moms who do this.And so that was an interesting experiencewhere I felt like it really affected something key to who

    • 07:49

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: the person was.[How are feminist theory and feminist activism relatedto one another?]Feminist theory is very much in touch with feminist activism.They're really not separate things.They go hand in hand.They inform each other.And so, when we think about what is

    • 08:09

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: the big take-home from feminist theory,there's lots of debates within it.There's lots of branches off of certain schools.There's Marxist feminists, and then people play with itand go in different directions.And that's super interesting.But at the end of the day, all these theorists and activistswant a more inclusive world.That's it.

    • 08:30

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: Right?That's-- in the end, no matter what shape your body is in, nomatter how you identify, no matter how you want to thinkabout that, can we build a society where we all feel likewe have a stake in it, and we all feel included in that?And that, I think, is also really inspiring to students.

    • 08:50

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: [Which areas of feminist theory do you find most usefulor interesting?]Feminist theory-- I mention it's interdisciplinary.It's huge.There's all these different branches and varieties of it.There's a whole branch of feminist theorizingthat thinks about human/robot interactions, for example.There's a whole area that considers animals and humans.

    • 09:12

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: I don't know much about those areas, but they're there.And I'm happy that they're there.And they've been very generative in many different areas.For me, there are three areas that I would identify,that I find, that are very influential in my own work,that are very helpful in explaining the worldthat I see around me.One can be best characterized as Marxist feminism.

    • 09:33

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: This really had its heyday in the '70s,and ended up plugging into really important public policydebates at the time about equal pay for equal work.So Marx, without going into too many details of howKarl Marx is used in this particular area,Marxist feminism really brought to the forethe idea that there is women's work and there's men's work;

    • 09:54

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: and that, in general in the world-- actually,I can't even think of too many exceptionsto this-- women's work that is definedas women's work is paid less.And by the very act of defining itas a kind of work that comes naturally to women,it is less valued.

    • 10:14

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And that is a really, really fundamental idea.And when you really grapple with allof the implications of that, it explainsan awful lot about the world.And it helps us think about-- If we think about patriarchy,another concept which is very central to feminist theory,which is the idea that male power and male dominationis structural.

    • 10:34

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: It's not something which is made up.It's not a theoretical idea.It exists in all these structures in the world.And so one easy way that you can see patriarchyis in the structure of work.And that has been really influential for thinkingabout my own work.And, of course, you never take it straight, right?So you play with it.

    • 10:54

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And you think about it in particular contexts.I've thought about it in the contextof India, and in South Africa, and different sectorsof the economy in the US, as well, because that's my site.That's where I live.This is my site of engagement, in terms of teaching.And so, that, I think-- thinking aboutproductive and reproductive work as beinginterlinked with one another.

    • 11:17

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: Women do all of it, and are usually not valued for it.And so I think that's a really productive area.And there's lots more that I could say about that,but that's the short version of it.A second area that has been really influential and usefulfor me is third-world feminism, orpost-colonial feminist theory.

    • 11:38

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: They're related to each other.One of the foundational works in this fieldis by someone named Chandra Mohanty, whoteaches at the Women's Studies Department now in Syracuse.She's a very famous person.She wrote a very famous article in the late '80scalled "Under Western Eyes."And it's really about how, not only each of us

    • 11:58

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: in everyday life, but a lot of Western feminists, view womenwho live in what we would think of as the third world,or the developing world, or the global south.And she links it to a history of colonialism in those areas,and how women were constructed then,and what the legacy is, and continuitiesare, between the way that gender was constructed

    • 12:18

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: in a colonial moment, and the way in which wecontinue to do that.And so, that has been an area that hasbeen really generative for me.I'm a bicultural kid.I grew up in an immigrant household.And I knew, from a very young age,that there were some things that were different about how thingswere in India and in the US, and there were some things

    • 12:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: that were really the same.And I always was ill at ease-- speaking of forms of inequalitythat make you feel uncomfortable,and you don't know what to say about them--I was always ill at ease with the waythat my white American peers would perceivegender and women in India, or womenin other parts of the world, or even people in my own family.

    • 13:01

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And I always felt like, that not right,but I don't know why it's not right.It's not that things are unfair.There's more to it than that.I always felt-- So post-colonial feminism,third-world feminism, starting with Mohanty and all the workthat's come after that, has really given me a languageto talk about, and a history, and a set of cases,

    • 13:22

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: to really think about why it is that wetend to see third-world women in a very homogenized light.We tend to wash out that they are vastlydifferentiated across lines of class, and race, and caste,and all these other differences that are invisible when you'reover here looking at the whole third world

    • 13:43

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: as if it were one thing.The implications there are epistemological.It helps us to think critically about what we think we know,and go back on it, and say, well, no.Maybe we don't know what we think we know.And so, that's why I find that to be really useful.And then, a third area that I thinkhas been really useful to me is something which there'sa lot of debate about whether it's actually a feminist theory

    • 14:05

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: or not.And that's a whole nother thing.And that's something called intersectionality.And there is a lively debate about whether or notit's a feminist theory.It has been claimed as a feminist theory.And the reason that there's debate about itis that it's quite open-ended.And it doesn't really say, we have gender inequalitybecause of X, the way that, say, the Marxist feminists do.

    • 14:26

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: It's a very different type of theory.It's more like a perspective.It's more like a lens on the world that says,we can't look at gender inequality all by itself.We have to look at it at the same timethat we are also looking at racial inequality, classinequality, geographical inequality, sexuality-- so

    • 14:46

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: many other systems of power, structures of power,that change who we are.OK, so how do-- Some people see this as, really, an identitything.I think that sells it short, because it's reallyabout structures of power.So a white working-class woman has a very different typeof femininity, a very different experienceof what the world looks like, than a white middle-class

    • 15:10

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: woman.Right?They might both be women, they might both be white.But their class differences give them a very, very differentperspective on the world.To say that they both have the same experiences,or that they see the same world, doesn't really work.It doesn't actually fit.So if you think about all the knowledge

    • 15:31

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: that there is in the world as a global, sphere of some sort,and then think about each person as occupyinga little dot on that sphere, you'llget an idea of what standpoint theory is.So standpoint theory is this feminist ideathat we never can see the whole.What we know comes from our individual standpoint

    • 15:54

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: on that sphere.So this really takes away the hierarchyof official, top-down knowledge.I know because I am the professor,and I have some kind of official knowledgethat I have to disseminate to all of you.No.That's not the idea behind standpoint theory.The idea of behind standpoint theoryis that there is a whole knowledge, and you have some,

    • 16:16

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: I have some, and other people have somefrom their own experiences.And in order to really get a holistic view,we need all of it.And so that elite knowledge-- that's just one point, or maybethe point of a few people who arelocated in a similar spot on the globe of knowledge.But we have to actually converse with each otherif we want to have a more holistic view.

    • 16:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And that's something which also blows students' minds, when youreally start to think about it.It seems obvious.The best theories are those that, when you explain them,they seem obvious.Like, oh, of course.Why didn't I think of that before?That makes perfect sense.But that whole idea that knowledge is subjective,

    • 16:59

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: and that different knowledges matter,and that they're based on experiences--I think that's a really key, foundational ideawithin feminist thinking.And then that also has gone in a million different directions,for various different activist and academic--it fulfills different needs across that spectrum.[What are the key differences in terms of the development

    • 17:20

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: of feminist theory across different cultures?]Feminist theory is so big that I wouldn'tclaim to be able to know about feminist theoriesfrom all over the world.Each region has its own vibrant traditionsof theorizing and activism around women's choices.

    • 17:42

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: The lives that women lead, in each area of the world,are really different.And we are poorly equipped, in fact, to know.Hasn't been great circulation of some of the ideasfrom parts of the world that just don't get tractionin the West, for various reasons of knowledge and power.

    • 18:03

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: So, despite the fact that there areso many different traditions of feministtheorizing all over the world that Iam aware of, and many that I'm sure I'm not aware ofand would love to learn about, I think the point of convergenceis really about valuing women, expanding women's choicesin whatever way that may mean.That idea of expanding choice may be quite different

    • 18:25

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: in different parts of the world.I think we have a very particular version of thatin the United States, and that that may look differentin other parts of the world.And creating a society in which womenhave greater stake, greater representation,and a chance to participate more fullyin every aspect of society.

    • 18:46

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: [Can you provide any examples of key research in the field thathas had a direct impact on policy or practice outsideof academia and what changed as a result?]So if we think about the impact that feminist theorizing hashad on the world overall, it's huge.It's many faceted.It would be hard to pinpoint a single thing.What I think is exciting to think about,

    • 19:08

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: when I consider this question, is that feminist theory alwaysworks with activism, and they're hand-in-hand.They inform each other.Some of the areas that I'm most familiar withhave to do with work, because that'san area that I am interested in, I've done research on.So the Marxist feminists, going back to somethingthat I was talking about earlier,really highlighted this idea that women and men

    • 19:28

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: are valued differently for the workthat they do-- that work that's known as women's work,whether it's child-bearing and child care, whether it'snursing, whether it's receptionistwork-- if it's thought to be somethingthat women can do better naturally,it's usually paid less.Usually.Always.Can't think of a single exception,in fact, that were considered to be women's work is paid less.

    • 19:52

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: It's very hard to find an exception to that.And that idea, I think, has reallyled to a lot of feminist activism,especially around the Equal Pay movement.And in 2008, the Lilly Ledbetter Actwas passed, very, very belatedly.It's incredible to think that we have not had legislationin place that enforces equal pay for equal work until 2008.

    • 20:19

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: There was equal pay legislation on the booksprior to that, that came with the Equal Rightslegislation of the '60s, but it was not--the gender component of it was notenforceable in many different areas.Definitely check out Lilly Ledbetter, her history,the story of that, what happened in that legislative story,

    • 20:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: to learn more, because it's a really interesting storyand gives you a lot of insight into our political system.So I think that's a huge area.But I think that it also-- feminist theory activism,there's a lot of room to go, a lot of roomto push, even in this one area, whichis that, even though we have equal pay for equal work,

    • 20:59

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: we don't really think about why itis that women continue to be segregatedin low-wage occupations.So a lot of the criticism of the Equal Pay for Equal Work that'scome out of economics and other areashas been that, well, women and mendon't do the same kind of work.So equal pay for equal work, sure.But, but being a receptionist is just not

    • 21:21

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: as valuable as whoever she's a receptionist for.And I get that.But feminist theory helps us to ask, why is that?So then, why is it that women continueto be segregated in these low-paid fields.What is it about childcare, about caring industries, that

    • 21:42

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: continue to be seen as something that women can and should do,and should be paid less for it.And so, in that sense, I feel like we're justat the beginning of really asking those questions.It's, in a way, kind of depressingwhen we think about how little traction we'vegotten on some of those issues.And because of various global arrangements

    • 22:03

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: now, and even prior to mass migrationfrom other parts of the world, ithas increasingly been the case that when women outsourcedomestic duties, they outsource itto other women who are poorer, rather than sharingit equally with men.And that's really at the root of all of this.And that we have not really done a lot

    • 22:25

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: about that arrangement in our society, or in most societies.There's signs that it's changing, maybe.But I think feminist theorizing is right at the center of that,and can do a lot to inform-- inform that debate,inform where it's going, inform our languageand thinking around what that is,make us more conscientious about it.Recently on National Public Radio,

    • 22:46

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: there was an extensive series about the conditions of nurses,the fact that many nurses suffer from long-term, debilitatingback injuries.And they tried to figure out why that was.And so a lot of these women, nurses especially,they would work for 20, 30 years in a nursing career,

    • 23:08

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: have many smaller injuries, and finallyhave a debilitating back injury.That would put them on disability for years on end,essentially end their careers.And then the hospitals wouldn't necessarily provide for their--It would end their retirement.It would end all kinds of things,and really condemn them to a pretty miserable existence,

    • 23:28

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: when they once had a flourishing career that theywere doing so well at.So the investigative report looked deeply into, well,why was this happening so disproportionately to nurses?And what they found is that nurseswere being required to lift patients,to lift patients who are sometimes 200,300 pounds, sometimes by themselves.And there was a particular way in whichthey were taught to lift in nursing school that's

    • 23:49

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: supposed to be comforting to the patient, that'ssupposed to be safe.And what they were finding is that it never was safe,and that they were essentially asking peoplethat-- All the physical therapists said it's actuallyimpossible to do this safely, and that the safe way to do itwould be to have it done mechanically--to have a kind of robot arm that would come and enclose

    • 24:12

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: the patient, and lift the patient safely to the bathroom,or to something else.This equipment is expensive.Nurses are cheaper.And there was a very interesting comparison in the study,that I think really gets at the heart of the relevanceof feminist theory, which is that, in very masculine factorywork at an auto manufacturing plant,it is illegal-- it is against the policies of most

    • 24:35

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: factories-- for men to lift more than 40 pounds on the jobwithout the help of a robot.But it's perfectly OK for women nursesto help out 300-pound patients out of their bedsand to the bathroom, because that'swhat nurses are supposed to do.So if you don't know something about feminist theory,

    • 24:58

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: that might strike you as odd, but you might notput the two together.And you might not think about there is something structurallyunequal about the fact that hospitals thinkit's OK to permanently damage the backs of women workers,and that factory work, which is masculine work,takes such great pains to make sure that their workers are

    • 25:19

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: safe, physically.It costs about $20,000-- I can't remember --tens of thousands of dollars for each one of those.And the hospital saw that as unnecessarily expensive.You'd be amazed at how many hospitals would nottalk to these reporters, because they said, well,we have a perfectly fair plan in place for all our--It's very unfortunate.They saw all of these incidents that nurses were experiencingas one-off things, as one-off cases-- maybe a nurse not doing

    • 25:42

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: her job properly, not following the instructions of nursingschool, whatever it might be-- and refusedto see this as a systemic problem thatrequires a systemic solution, that requires us to actuallyinvest in our facilities to make the work safe for the peoplewho work here.And they did, in the end of that series,look at a couple of hospitals that did have these in place,

    • 26:02

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: and how different the conditions were,and how patients very-- The excuse was often that,well, patients will never be OK with being lifted by a robot.But, in fact, in the hospitals where they did it,patients are perfectly comfortable with it,because these are high-tech robots.It's not even a robot.It's like an arm with a cloth that goes under them,

    • 26:23

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: and then cradles them safely and carries them to the bathroom.If that's what everybody else is doing,you have no problem with it.It's probably more comfortable for the patient,because you're not relying on one or two peopleto actually do that.And you need different hospital policies in place.If that arm isn't in every room, thencan you mainstream personnel in a way

    • 26:44

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: that you can get patients who need to be liftedto a place where there is one?Can you bring one into the room quickly?There's a whole host of organizational issuesthat come up, as soon as you start implementing this.But it's costly to make it a priority.And that was exposed very dramaticallyin that series of stories.[Which key thinkers have most inspired you,and who continues to influence you?]

    • 27:08

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: Some of the thinkers that have really influenced me,and that I continue to really be inspired by in this area,include a number of post-colonial thinkers,such as Chandra Mohanty, whom I've already mentioned,Gayatri Spivak, who has written a couple of reallyfoundational articles that relate to this area.Patricia Hill Collins, the first African-American woman

    • 27:32

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: president of the ASA.She was the 100th, or 105th.She's done groundbreaking work.One of her books, Black Feminist Thought,is a book that I think every student should read,even if they think this might not be the field for them,to definitely read that book, because it reallychanges the way that you look at everything.So Patricia Hill Collins.

    • 27:53

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: Naila Kabeer is an economist who worksin the UK, who is not necessarilya feminist theorist, but I continueto be inspired by her work, because she both looksat the economy and takes women's accountsof their own experiences seriously,which is unusual, and important, and interesting,and something which I strive to do in my own work--taking the perspectives of the most marginalized

    • 28:14

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: seriously, and really engaging them.So I like her work.Cynthia Enloe is another author that Ithink I've grown to love even more than Idid the first time that I read her as an undergraduate.She wrote a really famous book called Bananas, Beaches,and Bases-- Making Feminist SenseOut of International Politics.And that is a really great read.

    • 28:35

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: It's written very accessibly.It's an old book.It may seem dated.Some of the data that she draws from is early '90s.But the arguments that she makes are absolutely right on,and still are absolutely relevantto the world that we see around us today.She makes really insightful senseof things like the global factory assembly

    • 28:55

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: line, things like romances on bases,relations between men and women.She looks at gender, sexuality, international politics,power between countries, and reallyhelps us think about it from the perspectiveof feminist politics.And what women are doing.The simple question of what women are doing.

    • 29:17

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: Joan Scott is another really important theorist.Undergraduates may not necessarilyknow what to do with her, because she's an historian,and her theories can seem a little bit esoteric.But I think that her perspective,that we need a gender lens on history--so simply look at history and ask, where are the women?What were they doing?--completely changes our understanding

    • 29:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: of any era of history that we think we know about.I think that's a really critical insight.So I always bring her in to my lectures, as well.So those are some of my favorites.[What are the major academic debatesin the fields in which you work?What are the principal areas of contention and why?]So we often hear that there are a lot of waves and divisions

    • 30:02

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: in feminist thinking.My study of these topics have not reallybeen framed in that way, and I'm notsure that really gets us to identifywhich feminist theorists and work is helpful to usand what's not.So I think about it a lot more broadly.I think that there are tensions in the field.There are alternate ways of thinking

    • 30:22

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: about that big question, about why is there gender inequality?How does it work in the world?And I think most feminist theories todaytry to draw from two very broad well-springs of explanations.And so I'll just outline what those are,and then talk little bit about what some of the divisionsmight be.

    • 30:43

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And I wouldn't even call them divisions, because it'smore like a conversation.These are different areas.And some people emphasize one more.Some people emphasize the other more.So one area is going back to what I was sayingabout the Marxist feminists.So the idea that we can understand gender inequalityby looking at the economics of the material world.And that other things-- culture, cultural differences,

    • 31:08

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: expectations-- hing upon that.And so, if we change the economic structure,we can change a lot of other things, as well.And I think that that continues to be a really compelling setof ideas, set of theories, about how the world works,where activism should be focused.That's one stream.And then there's another stream, inspiredby the work of Michel Foucault, a French theorist, who

    • 31:30

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: really talks about, who are much more interested in discourse.And I would define discourse very broadlyas patterns of speech and knowledge,how different ideas get bundled together.Discourse also sets boundaries on what's sayableand what's thinkable.And so, feminists have also taken Michel Foucault's ideas

    • 31:54

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: and really played with them, expanded on them,to think about gender itself as being a set of discourses,a set of performances.And that has been very, very generative and interesting,and has produced a set of critiquesof this Marxist feminist school, a deconstructionist impulse

    • 32:15

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: within the field.I think today, most sociologists drawfrom both of these traditions, and understand that it's notentirely true that if you change the economic structure,that everything else will follow,because discourse also has a life of its own,and it affects practices.And there is really a conversationbetween these two things.

    • 32:36

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: And so I think that is really one of the big tensionswithin feminist theorizing.There are probably many others that I'm not aware of.As I said, it's a big thing.But certainly, for sociologists, theseare the kinds of things that keep us up at night.Pierre Bourdieu has been really influential in this area,as well.And feminists have taken the ideas of Bourdieu

    • 32:57

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: about disposition, and habitus, and femininity,and really thought about it in gendered terms-- which Bourdieudidn't do much of, himself, but feminists have taken that idea.So those are some of the areas that Ithink have been-- that's where feminist theorists arethinking.This is the toolkit that they're using to try

    • 33:18

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: to explain empirical phenomena.And I don't think that they are oppositional, so much.There are certainly debates across those areas.But they are all working togetherto explain different things in the world.And I think, in my view, some empirical objects are betterexplained by some of these toolkits than others.

    • 33:39

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: So, for example, if you are just interested in mediarepresentations of women, and howwomen get represented on the screen,you need discourse analysis.Marx is not going to be super helpful there.There may be a materiality to it,and I'm sure that it exists.It's important to look at.But you're going to get some immediate tractionfrom thinking about, well, how are women presented?

    • 34:00

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: What do they say?How do they say it?What's never said?Where is the absence?You're going to get a lot out of looking at it discursively,because you're analyzing a discursive product.If you're looking at work, going backto some of the other things that I was discussing,discourse is really helpful.You need to be able to understand, why do peoplethink that women's work is good for women?

    • 34:21

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: But the economics of it gets you an awful lot of traction.So depending on the empirical object,you may choose a different set of theoretical toolsto work with.And I really think that's the bestway to think about different schools of feminist thinking.What works, and different-- I think it's all valuable,and you need to use what you can that's appropriate to the

    • 34:43

      SMITHA RADHAKRISHNAN [continued]: object that you're studying.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Smitha Radhakrishnan Discusses Feminist Theory

View Segments Segment :


Dr. Smitha Radhakrishna explains feminist theory as a way of examining inequalities between men and women. She discusses how it is really an interdisciplinary field, incorporating class, race, and other types of difference. Radhakrishna also highlights the two main schools of feminist thought.

SAGE Video Experts
Smitha Radhakrishnan Discusses Feminist Theory

Dr. Smitha Radhakrishna explains feminist theory as a way of examining inequalities between men and women. She discusses how it is really an interdisciplinary field, incorporating class, race, and other types of difference. Radhakrishna also highlights the two main schools of feminist thought.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website

Back to Top