Having recently finished Carrie Jenkin’s What Love is and What it Could Be, I found myself face to face with the downside of privilege. As a white male, I live in a society optimized for me, which makes it easy for me to pronounce in absolutes on how to live the best life and have it backed up with my personal experiences.
Sure the world of philosophy was (is?) a male dominated discipline, as were many academic disciplins of the past – women weren’t given the opportunity to be “philosophers,” so naturally you wouldn’t expect to see many contributions from female contributors. And still``, the discipline itself shied away from such “feminine” topics as love or even gender. Sure we got the Platonic tale of the two headed, four armed, and four legged proto-humans that were split apart by the gods and forced to seek their “other halves” across eternity – but that was it. Or so it was for a philosophy major in the early 80’s.
Before reading Jenkin’s book, I had no idea that Bertrand Russell wrote Marriage and Morals, a book challenging Victorian morals around sex and family. Apparently this is often left out of his philosophical cannon – and yet why wouldn’t a philosopher take on such questions? Of course, this work ultimately made him declared “morally unfit” to teach at CCNY – so more reason to ignore their existence.
Looking into my own education as a philosophy major that had an interest in existentialism, I have never read Simone de Beauvior, or Hannah Arendt. I just missed Belle Hooks professorship at Oberlin, but even there, I believe she was ghettoed in Women’s Studies. I look back on this and think I was cheated out of a whole host of insights, that weren’t considered significant enough for study as they didn’t fit in with accepted values – patriarchal values. I’m working to fill those gaps now, but what the hell? Its 30 years later.
I read Jenkin’s book wishing that I could have wrote it, but of course it had to be written by her as it was her own experiences of the world that lead her to challenge the traditional line of thinking that guys like me never thought to question. For that I am grateful. I am even more grateful to have so many avenues of thought suddenly open to make me want to engage in philosophy again.
Now I look at all these “controversies” in pop culture, Wonder Woman, the casting of a female Dr. Who, Disney’s replacement of the Red Head as “bride” to the the Red Headed Pirate, and think this is finally an opportunity for some new stories to be told; stories that may push us into thinking bit different and challenging our own expectations. In a Hollywood often criticized for lacking unique thought, this is clearly an opportunity. I can’t help but think this is a good thing even if it does make a world that’s designed a bit less to make my life most convenient or comfortable.
For so long we have been deprived of women’s voices, it’s time to hear them, along with their own experiences and values as it can only enrich us. Honestly though, my feminism is selfish - my hope is these new stories inspire me further to create something new myself. Here’s to the future.