The Problem of Exclusion in Feminist Theory and Politics: A Metaphysical Investigation into Constructing a Category of 'Woman'

Journal of Gender Studies 16 (2):139-153 (2007)
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The precondition of any feminist politics – a usable category of ‘woman’ – has proved to be difficult to construct, even proposed to be impossible, given the ‘problem of exclusion’. This is the inevitable exclusion of at least some women, as their lives or experiences do not fit into the necessary and sufficient condition(s) that denotes group membership. In this paper, I propose that the problem of exclusion arises not because of inappropriate category membership criteria, but because of the presumption that categories can only be organised by identity relations or shared properties among their members. This criterion of sameness as well as the characterisation of this exclusion as essentialism attests to a metaphysics that is not conducive to resistance and liberatory projects. Following a strain of hybrid thinking in feminist and post-colonial theory, I outline an alternative pluralist logic that confronts oppressive binaries that impede theory work in gender, sexuality, and race theory, and limit political action and resistance. The problem of exclusion is neither irresolvable nor is it essentialism. Instead it is a denial of subjectivity due to pseudodualistic self/Other dichotomies that can be resisted by adopting a new categorial logic. While this paper focuses on the specific problem of formulating a category of ‘woman’, it has implications for other areas of gender, critical race, and postcolonial theory. Rather than working toward an inclusive category founded on sameness, theorists need to develop independent and positive categories grounded in difference. Our current categorial logic does not permit such a project, and therefore a new metaphysics must be adopted.
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