Re: : : The Iroquois and the Early Radical Feminists

holly martelle hayter (martelle@EXECULINK.COM)
Sun, 4 Feb 1996 21:12:47 -0500

that what I do, what I write, as a contemporary feminist, is necessarily
polarizing. And, yes this is very different than asserting "women had/have
power" too meet my agenda. I think what seems to happen frequently is that
many assume "feminism" and assume it is "polarizing". However, some past and
present feminist research in many fields has been affected by and does
sustain a polarizing influence. For example, some of the current "goddess"
literature that has come out in popular and some scholarly archaeological
endeavours. But I do not think that this is a fair characterization of the
plethora of feminist research, or feminist perspectives now in print.
Contemporary feminists (whoever they are? and whatever contemporary
feminism is?) do challenge any type of polarization. Conkey and Tringham
(1995 "Archaeology and the Goddess: Exploring the Contours of
Feminist Archaeology" In Feminisms in the Academy, Domna Stanton and Abigail
Stewart, eds.) adamantly challenge the recent "Goddess" movement that
attempts to portray the past matricentrically, on the basis of
argumentation, evidence, and "agenda." The work that they as well as other
"feminists" do is revisionary and is feminist. The fact that "feminists"
evaluate and criticize some of these often fantastical and sometimes
alternative visions implies, to me, that there are many types of feminisms,
many epistemological positions from which to argue feminist issues, and that
we must be careful to explicate what we mean when using any term like
"feminism." Because many people, including myself and past and present
feminist theorists use homogenizing and essentialist terms like e.g. a
FEMINISM, we create for ourselves a situation where responses become
polarized, primarily because a common response to feminism is to see it as
I think the best way to evaluate any piece of work, "feminist" or
otherwise, is not to immediately cry out "agenda" but first to see how
evidence, epistemology, and agenda (and so on) come together to produce any
The male-female sex/gender polarization that is so much a part of
"Euro-American" (esp. popular) culture: 1) is precisely what was lacking in
Iroquois society (instead, they saw male and female as complementary - each
a side of the same coin, so to speak); 2) what was probably appealing to
early suffragettes; 2) what many contemporary "feminists" are currently
trying to challenge; and 3) what continues to dictate in many scholarly
circles how feminist analyses are presented as well as criticized. Certainly
we can evaluate scholarly arguments by other means than just recognizing
"agenda." In fact, the most influential and successful feminist works
demonstrate nicely how evidence, epistemology, and socio-political factors
work together to produce limited visions of the past; these do not cry out,
and in many cases deny, outright "sexism" or imply any type of sexist and/or
patriarchal (or in many recent cases, matriarchal) plot. (See for example
Donna Haraway's 1989 Primate Visions)

Leif Hendrickson wrote:

>On the contrary, woman's studies are an important part of today's
>curricula. This is very different from the polarizing influence
>of contemporary feminism, and I noted Holly was accurate in using
>the term "suffragettes" rather than "feminists" in her post.

Holly Martelle Hayter
U of Toronto