In chapter ten of her text Whose Science Whose Knowledge, Sandra Harding introduces the standpoint of a distinct lesbian epistemology. Her objective is to acknowledge a perspective that will recognize the viewpoint of all women and not just heterosexual women that are seen by the androcentric stipulations as essential or typical. Harding’s valuable argument begins with the conceptualization of “what is a lesbian”(Harding, 250): if that is definable in any such terms at all. Harding then adds to her idea of a lesbian epistemology by examining lesbian contributions to feminist thought and scientific advantages.
Interestingly, Harding’s analysis begins with the idea that there is not a clear definable trait that can be agreed on in defining the term lesbian. Lesbianism, according to the dominant ideology, insinuates that a woman must have sex with another woman to be categorized as such. Nonetheless what evidence is there to establish that a sexual relation exists A male centered viewpoint would insist that this is the case, nevertheless, Harding allows the categorization of lesbian to be defined by those women who chose to use the term themselves ” privileging an autonomy for lesbians to name themselves and their worlds as they wish.. ” (Harding, 252).
However, Harding points out that Adrienne Rich thinks instead that ”… one should think of a ‘lesbian continuum’… all women who have engaged in resistance against compulsory heterosexuality, whether or not they have actually had sexual relations with another woman. ” (Harding, 250). In constructing her discussion that there should be a lesbian standpoint Harding includes the significant contributions that such a standpoint would have towards feminist thought. In brief, according to Harding, the basic framework of a lesbian contribution to a feminist standpoint includes seeing women in relation to other women.
Harding argues that a lesbian perspective accomplishes this in a variety of ways. Bonnie Zimmerman suggests that through female bonding and breaking the myth of the negative/positive stereotypes of ”… witch or saint.. .” (Harding, 254) lesbians have enabled women to view themselves as independent persons and individuals rather than ”… as appendages or as a class.. .” (Harding, 254). As well, Harding notes that women have seen each other in terms of each other as rivals, and in definitions established by male perspectives (Harding, 254).
This perspective can, also, “… rovide a clear sense of the potential for a kind of female independence that is invisible from the perspective of heterosexual women’s lives. ” (Harding, 257). Next Harding examines lesbian contributions to the notion that women as heterosexual and female sexuality are social constructs and not biological facts. Harding affirms these elements in a lesbian standpoint by pointing out that heterosexuality does differ from culture to culture and throughout history. In addition Gail Rubin, used the ideals of Freud and Levis-Struass to show the social construct of heterosexuality.
Harding stressed this point by suggesting that further reading of Rubin’s work in comparison to a lesbian perspective showed ”… compulsory heterosexuality restrict women in ways that do not restrict men. Kinship systems are constructed… [and] women… are property that men give each other.. .” (Harding, 258). Further to this point, a lesbian standpoint ”.. .centers female sexuality.. .” (Harding, 259) maintaining that women manufacture female sexuality implying that the physical nature of a woman in relation to sexual attitudes or activity must comply with androcentric needs.
For example female sexuality has been seen as a biological object in terms of reproduction of the species and an economic object when women ”… trade it to men in return for economic support.. .” (Harding, 259). Also, as a ‘political object’ in that aristocratic families used their daughters to construct family relations through marriages and exchanges of daughters (Harding, 260). Daughters were exchanged as a matter of good will between families or in the case of marriages to maintain political alliances as now two families are joined.
Likewise, Harding examines how lesbian epistemology contributes to ideas of women’s sexual oppression and how gyneophobia contributes to racism. Women’s sexual oppression has its roots deeply embedded in history beginning with Aristotle’s views of the inferiority of women because of their lack of semen, to common conceptualizations of the ”… perversions… [and]… animal like” (Harding, 262) nature of deviant or ‘unnatural’ sexual choices that do not conform to white, heterosexual, male dominated ideas.
As well, Harding declares that a “lesbian standpoint shows that gynephobia supports racism… by blocking white women’s ability to identify with the concerns of women of color as women of color – with their concerns as mothers.. .” (Harding, 263). By not being able to identify with other women Harding is showing that the loss of shared experiences can create a situation where women hate each other rather than celebrate their commonalties.
The final ideal in Harding’s argument for a lesbian epistemology is formed in the ”… nalogous arguments about the scientific advantages to be gained.. .” (264) by our society in relation to a different perspective of knowledge and thought. First, Harding suggests there would be a less partial and distorted understanding of social relations as the lesbian perspective has been “… devalued and neglected as origin points.. .” (264) and a new source for information. Second, lesbianism asks how and why the control of female sexuality can contribute to a racism, capitalism and male dominance.
Third, this perspective can “… eveal the caring and valuing of women, the prioritizing of their welfare.. .” (Harding, 265). Finally, the lesbian perspective “permits various cultural ‘irrationalities’ to emerge… [such as the]… ‘normal’ female dependency and so-called male ‘autonomy’.. .” (265). In conclusion, Sandra Harding introduces the standpoint of a distinct lesbian epistemology to acknowledge a perspective that will recognize the viewpoint of all women and not just heterosexual women that are seen by the androcentric stipulations as essential or typical.
She begins with the conceptualization of what a lesbian is and then turns to examining lesbian contributions to feminist thought and the scientific advantages of such a standpoint. Overall Harding has presented an additional theory of knowledge that not only “… show[s] how to move from including others’ lives and thoughts in research and scholarly projects to starting from their lives to ask research questions, develop theoretical concepts, design research, collect data, and interpret findings. ” (Harding, 268).