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Received: 20/10/97 Accepted: 10/3/98 Published: 31/3/98
To put it schematically: 'women' is historically, discursively constructed, and always relatively to other categories which themselves change; 'women' is a volatile collectivity in which female persons can be very differently positioned, so that the apparent continuity of the subject of 'women' isn't to be relied on; 'women' is both synchronically and diachronically erratic as a collectivity, while for the individual, 'being a woman' is also inconstant and can't provide an ontological foundation. Yet it must be emphasised that these instabilities of the category are the sine qua non of feminism, which would otherwise be lost for an object, despoiled of a fight, and, in short, without much life. (Riley, 1988: pp. 1 - 2)
In gender processes, the everyday conduct of life is organized in relation to a reproductive arena, defined by the bodily structures and processes of human reproduction. This arena includes sexual arousal and intercourse, childbirth and infant care, bodily sex difference and similarity.
I call this a 'reproductive arena', not a 'biological base' to emphasize the point made in Chapter 2, that we are talking about a historical process involving the body, not a fixed set of biological determinants. Gender is social practice that constantly refers to bodies and what bodies do, it is not social practice reduced to the body. (Connell, 1995: p. 71)
Feminism operates within a standpoint epistemology: Human (sic) activity not only structures but sets limits on understanding. If social activity is structured in fundamentally opposing ways for different groups, one can expect that the vision of each will represent an inversion, and in systems of domination the vision available to the rulers will be both partial and perverse. (Skeggs (1992) quoted in Mac an Ghaill, 1994: pp. 175 - 6).
At earlier stages of my research, most of the working class young women tended not to be gender-specific in discussions with me about teacher-student interaction. They identified individual teachers who were positive towards them, but gender did not appear to be a consistent salient characteristic. They directed their critique of schooling, informed by an implicit class sensibility, against the social regulatory function of teachers rather than gender differences in pedagogical style. (Mac an Ghaill, 1994: p. 175)
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