Objective vs. Personal - Academic Writing for Evaluation
December 8, 2008
Critical Feminist Studies
Professor Anne Dalke
“Objective” vs. Personal – Academic Writing for Evaluation
A discussion in my Problems in Satire class last week made me reconsider our class discussion about the personal finding its way into academic writing. How important is it for authors to locate themselves? Looking at the class from McIntosh’s point of view, I suppose it would have to be placed in Phase 1, because we were looking at a collection of historical literature in which women were never mentioned, nor had they had a hand in writing any of it. However, I believe that there are other important factors besides the presence of women that can tell you whether or not a class can be considered feminist. We have already gone over the fact that different people have different feminisms. The fact that there is no set definition of feminism is one of the things that I like the best. From our discussions after the last paper, I am now convinced that the personal voice involved in placing oneself as the author is important in feminist discussion. It gives a level of honesty to the writing and clearly shows the perspective from which opinions are generated.
Now, where did that all begin? The context of the personal voice in most published writing was actually incorporated in the sixteenth century. Alexander Pope (Epistles, Epilogue to the Satires) was one of the first writers to begin to use it. During the last fifteen years of his career (1729-1744) he constructed himself into a brand name. The public, especially publishers, knew his writing. He collected his own correspondence as well. In a related field, he was an activist and enabler of copyright law enforcement. Most importantly, Pope used himself as a point of reference in his writing. He wrote what he knew. Before this point, institutional thinking was valued rather than personal views. In class Professor Briggs suggested that today, as opposed to pre-sixteenth century, through the evolution of the personal voice the world of writing is characterized by individualism. I happen to disagree with this idea. To a certain extent, yes, writing is far more personal than it was in the early sixteenth century, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that academic writing today is characterized by individualism. It seems to me, that at least this form of writing has pulled away from the increasingly personal trend.
All through high school, continuing on through writing workshop here at Bryn Mawr, it has been drilled into my head that I should never use the word “I” in an academic paper. To be perfectly honest, the lack of personal location in my previous papers was not intentionally dishonest on my part. It is an example of what I have been conditioned to do. I have read over my last paper about feminism in Islamic architecture with this new perspective, and I can see exactly why my lack of location could be construed as “playing God” and imposing my Western feminist ideals over another culture with no explanation whatsoever. I have been taught that the less personal, objective voice is supposed to be more professional. I don’t agree. I believe that we’ve seen many examples in this class where biases are exposed through writing. We are never truly objective. Why is it more professional to not locate yourself as an author? Personally, I find myself drawn to pieces in which I can place the author, ie Susan Stryker’s “My Words to Victor Frankenstein.” Her experience validated her claims for me. I felt as though I could trust her more, because I knew where she was coming from. The gender of the author doesn’t make a difference for me. I will use another example from Problems in Satire: Michel de Montaigne. He was a very influential writer in the French Renaissance, because he popularized the essay as a writing form. He did so by combining theoretical speculation with anecdotes and autobiography in order to explain himself. He wrote what he knew and placed himself as the author. He created a turning point in the history of published writing, one that I feel has been quite beneficial to the evolution of writing to what we have today. I trust him more than some of his contemporaries, because of his attention to the personal.
I would like to learn from experience and actually cultivate a level of the personal in my writing for a change. This paper is already very different from anything I have written for evaluation before, but I would like to take it a step further. I have already presented an example of an “objective” piece of writing – no personal pronouns, not much acknowledgement of myself as the author at all – however unsatisfactory that may have been. Even in this piece, though I have been writing from a personal perspective, I have not really placed myself. I would like to attempt a piece that is purely personal. We have had questions floating around all semester, such as: What is my definition of feminism? and Do I identify as a feminist? I would like to finally attempt to answer them with my personal definition (see Bitch Ph. D.) – something I have always hoped I would be able to do by the end of the semester.
My feminism is a Western feminism. It is important to me to understand different views of feminism from around the world, but when it comes down to the root of my beliefs, I recognize that they are influenced by my cultural experiences.
My feminism affirms genders – all of them. Judith Butler’s writing appeals to me as a sort of essentialist ideal, the idea of having no gender distinctions, but until I can truly wrap my head around it and understand it better, I will have to rely on my experiential ideal. All sexes and genders are supported by my feminism. I am biologically female and I identify as a woman, but I do not view my gender as being more important than any other. For example, I came to Bryn Mawr because of the singular, supportive atmosphere I found here, not because of the specific label, woman.
My feminism includes men. Yes, I realize that this is redundant, but I feel the need to make the distinction due to stereotypes that are thrown around, such as the “manhater”. My feminism doesn’t just like men, it includes them. I can’t honestly believe that I am striving for equality if I consciously leave out a known part of the population.
Sexuality is an important part of my feminism. While gender does not determine sexuality, unfortunately discrimination regarding both constructs goes hand in hand. My feminism will fight that. It will fight idealistically. It will fight for me to be queer and equal in any society, it will fight for me to love a man, to love a woman, to love any person of any gender I please.
My feminism is political. There isn’t a specific political arena for feminism – it can be liberal, conservative, socialist, you name it. All I know is that my feminism will get political if that is playing field presented. A woman’s right to choose, Prop 8…you better believe that I’ll be involved in these issues from a feminist standpoint to some extent.
My feminism is spiritual. I am usually in a space with a focus on the celebration of the divine feminine. This is important part of me, but I also branch out beyond the feminine.
My feminism is environmental in any sense of the world. I feel like I exist in an inherently feminist environment. I also believe that my feminism should be green, because the environment is a large part of who I am.
My feminism is local. My strongest support will closest to my heart, for those I love.
My feminism includes writing, exploring, fencing, and most important aspects of my life. It allows me to be me, but it does not demonize you for feeling differently than I do.
I must admit that I haven’t considered the material that much in my assessment here, but I have to say that yes, my feminism is material. I have come to terms with the fact that my body is irreducible, and it is a large part of who I am whether I want to admit it or not. I also realize that I don’t have to look at it like it’s a limitation.
My feminism is inwardly strong, but could stand to be stronger outwardly. I can’t say with a clear conscience that I would never back down in a fight. Not today.
My feminism isn’t perfect, there are aspects that I still can’t explain, even to myself, but they are parts of me. I’ll accept them for now and continue living them. One day I’ll be able to look more closely.
My feminism has flexible boundaries. That is important to me. I allow myself to learn and reconsider. Nothing is set in stone if I haven’t lived it yet. I don’t rule out possibilities.
Now that I have been as honest with you as I have been with myself (I don’t think I’ve ever really spelled this out in so many words before), is the purely personal helpful? Is it a viable method of presentation of ideas? I don’t know, that is for you to decide, I suppose. It is hard for me to step back and see the bigger picture, since this is my personal story. This was certainly a learning experience for me. If I were to draw a conclusion, however, I would say that this exercise in personal writing has helped me to create a framework in order to understand my location. It has provided me with ideas that could be used to locate myself as an author when exploring another topic, even if they are not particularly useful for the audience by themselves. I have set my stage. I feel that if I presented a snapshot of this to explain where I was coming from when dealing with another intellectual concept, I would feel more honest, and less like I was putting one over on my audience. What do you think?