If you follow the leading edge of post-modern silliness in higher education, you’ll be familiar with the term of art designed to paper over the inherent conflicts between the different benighted leftist identity groups—”intersectionality.” It’s an attempt to sweep everything under a field theory that reduces to: It’s all the fault of patriarchal White dudes. When stripped of the jargon, however, much of the time “intersectionality” is the ideological equivalent of a car crash at a four-way intersection. It always looks different to every witness.
The problem with the radical subjectivity of postmodernism can be seen in a simple quandary: while feminism is centered around “women’s rights,” it is not clear the postmodern mind still believes we know what “women” are. (And don’t get me started on what “human rights” can possibly be without “humans.’) Fortunately, we have Prof. Lena Gunnarsson of Örebro University in Sweden to the rescue, writing in Feminist Theory:
Against influential strands of feminist theory, I argue that there is nothing essentialist or homogenising about the category ‘women’. I show that both intersectional claims that it is impossible to separate out the ‘woman part’ of women, and deconstructionist contentions that the category ‘women’ is a fiction, rest on untenable meta-theoretical assumptions. I posit that a more fruitful way of approaching this disputed category is to treat it as an abstraction. Drawing on the philosophical framework of critical realism I elucidate the nature of the vital and inevitable process of abstraction, as a means of finding a way out of the theoretical and methodological impasse that the ‘ban’ on the category ‘women’ has caused. Contrary to many contemporary feminist theorists, I contend that, although the category ‘women’ does not reflect the whole reality of concrete and particular women, it nevertheless refers to something real, namely the structural position as woman.
I think this means that “women” are real. Which is certainly a relief. But it costs $36 to get the whole article to find out, so I guess we’ll keep having to guess about it, as men have for thousands of years.