The Need for Theory and Discussion: Exploring the Why

This piece was written as a note on TLSOF’s Facebook page. It’s in response to the “why are you talking about this” nonsense of women tied to the male-dominated Left. It’s amazing that people will come on Facebook, then self-righteously claim that they are going to go do something “more important”. Why the hell were they there to begin with? Anyway, this is a general response to those who criticize discussion, consciousness raising and theorizing about oppression.

I’ve never been a person who’s tied to theory. I don’t believe anyone should be blindly led by or attached to theory. Unquestioning allegiance to theory is indicative of a lack of critical thought, in my opinion. That does not, however, mean that I don’t believe theoretical exploration and discussion are vital to movements and to resistance.

The importance of theory and discussion is twofold. First, it allows us to find what the real problem is. In the language of the second wave, it lets us explore how the personal is political. For the feminist, it means discussing the real oppression and exploitation experienced by women and girls. It allows women to see that we’re not alone; this really is the experience of lots of women. It is a political issue. The second way it helps us is to understand the why of this oppression and exploitation. While it is important to respond to the everyday needs of women through such things as rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters, there’s a need for more. We need to understand what causes and perpetuates men’s violence against women to begin with. Unless or until we do this, we’re just putting band-aids on the wounds. If we don’t understand the root causes, we can’t fight them. If we don’t fight them, we aren’t going to eradicate the problem. We will remain reactive. We will help this woman or that woman who has already been hurt. We will not keep other women from being hurt tomorrow.

There is something to be said for community action, for working to help those who are already victims. However, anyone who thinks that will fix the long term, persistent problem is fooling herself. Until we understand the whys of our reality, we aren’t doing anything to change that reality–we can’t do anything to change what we don’t understand. To get to that understanding, we must discuss and analyze the experiences of real women. Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand how oppression is maintained. Anyone who doesn’t understand that really isn’t doing anything to make the future of women better.

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