3 Pages

Postscript to Part I

By the late 1970s liberation theory had all but disappeared from academic feminism. At the same time the women’s studies movement began to flourish. The initial victory consisted in no more than being welcome at universities, in becoming just an accepted part of the curriculum. Then more and more appointments were gained and it soon became an entrenched part of university establishments, able to bureaucratically impose feminist courses, criteria for appointments, nonsexist language and the like.1 I shall argue that there is a connection between these two phenomena-the disappearance of the early ‘liberationist’ ideas and the emergence of a powerful and bureaucratically connected women’s studies movement. The first indication of this connection is to be found in the manner of the disappearance of liberation theory, in the fact that it was not, as such, rejected but rather radically misdescribed. The consequence of this is that what was explicitly rejected was a quite different, indeed opposed, set of ideas, ones which were in fact seldom held. Liberation theory itself was written out of history in the way I described in the Introduction. The second indication is in the character of the kind of feminist theory, the feminism of ‘difference’, which largely replaced it. The clue is not so much in what is asserted, for on the surface this appears radical enough, but in the combined effect of quite appalling methods of reasoning with a sophisticated, scholarly appearance. Shortly I shall argue that these latter features, amounting to what I earlier described as ‘surrationalism’, enable this sort of feminist theory to function as a means for acquiring power which is appropriate to a movement whose moral credibility depends on the perception that it opposes power. This suggests that liberation theory had to go both because what it said it was antithetical and unintelligible to the emerging aspirations for intellectual prestige and the formal status which accompanies this, and because of the unpretentious way in which it said it. However, it also suggests that it had to stay because it alone was able to strike the moral chords necessary to legitimise the radical pretensions of the new movement. So that it could continue to function covertly its existence had to be ignored overtly.