chapter  7
20 Pages

The problem of speaking for others


These examples demonstrate the range of current practices of speaking for others in our society. While the prerogative of speaking for others remains unquestioned in the citadels of colonial administration, among activists, and in the academy, it elicits a growing unease and, in some communities of discourse, it is being rejected. There is a strong, albeit contested, current within feminism that holds that speaking for others – even for other women – is arrogant, vain, unethical, and politically illegitimate. Feminist scholarship has a liberatory agenda that almost requires that women scholars speak on behalf of other women, and yet the dangers of speaking across differences of race, culture, sexuality, and power are becoming increasingly clear to all. In feminist magazines such as Sojourner, it is common to find articles and letters in which the author states that she can only speak for herself.

In her important paper, ‘Dyke Methods,’ Joyce Trebilcot offers a philosophical articulation of this view. She renounces for herself the practice of speaking for others within a lesbian feminist community, arguing that she ‘will not try to get other wimmin to accept my beliefs in place of their own’ on the grounds that to do so would be to practice a kind of discursive coercion and even a violence.2