Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pragmatism and Feminism

I took American Philosophy as a sophomore and lately I began to realize how greatly pragmatism is tied in with feminist philosophy and gender norms, especially the work of John Dewey. Pragmatism tells us that complex habits that we pick up through experience allow us to efficiently function in daily life. It allows us to do things without thinking about it. For example think back to when people first tried to tell you how to hold a pencil, you probably had to think about how to do it the first few times. But now I bet that the technique doesn’t even cross your mind when you write. This habit allows write and think about other things at the same time. Habits are learned through experience and allow us to live our lives much more efficiently, however we must be careful about the habits we have.

Dewey says that there are two different types of habits, routine habits, and intelligent habits. An intelligent habit is one that we control and use based on our need and situation, a routine habit is one that controls us. An intelligent habit is one that we don’t have to perform, but one we choose to perform because we realize it will help us. Walking is an example of this. People don’t need to think about the complexities of walking while they do it, they can change up their walk, like the pace, step size, etc, and we have complete control over this. A routine habit would be something like, needing to smoke while you drink; something that you feel like you must do, even though it is not good or beneficial to you. In hindsight, you know you probably shouldn’t do it, it doesn’t make since to do it but you do it anyway. Dewey suggests that people should look at the consequences before performing actions in order to evaluate whether or not to perform an action; a routine habit ignores the evaluation and acts anyway. An example of a routine habit in society would be the amount of meat we eat a day. Most guys usually eat meat of some form every meal, because society seems to pressure us into thinking that’s normal, while I love meat, and think everyone should eat it, I do realize that it is a habit people have that was engrained by our culture.

Feminists seem to want to make women and men evaluate their acts before they do it, and they want to abolish those routine habits that are commonplace in our society. These common habits are inscribed into people from the time they are very young through the experiences parents give them, like women should play house when they are young girls so they are homemakers in the future. Parents end up buying girls easy bake ovens to teach them these habits. The create routine habits in them that say that women should cook, clean and raise the children while boys play games like war when they are young, among other things that make them more aggressive and more likely to end up like the common male in the future. The thing is if one were to evaluate these habits instilled into our children and look at the consequences they would see how foolish it is. Let’s say we have a boy and a girl, and this girl is of far greater intelligence, and displays more skills then the boy. If you look at this intelligently you would see that it would be a waste to teach this girl to be a common housewife while teaching the boy to be a working man in a company. Dewey challenges people to look at habits we have and evaluate them before performing them.

In looking at the movie "But I’m a Cheerleader", I realized the role of habits played in the movie to try to brainwash the children. They thought that teaching the girls to cook and clean, while teaching the boys sports and fixing cars would change them. They wanted them to do these things like they were second nature; they wanted them to do these things without thinking about them. The founder of true directions seemed to believe that habits stemming from gay people’s parents caused the members there to become gay. Like she thought that the protagonist developed a habit of thinking women should be the one dominating the household because the mother supported the father for 9 months and because of this she became a lesbian. The movie seems to hint that these people are gay from birth. Their situation will not change just because you pound some routine habits into them until they become so mindless that they act straight. When the people realize how stupid it is to learn this stuff, with them being in their situation, they abandon the true directions program. This might be an overly simplistic way to view the movie, however I think it applies.

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