Review of Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology

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(d) Avoiding political correctness
Political correctness comes in two forms. The weaker form consists in research that, wittingly or unwittingly, is rigged to reach a foregone conclusion favored by one’s political agenda. The stronger form consists in an attempt to censor a research program because one thinks it is politically dangerous. Koertge’s asymmetrical interpretive methodology--rational reconstruction for science, irrational reconstruction for feminist science studies--is hard to explain on any other ground than weak political correctness.
More significantly, Almeder’s essay, despite its claim to repudiate political correctness, is overtly a rationale for strong political correctness. He attempts to rationalize the expulsion of “radical equity feminism” from the academy on political grounds. In three quick pages, Almeder attempts to rule out a priori the possibility that the achievement of feminist goals might require any other system besides capitalist democracy that leaves human biology (and gender roles?) intact (186-188). Given this “proof”, he thinks it a simple matter to show that anyone who thinks otherwise, as “radical equity feminists” are defined to be, and “academic feminists” are presumed to be, is dogmatically committed “to a particular point of view no matter what the future may bring by way of possible disconfirming evidence” (185).[3] Since dogmatism amounts to a betrayal of the core commitment of the university--to evaluate political ideologies on the merits rather than to promulgate them uncritically--“the academic community should not support academic feminism” (185). In other words, the university should not permit radical feminist views to be aired, because they are inconsistent with the ideology of capitalist democracy, which is known in advance of such discussion to be the politically correct view.
(e) Civility
Almeder insists that academic discourse be conducted on terms of civility and cordiality with those with whom one disagrees (189). Yet this does not stop him from assuming an inquisitorial mode toward feminists, or from hurling invective. We know what's coming when Nazism and Lysenkoism are invoked (199)! His emotional tone and rhetoric, like Christina Hoff Sommers’, is unhinged. Sommers eagerly leaps from supposed findings of error or omission to accusations of dishonesty (see Appendix). Yet Almeder can only think of insidious reasons why feminists refuse to debate her.


Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology is a failure by my evaluative standards of accuracy, perspective, and normative consistency. It is a failure by its own evaluative standards of civility and avoiding gross error, tribalism, cynicism, and political correctness. A few contributions--Kourany’s, Crasnow’s, and, with substantial correction, Nanda’s--are worth salvaging. Soble’s essay contains some insights, but, being antecedently committed to finding nothing worthwhile in the work he considers, ultimately bears little fruit. On the whole, however, SFE is so grossly misleading about its subject matter that it cannot be recommended to anyone.
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Anderson, Elizabeth. 1995a. “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and Defense.” Hypatia 10:50–84.
Anderson, Elizabeth. 1995b. “Knowledge, Human Interests, and Objectivity in Feminist Epistemology.” Philosophical Topics 23:27–58.
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Anderson, Elizabeth. 2004. “Uses of Value Judgments in Science: A General Argument, with Lessons from a Case Study of Feminist Research on Divorce.” Hypatia 19(1): 1–24.
Burt, Sandra D, and Lorraine Code, eds. 1995. Changing Methods: Feminists Transforming Practice. Peterborough, Ont. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press.
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[1]: Numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers of SFE.
[2]: I invite the reader to examine the Women's Studies faculty webpage at my own university, and consider how useless Almeder’s taxonomy is for understanding the overwhelming majority of research questions posed there.
[3]: Almeder evidently has not considered that one might advocate an alternative system of political economy, not because the achievement of one’s preferred goals is impossible under capitalist democracy, but because it is less likely under it. He also has not considered that, by attempting to rule out a priori other systems of political economy, he has convicted himself of dogmatism.
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