Female Public Intellectuals and Feminist Ideology
One theory as to why there is a notable lack of female public intellectuals is that by approaching their work from a distinctly feminist perspective many women intellectuals tend to alienate themselves from the wider public. Feminist theory often has a narrow focus dealing with themes such as discrimination, stereotyping, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression and patriarchy which despite their importance may only appeal to a small interest-group. In this case, female intellectuals arguing from an ideological feminist perspective fail to embody a primary characteristic of the public intellectual; synthesizing disparate areas of knowledge for a broader lay audience.
Arguing from a strictly feminist standpoint can lead female intellectuals to neglect engaging in debate upon a broad spectrum of topics; science, politics, high and low art, literature, evolution, the Iraq war and the origins of the universe are some examples. Most female intellectuals tend to take a strong feminist perspective and as a result may focus on issues concerning only women, such as women's rights and women's interests. Sometimes this poses no restrictions; prominent female intellectuals such as Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, Deborah Tannen and Natalie Angier all draw from a feminist paradigm and as well as being recognized as public intellectuals they are also considered professional feminists.
However, some critics argue that ideological feminism and feminist theory have 'ghettoized and trivialized the subject matter of women’s writing and as a successful ideology, they has served to foreclose debate.(Allen, 2004) This becomes problematic to feminist intellectuals working within the public sphere primarily because varied debate is often considered the hallmark of the public intellectual.
Historically, female public intellectuals have appeared not to take a deep interest in an array of intellectual pursuits and thus do not argue on subjects of a universal interest. This can be seen as contradictory to the work of a public intellectual who should adopt an interpretative approach, creating broader meaning for individuals, as opposed to presenting narrow facts about the world.
Linda Colley an historian who was listed on Prospect Magazine's, ‘Britain’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals’ also supports this view. In an interview with Laura Barton of The Guardian she stated that ‘she believed her place on the list could be down to the fact that, in her writing, she ventured into male intellectual terrain and did not restrict her work to dealing with purely feminist concerns: She stated, ‘ I write history books about war and nationalism and empire. And on the whole that is not women write about’
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