Friday, 31 March 2017

On Androcentrism

This is just an extended disquisition and supplementation to our discussion in class today on the ‘normatives’ in society based on ‘Androcentrism.’ Please find below a wonderful rundown on the term ‘androcentrism,’ excerpted from 50 Key Concepts in Gender Studies by Jane Pilcher & Imelda Whelehan.

Here we go!


Deriving from the Greek word for male, androcentrism literally means a doctrine of male-centredness. Androcentric practices are those whereby the experiences of men are assumed to be generalisable, and are seen to provide the objective criteria through which women’s experiences can be organised and evaluated.

Some writers, particularly those influenced by psychoanalytical theory, prefer the terms phallocentrism or phallocentric, in order to draw attention to the way the phallus acts as the symbolic representation of male-centredness.

A related concept is that of phallogocentrism. Deriving from the work of Derrida and Lacan, this term describes those ideas centred around language or words (logos) that are masculine in style.

Postmodern feminist writers such as Cixous argue that phallogocentric language is that which rationalises, organises and compartmentalises experience and it is on this basis that terms ending in ‘ism’ (e.g. feminism) may be rejected (Brennan 1989; Tong 1998). An early use of the term ‘androcentric’ was made by Charlotte Perkins Gillman who subtitled her 1911 book, ‘Our Androcentric Culture’.

In feminist analyses, most societies, historically and in the present, exhibit androcentric tendencies whereby their culture, knowledge, organizations and institutions reflect and reproduce the dominance and power of men. As Smith writes with reference to the modern Western context, ‘The problem is not a special, unfortunate and accidental omission of this or that field, but a general, organisational feature of our kind of society’ (1988: 22). One simple illustration is provided by the androcentric use of language. In Britain up until at least the 1980s, ‘mankind’ and ‘men’ were widely used in a generic way, instead of the more gender-neutral ‘humankind’ or ‘people’. Similarly, the pronoun ‘he’ was routinely used in preference to ‘she’, or even to ‘he or she’. Feminist analyses have problematised the generic use of masculine nouns and pronouns, arguing that such linguistic practices both reflect and contribute to the marginalisation of women and are symbolic of their status in general.

Several writers have addressed the issue of the ways in which the ‘male standpoint’ (Smith 1988) or the ‘male espistomological stance’ (Mackinnon 1982) is evident in academic theories and research. In general terms, the consequences of the ‘male standpoint’ are that findings from men-only research studies have been generalised to women, and that areas of enquiry have focused on issues important to men’s interests and experiences, while those important to women have been overlooked. As Maynard (Maynard and Purvis 1996) explains, the perception that what counts as knowledge derives from masculine interests and perspectives has been the impetus for the development of women’s studies. In its critique of androcentric knowledge, women’s studies has shifted from an early concern with ‘adding women in’ to pre-existing fields of enquiry (leading to studies of women and paid work, or women artists, for example), to focusing on previously ignored topics of importance to women (such as motherhood, or sexual violence), to devising new concepts and theories with which to analyse women’s experiences.

A classic example of feminist work in response to the androcentricity of academic theories and research is provided by Carol Gilligan (1982). Gilligan’s work engages with psychological theories of development, in relation to morality and the self–other relationship. She criticises the repeated exclusion of women from theory-building psychological studies and their tendency to adopt the male life as the norm. Gilligan argues that the androcentrism embedded in psychological research has led to a disparity between academic theories of ‘human’ development and the experiences of women, a disparity seen to be caused by women’s development rather than the faulty research and theory itself. In her own research, Gilligan includes the group previously left out in the construction of theory (that is, women) and aims to show the limitations of androcentric psychological research for an adequate understanding of the development of men, as well as of women. Arising from studies of men’s moral development, morality has been constructed as being concerned with justice and fairness, and moral development has been seen as the understanding of rights and rules. In this moral code, the individual self is paramount and personal achievement, autonomy and separatism are orienting values. On the basis of her research, Gilligan argues that women’s morality and self–other relationships may differ. In women’s constructions, morality tends to be centred around an ethic of care, of responsibility for others, so that moral conflicts or problems must be resolved with a view to maintaining relationships with others. In this moral code, self and other are seen as interdependent and relationships with these others are seen as central to life. For Gilligan, her findings reveal the need for development theories in psychology to be revised, so that their analysis of the characteristics of moral conceptions in both women and men is more expansive.

Initial criticisms of androcentrism, in all its many forms and guises, have been supplemented by an increased critical awareness of the partiality of some feminist-produced knowledge itself. In the 1980s and 1990s, feminist critics argued that feminism displayed a tendency to centre white, middle-class and heterosexual femininities at the expense of other femininities (for example, Ramazanoglu 1989b; Maynard and Purvis 1996). Developments in masculinity studies have also pointed to the diversity of men’s status and position in society, a diversity which belies the notion of a unitary androcentric culture whereby all men have a privileged standpoint over all women (see Connell 1987, 1995). Morgan (1992) has shown that androcentrism in sociology meant that, not only were the experiences and interests of women overlooked, but that the research and theorising on men lacked a critical awareness of them as gendered beings.


A collection of classic statements on the rationale for women’s studies as a counter to androcentric culture and knowledge can be found in Bowles and Duelli Klein (1983). Marshall (1994) examines the debates around modernity and postmodernity and finds a common tendency to neglect the role of women and the significance of gender in the making of contemporary societies. Hekman (1995) critically evaluates the work of Gilligan in relation to feminist moral theory.


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