Aristotle, what were you thinking, man?

I have never thought to identify myself as a ‘feminist’ or ‘lover of the environment’, but I think this is mostly due to a lack of reflection. As a naturally reflective individual, it comes as a surprise that I haven’t given these labels more thought. Although it depends on the way one defines ‘feminist’, I fit at least one variation of the definition. I attended the Bryn Mawr School from the time I was twelve years old until graduation. It is a school in Baltimore, Maryland founded in 1885 by five women in an effort to provide young girls and women with a learning environment at least as stimulating as the plethora of highly competitive and academically challenging all-boys schools of the time. Growing up in that environment, gender equality was not a controversial topic. Everyone who was a part of the school was there because she or he shared these same values. I was proud of our school’s history, and proud to be a part of its present, but it was not a stance that I was ever placed in the position to defend.

For all of my years at Bryn Mawr, I learned from a very passionate faculty. In high school, I took an environmental science course. As a result of the class and a few other experiences, I had a somewhat extended stint as a vegan, but my current diet is unlabeled and based on a more informed understanding of environmental and animal treatment issues. It’s not a coincidence that the majority of my friends are environmental science majors. I try to stay informed and surround myself with people who I can learn from and with. I strive to make the environment a priority in my everyday life and as I noted, I have had the opportunity to study about the environment in an academic setting. I can’t say the same in terms of feminism. I have never pursued the topic academically. Strange given my background? I think that it might have something to do with the fact that I am so in love with my major, and as a result I’m not inclined to give up my time very easily to other disciplines. But when I had the chance to choose a philosophical article to critique in one of my classes last year, I chose one from the Canadian Journal of Philosophy (*our library subscribes to a bunch of great philosophical journals*) on the philosophy of feminism. I really enjoyed the process of writing that paper and thinking about particular issues surrounding the feminist movement. I don’t think very much about gender issues in my classes, but there is one experience that stands out in my mind. I remember reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in a class last year, and reaching the section in which Aristotle states the proper place for women. Being physically inferior to men, their role in society is to stay in the home, bearing and raising children, pleasing their husbands and being generally obedient to men; they should not be educated as men. I did not believe it. Excuse me, Aristotle, I thought we were friends. I remember looking around the classroom, and noticing that I was one of very few girls. Ultimately it was a good thing, because it reinforced the fact that putting anyone or any idea on a pedestal is not a productive practice, and that one should always be critical. Already, I have found this to be true with regard to the feminist movement. Putting it on a pedestal doesn’t allow an individual proper space to realize what internal problems exist there; if she doesn’t realize the problems, there is no way to correct them and eventually create a more effective movement. Jordan’s comment in class regarding the historically imperialistic background of ecofeminism definitely struck me as important. Along the same lines, I was surprised to learn that “many native people sense that feminists struggle to make a better life for themselves at the expense of Native people” (Warren, 25). Andy Smith’s entire article, Ecofeminsim through an Anticolonial Framework, was very enlightening. It just seems obviously contradictory to the movement’s philosophy on a few levels, the most basic one concerning the fact that women are obviously a part of the Native American population.

In that philosophy class, the greatest surprise for me was that a philosopher who appeared so rational and intelligent could hold such a view of women. These surprises are everywhere. It doesn’t mean that we should consider everything that Aristotle has provided us with as worthless, just as the feminist movement should not be disregarded completely by the Native Americans or those who are aware of this flaw in the movement. We should take what is considered to be the standard and test it against our critical minds; what is created as a result, will be progress.

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