As I review the feminist concepts from this past week, it seems that there is one determinant principle to this research model that dwarfs all others: the ad hominem argument. I would like to consider what exactly is an argumentum ad hominem, query if such an argument is valid when presenting a position, and finally illustrate this type of argument from the class discussion.
Argumentum ad hominem is a Latin phrase used in debate or rhetoric which literally translates "argument against the man." I did not make this up, nor did I intend the pun (as we shall see later). An ad hominem argument "consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim" (Wikipedia). Therefore when feminists state that a certain claim is made "because x is a male (white male, black male, et al)," they are using argumentum ad hominem in more ways than one. In the first place, it is a de facto statement categorizing a claim made by a male by nature as invalid because the author is a male. At the very least, this is circular reasoning. In the second place such an argument has never been considered valid, seeing that it is based on neither qualitative nor quantitative evidence or data. Because ad hominem arguments do not directly address the claim or proposition (only the author of the proposition), such arguments are falacies. As it relates to feminism, it is an a priori premise to validate the feminist paradigm and nothing more. Therefore, if this form of argument is invalid then any parts of feminism based upon it remain indeterminate and without either authority or authenticity.
Some may say that many positions hold to a priori premises and feminism is thus no worse or better than any other. That may be so, but if feminism's a priori premises (which ultimately disenfranchise one group and take away their voice) go unchallenged then several movements of the past that have proved less that egalitarian or humanitarian based upon similar a priori reasonings (19th treatment of Native Americans, social-darwinism, holocaust, slave trade, Darfur genocide) are given a pass. This makes for strange bed-fellows.
Let's consider a case in point from class. There was a brief discussion on the Muslim Hijab which somehow morphed into long hair on women in American holiness churches. When it was suggested that possibly the women under consideration (either Muslim or Holiness) chose to wear the associated head dress, it was stated that this was clearly oppression and that only a [white] male would make such a statement. Now that, my friends, is a classic example of an ad homimen argument, meaning this: since x male made the claim and y female said it was oppressive, then ipso facto the male was in error because he was a male. The behavior as relates to women's head dress had already been deemed oppressive (whatever that means), so any argument to the contrary, especially when made by a male, is therefore invalid. But where is the evidence? Is it possible that western culture is being read into either situation to deem it "oppressive," or is it possible that only certain women consider it such. I'm really having a hard time with the connotations of oppressive. Am I being told that a scarf is oppressive to the same extent as honor killing is? Everything with which one disagrees can not be considered "oppressive" just to bolster the quantative data on female oppression. Doesn't this sort of data manipulation parallel to the girl who cried "wolf?" Now for the rest of the story.
As regards the hijab in the Mulsim world. This head dress did not derive from 7th century Muslim males (which were, by the way, not white males), but rather from the wives of Muhammad. It seems that these gals were on the par with superstars and could not leave their houses to go shopping or to the bathroom without being thronged. Therefore these women (not men) decided to go incognito, and the hijab was created. Later on some folks though that if it was good enough for the wives of the prophet, it was good enough for the common folks. Thus it was an imitation of women's customs, not male dictates. How it may have evolved in the present is another narrative. The moral of the story is to be careful with the facts and not read western culture into every situation.
In the second example, it was stated that women who wore long hair in US holiness churches were oppressed. Now that is really peculiar considering the historical context from which it derives. Neither does a hair style seem so oppressive a the self-imposed female assessories of the past such as girdle, corset, eye-liner, high-heels, chokers, etc. (but I do admit that is my own perspective and would not want to participate in gladitorial games that requires such equipment). Cultures have their symbols: iPods, blue jeans, hats, and hair. Faith communities also have symbols: crosses, menorah's, and head coverings. Jewish men wear a tallit when praying. For many years, only males did this but now it is common to see women in synagogue wearing a prayer shawl. In Christian faith communities, it has been women who wore the head coverings. Could common men wear them: not usually! From whence does this custom derive? From white male oppression or from female customs of the east? Take your best guess, and then you can proceed. In the first century Roman empire, it was common for women to have long hair, to wear veils, and to have head dresses. In the church of Corinth, St. Paul addressed this matter. Not that the women failed to veil themselves (as female custom dictated), but that some of the men were apparently copying older Greek traditions of wearing long hair like the Greek warriors in the Trojan war (Iliad). It was apparently no longer customary to do such. St. Paul asks the folks, "what are your customs." He appealed to the common life of Roman citizens in formerly Greek regions. Life was hard enough without asking for a fight. Holiness churches drew their idea of long hair on women from the same passage of scripture (1 Corinthians 11), such was common in the early 20th century, it released those women from hats and veils, and it actually states that a woman's long hair empowered her (at least in that day). Again, we have considered oppression what another culture considers empowerment, because of a failure to recognize what anthropologist call cultural relativism. Western values are not the touchstones for all peoples.