The trouble with individualism …: a discussion with some examples

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This paper is part of a larger project investigating what I have called the ideology of individualism. For some time now it has seemed to me evident that feminism needs to develop a greater awareness of the ways in which references to individuals operate to disguise relations of ruling by populating the social world only with discrete, asocial individuals, at the expense of any acknowledgement of the existence of the social structures of domination. This present paper argues that individualism is a crucial component of all ideological justifications for domination, because it enables relations of ruling to be disguised as intrinsic properties of individuals. As a consequence, ideological individualism prevents any genuine account of individual responsibility, because it blames the victims and exonerates the perpetrators. To illustrate the problem I start with two articles taken from a daily newspaper, which exemplify malestream versions of individualism. I go on to point out that feminism, too, can get caught up in individualism, to the extent that it remains exclusively focused on 'women' and elides the question of male domination. In contrast, I argue that it is only a feminism which starts from the ethical standpoint of opposition to male supremacy, which can provide an adequate account of both women's embeddedness in and our resistance to male supremacist relations of ruling.
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Thompson, Denise
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