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False consciousness is a term from Marxist theory for a process in capitalism where the working class is misled by the capitalist classes about the processes that lead to class stratification and oppression.
In a feminist context it is used by analogy: a woman with "false consciousness" is a woman who has been misled by the patriarchy/kyriarchy as to the source of her experiences as a woman. Generally it implies that feminism, specifically the feminism of her critic, would provide a more accurate analysis of her experiences than her own.
Examples of false consciousness accusations might include:
- insisting that a woman has experienced sexism even if she asserts she never has
- insisting that a woman's choice of clothes is dictated by the patriarchy when she regards them as a personal choice
- insisting that a woman's career was chosen because of hindrance of her real skills or potential by the patriarchy (in a geek context, this includes things like "you'd be in science or maths if it wasn't for sexism!")
Accusing people of experiencing false consciousness is enormously problematic. It is often used as a weapon of oppression in denying people their right to own and analyse their own experiences. At the same time, systemic analysis of people's choices, and the extent to which they are influenced by the kyriarchy, is part of feminism. It is difficult to walk the line of giving people space to be the expert on themselves and their experiences while analysing people's choices en masse, but it is also important.
- Courtney Stoker, Geekery and the humanities: 'One of the panelists, and at least two audience members chimed in with, “Well, the only reason you’re in the humanities is because you’ve been discouraged from being in STEM.”'