I frequently see comments around the internet asking people to lay aside their “feminist perspective” and look at an issue “objectively.” This misconstrues both the nature of objectivity and the entire point of theory.
Pure objectivity does not exist in real life. Human lives do not unfold according to defined mathematical principles. Real people possess subjectivity about their own experiences, and if anyone tells you to lay aside your subjectivity–your sense of personhood–and be “objective” about your own life, they’re probably trying to undermine your perception of reality. We have a term for that: gaslighting. This isn’t to say that you can’t thoughtfully examine your experiences, it just means that you should acknowledge your own subjectivity in doing so. I think “objective” is a pretty misused word; it’s sometimes used to imply a sense of fairness, but I believe that a sense of fairness (or justice) is derived from empathy for someone else’s subjectivity.
Every person approaches life with a theoretical perspective, even if they’ve never studied formal theory and aren’t aware that they do so. My first encounter with formal theory, including feminism, was studying International Relations at university. The IR program at St Andrews is very theory-driven, and it has to be, because much of IR scholarship is completely unintelligible if you don’t understand the theory behind it. (I’ll save arguments about the inaccessibility of academia for another day.) We were required to make our use of theory rigorous and explicit, not only because that’s the nature of academia, but because to do otherwise is intellectually dishonest. Neglecting to make your theoretical perspective clear and presenting your work as “objective” is basically high-level trolling.
The purpose of theory in the social sciences is to provide a framework and a vocabulary for discussions of human culture. It doesn’t obfuscate, it elucidates. It helps us think. Is feminism always the most relevant or useful theory for every topic? Not necessarily, but it is whenever gender is involved, which is extremely often. I also like (IR) constructivism, which is useful for explaining systemic change. (Common misperception about constructivism: “constructed” does not mean “imaginary.” It means that a social system is open to change, which is demonstrably true.)
Facts can be objectively evaluated, but the way we incorporate facts into our interpretation of our own lives and human culture depends on our theoretical perspective. Theory provides explanation. If you don’t think you subscribe to a particular set of theories about politics and culture, I invite you to examine your positions and study some formal theory (which I continue to do myself). At the least, it will give you a vocabulary with which to discuss your opinions, and help you spot “faux objectivity” in the wild.