Monday, September 27, 2010

GS: the dead horse again

you will be able to tell, perhaps, that I am ambivalent about posting this.  It was written yesterday morning about events that happened a week ago and have been simmering in my brain ever since, and I'm pre-dating it by two days so I hope it will disappear.  I can't tell you how much I wish I never brought this up.   but I did, so I'm finishing it up, and since I never manage to get everything I want to say across in the first try, there might  even be another one.  I hate feeling stupid.  (so, one might reasonably ask, why the hell did I go back to school? because let me tell you, it is one non-stop stupid party.)

Yesterday, our theory professor told us about our first paper, which she wants in two parts.  She does not want them elegantly connected into one paper, she wants two distinct parts.  I was reminded of that (for absolutely no reason) while I was trying to type this out, so in that spirit, here are a bunch of disconnected bits that all revolve around the same basic idea.  

1.  Can I just clarify (again) that I consider myself a feminist.  I vote feminist, for one thing. I argue as a feminist-- being in class the last month has reminded me how often I do.  But having been outside of academia for 25 years, I have to say that academic feminism makes me wonder.  In part, because I feel betrayed by it.  by the time I had a family and a job and a busy life and was faced by a number of difficult decisions about what my priorities were, feminism was very little help to me.  Life is complicated.  You can't always have it be all about me, me, me.  I got tired of going around all the time being enraged about situations that weren't bugging anybody else.  But that's what it seemed like my feminist background was telling me--because of male domination of women for the past millennium or two, you deserve to have everything your way, and if the men in your life have to pay the price for it, well, they deserve it.  I just got tired of it.  I live in the gray area.  There are no black and whites here. So even though I still consider myself a feminist, I find myself rolling my eyes at a lot of feminist rhetoric. 

2.  My literary theory class is a three hour seminar that meets once a week.  we're spending a week on each of the major groups of theories.  So last week, we talked about feminism (which is now officially feminisms, plural, because there are so many different kinds).  The debate is far too complex for me to even begin to summarize it here.  At the heart of it is "essentialism" vs. "constructionism" --which is the old nature vs. nurture issue dressed up in academic language.  If you're an essentialist, you believe there is something "essential" or elemental or built-in or fundamental about being male or female; if you're a constructionist, you believe that gender identities are constructed by the culture, there is nothing, no character trait, no behavior, that is inherently male or female.  (and put like that, constructionism sounds pretty reasonable, now that I type it out.  Maybe I should just bag this whole thing.)  It doesn't take long to realize that in an academic arena, it is important to be constructionist.  There is a long history of misogynist or just plain old misguided theories about women and "their place" that make it important in the academic world to be constructionist-- so important that our professor had a note of dread in her voice when she noted that one author we read exhibited a "creeping sense of essentialism."  I get that.  In an academic environment, I can probably even go along with it.

3.  The problem is, I don't really believe that.  Or at the very least, I'm only willing to accept it as a tentative conclusion.  I don't believe that there is some universal way of being female, but I do believe that women are different than men in ways that go beyond cultural conditioning.  (and that is not to say that I define being female only as a way of being different than male, as if being male were the gold standard and being female just a variation of it.)(See?  there's all these hidden arguments going on all the time.)  I feel some kind of affinity for other women that I don't feel for men.  The fact that I can't list exactly what it is that is essential about it doesn't mean I don't experience that. You can't bully me into not having my experiences, my perceptions.  I've learned that one-- that's what growing up fundamentalist and figuring out how to leave it will do for you.  (and yes, I do realize that my perceptions are created by the culture, the hegemony, whatever you want to call it.)(we did marxism this week.)

4. but here's the thing:  none of us, essentialist or constructionist, can prove their point.  None of us can get outside of our culture, outside of our way of thinking, and say for sure that they are Right.  Even when we're interpreting other cultures, we're still doing it from inside our own.  It seems to me that these stands, these positions, have more to do with an agenda than they do with anything relevant to what's going on in my life.  In other words, I've discovered that I don't really care about the essentialist vs. constructionist argument because there's no way to really know.  Even though I've been participating in it (in the early posts on this topic, without really knowing it) in this blog. 

5.  But here are a couple of small points that we talked about in class last week.  One:  our professor said that contemporary feminism, or 3rd wave feminism, or neo-feminism, or whatever you want to call it, is not about opposing masculine power, it's about opposing a particular type of power which requires the denigration of others.  YES. That is exactly what I think of when I think of my own brand of feminism.  It sounds a lot like what Starhawk called "power over" back in the 80s (as opposed to "power from within"). But then she (our prof) talked about the search for an androgynous ideal--which is where I start to roll my eyes, because so often feminists define the androgynous ideal as male.  (which is what I was trying to get at in this post, but maybe not very well). I'm not interested in being male.  I think I am more comfortable with what our professor called French feminism-- which comes down to believing that life and experience are "irreducibly heterogeneous"-- a term I love. (is that the difference? women's brains are irreducibly heterogeneous, while men's are monolithic? hmmmm.) Every time I've made a statement like that in this blog, I've discovered within a week or less that it was a dumb thing to say, so take that with about a pound of salt, please.  I'm just riffing.

1 comment:

  1. OK, so I was being a little peevish in that first paragraph. BUT I had my first solo presentation to do in class yesterday and I was feeling a bit panicked. It went OK. I will never be a good public speaker. But I DID IT. and although I had stomach cramps and some difficulty breathing in the hour beforehand, I did not come unglued as previously. progress.

    apologies for the snarky-ness.