Posted by: bradleyen | December 5, 2007

Alarcon: Naturalized framework

We discussed in class and amongst our readings Post structuralism, the analyzing of the structures of mechanisms. Norma Alarcon’s article analyzed the framework behind subject in her discussion of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color.  Her analysis of subject is part of her bigger discussion of the exclusion of women of color from the discourse of feminist theory.  She explains that gender is a central concept in feminist thinking and (even Women’s Studies) because of the discourse, the set perimeters that contain thinking within its framework. 

Because of these Alarcon explains that standpoint epistemology is “flattened” because it “lose[s] sight of complex multiple ways in which the subject and object of possible experience are constituted” (409). Feminist standpoint epistemology adopted the model of subject but hasn’t questioned the framework that they were using. The subject of conciousness was naturalized, and there was no need to question. So what happens to those who don’t fit into Anglo-American feminism’s popular subject? For the multiple marginalized what does it mean to be a subject? 

According to Alarcon: “when women become subjects of knowledge, the so called objectivity of men is brought into question”(408), sustaining the binary oppositional thinking.  Refusing to recognize the identity of women is “much more complex than in a simple oppression to men”(408).  “Politics of unity” reinforces unified subjectivity by refusing to explore how identify is theorized.  Theorists refuse to include other categories of difference within subjectivity allowing for add-ons to exist; women of color, Lesbian Women. Alarcon suggests that subject needs to reconfigure to establish complexity of subjectivity. Her discussion of Bridge, is meant to show how the various writers within the text developed “a theory of subjectivity and culture that would demonstrate the considerable differences between them and Anglo- American women”. Its all about moving from a sameness of identity to a sameness of politics. hooks discussed in her writing this idea of feminism being a political consciousness rather than an identity. While identity is important, I think, moving away from a naturalized subjectivity will allow a movement away from a framework that only serves to perpetuate oppression rather than combate it. 

Posted by: santaria | November 30, 2007

Redefining Equality!!

There are several ways of defining equality within feminist theory. It is apparent that each individual has a different perspective of equality. Within feminist theory, equality is defined in terms of women achieving equality with men and is defined in terms of women achieving equality through developing their own autonomy. These traditional explanations constituted meanings of equality; limiting feminist discourse. What is missing is an explanation that truly encompasses the perspectives and differences of oppressed individuals. Equality needs to be defined in terms of a collective consciousness for both sexes by incorporating everyone who experiences class and race oppression in order to redefine traditional white ideologies often used in defining feminist theory.

Posted by: f15eagle | November 30, 2007

Verbal Reclamation

Recently I overheard a conversation where another student from another class recounted how a instructor/professor did an exercise of sorts to reclaim certain words (I heard only the mention of the words bitch and cunt).

According to them the instructor/professor had all the students (both male and female) say them alound. The problem the student had with this is that men have used the words bitch and cunt to demean and degrade women. Women have the entitlement to reclaim them, not men. The point of verbal reclamation is to take away the psychological power these words have over us.

I ask what if anything is there for men to reclaim, except their dominance?

Thought I would share this interesting story…

Posted by: coiled | November 20, 2007

Thoughts on Judith Butler

                In the Judith Butler’s article, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” the author argues that “gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo” (416). Butler argues that gender is constituted through a series of “acts” that have been actualized by individuals in repetition over time. The individual object in that experience overtime creates gender and not something a subject has created individually for itself. She further agues that gender is something that is not a concrete “social fiction” but is constantly reproducing, shifting and moving (423).
Butler conceptualizes gender as repetitive social fictions that have been built up and created over time. She states that “corporeal style, an ‘act’” is what the “I” embodies (417). Embodiment then is the performative or reproduction of social scripts. Gender is not something that is internally built by the “I” but something that is done by the body where the body is possibilities. The body that the gender is being performed by then conceptualizes that gender to be a set of truths of what is “natural” or “true belief.” She argues that gender is not a set of concrete identities, but it is always reproduced over and over by the body. Butler further argues that the spaces between the “acts” in gender’s reproduction are where variability occurs, and where social sanctions proceed these variabilities.

Butler argues that gender is performative, but it is not expressive. In order to be expressive a body would have to create it internally by the “I” and present it externally as a possibility. Therefore expression of gender only suggests that it is an “essential” part of a body’s identity that is presented in the world. Butler argues that there is no essential core of a body’s being. An “essential” core identity would then suggest that a body constituted it through a set of preexisting characteristics that have been imposed on that body. The author argues gender as performance does not render any ideas of an essential sex. Through repetition and overtime the body creates an illusion of these “true” social scripts and concrete identities, and those who do not comply are punished. She argues this illusion is what the dichotomous relationship of male/female has come from.

Butler’s idea of performativity has then created the idea that gender is always moving and shifting. The body is constantly doing new “acts,” and gender is in a constant flux. Based on this theory gender is not a given fact, nor is it a set of cultural meanings that have been imposed upon a body. Butler argues “…the more mundane reproduction of gendered identity takes place through the various ways in which bodies are acted in relationship to the deeply entrenched or sedimented expectations of gendered existence” (419). These “sedimentations” of social expectations and social norms help to create the illusion of “true” gender or “belief.”

The author’s theory of gender as performance has given rise to a whole identity politics debate in feminist circles. I argue that her theory is important and liberating to some and not accessible most. I argue that her concept and framework is important in that it gives gender the room to shift and move. It also gives gender a way of being explained beyond heterosexual patriarchal ideals. Gender can not be ascribed a certain set of social characteristics, but overtime the illusion of “true gender identity” is formed. We have been made to believe that gender is something that we rely on, and must have a concrete definition of or else we will be lost. If a body does deviate from these “acts” there are most defiantly social sanctions. Essentially sexed bodies must comply with their naturally gendered selves is what we are taught to believe.

Posted by: f15eagle | November 14, 2007

What is the application of Feminist Theory?

Through the course of the term I have been finding myself becoming increasing alienated from Feminism and Feminist theory in general. A number of the readings I’m sure as a number of people have observed are older going back more than two-decades which brings up the question are the authors arguments valid or relevant given how things have changed significantly since they were written? Another point of contention has been the narrow mindedness of some authors to suggest that something is “bad.” (The article by Catharine Mackinnon on sexuality comes to mind). I find it very problematic for people to focus all their energies on repeatedly emphasizing one point or one arguement to also be alienating. What comes to mind for me when I think of this is how feminists blatantly refuse to acknowledge that somethings do in fact have a biological component to them, that gender might concievably, just possibly have some biological basis.

I really find myself wonding what the practical application of Feminist theory really is. Sociologist have not only theory, but actual research to support their ideas. The same bodes true for psychologists and scientists in general (although there is a lot of bad science that does get published or interpreted incorrectly out of stupidity or for the purpose of pushing an agenda). But what does Feminism have to support their ideas aside from our word and our experience that this is the way things are and the the way things are basically sucks unless you are rich and or famous?

At this time I can think of two things that I percieve as having similaries with Feminist theory. Philosophy and math. Pure philosophy is interesting and makes you think but often asks questions and brings up issues without neccesarily providing a clear anwser thus has limited applicability. And studying math by itself devoid of grounding it in a specific context (research, chemistry, physics, engineering, economics, making educated guesses and predictions) is both useless and pointless.  (Of course it could be argued that the utility and applicability of Feminist theory is diminished not because the ideas are not applicable but because of the marginalized position Feminism has within the larger context of society–at least here in the U.S.)

Reinterating one of my points one of the problems I see with Feminism is that it is strictly grounded in ideology and philosophy based on what we are reading and what I have read leading up to this point. It seems feminists are producing none of their own academic research/academic literature to either prove and support their theories or empirically and thoroughly provide some vision for how things could be/should be. The readings we have read so far only offer vague visions of what could be. And in many cases their ideas lack any interrogation or dialogue with sociological, psychological or economic theory except on a very ideological level never seeming to go into any depth or detail (although what we have read has been exclusively short essays not 100-500 page essays or books that thoroughly provide a theoretical working frame work for how to significantly reduce institutionalized gender bias in schools K-12 for example).

I hope I am not the only person who is having these thoughts.

Posted by: clunythescourge | November 6, 2007

Is Welfare a Right?

In Johnnie Tillmon’s 1972 declaration of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWR), “Welfare Is a Women’s Issue”, her analysis of the way women’s rights have been subverted in the struggle over welfare rights has been defined by the history of race, class, gender and sexuality and the subsequent hierarchical relationships which emerged. A year prior and another continent away, in her 1971 essay “Women and the Subversion of the Community”, Maria Rosa Dalla Costa speaks about the women’s roles within revolutionary Marxism in Italy, and describes the contradictions in how feminism as a movement has been subsumed by, seen as in opposition to, Marxism as a movement against class and labor oppression, when the role of women and the family are the fundamental core on which the structure of capitalistic oppression lies. Dalla Costa outlines women’s roles within the family, and details how the structure of hetero-normative nuclear family itself facilitates and perpetuates the organization and division of labor for the success and profitability of the capitalistic system.

According to Dalla Costa, when dismantling hierarchical systems, such as capitalism, we must see who is at the bottom of the structure of inequality and deconstruct their role as natural and inherent, and in these seeing fundamental contradictions which keep women in this role, we must forefront women’s ideas and goals in order for the revolution to succeed. Therefore, to overthrow capitalism and hierarchy, we must look at the root of the problem, i.e., who’s at the bottom of the hierarchy and who is subordinated under domination and oppression, or who is excluded from social production.

Tillmon reveals how women on welfare serve as the bottom of this system by being used as examples, stigmatized and devalued, “to let every woman, factory workers and housewife workers alike, know what will happen if she lets up, if she’s laid off, if she tried to go at it alone without a man” (375). In Tillmon’s analysis, this is how our society keeps women in place, in their expected, proper, and productively functioning role, as women’s productivity in capitalistic terms is derived from how “she acts as a safety valve for the social tensions caused by [capitalistic organization]” (Dalla Costa 16). This enforced passivity of women by the State, by men, by husbands and children, bosses, and by other women is what Tillmon decries as “a super-sexist marriage” (374). This can be evidenced by the policing and punishment of women and their children as dependents, for their daily lives and needs are determined by what the welfare system says the women and children need based on statistics not on personal, humanizing interactions.

Constructed as the “undeserving poor” by the 1935 Mother’s Pension Laws, women and their dependent children (deemed no longer “needy” by the linguistic switch from Temporary Assistance for Families with Needy Children (TANF to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)) are personally vilified for the structural and institutional inequalities which maintain and perpetuate poverty. Their lives are regulated, decisions sanctioned, their few choices laid out for them, autonomy limited, as if the welfare state exists as a punishment apparatus of white supremacist heterosexist patriarchal dominant culture. By reinforcing values of dependency as okay for some and bad for others, punishing some women for not working, but not allowing them to choose a livable wage and imposing forced welfare-to-work laws on some but not on others, this sends strong messages to both these welfare women and to the rest of society that poor working women-of-color are on welfare due to their own personal inadequacies. Welfare women, in short, are being punished by the state for not meeting the standards of what it takes to be a “real” woman, for not having and/or keeping a man in their lives to financially support them, acting the role of the man in a super-sexist marriage between the welfare woman and the state (Tillmon 375). Yet, if women on welfare find a man it is assumed that he doesn’t experience barriers himself in being able to support a family, for example racism, classism, and imperialism.

Welfare policy thus acts as a regulator of our ideological and social norms and structures by perpetuating unequal access to resources, rights and human dignity. By punishing and stigmatizing those who fail in dominant culture’s terms, welfare has been designed to be a type of aid which is not stable nor promotes self-sufficiency and is barely enough to survive on even if one swallows their pride and succumbs to this “handout” for those who are deemed undeserving of “dependency”, creating a state of enforced dependency by its strict regulation of individual behavior and lifestyle. Thereby, in its current state, the welfare system is not doing enough to help the poor overcome poverty and succeed, nor is it doing anything for the right reasons. Relying on assumptions about the poor, the working class, people-of-color, and women, unless drastic changes are made welfare reforms will continue to be directed at the individual rather than at the dynamics which maintain, perpetuate, and benefit from institutionalized inequality. In the words of Mariarosa Dalla Costa:

We are dealing here with the revolt of those who have been excluded, who have been separated by the system of production, and who express in action their need to destroy the forces that stand in the way of their social existence, but who this time are coming together…The revolt of the one against exploitation through exclusion is an index of the revolt of the other. (6)

Posted by: clunythescourge | November 6, 2007

Triple oppressions

In Elizabeth Martinez’s essay “La Chicana”, she brings our theoretical debate into the specific context of the Chicana who suffers from what she calls “triple oppression”, or the intersection of racism, imperialism, and sexism (McCann and Kim 41). As with hooks, Martinez discusses the centrality of race and the history of race relations and militaristic conquest both within and outside of the physical boundaries of the U.S. and expands to its geopolitical context, illustrating how the actions of the U.S. and other colonizing nations have affected other parts of the world. Martinez states that the nature of women’s oppression has begun with the history of Europeans as colonizers upon both the native Indian women of the Americas and Latin-American women using the Catholic Church, the feudal social system, and enforced through “the act of rape: the rape of women, the rape of an entire continent and its people” (McCann and Kim 41). Also, the process of globalization and the structures of inequality it has both produced and reproduced have greatly impacted the Chicana in very negative ways, in term of struggling third world economies, exported western lifestyle and values, the recent dynamics of feminized migration and its effect upon families, and the invisibility of their labor, pain and suffering due to racism, sexism, and imperialistic elitism.

Therefore, Martinez believes that the goals of feminism should be to recognize the diversity of feminist perspectives based on both global positionality and generational differences. She believes that “we will not win our liberation struggle unless we move together with men rather than against them” (McCann and Kim 43). In order to support the Chicana in revolutionary nationalism, those of us who are white women of middle-class background in particular, need to realize that family is for many a source of unity and a major defense against the oppressor, therefore possibly reconsidering our ultimate rejection of the hetero-normative nuclear family. As feminists, we must acknowledge the importance of the role that racism as well as sexism has played, and understand that for the Chicana and other women of color who are advocating feminism, “the three types of oppression cannot be separated… they are all part of the same system, they are three faces of the same enemy” (McCann and Kim 43). Thus, Martinez calls upon us all, as Chicanas, as women of color, as white women, and feminist men to understand the link between historical conquest and contemporary attitudes and beliefs that continue to marginalize the values and goals of feminist women of color, and with courage and strength “struggle as a united force with our men and our allies” (McCann and Kim 44).

Posted by: clunythescourge | November 6, 2007

Has biology been overlooked as a road to gender revolution?

If we rethink what we as a society in the American geo-political context view as “natural” and instead think of nature, biology, and physiology, not as fixed, but as unpredictable and incommesurable, would this help shape a more inclusive claim for equality? Would this mean that our perceptions of gender are actually based on how we have interpreted sex differentiation? Can we then say that since many feminists have separated gender and sex, and actually based the struggle for equality on the presumption that sex precedes gender and that sex is “natural”, this has reinforced the claim for hierarchy and has actually strengthened the exclusive gender binary?

If we looked at the biology of the human body in “shades of difference” (Fausto-Sterling 3) instead of on an either male/or female continuum, perhaps we can then build a case for equality that doesn’t presuppose inequality.

Dismissing the historical importance and emphasis on sex, biology, physiology, and psychology deemed as “natural” and “immutable” characteristics which make males and females of both human and non-human species differ, perhaps claims for equality can be better founded.

If we acknowledge that sex doesn’t necessarily precede gender, but it is how historically and culturally we have viewed the body, we can see that we have created a binary, where we have defined male and female as oppostional extremes, and have actually determined what social roles should be divided into masculine and feminine based on these presumptions.

Therefore, it is how we have percieved sexual difference (i.e., there is more physiological body variation just than penis and vagina) that we then learn how to characterize gender, and this is all based on the idea that procreation is the ultimate achievement of humankind, and this then reinforces heterosexuality as the norm, a must. This is why sexuality is defined by gender and how gender has been defined by sex. But not everyone has relationships to procreate.

In conclusion, it might be useful for feminists who have dismissed sex as a variable which both precedes and informs how we view gender, to rethink the importance of sex in how we view gender and how we justify the importance of gender roles, and how we perpetuate hierarchies through this rhetoric of difference.

Therefore, an expanded feminist argument might be founded on how gender shapes our ideas about sex differences and if we rethink what is “natural”, gender roles might be more easily de-constructed. Thus, claims for equality might be based on how “natural” has been defined and used to justify inequality and hierarchical oppression, instead of waiting for society to change the social roles which have been shaped by our emphasis on gender as socially constructed.

Posted by: sgrahampdxedu | November 2, 2007

I advocate feminism!

Holy pushing the limits of the first batwo(man)…

I really felt that Loretta Ross articulated the frustration I have felt the more we read, as many of these authors have important but limited analyses; and seem to be talking across instead of to each other.  The early feminist movement was one centered around and only concerned with the issues of able-bodied-middleclass-straight-white-women.  A backlash was necessary.  However, the way in which many women responded, as both Smith and Ross pointed out, was counter-revolutionary.  Instead of re-imagining the movement, too many feminists have tried simply to displace the central oppression—that of white men over white women—with their “special” oppression (Ross).  This pitting of personal oppressions against each other leads to a stand-off of what Ross termed “competitive victimhoods;” feminists fighting for the supremacy of their oppression over others’ instead of the whys? and who benefits? of their oppression.  The unique views of women whose bodies are the intersections of multiple oppressions are necessary.  But if their analyses are accessible only to those who share their bodies, then they fail to engage in the important work of theoretical border crossing.

The only shortcoming of Loretta Ross’ attempt to de-sectify feminism was that she tried to redefine feminism in an all encompassing way (anyone engaging in sex should call themselves a feminist).  However, in her attempt to redefine the word, Ross fails to address the structure which infers meaning upon the ‘f’ word.  When I say ‘I am a feminist’ as hooks notes, “I engage a linguistic structure designed to refer some personal aspect of identity and self-definition” (hooks 55).  In that statement, I define myself beside a static image of ‘the feminist;’ I define myself beside the symbol feminist held within the American subconscious, and only that symbol.  Which explains the need to redefine that symbol…‘I am’ is absolute. ‘I am’ is concrete.  ‘I am’ is exclusive.  hooks, instead of working on a redefinition, analyzes the way our language structure means I am a feminist.  English is competitive, it is rooted in an either/or mentality: one is either a boy or a girl; a hunter or a gatherer; a feminist or a housewife; a feminist or a mother; a feminist or an environmentalist.  These things should not necessarily negate each other; but English is a language of dominance and in the structure of an either/or, the first always negates the second, and vice-versa.  The statement ‘I am a feminist’ linguistically triggers this exclusive dualistic thinking in order to describe “some personal aspect of [my] identity and self-definition” —thus limiting my self-definition: I am first and foremost a feminist. 

To side-step this linguistic trap, bell hooks suggest replacing “I am a feminist” with “I advocate feminism” (55).  By removing the linguistic structure that implies primacy, this second statement becomes accessible; anybody, everybody can advocate feminism.  One can even advocate feminism while simultaneously advocating environmentalism, and civil rights!  In advocating feminism I align myself beside like-minded political people instead of a symbol.  I engage in a conversation about what feminism is, instead of who a feminist should be.    


Posted by: santaria | November 1, 2007

Effective Communication- From my Point of view

Similarly, I am interested in the perspective that was offered (providing insight) concerning the differing views of the authors we have read in class.  Bunch and MacKinnon provide very strong, yet one-sided arguments. Rather than focusing on encompassing all individuals in their arguments both of these authors have segregated men by labeling them as the cause of women’s oppression (as well as all types of oppression in return). I’ve found that many authors we have read in class have provided a fair argument by including the varying components that potentially contribute to all forms of oppression. Without considering the various positions individuals have come from we negate to include all individuals in a fight for equality. Therefore, without considering the various components that contribute to oppression and considering the varying positions inviduals come from we are not truly aiming towards equality. Instead, it seems as though we begin to create an array of definitions that only segregate people further (while each individual tries to fit into the definition that fits them best).  It becomes a fight against one another and a fight that eventually achieves inequality in return.

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