Women’s Studies: Consciousness-Raising for Men

Image result for michael kimmelIn the article “Men and Women’s Studies: Promises, Pitfalls, and Possibilities,” Michael Kimmel outlines the importance of women’s studies not only to women but also men.  He states, “I want to take the position that women’s studies is also about men. Or, rather that it makes masculinity potentially visible as a specific construction, and not simply the unexamined norm” (Bordo et al 471).  Rather than examining women’s studies as strictly female-focused, only benefiting women, Kimmel illuminates the impact these studies have on illuminating men to their often unacknowledged masculinity.  Rather than depicting women’s studies as strictly beneficial to women’s liberation, Kimmel believes “by making women visible, women’s studies also made men visible both to women and to themselves” (471).  This truly remarkable statement helped me to feel more at home in the ideas of women’s studies and gender studies as a whole because it calls on the socially constructed nature of gender and its performative expectations of power and control.  Yes, women’s studies are incredibly impactful to the Women’s Liberation Movement, but it is also invaluable for its ability to call no men to question the constructs of gender and the consequences of such.

With this understanding of the potentially unifying power of women’s studies, Kimmel continues to illuminate the concept of gender to the reader via the power dynamics.  Through women’s studies, people are able to see their position in the world clearer.  We can begin to question the inherited notions of the male/female power dynamic by “making women visible” (472).  Kimmel emphasizes the power of women’s studies to “(decenter) men as the unexamined, disembodied authorial voice . . . and (show) that men, as well as women, are utterly embodied, their identities as socially constructed as those of women” (472).  No longer exiled to the periphery, women are able to question their own power in a male-dominated world that often leaves the men in a position of authority.  These challenges not only allow for further agency development of women but also illuminate men to the social constructs surrounding their identities.  Once this seed of understanding is planted in the minds of men and women, the deconstruction of social hierarchy and power dynamics can begin to bridge the gaps that divide the notions of masculinity and femininity.

Image result for gender disparity cartoonsOne thing that Kimmel discusses that I think it is incredibly important for men to realize in order to further gender equality is the power dynamics that shape the notions of male and female.  Too often, men do not realize the privilege that comes with simply being a man.  Certainly, there are other factors that add to the power structure (race, religion, etc.) but the very idea of being a man carries an enormous amount of power in the Patriarchal Contemporary World. Kimmel describes gender as “the ‘it’ that men ‘just don’t get’” (474).  By neglecting to understand and accept this notion of inherited male power, men are unable to clearly see the power discrepancies that divide men from women. Yes, we look different outwardly, but the true difference is in our abilities to act and develop agency freely in a culture.  This freedom, as opposed to living in contrast with something better (as is the case with women and men), is what, to me, is the true separation of men and women.  Comprehending cultural power is one of the great moments of enlightenment men can achieve through Women’s Studies.  As Kimmel states, “Women’s studies scholars have demonstrated that masculinity and femininity are identities that are socially constructed in a field of power.  Gender, like race and class, is not simply a mode of classification by which biological creatures are sorted into their respective and appropriate niches.  GENDER IS POWER (all caps for emphasis)” (474).  That being said, the male-dominated contemporary discourse focuses primarily on men being dominate and women being passive.  Women’s studies let men know that the power they are born with is a false power reinforced by cultural expectations of gender that objectify one gender (women) and exemplify another (men).  Realizing this is integral in unifying the gender divide and ensuring equality for all.

Image result for john stoltenberg how men have a sexJohn Stoltenberg discusses the false sense of gender and power in his article “How Men Have (A) Sex: An Address to College Students.”  I loved this article for how it begins—calling on students to imagine a world of limitless sexualities and possibilities.  A world in which there are no strict categories of classification because everyone is different.  It is in accepting these differences that the creatures on this planet “are capable of having a sense of personal identity without struggling to fit into a group identity based on how they were born” (480).  This freedom allows the creatures to live happy lives because “they don’t worry about sorting other creatures into categories, so they don’t have to worry about whether they are measuring up to some category they themselves are supposed to belong to” (480).  By eliminating the category system, a system that pervades our contemporary world, the very notion of sexes is no longer necessary “so sex between creatures is free to be between genuine individuals—not representatives of a category” (480).  As the article continues, Stoltenberg’s point becomes quite clear.  In this imaginary world, the notions of categories no longer exist because society has accepted the diverse composition of each and every one of its individuals.  When this acceptance trumps the notion of difference—when different stops meaning less—true individual freedom can occur.  Of course, the point of his Sci-fi tale is that this planet of limitless sexualities is none other than our own.

The categorization of individuals brings with it not simply limits and expectations but also notions of power and powerlessness.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts and earlier in this post, the category that leaves the largest imprint of the power/powerless dynamic is gender.  Stoltenberg wants the reader to understand these categories as arbitrary, limiting, and demeaning to human existence when he writes, “We are not born belonging to one or the other o two sexes.  We are born into a physiological continuum on which there is no discrete and definite point that you can call ‘male’ and no discrete and definite point that you can call ‘female’” . . . but we do.  By doing so, we eliminate the authenticity of individuals in favor of a set of expectations that are culturally constructed.

Image result for gender equality cartoonThe ideas of Kimmel and Stoltenberg are integral in the progression of male participation in the Women’s Liberation Movement.  By understanding the implied power that comes with being born a man and questioning the nature of socially constructed gender roles, men can better contribute to the deconstruction of power dynamics that plague the discourse surrounding gender.  When we stop categorizing individuals into the antiquated notion of gender, sexuality, etc., men and women alike will see the freedom that comes with true uninhibited independence and develop a true sense of agency within the world.  Eliminating these categories allows society to celebrate distinct, unique individuals for being themselves as opposed to oppressing them for failing to meet prescribed expectations.  By recognizing the socially constructed notions of power on all levels, not just gender, society can begin to unify and eliminate the disparities that plague those on the periphery.

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Freedom from Sexism Vs. Sexual Freedom: A Feminist Debate

Image result for bernadette bartonBernadette Barton begins her article “Freedom from Sexism Versus Sexual Freedom” by stating, “When I am writing this, U.S. citizens contend with an enormous number of contradictory messages about sexuality.  On one hand, sexually explicit imagery is literally everywhere . . . at the same time, although we are assaulted with images of jiggling booties in ever media we encounter, Americans are prudish when it comes to speaking about sex” (Bordo et. al. 430).  To me, never a truer statement has been made regarding American perception of sexuality.  Although written years ago, Barton’s comments are perhaps even more relevant in 2018.  As a teacher, I understand the exposure young people have to sexually explicit content.  It’s not simply on magazine covers and in boxes in your parents’ garage labeled “Christmas Decorations” anymore.  It’s everywhere and access to content has never been easier.  There is no sheepishly eyeing the sidebar ads playing Backyard Baseball on dial-up and hoping no one sees you.  I mean, young people today have internet on their phones.  I repeat.  THEY HAVE INTERNET ON THEIR PHONES!

Even though exposure to sexual content is so high among the youth of today, the idea of sexuality is still plagued with awkward pauses and vernacular that does not address the current landscape in any meaningful way.  There seems to be this stigma around sexuality that causes public silence surrounding the subject.  Barton describes the contemporary landscape as lacking “both the language and the confidence to have meaningful conversations about sexuality” (430).  For her, this inherent silence is immensely detrimental to the development of women but, I believe, this is detrimental to society as a whole.  She suggests two types of people who can help “make sense of this disconnect”—Radical and Sex Radical Feminists.  Although at times contentious, using these two schools of thought can improve the dialogue surrounding sexuality and help to eliminate the staunch silence that pervades the public perception of sexuality.

Image result for Radical FeministsTo understand the importance of both of these Feminist movements, it is imperative that we understand the viewpoints each has on sexuality.  Radical Feminists demand “economic, political, and sexual freedom” (431).  In order to achieve these goals, famed Radical Feminists Andrea Dworkin, Susan Brownmiller, and Robin Morgan focused primarily “on violence against women, especially visible in the extremely profitable pornography industry” (431).  These Feminists believed the impetus on submission and abuse present in pornography negatively portrayed women and in turn, inhibited the progress of the Women’s Liberation Movement.  Dworkin, Brownmilller, and Morgan “examined the subordination of women’s sexuality in patriarchal social systems” (431).  By illuminating the oppressive portrayal of women in pornography, Radical Feminists attempt to dismantle the male-dominated portrayal of women in public spaces believing that “change must happen at the foundation of a society, not within existing political systems” (431).  The existing system is one that favors male dominance over female passivity.  To Radical Feminists, this idea of male domination over women is continually re-established in pornography, or as Barton states, the “fusing (of) women’s sexuality with violence and objectification in people’s minds maintains male dominance” (431).  For Radical Feminists, the ability to challenge the male-dominated perception of pornography, a perception that “eroticize(s) hierarchy, domination, violence, and inequality,” is imperative to dismantling the current societal concepts of sexuality and women’s bodies (431).

Image result for Sex Radical FeministsThough valid points were made using the Radical Feminist approach to pornography, some women felt the elements of desire and domination were not holy negative to women.  With this point of contention, the Sex Radical Feminist perspective was formed.  Most importantly, the two still long for Women’s Liberation sexually; however, where Radical Feminists believed domination and desire, as portrayed in pornography, sexualized abuse on women as a whole, Sex Radical Feminists believed lived, individual experience determined the negative effects of pornography.  Barton states, “Sex radical feminism begins with an exploration of how one’s individual experience does or does not align with a radical feminist critique of social phenomenon” (432). Where Radical Feminists made sweeping generalizations about all women, Sex Radical Feminists allowed for more subjective lived perspectives to shape their understanding of sexuality and Feminism.  Furthermore, the Radical Feminist approach neglected to address both the class and race issues surrounding the perceptions of Feminism I discussed in “The American Way: Classist Thought and Oppression.” That being said, the Sex Radical Feminist school of thought became more inclusive to new Feminist because of the emphasis on lived-experience and desire.  By demonizing the desires of some women to engage in power play with their mate, the Radical Feminists marginalized a particular portion of their audience by establishing a right and a wrong way to have sex, a “feminist sex” and a “male-dominate sex.”  By existing in the great area, Sex Radical Feminists developed an approach to Feminism that emphasized lived experience and sexual desire as a means of “destabilizing” the patriarchy (434).

With these two schools of thought emerging within the Feminist Movement, Feminists find themselves divided once again.  Barton concisely illuminates this division when she writes:

On an individual level, having control over one’s body means having the freedom to take off one’s shirt as well as leave it on.  It all depends on the political and cultural context.  At the same time, on an institutional level, women’s overall participation in the sex industry reinforces a sexist social order that negatively impacts all women” (435).

Yes, pornography reinforces the notions of male domination in an already overly male-dominated society.  Yes, it is a woman’s right to take her clothes off and participate in pornography.  That being said, Barton believes, as do I, “The radical feminist goal of freedom from sexism is compatible with the sex radical goals of sexual freedom” (435).

Image result for consciousness raising groups feminismSo, knowing that both goals are compatible with one another, how can we reconcile the two into a solution?  By examining Andrea Dworkin’s “Pornography and Grief” alongside Dorothy Allison’s “Public Silence, Private Terror,” one crucial element became clear to me—Consciousness- raising groups.  Unifying women in groups of support rather than excluding them from the discourse allows for unification that needs to occur in order for Women’s Liberation to be successful.  Both Dworkin and Allison emphasize the importance of communication in furthering their call to action.  Dworkin, at a Take Back the Night event, calls on women to stand up to “the fixedness of the male compulsion to dominate and destroy” (438).  She uses her speech to raise awareness on the violence surrounding women’s bodies and pornography, and she implores women to “take back the night every night” (440).  To me, a Take Back the Night event is a large consciousness-raising group that aims to change the perspective of domination and women’s bodies.   Similarly, Allison calls on women to be more understanding of lived experiences surround sexuality.  She writes, “None of us (women) is safe, because we have never made each other safe . . . We have addressed violence and exploitation and heterosexual assumption without establishing first the understanding that for each of us desire is unique and necessary and simply terrifying” (445).  By addressing the fear surrounding female existence, Allison, much like Dworkin, is calling on young women to understand one another and to unite for change.  For both Allison and Dworkin, the idea of silence as a means of oppression is central to their beliefs surrounding sexuality.  By eliminating this silence via consciousness-raising groups, the Radical Feminist and Sex Radical Feminist approaches can begin to eliminate the stigma surrounding sexuality and feminism. Once this silence becomes a roar, discussing sexuality in public discourse will no longer be plagued with awkward pauses but enriched with meaningful insight.

 

Spatial Boundaries: Docile Bodies in Culture

Image result for Michel Foucault discipline and punishmentThe manipulation of space has its roots deep in the history of mankind.  I know that sounds like an opening that people say “Don’t start with throughout history.”  Trust me.  I would avoid it if I could, but in this case, it’s true.  In his book Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, Michael Foucault examines the impact behavior modification can have on a person—namely prisoners.  While his belief that augmenting a person’s behavior and limiting their spatial freedom was exceptional useful (depicted as rather sadistic throughout the work), these same fundamental ideas can be seen in Fatima Mernissi’s essays “The Meaning of Spatial Boundaries.”

Foucault takes time to label two bodies of existence that arise through spatial manipulation and limitation.  He defines the first as the mechanical body.  That is “the body composed of solids and assigned movements” (155).  This mechanical is the body as it exists with its own expectations and limitations.  The other is the natural body which he defines as “the bearer of forces and the sear of duration; it is the body susceptible to specific operations, which have their order, their stages, their internal conditions, and their constituent elements” (155).  Image result for Michel FoucaultFoucault argues the use of imprisonment and punishment manipulate bodies in such a way that true expectation is eliminated and the prisoner is left essentially waiting for orders.  As Foucault states, “it is the body of exercise, rather than of speculative physics, a body manipulated by authority, rather than imbued with animal spirits; a body of useful training and not of rational mechanics, but one in which, by virtue of the very fact, a number of requirements and functional constraints are beginning to emerge” (155).  Basically, the manipulation of bodies begins to condition the person to live and act according to orders given to them.  This renders the body’s natural abilities docile and readily overtook by commands (i.e. the docile body is powerless).

Image result for fatima mernissiThe ability to manipulate the body and the space of interaction is a key tenet surrounding Muslim expectations of public spaces and power dynamics.  Fatima Mernissi describes the accepted behavior between Muslim men and women in public spaces as containing “regulatory mechanisms (that) consist primarily of a strict allocation of space to each sex and an elaborate ritual for resolving contradictions arising from the inevitable intersections of space” (Bordo et al 350).  The very idea of a guideline to dictate interaction demonstrate the manipulative restrictions that exist on Muslim female bodies.  She continues to depict this limitation as she describes the Muslim perception of public spaces as “male spaces” in which women “trespass” (350).  Labeling public spaces as in this way exemplifies the ability of culture to manipulate human bodies, and its ability to set limitations on the mechanical body which allows the natural body to form.

It is through these societal and cultural expectations that women’s bodies become manipulated within a system of the power/powerless binary.  Mernissi describes these divisions as “institutionalized boundaries” which “express the recognition of power in one part at the expense of the other” (350).  Viewing the public spaces (streets, stores, etc.) as male, Muslim culture inscribes the ideas of isolation and division within the female perspective of public spaces.  Women, in turn, are limited to the dwelling.  Mernissi describes the “strict” boundaries within Muslim society to be so divisive that it creates two “subuniverses.”  She describes these two spaces as “The universe of men (the umma, the world of religion and power) and the universe of women (the domestic world of sexuality and family)” (351).  By manipulating the spatial boundaries of Muslim women, the muslin men have solidified a power dynamic that “reflects the divisions between those holding authority and those who do not, those who hold spiritual powers and those who do not” (351).  Similar to Foucault’s depiction of docile bodies in the prison system, within Muslim society where those who have power/command (men) and those who obey (women).

With this power dynamic as a basis for Muslim society, Muslim women are often limited to the periphery of society and isolated to the domestic roles that Muslim men deem fit for them.  Society, in fact, manipulates the public spaces of Muslim women in such a way that it actually “discourage(s), and even prohibit(s), any communications between the sexes” (352).   Naturally, the understanding between males and females within Muslim culture has suffered greatly as a result of this oppressive division.  Cross-gender conversations/relationships are no longer used as vehicles for understanding the other.  They are instead used as a means of oppression for females in the public (male) space. In fact, as Mernissi states, “whenever cooperation between men and women is inevitable . . . an array of mechanisms is set in motion to prevent too great an intimacy from arising” (352).

One mechanism implemented in Muslim culture that manipulates the bodies of females in public spaces is veiling. By means of covering the face, Muslim women are essentially closed off from the Public (male) Spaces of exposure.  This initial power play manipulates the female’s ability to engage and develop agency within the male spaces.  It also discourages the perceived dangers of sexuality that surround the interactions of males and females within Muslim culture.  This veiling, while manipulating and depicting the power dynamic of the male/female binary, also increased the notion of seduction within the community for “sexual segregation heightens the sexual dimensions of any interaction between men and women” (352).  Essentially, the very power play of veiling female bodies to eliminate the lustful male gaze in face increased the very idea it wished to eliminate.

Image result for muslim veiling

 

Along with the counterintuitive nature of veiling to eliminate the lustful male eye, the notion of seduction as a means of power begins to develop.  Mernissi describes seduction as “a structural component of human relations in general” (352).  With seduction developing as a means of power, it seems the societal isolation is once again fostering the very acts it hoped to limit.  As Mernissi states, “A society that opts for sexual segregation, and therefore for impoverishment of heterosexual relations, is a society that fosters “homosocial” relations on one hand and seduction as a means of communication on the other” (352).  By limiting the interactions between the sexes and manipulating the bodies of women via veiling, Muslim society decreased the value of heterosexual relationships and encouraged the development of destructive dynamics between males and females.  The rise of seduction is no surprise for “in a society in which heterosexual relations are combated, emotional fulfillment is inhibited” (353).  This inhibition of self-fulfillment is a result of the limitations imposed on female bodies within the male-dominated Muslim culture.

All of these limitations, to me, stem from the fear of women and sexual liberation, and this is where I think there are some stark parallels between Muslim and Western societies.  Mernissi describes the Muslim belief that sexuality and aggression go hand-in-hand when she writes, “The perception of female aggression is directly influenced by the theory of women’s sexuality” (357).  If a woman’s sexual prowess reflects her aggression, then in a society that limits the ability of women to become sexually liberated, she must be passive.  This fear of sexual liberation drives the belief of female oppression in Muslim society and, I think, arguably in the Western world as well.  These limitations of sexual freedom result in a manipulation of the female body that renders it passive, or as Mernissi writes, “the absence of active sexuality moulds the women into a masochistic passive being . . . the nature of her aggression is precisely sexual” (357).  While in Muslim culture sexuality is feared as an outward challenge to the power dynamics and gender roles of society, sexuality is equally demonized in Western culture.  Too often, sexually free women are labeled as whores, sluts, etc. while men who exhibit the same behavior are chided as god-like.  In both societies women are deemed less, even feared, because of sexual freedom while men are lauded for their “achievements.”  Where men are celebrated, women are “repugnant precisely because (they are) libidinous” (358).  Both cultures limit the sexuality of women.  The Muslim world isolates and divides the sexes to encourage, however counterproductively, the power dynamics of their culture while the Western world shames female sexuality in a way that encourages the power dynamics of the male/female binary in a male-dominated world. In both cases, culture dictates and manipulates female bodies in ways that solidify and encourage the power/powerless dynamic.  This dynamic maintains the perception of the female body as docile and readily manipulated by the male gaze.

 

P.S.  I don’t want this to be a critique on Muslim culture, and I hope it didn’t come across as such.  I was trying to examine the power dynamics that exist when bodies are manipulated based on the male-gaze.  I mean, we do it in the Western world too, but to me, that’s a thesis, not a blog.

P.P.S. Sorry, this is a pretty bland post.  I wanted to add some cartoons and gifs, but they all just seemed kind of offensive to me.

Consciousness-Raising Groups: Latin American Lesbians and Feminism

Image result for hannah arendt the human conditionSince reading Hannah Arendt’ The Human Condition, I truly believe the public/private binary is one of the most overlooked yet important elements of, well, the human condition.  In the digital modern world, I think the ability to act in a public sphere of exposure has changed dramatically.  I mean, anyone can join a sub-Reddit or Facebook group and contribute to the discourse of that given group all from the safety of their computer.  The world has gotten smaller in that respect.  However, to me, there is a difference between acting publicly in private and acting publicly in public. This seems particularly challenging for those groups (LGBT, Latinos, etc.)  ostracized to the periphery of a culture.

Image result for norma mogrovejoAfter reading Norma Morgrovejo’s article “The Latin American Lesbian Movement: Its Shaping and Its Search for Identity,” the struggles of the Lesbian Movement within Feminism outside the Wester/European world became clearer to me.  It seems, for Lesbians in Latin America, the journey for agency exists in both a private and public sphere.  Morgrovejo summarizes the Latin American Lesbian search for agency as a search “for spaces of legitimization . . . Within the civil society and . . . independently, in order to configure themselves as political subjects capable of generating public discourse” (Bordo, et. al. 312).  For Latin American Lesbians, this struggle for agency stems from a strict Catholic state of existence that silences those who choose a homosexual/Non-“Traditional” lifestyle.  With such deep cultural influence from Catholicism, Latin American Lesbians are stripped of their identity as women, as validated by the expectations of heteronormativity and family, and are left, essentially, with a clean slate of existence.  To generate a new perception of themselves within the Latin American discourse, Lesbians needed to begin their agency development in the private sphere or, as Morgrovejo writes, “behind closed doors” (312).

Image result for latin american feministWith this new beginning, Latin American Lesbians found the Feminist Movement to be an excellent source of inspiration.  Morgrovejo describes the revelations experienced by Latin Lesbians under the aegis of feminism as a realm of exposure for which they could “think of themselves in terms of their particularities as women (313).  It is important to remember that because of their rejection of heteronormative expectations in Latin American Catholic culture, they had been stripped of this identity.  For the Latin American Lesbians, “Feminism provided them with the theoretical and methodological tools to analyze the unequal relations between men and women” (313).  This theory, they believed, still operated and contrasted with the male-dominated, heteronormative culture they wished to reject.  Essentially, they could not truly identify and develop agency within Feminism because they believed the male-dominated world still determined its existence.  Using the theory surrounding Feminism (mostly the power dynamics of the male/female binary), Latin American Lesbians began to use “separatism as a strategy for political organization and positioning that allowed them to elaborate theoretical spaces based on autonomy” (313).  They wished to establish a discourse in which male-dominated cultural influences did not permeate the idea of what a woman should be and how she should operate in contemporary culture.

In these autonomous group, Latin American Lesbians were not only hoping to develop agency and operate under a new discourse in an oppressive world, but they were also looking to Feminism to establish themselves despite its increasing value on “heterocentric hermeticism” (314).  Latin Lesbians, with this understanding of heterocentric hermeticism, believed “feminist demands were conceived for women in heterosexual relations” (314).  So, where do Latin Lesbians, who reject this notion of heterosexual expectation, go? They sought a way to express themselves publicly, within a discourse that represented them, but could find solace neither in the heteronormative nor the Feminist discourse.

Image result for consciousness raising groupsWith a sense of longing, Latin Lesbians delved further into the idea of autonomy for agency development. Their desire for autonomy, as Mogrovejo writes, “Should be understood as a result of their experiences . . . and their resistance to both the heterocentric policies of feminism and the phallocentric and misogynistic practices of the homosexual movement and the left” (315).  Because these public spheres left Latin American Lesbians isolated, they called for a rethinking of “lesbian identities” and “to work on the proposals that emerged from experience and the body itself” (315).  This concept, conceived out of a need to express themselves public and develop agency within the world, revolutionized the concept of gender and identity.  Latin American Lesbians called on contemporary discourses to evaluate the lens with which we see the world.  The prescribed expectations placed on genders in both the heteronormative culture and the Feminist Movement oftentimes do not accurately reflect the beliefs of its constituents.  In the case of Latin American Lesbians, this spawned a rejection that shifted the focus of gender and sexual identity politics within the region.

Latin American Lesbians, through consciousness-raising groups (key to the development of any movement), were able to develop the concept of Lesbo-feminism.  These meetings allowed “private spaces for reflection and political practice” as well as “public spaces where day-to-day and spiritual elements converged” (317).  These meetings allowed the private thought of Latin Lesbians to enter the Public Sphere, and it was the convergence of these groups that allowed for the establishment of a discourse conducive to the Latin American Lesbian struggle.  With their new found agency with these groups, Latin American Lesbians were able to converge with the Feminist Movement and challenge and crack the heterocentric hermeticism that previous excluded the women.  With these groups, “Lesbo-feminism . . . positioned itself as a political current that challenges one of the most imposing political regimes, heterosexuality, which determines that relationships between men and women should be relationships of domination based on the division of labor according to sex, and on the imposition of reproductive sexuality (317).  With this expanded concept of feminism, Latin American Lesbians were able to take their private beliefs public, thus establishing agency in contemporary discourse.  This newfound agency allowed them to act publically and politically in the advancement of both the Lesbian and Feminist Movements.

 

Image result for lesbian-feminismThe work of the Latin American Lesbians, explored in Norma Mogrovejo’s “The Latin American Lesbian Movement: Its Shaping and Its Search for Autonomy,” makes clear the importance of consciousness-raising groups within a movement.  As we’ve seen with the Latin American Lesbians, this idea of making the private public is not easily done.  Of course, in the digital age, this becomes a lot easier, but the very idea of exposing oneself to the public sphere can be suffocating for some people.  I see this challenge acted out in my students every day.  The isolation that comes from the inability to expose oneself publicly robs that person of any agency within the world.  As a staunch believer in self-love leading to world-love, this idea of isolation troubles me, but it also lets me know there is work to be done.  How can you accept and love yourself if your identity leaves you on the periphery of the periphery?

The Feminist Movement and Lesbianism

Image result for diverse womenSimone De Beauvoir begins her book The Second Sex by depicting the inherent patriarchal mindset of contemporary discourse by asking a simple question and providing an answer.  She writes, “What is a woman . . . The fact that I ask it is in itself significant.  A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male” (Bordo et al. 199).  By calling to light the very idea of woman as an Other that needs explained, she is able to illuminate the world to its preconceived notions of gender, power, and ideology that shape the patriarchy as superior.  Similarly, Ann M. Ciasullo, in her essay “Strained Sisterhood: Lesbianism, Feminism, and the U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement,” collects three works that accurately depict the idea of compulsory heterosexuality, and its influences in contemporary feminist thought.  Ciasullo depicts the divisive, definitive, and damaging entities in an already strained movement and calls on the unification of all women.  Where De Beauvoir challenges the notion of woman as a cultural Other, Ciasullo’s collection challenges the idea of heterosexuality as culturally normal and in doing so, allows the reader to understand the importance of transcending and eliminating the binaries of male/female, butch/femme, and hetero/homo in order to further the Woman’s Liberation Movement.

One of the greatest divisions within the Women’s Liberation Movement, as expressed by Ciasullo, is the idea of lesbianism. Isolating lesbianism when the Liberation Movement seems counter-productive, but, as Ciasullo states, their “contentious relationship makes sense . . . (because) the Women’s Liberation Movement was assumed by the mainstream U.S. media to be a militant political enterprise run by man-hating lesbians” (293).  By depicting the Women’s Lib. Movement as such, contemporary male-centered discourse manipulated yet another category to divide the Movement.  The unfortunate portrayal of the Women’s Liberation Movement as “man-hating lesbians” significantly limited the abilities of the movement to progress because not all women hated men and not all women who supported the movement were lesbians.  So how does the movement distance itself from the portrayal of “man-hating lesbians?” The distance themselves from Lesbians altogether. So, if De Beauvoir expounds on the idea of what is a woman, the Women’s Liberation Movement must answer the question “What is a feminist?”

Image result for feminist cartoonsAnswer One: In the Radicalesbians’ “The Woman-Identified Woman,” the ideas of lesbianism and feminism go hand-in-hand.   They passionately write, “A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.  She is the woman who, often beginning at an early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society . . . cares to allow her” (301). This idea of freedom seems unachievable unless a woman is a lesbian.  They believe that lesbianism is not so much a sexual preference but more of a revolt against the heteronormative expectations of women in the contemporary world.

To further their claims, the Radicalesbians, much like De Beauvoir, illuminate the reader to the inherent heteronormative, male-dominated culture in which we operate, and its oppressive presence within the discourse.  They believe “lesbianism . . . is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles dominated by male supremacy . . .  (that) dehumanize women by defining us (women) as a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men” (302).  Basically, the very idea of lesbianism exists only because the contemporary discourse surrounding sexuality values male-dominated, heteronormative ideals as essential.  This idealization of sexuality leaves all non-conforming individuals on the periphery.

Understanding the idea of women and lesbianism as defined by male-dominated sex roles, the Radicalesbians call on a new definition of woman.  They want women to cast aside the accepted discursive idea of the male-identified woman in favor of a new concept—a woman-identified woman.  A woman-identified woman does not define herself in the power relationship of a male-dominated concept of woman (i.e. dependent on his power, ego, and class to define herself). She, instead, “ is a feminist recognizes the relationship between sexism and heterosexism, who understands the intersections between one’s personal choices and the larger political consequences, and who chooses to value women over men—regardless of her own sexual orientation” (296).  A woman-identified woman rejects the male-dominated cultural expectations of a woman and, instead, seeks to abolish those norms by calling to light the term lesbian as “a label invented by Man to throw at any women who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives . . . who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs” (302).  So, essentially, for the Radicalesbians lesbianism is feminism with a different name.

Image result for Tina BelcherAnswer Two: Another method of deriving a definition of what feminism is came from Amber Hollibaugh and Cherie Maraga.  In their essay “What We’re Rolling Around in Bed With: Sexual Silences in Feminism,” Hollibaugh and Maraga hold similar perceptions of lesbianism as a filter dictated by a male-driven society.  They negotiate the place of lesbianism in the world based on “a society where heterosexuality is considered the norm” (Bordo et al).  This belief seems similar to the notions put forth by the Radicalesbians.  Unlike the Radicalesbians, Hollibaugh and Maraga argue that heterosexuality does not necessary mean heterosexist.

Where the Radicalesbians believed that feminism existed in a rejection of male-dominated discourse and heteronormative expectations of contemporary culture.  For them, this meant denying all desire for male-approval both culturally and sexually.  Hollibaugh and Maraga believe that feminism is able to exist outside the realm of lesbianism because the idea of feminism has less to do with denying your desires and more to do with embracing your desired roles.  In order to do this, one must begin to look past the idea of the oppressor/oppressee binary as male/female and, instead, look at it as a power dynamic that can transcend the idea of gender.

The premise of their sexual theory relies on the idea that the same power struggle in heterosexual relationships exists within female homosexual relationships in the form of Butch/Femme.   This power dynamic exists within the lesbian community as oppressor/oppressee, and it is surrounded by fear.  Fear of losing power.  Fear of conforming.  Fear of losing their authenticity within the feminist movement. To remedy this, Hollibaugh and Maraga have a simple answer—Embrace one another.  Love yourself and be comfortable in your desires as feminists and re-conceptualize the idea that vulnerability in relationships (same-sex or otherwise) is an authentic feeling that allows you to actualize your true desires.  Power is not a prerequisite for feminist thought.

Image result for Unifying FeministMy Answer (As a Heterosexual, White Male): Through both these readings one thing that sticks with me.  Much like De Beauvoir’s belief that the concept of woman is inscribed by the world in which we live, Feminism acts in the very same way.  For Radicalesbians, it exists within the realm of Lesbianism.  For Hollibaugh and Maraga, it is embracing and re-conceptualizing the idea of sexual desire.  For both, it seems, feminism performative.  Feminism is a performative act in which the things you do and say reflect the ideals of the Feminist movement.  For both the Radicalesbians and Hollibaugh and Maraga, feminism is an ideal reflected in how you present yourself to the world.  That being said, I believe the concept of feminist thought lies in what you do within the movement by remaining authentic to your true self.  If one must compromise their true self, they are often more hesitant to support an idea.  Essentially, You can like men or women or both and STILL be a feminist. Furthering the struggle of the Feminist movement while remaining authentic to yourself is not only more inclusive and beneficial for the Feminist movement but also necessary for the cultivating of individual self-love that is imperative to the progress of all movements.

 

The American Way: Classist Thought and Oppression

Image result for Perry county paThe idea of critically thinking about your subject position is something that not everyone takes the time to do.  By neglecting subject position, people turn a blind eye to prejudices and perceptions that are inherently engrained within their discourse.  I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual male from a close-minded and isolating portion of Pennsylvania (At this time, please enjoy the often used logo of my home county). There are elements of this world that, as a child, I perceived as normal simply because of where I was raised.  The idea of injustice carried a different and, unfortunately, still carries, a different meaning than it does other places.  This is caused by a number of reasons.  One: The town and county are 98% white.  Two: A majority of the town lives at the poverty line.  The working class makes up a majority of the population, therefore, the perception of outside causes not directly correlated to them rarely sees the light of day.  There are some who move out of the town, much like myself and, through research and exposure, begin to better recognize social injustices, but even though my current surroundings and stance in the world changed, where I grew up does not. That’s why to truly understand and eliminate social injustices, it is imperative to assess where you’re currently positioned and where you were previously positioned within the world.  When you negotiate the past with the present, steps towards the future become more purposeful and impactful to the world around you.

This idea of social position and discourse is discussed extensively in Karen W. Tice’s article “The ‘Personal Politics’ of Class.”  Tice begins by illuminating the reader to past activists and calling on the need to “recogniz(e) multiple forms of privilege and oppression including class and poverty” (213).  She argues, and I think makes incredibly valid points, that too often feminist thought and discussion circulates within the realm of the middle-class.  In isolating the conversation to the middle-class, much like the injustices missed in my little hometown, feminist causes related to the working class are often “submerge” and “banished to the back seat relative to gender, race, and other identity markers” (213).  Simply put—the discussions surrounding social injustices focus on outward identity markers and rarely discuss socioeconomic status despite it having an immediate impact on one’s perception of the world.

To Tice, this is an incredibly offensive stance to take within the feminist movement.  Instead of encouraging the unifying nature of feminism, contemporary feminist discourse is isolating a large portion of its potential members.  By engaging in “frank talk about the subjective, person, psychic, and emotional aspects of class and its effects on one’s identity, body, behavior, aspirations, attitudes, and relationships,” feminist, and really all realms of thought, can begin to understand their views of the world in relation to other and begin to create an all-encompassing method of advancement instead of a narrow-focused fix or a specific class.

Image result for social class cartoons

This idea of subject positioning and class as a means of understanding is crucial to the creating of a better world for women, but it also is important for a better world in general. So often, class is something overlooked for the sake of other categories of oppression; however, the ideological framework of individuals is inherently determined based on their class and true progress must address the fundamental discursive hindrances of specific classes. If someone works 60 hours a week at two minimum wage jobs, it becomes more challenging for them to seek agency within any struggle not immediately impacting their ability to survive.  As I discussed earlier, my hometown exists in a world of working-class people focused primarily on working.  It was/is rare to see any sort of advocacy that does not directly impact the working-class individual.  This is understandable in a Capitalist world, but it is also limiting to the movements for social reform.  In order to further expand the idea of social reform, advocates must realize class is “not just a matter of who had more money, education, and leisure time but also of the assumptions that we make about the world, out place in it, the feelings we carry, and our feelings of security, vulnerability, comforts, confidence, and shame” (216).  Socioeconomic class is a gatekeeper that limits and filters many people’s perception of the world.

Image result for social class cartoonsTice discusses the feminist movement’s affinity to “neglect to confront the landmines of class privilege, power, and hierarchies within their own organizations and in everyday behavior” (214).  This neglect is emphasized by the exploitation and tokenization of the American Myth.  Tice describes the American Myth as a depiction of America as “the land of opportunity” (217).  To take full advantage of the opportunity, one must “work hard, stay in line, (and) you’ll get ahead. (Getting ahead always means money) (217). In order to solidify this idea, contemporary culture idolizes tokens of this American Dream.  Despite its glimpse of hope, tokenization does little to help any movement, but it does aid in pacifying the masses and sedating the resistance struggle within the contemporary world.  It “creates a smug security for middle-class whites.  It also allows them to be blind to class differences by showing them people who ‘made it.’ The middle-class person then assumes that with extra effort a ‘disadvantaged’ person can get ahead, she just has to work harder” (217).  So, basically, the idea of addressing class disparity falls from middle and upper-class shoulders to the working-class people themselves.  If the problem is depicted as an individual problem, it is no longer a societal concern and can easily be seen as a non-factor in determining social reform.

Image result for mass incarceration political cartoonIn The Last Straw, Rita Mae Brown stresses the bastardization of the American Myth and its pervasive, oppressive presence within American youth.  She writes, “All public school children are fed this myth.  It gives poor people hope and it reinforces middle-class people’s belief in their own superiority” (222).  Teaching in an urban, impoverished area, I have first-hand experience with the pressure to tell kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. In the age of social media, it seems the idolization of exceptions (i.e. tokens) is more popular than it’s ever been.  I mean, the internet is flooded with Kylie Jenners and pink-haired rappers that reinforce this idea of the American Myth and the ability of hard work to yield fame and fortune. As a teacher for the last five years, I’ve witnessed the shift from realistic careers to unrealistic ones, and when kids fail, it is often viewed as laziness and lack of self-efficacy.  This classist mentality imposed on young children does not take into consideration mass incarceration, immigration, and a panoply of other systemic measures of oppression that they WILL be faced with (those who disagree with the idea of systemic oppression should read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Race Matters Race Matters by Cornel West and get back to me on that.)  That being said, in most schools, it is still frowned upon to illuminate 13-year-old kids to systemic oppression no matter how impactful it will eventually be.   To me, this idea of emphasizing exceptions over realities and neglecting the obvious roadblocks most minorities (race, gender, and/or class) face is incredibly detrimental to young people, but it seems to be the “American Way”

Image result for quotes on unityGinny Berson discusses the issues with class in Class Revisited: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. It seems she argues for a unification of classes in order to further the ideas of feminism.  She calls for a change to classist thought within the feminist movement and stresses the idea that “women can change—that middle-class women can recognize in themselves patterns of behavior that are oppressive to lower class women, oppressive because they arise out of material privilege; and also that lower class women can recognize in themselves patterns of behavior that result from their oppression” (227).  I believe this idea of recognition is imperative to the success of not only the Feminist Movement but also any social movement.  By evaluating our subject position and reconciling it with the world around us, we can begin to identify and address the classist nature of contemporary discourse.  Once identified, the notions of fear, isolation, and abandonment within any subjugated member/group of any movement becomes more apparent.  Much like the theorist discussed in previous blogs, it seems the best way of advancing feminist thought is a collective consciousness that allows for empathy and encouragement.  When the divides of any group no longer exist, people begin to naturally unify and strive for a change they can believe in.

 

 

Self-Love: Intersectionality, Racism, and Oppression

Throughout my readings in Provocations: A Transnational Reader in the History of Feminist Thought, one glaring revelation (I use revelation loosely because it arrived more as a reaffirmation) consistently makes itself known—racial bias operates beside gender bias. Despite the fact that Women’s Liberation is intended to be an all-encompassing movement designed to advance the treatment of women as a whole, popular perception depicted/s the movement as a white movement. Much like the discourse that established the male/female power dynamic influences the perceptions we have of the world, so too does the discourse surrounding race and racial bias. So why did discourse dictate the idea of race preceding gender? To me, the answer seems simple.  Racial bias encompasses all genders. Therefore the male/female power dynamic operates under the white gaze of expectation and limitation.  So, in a world that shackles African- American’s, really all non-whites, as subordinates, how can black women join the Women’s Liberation Movement if they are not viewed as equals by their fellow women? In “The U.S. Women’s Liberation Movement and Black Feminist “Sisterhood,” Cheryl R. Hopson collects a number of excerpts that not only depict this truth but also attempt to provide remedies for such an affliction.

Dr. Cheryl HopsonWhile operating under the white male gaze, African-American women are forced to reconcile both their race and their gender.  Hopson describes the torment black women face/d when joining the Women’s Liberation Movement.  She writes, “Black women who participated in the movement were labeled “race traitors,” often derided as being lesbians (a fact of sexual identity for some), and regarded as dupes for when feminists, promoting a cause in which they were not even a consideration” (261).  On the surface, this idea seems outrageous, but when you take into consideration the oppressive racial bias that dampened the agency development of African-Americans (male and female), the idea of joining “forces” with a movement perceived as white, understandably, seems like heresy to African-American men.  However, what African-American women realized well before men is the power structure that exists in both white and African-American men is one of oppression and objectification of women.  This realization brought the idea of intersectionality to the forefront of the feminist movement, but unifying all women became a challenge because of the pre-existing nature of racial bias.  To aid in the idea of unification, intersectionality, and feminism, Hopson calls on the works of Mary Ann Weathers, Pauli Murray, Michelle Wallace, and Audre Lorde to depict the importance of gender alliance, despite race, and its necessity in improving the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Image result for mary ann weathers argument for black women's liberationIn An Argument for Black Women’s Liberation as a Revolutionary Force, Mary Ann Weathers emphasizes the idea of a gender unification by calling to light the categories of gender over the categories of race.  Of course, the idea of being Othered as female and black is something African-American men cannot comprehend.  Therefore, the idea of joining a movement that associates you with white women becomes a means of dissent to African-American men that are struggling for civil liberties.  To Weathers, placing race over gender, although often done, is a direct impact of the male gaze and its control over the female body and agency development.  She states, “Black women . . . have been expounding all their energies in ‘liberating’ black men (if you yourself are not free, how can you ‘liberate’ someone else?) (270). Weathers is referencing the participation of black women in a man’s world. This “adhering to basic false concepts” is something that limits the ability of women to truly seek liberation because they are still operating under the gaze of male oppression (271).  However, in a world dominated by the male gaze, the movement must look to unify all people not specify gender or race because in specifying you isolate.  She calls for a “pro-human for all peoples” movement (272).

Image result for pauli murrayPauli Murray discusses the impact race has had on agency development for African-American women in The Liberation of Black Women.  Murray believes, “Black women, historically, have been doubly victimized by the twin immoralities of Jim and Jane Crow. Jane Crow refers to the entire range of assumptions, attitudes, stereotypes, customs, and arrangements that have robbed women of a positive self-concept and prevented them from participating fully in society as equals to men” (273).  If someone has never felt truly comfortable in the world because of their gender or skin color, how can African-American women begin to unify with other women of color and white women to evoke a change? For Audre Lorde the answer is LOVE.

Image result for Audre LordeIn her article “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger,” Audre Lorde emphasizes self-love as the root of unification and liberation for all people.  As discussed, African-American women have been made to feel Othered on multiple levels.  First, they exist as African-Americans an already oppressed people.  Second, they operate under the male gaze.  This duplicity makes agency development increasingly difficult and the likelihood of isolation and self-hatred rise.  To combat these evils, Lorde calls on African-American women, and all people essentially, to love themselves and in loving themselves, being able to love one another.  She beautifully writes, “I have to learn to love myself before I can love you or accept your loving.  You have to learn to love yourself before you can accept me or my loving.  Know we are worthy of touch before we can reach out for each other” (278).  In order for unification to happen and the Women’s Liberation Movement to become all-inclusive, we must focus on self-love and when we love ourselves, we begin to love those around us.

Intersectional CartoonThis idea of self-love is something I first read in Cornel West’s Race Matters.  West describes the plight of African-American agency development and really its absence.  He called on self-love to enrich the lives of those displaced by systemic racism and oppression.  Seeing this idea applied specifically to African-American women, shows its importance to agency development and progress within the Women’s Liberation Movement.  By encouraging self-love, humanity is able to extend that love and extinguish the oppressive power structures that limit the agency development of so many people.  Self-love leads the way for progress and progress is ultimately the goal for any liberation movement. In order to elevate those oppressed, as Lorde states we must “speak the truth to each other, (and) it will become unavoidable to ourselves” (279).  These truths (love, equality, etc.) are imperative to the success of not only the Women’s Liberation Movement but also humanity as a whole.