So what’s it like to be an activist from afar? In short, it’s not easy. It does, however, bring into relief some of the reasons why I helped to create Antigone Magazine. Expressing oneself politically is a right and a privilege AND a responsibility. I remain convinced now more than ever as Canada enters what is sure to be a trying five years under a conservative government that we are responsible for expressing ourselves, and expressing ourselves truthfully. Thus, the need for community-building exercises to leverage the voices that are underrepresented, unspoken for, and silent is even more pressing. I helped start Antigone to teach young women to express themselves politically and to act on their beliefs, and to help other women doing so. It’s often said that the only way the house of commons will become something more than the cockfights it currently hosts is if women start running the show: I agree.
Affecting Others: The Passionate Feminist (A Fairy Story)
I’m going to start this entry with a personal anecdote because it touched me, and this, as I will argue, is part of my point. Sitting having tea with a former professor of mine the other day, she told me a fairy story which she had heard when she was young in order to illustrate a small, but not insignificant, story about being-with-others. The story tells the tale of a young knight who unknowingly falls in love with a fairy. The woman disappears during the night and always comes back disheveled and bearing traces of her adventures. He follows her into the woods one night and comes upon her in a fairy circle, whereupon he is told that because he has done this and violated her trust he has to give her up entirely. Walking home dejected, he sees a cloaked figure ahead of him in the road. The figure turns and it is the woman: he had to give her up to win her back.
While seemingly a very quaint and archetypal tale, the story illustrates a vital point, one which I think much theory has lost sight of. That is, in trying to master its objects, theory often reproduces the same divides it criticizes. It reifies the structure of binary oppositions that it seeks to undermine, leaving very little room for growth or contingency. So while it may be a necessary, and potent force, the theory we produce is not always palatable. Unlike the knight who loses the “fight” for love in a binary relation, only to win it back because he has grown, theory and correspondingly its practioners tend to embrace rather rigid formulae for their analyses. I want to suggest that perhaps we, as feminist critics, like the knight, need to give something up in order to win it back.
The Dali Lama came to UBC in September and spoke to a select audience. He called himself a feminist. Many celebrated this. However, he also said that “many feminists have too much emotion, and that he doesn’t like…” (September 28, 2009). This statement rankles as many as his previous statement enheartened. I am not a buddhist so I will not pretend to analyze the statement within its context, but I would like to perhaps infer that when he says emotion he means a certain kind of passion. Passion, as we understand it now, is, I believe, a kind of feverish identification with a particular affective state. It is, in all cases, exorbitant, overwhelming, powerful, and compelling. However, and this may seem rather facile for now, I think there is a kind of passion we can embrace as indeed rational in itself.
Anyone who has graduated from theory kindergarten will easily disassemble the claims I’m going to make as essentialisms, at the very least, but bear with me. I’m wondering why it is that passion has been characterized as “excessive” and used more commonly as a pejorative qualifier in relation to the affective states it describes. In other words, have we cordoned off excess in the same way we have cordoned off the subject? Radical feminists, those who practice a kind of reverse sexism have long been rejected by the movement at large, and I think largely for good reason, but not because they are passionate. Rather, because they are not being “rational” or perhaps more accurately reasonable. Reasonable is a good word to focus on here because it connotes a kind of moderateness, an Aristotelian mean, of sorts sans the classicist consequences. However, it also signifies a capacity for reason, but not necessarily the practice of it. Reason itself, on the other hand, recalls perhaps the most insidious and pervasive binary of all: logic and passion. I want to suggest that passion itself can in fact be reasonable; that is, capable of acting according to a logic or following a series of syllogisms. Passion, can be, in other words not restrained, but moderate and most importantly careful and caring.
I do not seek here to limit the rapturous and the sublime as impossibilities, but I want to suggest that passion, as a practice, is valuable when it takes its actions into account, when it makes a narrative of its feelings–the affects it discerns from others and the environment.(I borrow here from Teresa Brennan). The Freudian ego has long been touted as the mediator between the persuasive social conscience of the superego and the willful and desirous id. Really, this account of human subjectivity leaves no room for feeling: the ego is structured as a rational entity, one which carries out decisions according to their positive value to the subject. And this is my point, the ego is a primarily reactionary, and dare I say fearfully anxious conscience whose purpose is to preserve the status quo of the subject or advance its safety and prosperity. Are not anxiety and fear affects–and negative affects at that? Maybe then, when the Dali Lama says he does not like feminists who have too much emotion, we might understand that statement, not in its buddhist context, but as a maxim which warns against being possessed by the negative affects.
To bring this all back down to the ground again, in practice this would mean for feminism, a much more organic kind of theorizing, one much closer to the kinds of grassroots activism which brings communities together to form a common front. It means taking account of the affects in the air which carry us beyond ourselves, beyond the moment of feeling and into the uncertain future of anxiety. No movement which takes as its goal the furtherance of human rights and equality should embrace a modality which is fundamentally fearful.
Of course, there will always be some degree of the subjunctive in feminism, the “if’s” contain as much hope as they can fear. My point is that perhaps we ought to begin to let go of these structures of deconstruction, which have served us so well, in order to embrace the roots of our movement more firmly. Maybe we need to give up our objects in order to lose the fear and anxiety which colours our thinking about them. We need to let go of the self-centered and passifying affects of fear and anxiety in order to begin to analyzing our struggles in their moment. We need to mourn our relationships in order to re-order them; we need to feel others, rather than fear for them. This may mean giving up “women’s” studies, but certainly not the intent of feminisms. Maybe, just maybe, we need to let go of our’selves’ in order to realize just who and what has affected them and then, maybe then, we can begin to really affect the change we need to as caring and careful theorists….
“I’ll be Post-Feminist in a Post-Patriarchy”:
The Boundaries of Privilege between Wo(men)
This week’s entry is, I think, rife with debates which I struggle with in my advocacy and I am therefore going to draw upon the words and experiences of some of my inspiring fellow feminists in Vancouver to discuss the problem of privilege.
To my mind, one of feminism’s greatest strengths is its insistence on self-reflection as the cornerstone of any ethical inquiry into the lives and experiences of others. In other words, it insists that we examine privilege. One of the greatest struggles for me personally is my position of privilege within the movement itself as a white woman. I cannot and should not to presume to speak for others unless I can situate myself in a manner which neither appropriates nor collapses the processes of representation by which other women make their voices heard–the means to which, I’ll admit, still escapes me.
While I certainly agree that we can no longer use woman as a category–and certainly not as an additive position from which all women can speak, since indeed white feminists have a legacy of that kind of thought–there is a part of me which still buys the necessity of difference. This is not to say I seek to revive the second wave, but rather that there are many injustices and oppressions still suffered by many women at the hands of colonialism, imperialism, racism, heteronormativism, and perhaps the most insidious ism of them all neoliberalism. But enough with the ‘isms’: what do I mean you ask? Well, I’m going to cite the current debate within our feminist community at UBC as to whether the “women’s centre” should remain the “womyn’s centre” and the political ramifications of changing a single vowel within an admittedly loaded word.
The deconstructionist in me prefers “women” because it maintains the interrelatedness of the genders and the inextricable-ness of one sign from an’other.’ Nonetheless, I also sympathize with the statement made in claiming the ‘y’ in the word. To resignify ‘womyn’ is to rebirth the category as a safe space distinct from the systemic oppression inherent in the very patriarchal nature of language itself. I quote from the current debate on the topic within their group’s website. Anoushka Ratnarajah sums up the debate quickly and efficiently:
As for the womyn thing, it comes from a legacy of feminism that seeks to challenge privilege within the construction of language. It’s not because we want to banish all thoughts and evidence of men by reworking the word; we simply seek an eye catching way to make people think about the connotations of power inherent within language. And Woman or women are words that can and have been reclaimed by feminists from their patriarchal legacy. To use women, womyn, wimmin interchangeably, is a way of pointing out the ways in which language is steeped in legacies of sexism, and show how the reclaiming or reworking of language can be an empowering experience for the oppressed.
She continues on to explain the rationale behind maintaining the ‘y’ form of the term and equally the need for spaces which do not erect boundries:
Women’s only spaces exist because they need to. Safe spaces for marginalized people need to exist, because the rest of world is very often a place where they experience personal and political violence. By encroaching on this space, folks with more privilege will create more anxiety and anger in marginalized people. There is an equal need for allied spaces, for only if we work together, can we defeat systems of oppression. However, until systematic and personal violence against women ends, we will need places and spaces where we feel safe and accepted. Many women on campus have experienced violence at the hands of men, and therefore feel like they need JUST ONE ROOM in which they feel safe. A group of marginalized people coming together to support each other is not about the exclusion of privileged groups. It is about making a space in which we feel safe to support each other, to vent, to cry, to get angry, to celebrate our successes and work together to challenge our oppressions. We need that. We need to be able to speak freely, without fear of being shut down, for being called angry feminists, or angry colored people, or angry homos. We need people around us who know what we’re going through, because we have a similar embodied experience of oppression, our struggles and victories. Spaces exclusive to marginalized people ARE problematic, but they are only problematic because the reason they need to exist is because patriarchy, colonialism and heteronormativity have excluded marginalized people from participating in many spaces in the world.
In such a view a womyn’s centre takes on the task of edifying a boundary in order to create a safe space within which those who are too painfully familiar with the oppression of the current system can begin to examine their experiences. These sorts of spaces are very necessary and I think create very self-reflexive boundaries. They seek, in other words, to erect a wall in order to break it down. Trauma is usually conceptualized as absent from the conscious minds of its sufferers; it needs to be symbolized in order to be worked through. I speak here not of the systemic violence which we all regardless of gender, race, sexuality, class etc… are subject to in a patriarchal culture, but of rape or violence as an ‘exceptionally’ embodied violation–exceptional as both outside of and singularly violent. The centre quite literally excludes in order to include: to give victims back a sense of their self which we normally take for granted.
One of the comments made by a very self-satisfied commenter regarding the debate annoyed me. He claims:
You can rehash all your college lectures on women[‘]s studies that you feel have put you in a place of authority on the subject, and you can give me textbook tirades on how tough you have it, but the fact remains that no issue is one sided. This idea that a dominating male perspective is overly pervasive in everything one ever does takes the onus of responsibility away from the individual and instead places them in a category of victim, where one can repeat “I’ve been wronged! I’ve been wronged!” without actually changing anything. I feel like the stance you take is so polarizing that it eliminates any prospect of the progressive movement you’re trying to advocate for.”
All I can say is: you’ve entirely missed the point buddy. The fact that the individual carries the burden of responsibility for his or her difference, violation, victimization, and experience of oppression is patriarchy at its very best. Feminism works to break down the idiotic and harmful illusion of individuality which we cling to and which results in the mind-boggling policy decisions made by the likes of Sarah Palin in making rape victims pay for their own rape kits.
One of the most insidious and likely enduring facets of neoliberalism is its edification of the individual through the misnomer of choice. That is, capitalism reinforces the individualism which Western society embraced in the 18th century by offering ‘choice’ as a means to self-definition. In a consumer society, continued consumption and thus the success of a market economy depends on the ability of the consumer to gain something unique from his or her transactions in society. We gain some sense of uniqueness or individuality through the way we ‘style’ or choose our manner of consumption. Of course, the very illusion of choice is only a front designed to get us to continue consuming under the pretense that we can find our authenticity through exercising that age-old tokenism of democracy ‘free will.’ Forgive my sarcasm, but, in such a system anyone who claims, like our oh-so-honourable PM Harper that women’s equality or those who pursue it comprise a left-wing fringe group, is off their bloody rocker!!! We will not be equal unless and untill we start to examine the need we have to assert this very authenticity. What is it? What does it mean? I tend to regard it as another form of privilege in disguise, but that is a discussion for another time.
When young women my age ask me if “I hate men” or why I think feminism is still necessary, I groan inwardly every single time. Feminism is as much about interrogating how patriarchy and all other forms of oppression work against women and men alike as it is about the history of women’s oppression. Masculinism, as a discourse which paints feminism as reverse sexism misses the point. Working toward equality as I’ve said before discriminates against no one. Sexism is a discursive apparatus which effects men and women. Feminists don’t engage in reverse discrimination in attacking what are usually predominantly white-male dominated institutions, they are simply asking that we reflect on how patriarchy reproduces and reinforces itself. I may be born white, but that doesn’t mean I can’t effect change, I just need to acknowledge my position.
Thus, I come to my opinion on the debate between e and y. I personally feel that while safe spaces are very necessary and valuable undertakings, and that we should continue to protect them, we are at a crossroads in the feminist movement and in order to sustain the kind of inquiry which Women’s Studies departments undertake we need, as Ratnarajah notes, to create “allied spaces.” If I were a young woman seeking to learn more about feminism and who had no knowledge of the movement, as is likely to happen because Gender studies are commonly excluded from highschool curriculums, I would feel alienated by and likely unsure of my ability to contribute and participate in a group which used a ‘y.’ This could of course be mediated by community education and aggressive ‘marketing.’ But frankly, we have reached the crest of what could be a very fast downward spiral into the grave of gender studies. We just don’t have the resources to do that kind of re-education unless and until we break down the walls within the movement itself. At this point, we need to bring people together more than we need to divide them. Perhaps, then, it should be people like Ratnarajah leading the charge so that these allied spaces do not reproduce the very systems which they seek to challenge.
The Performance of Feminism: Maternal Leaders
*Apologies: This is a day late due to the mess of things which occurred in my life yesterday.*
In keeping with my previous discussions, I return again to Laura Roslin or rather to Mary McDonnell to begin. When asked whether the gender neutrality of her character’s (Laura Roslin) portrayal was due to her cancer, McDonnell responded, “no, it was myself and the other characters adjusting to her leadership.” She needed to take on masculine characteristics as McDonnell puts it to gain authority in order to be allowed to display any femininity. McDonnell noted had the character come to the position of leadership desiring the position she would have fought harder to change her portrayal. Suffice to say, this annoyed me. First of all, that these characteristics have to remain gendered annoys me; secondly, that the former is understood to be the necessary and perhaps natural reaction in such a situation annoys me further.
Why does political leadership have to exist in such a uni-dimensional form in the western imaginary? I cite the current federal ad campaigns in Canada which are founded on the effectiveness of bar room brawls to establish authority. There are different and better ways to lead. Leading from a place of parity, for example, premised upon the idea that we are all in this for the long run, should be less divisive. And yet, Battlestar’s fiercely machiavellian political contests would seem to indicate otherwise. Granted, McDonnell’s character was faced with a crisis and forced to compete with the hyper-masculine environment of the military and thus perhaps a hard-edge was the only note to take. But I want to emphasize that it was her very maternal instincts which saved the human race from annihilation. So, I wonder, then, if perhaps we could re-signify the maternal as a gender-neutral expression of leadership?
What might such a maternal model look like? Well, for one thing, motherhood expresses itself in many different ways, and I don’t want to enforce a particular model here: but I do want to place emphasis on the value of ‘care.’ I don’t know that history could give us any adequate precedents (feel free to add some, my sense of history is sadly inadequate), but my first instinct would be that it would necessarily be a mix of top-down and bottom-up collaboration between leaders and their parties. I think where this model might usefully be expressed would be in democratic institutions themselves. If, for example, North-American democracy were to ever adopt a proportional representation system, what could happen would include the formation of cross-party committees working to legislate on an issue-by-issue basis. This would allow different party members to come to the fore at different points depending on the interests of their constituents and their expertise. Where the leader of the party might fit in such a situation would be to delegate tasks and provide resources and support from the governing party. Of course, this is all purely hypothetical and extremely idealistic. But I like to think that re-signifying the maternal as a valid means of participating in a democracy rather than a time for leave or absence characterized by unchecked passion is possible. I do not mean to return woman or move men into the position of caretaker regardless of their particular talents, I simply think that infusing models of leadership with the sense of fostering growth which we might attribute to mothering might not be such a bad idea.
A teacher of mine said to her students the other day that if something were to happen to them during the year to let her know, “because, you know I get kind of attached as the year goes on.” Her concern as a human for the well-being of her students regardless of her authority in the classroom is I think something we can all learn from. At the risk of sounding like the environmentalist that I am, respecting life before politics, as Roslin does in a crisis, should be a move toward consensus building. I think perhaps feminist practice and feminisms could take a cue here. One of the t-shirts we sell on our website says “feminist” on the one side and “humanist” on the other. While, I don’t want to move feminism into the space of humanism here, I do want to emphasize that feminisms are no longer about “women.” They are about the critique of gendered practices, discrimination, and the valuation of life. Feminism is about protecting the lives of humans as equals. Any good parent knows that favoritism breeds discontent and jealousy. Any good feminist worth his or her salt knows that working toward equality discriminates against no one.
Surfacing the Female Leader: The Performance of Laura Roslin
I wasn’t going to blog on this until I had engaged the brilliant Mary McDonnell in her question and answer session at the Toronto sci-fi convention; however, she (sadly) had to leave to attend a memorial for one of the show’s producers–my condolences.
I’m in the process of organizing a paper on her character “Laura Roslin” and “her” relation to Western culture’s interpretations of female power. In my rush to develop my grant proposals on the position of the audience in post-restoration theatres and the intersections between theatre and activism, I have, sadly, put Laura to the side. However, meeting McDonnell and engaging in some interesting conversations with fellow fans has rekindled my urgency to discuss the character and her reflections of the tradition of the female leader’s body. Indeed, I’m reaching all the way back the mystics of the medieval era in order to examine how women in power become text; that is to say, how their bodies become the surface for ‘other’ discourses. One of the things which I find perhaps the most fascinating about “Laura” is the simultaneous omnipresence and absence of her body in the performance of leadership. Laura’s illness makes her body undeniably present insofar as it ‘escapes’ her attempts to diminish its presence through her countenance etc… , while at the same time, her illness renders the question of the gendered body perhaps a moot one. In a sense, her suffering both reveals and conceals the female body. I continue with perhaps too much philosophy below, but bear with me.
The suffering body, as Elaine Scarry has argued in her book The Body in Pain, cannot be represented in and of itself. That is, it requires ‘others’ to speak for it. Pain, for Scarry, is both universal and un-shareable. (Teresa Brennan has argued elsewhere that pain is perhaps the moment when the boundaries of the human dissolve most completely–an interesting point, which I will come to later.) But I digress, for Scarry, physical suffering is the paradox of simple presence: “…pain comes unsharably into our midst as at once that which cannot be denied and that which cannot be confirmed [by its sufferer]” (4). Pain, then, requires others in order to represent itself. Pain expresses itself through ventriloquism, an imitation which presupposes a split in presence (between the speaking mediator/performer and the suffering, inarticulate body).
The suffering body is a limit of mimesis (as a principle of absolute identity), but not necessarily the limit of catharsis (as a principle of partial identity). In displaying the suffering body in the performance of leadership, “Laura” engages with the subjunctive “as if” (Scarry 22) of pain as a relation of metonymy. That is, to ‘invent’ the suffering body is to represent it metonymically, through relations of partial substitution. “Laura” then comes to take on a series of discourses in order to perform pain. For viewers of the show, I suspect this prohibits reflection on the female body as a ‘absolute’ presence in leadership.
McDonnell makes a brilliant point in another interview discussing how her glasses symbolize yet another performance within Laura’s role. For McDonnell, the glasses act as a kind of mediating barrier between the femininity inherent in Laura’s leadership and her need to play the Machiavellian leader. She observes that glasses seem to act as an interpreter between the middle-aged woman’s countenance (in the political realm at least) and the world; almost as if we as a culture are not yet ready to view that which is the fact behind why so many female politicians have to adopt what might be considered very unforgiving demeanours: their very bodies. While she interprets this mediation as a result of the fact that women display their experience on their bodies, that they take-in the world differently from men, I would suggest that perhaps it simply that we as a culture are not ready to recognize female experience in this fashion. Indeed, if male politicians adopt what are understood to be maternal actions (crying, for example) they are criticized heavily. However, if women adopt cold and distancing politics they are praised and criticized in equal measure (ironically, in the case of criticism, for not being “feminine” enough). The feminine is, apparently, disavowed in the process of gaining political recognition. And this is where I will likely carry out the bulk of my discussion in the paper on the problematics of recognition. How do we ‘know’ people in a way that does not require an always-already formed knowledge of them; in other words, how do we know, how do we recognize without assuming a closed, or dominant bearing to others?
Teresa Brennan’s examination of the problematics of affective boundaries, of assuming that affects (emotions–though she wouldn’t like the use of this term) are owned, generated and contained by subjects might provide an answer. In the acknowlegement that we can be affected by others, that our boundaries do end and begin in others, that our intentions might not be solely our own, might lie the key to becoming more aware of our reactions to others. In other words, accepting that affects travel is to accept that we are not bounded; it is to stop living in fear of others. It is to surface the body so to speak. Until that day comes, however, McDonnell’s observations suggest another direction for understanding the feminine side to leadership.
McDonnell hits the nail on the head (yet again) with her observation here: “I read once in a Buddhist text, and it’s something I really responded to, that there’s a defensive way and an open way of perceiving life, or meeting life. In an open way, the image is straight back, open front – open heart. In a defensive way, the back is bent and the front is closed. I think the glasses were Laura Roslin’s attempt to keep the front open but protect it.”
I would translate this observation as what I (poaching from the equally brilliant Bettina Stuum) understand to be “bearing.” That is, our intentionality (as both a direction and a disposition) in our relations with others. An active bearing would assume an aggressive, or as McDonnell puts it a defensive, bearing, a kind of subjective lense on life. The person adopting an active “bearing” says “I am here” to life out of fear. While the person adopting a passive and more ethical (open to McDonnell) bearing responds to others; in other words, those adopting a passive bearing receive their agency and identity in an address from others (As Kelly Oliver has convincingly argued in her book Witnessing: Beyond Recognition) in a move which precludes the kind of performances which women leaders frequently have to put on in concessions to masculine ideas of leadership.
So where do we really have to look in order to recuperate the feminine side of leadership? Well, I would suggest it is not a question of looking; rather, it is a question of feeling. It is to give the feminine body what Eve Sedgewick suggestively calls “texture,” to read for the surface of the female body, rather than to inscribe upon it.
McDonnell has mentioned in an interview (I cannot remember the reference or I would note it) that she understands Battlestar as a show “searching for its femininity.” I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t know that Ron Moore’s answer of going back to the roots of survival–place–as a return to the maternal is perhaps the most adept answer to solving the deficit of female representation in politics, but it does suggest that women, as Luce Irigaray might agree, truly are the “elsewhere” when it comes to the political domain. Maybe, then, we just need to speak politics from that place, from our very womanly bodies…
It has been far too long since I have properly blogged and I do apologize.
I would like to offer some reflections on what has been a rather turbulent year. For Antigone this has been both an inspiring and frustrating year. We are so touched and humbled every single day by the submissions we receive from our participants; thank you for dreaming with us. On the other hand, we have encountered so many systemic roadblocks in our advocacy that, for me, it has confirmed more than ever that the fight is not over and will not finish for some time yet….
Preparing to send out my applications for PhD programs in the states has meant that I have engaged in (perhaps too much) self-reflection. I proudly carry the banner of feminism on my shoulders and I am proud to have such caring, inspiring, and intelligent sisters to carry it with me. However, we are becoming a rare breed in my demographic. One of the things I have always believed is that the academic work I carry out is not and need not be divorced from the activism I engage in. In other words, I want my words to do things rather than sit motionless on dusty shelves. I want to affect change. One of the ways I have sought to do this is in publishing Antigone, another will be my work on the intersection between theatre and activism and yet another, my creative works. However, I am finding that my sense of urgency is not shared by those who surround me.
Upon discussing feminist theatre criticism (a phenomenon of the rush for theory in the 80s) with my lovely thesis supervisor, she remarked to me that books which she once read in the 80s with zeal and excitement she now shudders to examine. These women are part of a radicalism she no longer sees as necessary. I responded by saying that we do need these women to buttress the achievements we have gained toward parity. She agreed, if reluctantly. But her initial recoil and wish to dissociate her own position from the ‘zeal’ which these women embody in their criticism was somewhat saddening to me because it speaks more largely of an unwillingness to think about our current moment.
It is certainly true that we have deconstructed gender to the point where “woman” as a category no longer stands as a buttress for second-wave activism. The death of women’s studies is for some a fait accompli. Women’s Studies departments are (happily) no longer the mainstay of the white feminist litigating for “woman” as race, sexuality, and class have broken into the discipline. However, it is also true that the kind of analysis which these spaces undertake CANNOT be diminished by the theoretical impasse which has been reached–nor can a kind of reverse discrimination be undertaken by those who do their work within these spaces. Thus, I return to my title. My question is: is this really a dilemma of my generation, or one which I share with all generations? I would argue the latter. The question of “woman” is the issue of feminism. We can argue the death of “woman” all we like, but feminism as a movement cannot die. Ultimately, for me, feminism is about the act of asking questions.
My supervisor’s reluctance belies her sense of privilege within the category of woman itself, or perhaps her need to disavow her association therein; because, to identify with the term would mean engaging a set of questions which might destabilize her sense of self. It is here that I return time and time again, our fascination as a culture with the phenomenon of the ego. It is my sense that our reliance on a stable self whose relations with others are concrete and definable undermines our ability to reflect critically on our own implication within our situation(s). Have we put ourselves into a place of performative positionality?
My own research centers on the ways in which our conceptions of self have overtaken the possibility of genuine and ethical relations with others. Moreover, I want to ask questions about how in our eagerness to deconstruct the categories of oppression we have in fact reified them further, and in so doing, cut off the affective bonds which connect us all. As I define my research further I am realizing more and more just how much what I do in the world informs what I do on the page. And I am more determined than ever to ‘keep on’…
As I make my way through my research I hope to develop these questions further and I encourage you to enagage with me. I intend to make this a bi-weekly series beginning on September 11th: The Performance of Feminism. Stay tuned!
I’m writing this since today is Canada’s federal election, and an American election looms ominously in the background of our own country’s shortlived and rather disappointing election campaign.
I know that many people don’t vote; whether because they are disillusioned, disinterested, or simply disgusted, voting is seen as ‘ineffective’ and pointless. While I share your apathy with our single-member-plurality system, I don’t see voting in the same light. The single member plurality system has the unfortunate consequence of electing governments who usually have not cullled the majority of the popular vote. This isn’t to say, however, that your vote is entirely ineffectual. Consider this:
Your vote is $1.25 toward the party of your choice; that money goes toward supporting ideas and platforms, which you, as a citizen of a democracy, wish to be heard. If the voice of the people the “demos” is not heard by and large, then truly, the plurality of our system are the ones running the show. Furthermore, if for example, you are voting for a party whose share of the popular vote is on the lower end of the scale, every vote they receive goes towards granting them the monies they need to be seen by the media etc… If they receive over a certain percentage of the popular vote, they are automatically accorded a stipend to build their organization. This is a particularly resonant point I think when addressing parties such as the Green Party, who hover around 5% of the national vote.
So much is made of voting strategically. Given the nature of our system, it’s almost impossible not to vote in this manner. However, I don’t think that ultimately this is helpful. It might stopgate a Tory majority, but it isn’t going to help the case of proportional representation. If the smaller parties are given are larger share of the vote they are empowered to promote this system, which is, I think, the only thing which might shift our party-system beyond a two-party deadlock. I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote, but I will ask you to look at the reality of your riding and think about where your vote is going before you throw your vote at the lesser of two evils….I think the most important thing everyone can do is to make the conscious decision to vote and to inform themselves in order to do so. And by inform I mean go and glance at your candidate; are you comfortable with someone of their opinions and strengths speaking for you? Or does the overarching ideology of the party matter more? In this case, take a look at your party’s platform; while I know we’re all busy people, even a cursory glance will give you a clue as to what their government might look like. How quickly do they get to the point? Can they relate to you? How far ahead are they thinking?
On a more personal note, I really, really, really hope that Elizabeth May wins her riding. Not only because I do vote green (and be warned here is my bias), but also because I believe she is such a refreshing breath of fresh air. Having an intelligent, unfettered voice such as hers in the House of Commons would be a fantastic stimulus to real debate. As one of (two?) representatives of her party, she would be little constrained by the kinds of internal mechanisms (party discipline) which tend to restrict an MP’s latitude in speaking on issues which affect his constituency. I genuinely believe that May could do so much to inject civility and energy into a rather depressingly stifled commons…May, as both leader, and an outsider, is so far outside of the socilalization which most MPs encounter as part of the party-machines.
While choosing to vote may be simply that, a ‘choice,’ electing not to participate in the forum where your voice needs to be heard really shouldn’t be the de-facto response. Apathy is not going to change our voter system….
I have of late been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about the meaning of a blog and the rhetorical mechanisms which operate within the blogosphere. Conducting research for my undergraduate thesis on blogging communities has been something of a revelation for me. I have been pursuing perhaps the less ‘serious’ side of the spheres by traveling through fan communities.
Fanaticism aside, these communities present some very peculiar and remarkable characteristics. Given that we here at Antigone solicit artwork, and in view of the community which this has created for us, I find it interesting that many of these blogging communities engage in the same practices. Indeed, I have come across and continue to encounter numerous calls for submissions of icons and banners which re-signify and re-present the aesthetic of their shows. Linked to each other in a complex web of dialogue, videos and collages speak for these fans in a way which reverberates across the net. A reverberation which carries greater currency than their words alone.
The graphics of fan-communities and journals are much less ephemeral than the dialogues themselves, which are edited, deleted, and archived. Indeed, graphics travel among sites with surprising fluidity. Graphics are in a sense palimpsests denoting the fluctuating cultural currency of their signifiers. If, for example, a fan takes a relationship between two characters and ‘transposes’ its structure onto another plane–a friendship to an affair, a friend to an enemy–sameness and difference are re-negotiated through the liberating fluidity of digital space.
Quite often, fan blogs are run by and catered to women. Consisting of fan-fiction, digital art, and commentary these blogs stage a complex re-writing of the canons of their respective shows. The writing back which occurs between fansites and television is a fecund site of creativity, spawning a lineage of material from one story (or show) based on previously unrecognized demand. Indeed, blogs provide a formum for recognition, allowing for the rapid creation and modification of group identity. It is not uncommon for shows to sollicit their fans’ approval or suggestions and to use outspoken fans to gauge audience approval. Narrative and character are adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, however, what I have noticed, apart from the appallingly bad fiction they create, is that these communities often reinforce entrenched notions of femininity, which the shows they mimic do not.
I refer here in particular to the phenomenon of the shipper. A shortened moniker denoting a person who endorses a relationship (in any form) between any two characters, shipper communities commit some of the greatest sins and equally achieve great triumphs in representing women. The harlequinesque re-writing of canonical characters, as for example, when “Scully” the chaste becomes sexually ‘liberated’ within a fan’s narrative, is a paradox of agency. On the one hand, the fan is asserting a preference independent of the show’s trajectory; but, on the other, she uses the paradigm of repression in order to do so. Emerging from the narrative prison in which she is enchained, the character liberates her desire, and conquers the man. While the initiative here is admirable, I question the terms of its achievement. These stories commonly re-write female characters within thinly veiled pornography scripts. Instead of celebrating their international distribution as paragons of independence and intelligence to a wider audience, these blogs take female characters into an even more constraining discourse. And then the blogs’ authors engage in a self-narrative and reflect on their lives around these narratives, modeling their subjectivities, their ‘selves’ upon a false version of agency. The question is, I suppose, whether we can write or film the ’emancipated’ woman’s sexuality outside of these terms. How do we transpose the leader into a erotic landscape without placing limits on agency? It’s a difficult question, one I’m hoping some of our dreams for women submissions might address…
However, in the annals of fan-fiction archives a curious cross-breeding between shows often occurs as characters cross narrative lines and populate the discourse of a show for which they are not a persona. This to me signals the liberating potential of blogs as sites which defy the limits of discourses. These blog sites proliferate in and populate the in-between spaces: the silences between episodes, between shows, between networks. These blogs are also often collectively funded and exist in freeware or shared spaces, reclaiming ‘leisure’ for their own purposes sometimes outside of class difference.
What does this mean you might ask? Well, it means that art-projects, like Antigone’s Dreams for Women, are part of a visual turn that shirks the pitfalls which appear to plague fan-fiction. The stories encoded in our postcards are freed from precedent since they take and re-work previously existing images without the hindrance of discourse. Just like “icons” borrow images and re-locate them, our postcards carry our messages of hope across continents.
All this in the name of art. Call me an idealist, but it’s a nice thought, no?
Come check out our exhibit in the AMS Art Gallery from Oct 6-10th!
The End to a Glass Ceiling?
I just wanted to report a serious fracture in the glass ceiling of women’s participation in political life. Rwanda has recently achieved a parliament which is over 50% female. Earning 44 of 80 seats in the recent national election, women now dominate political life.
In a country which is post-genocide, I find it not a little interesting that the domestic sphere figures large in their elections. While the country’s demographics are skewed towards women (55% of the population is female) because of the ravages of war, I find their endorsement of affirmative action refreshing. However, I wonder if the election is perhaps reinforcing rather than destabilizing the difference of women: 24 seats are reserved for women in parliament, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, these seats are undeclared until after they gain the legislature. Thus, here gender trumps ideology.
In a country where women leaders must both cater to the needs of a democratic system and nurture grassroots movements, I should think that transparency would be more of a concern. Nonetheless, I am enthused by the thought that a top-down solution should bring such a huge triumph for women. It does, however, beg the question of the value of affirmative action in the political arena. Long criticized in the West for its politically volatile consequences, affirmative action would see female candidates parachuted into positions of power. The problem is, as here, affirmative action would not discriminate between Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Both women would be regarded as equal on the basis of widespread gender discrimination (whether they themselves understood it as such or not). I think perhaps in a society forced to rebuild not only its political sphere but also its domestic realm such policies are effective methods of reaching consensus–since, of course, neither realm is mutually exclusive and in fact one models the other. However, I don’t think they should be long-term solutions…
The Mirror of the West?
In a provactive but brief editorial on the PBS Program “Women, Power, and Politics”
a new york times reporter comments on the curious phenomenon of profiling women in power. He makes the important point that throughout the PBS program the reporter’s subjectivity, her voice, saturates the narrative of women’s international political triumphs.
This is something which greatly disturbs me: the individualism of a western media outlet has completely trumped the communal politics of equal representation. Ms. Hinojosa could very well represent any male or female reporter asked to complete a similar task. In a western society which is so obsessed with the production and consumption of self-narratives, that we cannot consume the ‘facts’ of success without first affecting their concomitant narratives is extremely depressing. Must the narrative of success be representative, or as here, related to a western ethos before it resonates? Do we have to wait for Oprah to christen a movement with her queenly ‘we’ before we recognize the accomplishments of women’s movements around the world?
Though, I have to say watching extracts from Palin’s speech itself was even more disturbing.
As the mother of one of those troops?” That’s a scary thought.
I’m not sure what’s worse rhetorical eloquence, or linguistic incompetence…