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jrizzo's picture

Stein the antifeminist and smigliori's "feminism"

I very much enjoyed today's discussion of Gertrude Stein's writing, not that I don't sympathize with those that feel they are simply beating their heads against a brick wall trying to read her.  I felt the same way for weeks working on her play.  Now I do enjoy engaging with her writings in a way that allows the reader to stop "decoding" (or only decoding when we feel like it?)  What was more iffy for me today was when we began discussing Stein's poem as a sort of call to action (albeit a very well hidden one), a desire or demand for a space in which women could be free to love the way she and Alice B. Toklas loved.  Because of her lifestyle, Stein seems like a handy hero for the feminist and gay rights causes, but in reality, Stein was anything but an advocate for women or homosexuals.  She was largely apathetic, politically, and lived a shockingly ordinary bourgeois life, the one incongruous detail being that she was part of a lesbian partnership.  Otherwise, she behaved like a man of her times, complete with prejudices.  She was a odd one indeed, an antifeminist woman and homophobic lesbian.  How else could she have been so chummy with Hemingway?  He would come over to the apartment with that year's wife, who would immediately be banished to the kitchen with Alice so that the "men" could talk of important things, like belittling Fitzgerald for being too effeminate. 

 I don't feel that any of this cancels the progressive stylistic and social ideas that unquestionably exist in Stein's writing, but it may call into question the notion of authorial intent, or at least a fascinating contradiction. 

 Now, smigliori, since you object to a "feminine" form of writing for "obvious reasons," I'd like to bring to your attention several points that are not perfectly obvious to me. 

I am not the scientist that would be able to provide you with a comprehensive description of the biological differences between men and women.  I do know that women are able to become pregnant and have children, and that women are (in general) smaller and physically weaker. These things alone have an enormous impact on the way a woman's life will differ from a man's.  I understand the evils of gender socialization, but do you give any credence to the idea that some (certainly not all) of the socialization has occured in response to real biological difference?   Even if you were to reject outright the uniform socialization of individuals born with female genitalia as feminine, and male genitalia as masculine, why must you oppose the labels of male and female?  You go on to say, "I suppose what I am advocating is not a stripping bare of gender, a making of everyone the same, but an awareness that what is important is not a biological form, but the way we use that form." I'm not sure, but this seems to me a claim that differs in a very significant way from your rejection of man, woman, masculine, feminine entirely.  Here you seem to be advocating a spectrum on which all are allowed to slide about as they please.  But the concession of a linear spectrum does not seem consistent with what you mention earlier.  Which is your utopia and why are "labels" the death of either?

 You also mention that you prefer Hacker's appropriation of the masculine writing style to Stein's innovation.  I think you are correct to cite the generation gap as an obstacle to your understanding of the Stein; Stein would have been stoned for having written such an explicit poem about lesbian sex in her time, as would any male writer writing about heterosexual sex so openly (bordering on tastelessly, really.  "I want to make you come/ in my mouth like a storm."  Hmm)  I don't know how much I trust this kind of feminism, as it seems to champion a perpetual game of one-upping, the kind of intellectual sterility Sosnoski dreads, and closed to the sort of radical social change I'd expect from a theory as radical in other areas as yours.  Not that one's femininity need be the thing that spurs a writer on towards experimentation, but are you saying that there's one way to do things, and we should just keep doing them the right way, just take the signs off of the restroom doors?

In general, I feel we cannot begin to discuss this gender-blind society untill men and women are actually equal.  As we've discussed in class, to ignore gender in the world as it currently exists would be like ordering all people of color to pull themselves up by their bootstraps because we are no longer taking into account the ways in which their race may have set them back.  Your admiration for the poet who appropriates a masculine style, rather than forging her own proves that you accept the need for disadvantaged "women" to take back from "men."  This difference in control over the language is, socialized or not, a difference, and one of many that must be addressed before even considering what might be fixed and unchangeable, like biology perhaps.  So why is it worth talking about?  



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