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Feminism and the Self

EMaciolek's picture
Although I already had a pretty shaky definition of what a feminist is when I began this course, my definition has become even more opaque and indefinable. However, I feel as if something even more important has happened – I have a definite feeling toward the word. Whereas, before I started taking this course I was (dare I say it?) indifferent to feminism. Now I know its importance and the word has become internalized. Maybe by December I’ll be able to give a definition using words, which, of course, will serve me better in the long run.
The topic that has interested me the most, however, is the relationship between feminism and the self. Linda Kauffman believes that feminism is not about the individual - that the individual gets in the way of the greater good. Yet after reading Hélène Cixous’ “The Laugh of the Medusa,” I’ve come to firmly believe that feminism needs to start on an individual basis in order to develop into a successful collaborative effort. At this moment in time, I do not feel as if feminism has ingrained itself in the collective psyche of society enough to move it into larger arenas. Every single problem with women in relation to men that Cixous identifies in her essay is still very much alive today. Most importantly, there is still an innate fear in women of their own bodies and minds. That needs to be abolished before anyone can claim that feminism has taken hold in society. I’m inclined to believe that feminism is primarily individual. It is only when women have lost all fear instilled in them by their phallo-centric society that it will be useful to do anything as a whole. If a woman claims to be a feminist, but that fear is not gone, it is impossible for her to live what she claims to believe.
When Kauffman said she would give up her happiness for the greater good of feminism as a whole, I feel as if that act would be in vain. I do not believe that it is selfish for women to focus on themselves solely, in order to strengthen their own ovular wills and beliefs, and really start living a feminist lifestyle. I imagine it will take anyone a lot of work to undo all the brainwashing that has been done in a society that has been male-dominated for centuries. Plus, what is the good of millions of women proclaiming doctrines and beliefs that they only think they are living, while in reality they continue to subscribe to a phallo-centric way of life. Not to say that the goals of feminism that are group-oriented are not valuable, I just feel as if it will be beneficial in the long run if women focused on themselves first and then attempted to save the world from the patriarchy.
Feminism in the world is so broad, and has so many facets. Plus it has already become entwined in imperialism, as shown through Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay, which emphasizes the idea that it is a very messy and disorganized school of thought. And honestly, I think it should be. There should not be one brand of feminism that all women need to follow. Feminism should be different for every single woman. The goal is simply to not rely on men for our own happiness, to be comfortable with our bodies (not ashamed of them), and to be completely secure in our womanhood. However a woman reaches that goal is fine, as long as she is happy.
In the future, I would love to read more texts focusing on feminism and the self. I feel as if it is a very wide topic with an infinite range of opinions. I was also hoping to read novels, plays, poems, etc. dealing with feminism. It would be a nice change from the scholarly essays we have read thus far. However, if that is not the case I am still looking forward to learning as much as I can about feminism, and seeing its numerous facets.


Anne Dalke's picture

From shaky to secure

You start out, EMaciolek, with the presumption that arriving at a clear definition of feminism "will of course serve you better in the long run." I'm not so sure--in class on Tuesday, we'll be talking about Barbara Johnson's claim that "There is politics precisely because there is undecidability."

So: my first big question has to do with your hopeful descriptions of the time when "women have lost all fear," when we will "be completely secure in our womanhood." Is such completeness possible, even desirable? Mightn't some uncertainty, some insecuriity, prod us to further work (both pyschological and political)? I'm uncertain about the goal of certainty, myself...there's a stuckness and smugness about it that troubles me (see a report on current conversations, elsewhere @ Bryn Mawr, about wanting to change the culture of the college from one with a "deep investment in the stability of our arrangements here" to something more innovative...)

The primary argument you are making here has to do with the need for feminism to "start on an individual basis," for women to "focus on themselves solely"...and yet, you also insist that "there should not be one brand of feminism that all women need to follow." How reconcile your belief in the importance of individualism with your belief in the importance of diversity?

chavenelle's also pushing back a bit on these matters: how to get to such a place, given the intensity with which our culture--its advertising in particular--constructs our desires? And how get from your focus on individual desire to group-oriented advancement? What about our responsibility to others?

chavenelle's picture

Thank you

First, thank you for deciding to let us read your papers. We alums do appreciate it.
Second, I appreciate your clear writing. Brava!

I too, feel my understanding of a “feminist” more opaque and undefinable. It must encompass so many ages and cultures.

How are we going to undo all the brainwashing when women are still being bombarded with advertising about “looking young” wrinkle removal products etc etc etc.?

How is anything going to change unless millions of women proclaim doctrine and beliefs of group- oriented advancement? American women, for example, only got the vote after such action. What about our responsibility to other women around the block or around the world?

Again, thank you for sharing.