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Some boulders thrown up by the volcano

marybellefrey's picture

I had been mildly unhappy with all the readings for Critical Feminist Studies, even the ones I enjoyed, without knowing why.  As my participation dropped off, my discontent, rather than diminishing, increased.  Cixous's call to hear from women had spoken deeply to me, and the volcanoes were churning down below.  Some of the things that were thrown out in the eruptions follow.

Except in physical strength I have never doubted that women are superior to men.  But, oh, how I have resented that superior strength!!  I learned early that I can do most things men can do --- given time and a long enough lever.  But the time is excessive and the accomplishment consequently small.  As the volcanoes were brewing recently I noticed myself doing many things purely to prove I could, unpleasant, heavy things like scrubbing the slippery moss off the brick pathway in the rainy season and cleaning out the house gutters.  I suspect I am the only woman in Central America who goes onto the roof to clean out gutters.  I always rationalize that no man will do it right.  Of course, there is no reason why I couldn't show a man or boy how I want it done and check to see that it is done to my specifications.  And there are plenty of men who will do these things for a small sum.  One day scrubbing at a particularly thick spot of moss I saw myself proving that  could handle any nasty job a man can.  As if, since I can't have his strength, I can at least have his guts.  I stopped, broom in hand, and asked myself why I would want a man's guts ... then, DO I want a man's guts. There was no immediate reply, but I sprinkled sand on the moss and left it.     

Since that day I have done only one heavy, dirty job.  I watched myself with amusement as I changed into protective clothing, got out the tools that would make the job easier, and did the job by bits so as not to become over-tired.  There was a clear trade-off:  by letting the woman speak the job was done neatly, cleanly, and with a minimum of fuss.  My old self would have done it more the way a man would:  there would have been considerable clean-up needed afterward and disorder all around.  Do you see me equating brawn,  fuss, disorder, dirt, men?  I may next time hire a man to do the heavy job, a man who works neatly, leaves the place better than he found it, and uses his strength where it is needed.  I actually know several men like that!


A kinder and more nearly accurate image of 'men' is not one of the results I expected from Critical Feminist Studies.  Nor a kinder, gentler attitude toward my own physical self.  And what happy results they are!


In the interests of equality ( I have the Aquarian's yearning for equality ) what do I conclude about men's greatly superior physical strength?  I have believed in ( and believed I have seen ) female superiority in other areas.  But when I now consider how very much superior men are in strength, in order to maintain some approximate equality of the sexes I have to give women much more advantage in other areas that I had been previously inclined to.  Men themselves have finally convinced me:  in any disagreement between a man and a woman men customarily use force to prevail, though it may be the 'force of logic' or ' the force of facts' stated forcefully.  If a woman tries to use force, she is bound to fail, just as she would lose a wrestling match with the man.  Losing she can leave some wounds, but that is her only consolation.  However, if she refrains from using force and uses any other tactic, she usually wins.  Surprise, humor, pathos, weakness.....  So I'm beginning to think that women really are very much superior in areas other than strength since men rarely are willing to engage in any tests other than strength.

What do we women do when we try to meet a man's strengeth with our own?  We begin to lose ground rapidly; our voices rise, become shrill; we bang doors.  (I once with a broom handle beat the doorfacing beside a man's head.)  All clear signs we have lost and recognize it. 

And so I finally come to my discontent with the readings.  Shrill voices, nervous illogic, even a few banged doors and noses.  Why are we women meeting men on the only ground where we are inferior?  Why are we still trying to use the force of logic?  Why are we women TAUGHT logic?  The form itself is a use of strength/force: we always become shrill or worse when we use it.


I want someone to argue with me --- to disagree with me.  I LOVE logic, but I use it only in the privacy of my own head.  God forbid that I should use it with a man and hand him the win on a platter!  And my 'animus' is too much of a gentleman to take advantage of a woman in that way. 


We haven't heard from women yet.  I dare to say we won't hear from them while we continue to use the forms and criteria of force/strength.  I think that takes in all the subjects treated in our reading.

I am quite addicted to logic in my private thoughts and writing.  But I intend to give it up.  I want to see what might happen when the volcanic woman in here is let loose from those old muscular forms.


Sarah Collins's picture

I don't understand why a

I don't understand why a feminist class would want to overthrow logic. Logic is not the enemy. And when did logic become equated with "the patriarchy"? I disagree that women as the weaker sex have to resort to other resources like "surprise, humor, pathos, weakness" (weakness?) because mental ability isn't by any means analogous to physical strength. Reading this post was a bit disheartening; it was like reading what would happen if Lily Briscoe's character in Woolf's To The Lighthouse had listened to the voice in her head telling her that "Women can't write, women can't paint"...women can't be logical.
I think it's too easy to victimize oneself by putting all the power in someone else's hands if it doesn't necessarily have to remain there. I'm going to go further and disagree with Flora about logic being the "master's tools" however. All humans are capable of reasoning. That's why we get to call ourselves intelligent beings. College is all about learning how to learn, and it's pretty hard to learn about anything if you're not thinking about it. The thing about logic to which our class seems to object is that it leaves out feelings, and feelings can certainly play a large part in the pursuit of justice and equality. Cixous' sense of anger when she thought of any woman being made to feel ashamed of her sexuality is compelling and justified. But it think it behooves anybody to be capable of setting aside their feelings momentarily while they are sorting out a problem or issue. Reading things like: "I LOVE logic, but I use it only in the privacy of my own head. God forbid that I should use it with a man and hand him the win on a platter! And my 'animus' is too much of a gentleman to take advantage of a woman in that way" is what upsets me. Why would a person ever suppress their own thoughts? And is thinking beyond someone else "taking advantage" of them? I think that line of reasoning can only lead to oppression and/or boredom. I really want to hear what everyone else thinks about this whole question.

Flora's picture

what is logic's replacement?

I think Mary Belle articulates here one of the most recurrent themes of our class. And so I keep thinking about it. Must we rely on knowledge of a cannon to destroy each other? If not, what is the alternative? If so, what should we learn? So much of our discussions and forum postings have revolved around this question.

Rejecting masculine forms of logic is, here, another proposed solution. I don't know what it means. I certainly don't think that I always become shrill or worse when I use logic; (if anything, I can see the faces and voices of my opponents (yes, I'm using military language) falter. I am well trained in the use of the master's tools). Why use the word shrill in this context? It has such a misogynist ring to it...

The reason why I cannot endorse the rejection of mainstream logic is twofold. First, I don't buy the assumption that logic is for strong men and volcanic power is for less strong women. I don't buy the gender dichotomy in this theoretical framework. I don't think that thinking of men as stronger than women is useful in most contexts unless it is qualified by notions of socialization. Without that supposition, the call to reject logic fades.

Second, if we reject logic, how can we engage with mainstream discourse? I have no interest in solely creating Woolf's outsiders' society.

HARRIET McBRYDE JOHNSON really helped me think about the dilemna of the upset outsider engaging in a discourse about her fate in the article anne linked in class:

"A philosophy professor says, ''It appears that your objections to assisted suicide are essentially tactical.''

''Excuse me?''

''By that I mean they are grounded in current conditions of political, social and economic inequality. What if we assume that such conditions do not exist?''

''Why would we want to do that?''

''I want to get to the real basis for the position you take.''"

Here, she points out a logic that excludes the value of existing social conditions and personal experiences. This sort of logic I can agree to reject, but I still must learn to converse with it. I resist even calling this logic, since it is inherently illogical to state that the contemporary experiences of individuals do not form a REAL basis for a position. Later, she writes that:

"If I define Singer's kind of disability prejudice as an ultimate evil, and him as a monster, then I must so define all who believe disabled lives are inherently worse off or that a life without a certain kind of consciousness lacks value. That definition would make monsters of many of the people with whom I move on the sidewalks, do business, break bread, swap stories and share the grunt work of local politics. It would reach some of my family and most of my nondisabled friends, people who show me personal kindness and who sometimes manage to love me through their ignorance. I can't live with a definition of ultimate evil that encompasses all of them. I can't refuse the monster-majority basic respect and human sympathy. It's not in my heart to deny every single one of them, categorically, my affection and my love."

It is here that I find myself most agreeing with Johnson's experiences. (and now I can enter a volcanic style of text) If I were to reject all of the logic around me that offends me and let loose all of the true anger and repressed sadness and heartbreak these actions have created inside of me, I wouldn't be able to forgive anyone, not even the closest of my friends and family for any of the ways in which they have hurt me. My standards of interacting and loving people would become so incredibly high, I would lose everyone I care about. Stuck in the prism of my memories and experiences and tears, I would stop caring about the motivations of other people and only the ways in which their actions have affected me. Unable to care for myself, lost in contradictions, I would soon forget all that care about outside of myself.

Or maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I would become an incredibly prolific artist or thinker or both. But I don't want to find out. I don't want to be lost in myself, I want to be engaged with the world. I don't want to abandon the logical conventions of discourse completely, but instead work to find a way to express myself within them. Logic is another type of dialogue and my personal logic is just as valuable to me as my variable emotions. And I don't want to unilaterally reject it if it can offer me a connection to thoughts I don't understand.

In my own thoughts and words, I am trying to stop the use of generalizations and widespread rejections. Not only can I not find it in my heart to unilaterally hate every single person who holds beliefs hugely counter to my own, I also don't find it very practical. I don't want to throw up my hands and say "You're not playing fair." I want to be able to learn how to play a new game better than the person who created it.

marybellefrey's picture

Thank you, Flora and Sarah,

Thank you, Flora and Sarah, for taking seriously my cry for argument.   I had been unhappy with my dismissal of logic; it is after all very powerful  (we can't get away from these 'muscle' words).    You have challenged me in new ways to look at logic --- among other things.  My thoughts of the moment will go on my next blog entry.  Thanks again.