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Slogging Through

ndegeorge's picture
Upon entering this class, I had never taken a course in gender and sexuality. However, I found that the issues often came up in my history and film classes (among others), and that inspired me to give this a try. I must admit in this short month, my world of feminism has been turned upside down. We've been bombarded from all sides with so many different ideas, but I'm confident that by the end of the semester I'll be able to tidy up the mess that is my brain right now. That said, I would like to get out of this class a working definition of feminism, since the one I had is currently in pieces. However, I do not necessarily want to limit my final project to that. I would just like that to be a stepping stone to help me get where I'm going (though I'm not sure where that is).
As far as the texts go, I did not really feel a strong connection with any of them up until Cixous. I do like many of Virginia Woolf's ideas, but obviously there are problems with implementing them. I actually think that the majority of the texts have embodied similar, fundamental contradictions. As we dug deeper into them we found that the authors often ended up over-turning their own ideas in the attempt to prove a point. That can make it difficult to pull out what seems important. And even when I think I have isolated the important points, I might not agree with them. For example, I really do not agree with Kauffman that we need to eliminate the personal from our discussions of feminism. I also have trouble with Allen's idea of looking at the background and foreground at the same time. The separation seems too ingrained in our society to make the change now. I liked Cixous because it was emotionally moving and inspiring (and maybe so at the expense of being less "academic"). I may not be ready to spill all of my unconscious yet, but it certainly stirred it up.
I liked that Cixous accepted the duality of a woman's nature without guilt or question; that we can be hot and cold, our desires simple and complex. I agree that writing can be a release from the front we present publically. Her ideas seem lovely in an ideal world, but again how do we move from a theoretical text to real life, or even from the classroom to the world? Obviously we will continue to explore that question, even if we never find an answer.
Using what I have gathered thus far, I guess that I will go out on a limb here, and say that right now I consider myself to be a second-wave feminist. I think that there are fundamental differences between men and women, but that it is most important to recognize those differences in order to appreciate them. I'm sure many in the class would disagree with that and I'm aware that at this point, the idea is much too simplified. Again, as always, it depends on the individual. Personally I do not want to take over the male domain. I'd like to be able to understand it, though that may be an impossible feat. I think it is more important to strengthen the female community in the world that we have. Again, these ideas are vague, I know, but it's a place to start.
One thing that I would like to get out to the world is that feminism is not evil, and that it's not confined to the stereotype of the bra-burning, man-hating women of the 1960s and 70s. It's also not that we want to run the world (though maybe some of us do!) and demote men to second-class citizens. Women at Bryn Mawr know that for the most part; it's those outside of this community that we should speak to. At home and in the workplace I have encountered women who have this narrow vision or even go so far as to say that they "hate" feminism. I find that to be disturbing. I think no matter what your specific views are you should be a feminist if you are a woman. Because to me, it's about making decisions for yourself and doing what you want, doing what's best for you, without feeling restricted by your gender. I think that battle must be taken on one person at a time, which makes it a daunting task. Don't they say though that even one person can affect change? I think that's true. However, that's the chore for when the class is over, when we are out there as women in a man's world.
In terms of the future for this class, I would like to read some novels, get past the theory and actually apply it to some works of fiction. I have recently discovered Edith Wharton and would love to know what Anne and others have to say about her work. I'm also always up for some more Virginia Woolf. In addition, I hope that we can explore some transgendered texts, since it is such a complex and intriguing issue.
Those are my ideas for now. I think we all have a lot on our plates at this point and may be experiencing slight indigestion. I hope that when this potluck is over I'll have picked out all the mushrooms and onions, but still be left with a satisfying dish.



Anne Dalke's picture

experiencing slight indigestion

My first question, ndegeorge, is what your source of confidence is, that by the end of the semester you'll be able to "tidy up the mess that is your brain" (!).
My second is why you see the work of affecting change as a "chore for when the class is over," rather than something that we are working on now, as we think outloud in public (here, in this space); as we figure out ways to get all voices in the classroom, and beyond it, into the conversation; as we work through ways to listen to and speak with one another, across various dimensions of time and space. The classroom and the web are spaces for activism, also; many of our forum conversations have been about expanding the definition of feminist praxis.

That said, I hear you calling for the literary turn--to Edith Wharton, and to some texts about transgender. We'll be talking about transgender with Susan Stryker when she visits our class on October 11th (and you'll see from the readings she's provided that she thinks quite strikingly about Frankenstein as a transgendered text). I was also thinking that we might want to visit, as a class, the upcoming production at the Wilma Theater of Age of Arousal, which sounds strangely like-and-different from Wharton's Age of Innocence. Interested in any of those possibilities? I'm interested, too, in what the relationship might be between Wharton and transgender--are these opposite ends of a spectrum for you, or is there some closer connection? Jill has also added another possibility to the range you've laid out here: do you have an interest in following up on her suggestion, of "examining critically, feministically" both the sorts of books, and the sorts of questions offered to readers of those books, in book clubs around the country these days?

And/but my last question, of course, is just what consitutes (or will come to constitute) the non-feminist "mushrooms and onions" of your indigestible meal...

Jill '66's picture

Beyond Bryn Mawr--Book Clubs as a subject of FLC

I like your saying that it is those outside the Bryn Mawr circle that you should speak to. I’d like to see a critical examination of the kind of books a great many women are reading and writing today—the “book club” books. Book clubs are are a sort of grass roots movement; what do they choose to read and why? Publishers now include in the books they think have “club” appeal a list of questions for discussion. Wouldn’t it be interesting to examine those critically, feministically? They are sending powerful messages to women who gather weekly or monthly to get a little affirmation, comfort, or insight from one another. What has shaped the very definite book club “canon?” How does it differ from books that fall outside but are intriguing for their views of women’s lives in a dislocated, even desperate modern context (Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, Digging to America by Anne Tyler–and books by men such as Disgrace by Coetzee)?