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Feminism and the Individual's Journey

Rhapsodica's picture

    When I first walked into this class, I felt intimidated by the fact that I knew so little about feminism. As I listened to the intelligent, composed women around me analyze and challenge the ideas of writers such as Schweickart and Sosnoski, I felt terribly out of place. I even considered dropping the class, simply because I felt afraid to speak up, concerned that my thoughts were too immature, too incomplete, or simply not important enough to interject into the fast-paced conversation. However, being in this course over the past month has proven to be an amazing experience, one worth every bit of frustration I initially felt. Sitting down to write this paper, I find it hard to put my current state of mind into words simply because my thoughts have been shifting so much after each reading and after each class discussion. I have come to realize that I am just beginning my journey as a feminist, and am becoming more aware of how feminism affects the way a woman sees herself and the world around her. Thus, I am curious to learn more about how feminism shapes the journeys taken by different women. After considering Linda Kauffman’s statement that she “never thought feminism was about happiness, [but]… about justice,” I am also starting to wonder exactly how the individual woman’s journey relates to the larger feminist movement, and am still trying to work out whether one does or should take precedence over the other (Kauffman 274).

    Out of all the readings we have done so far, the one that has spoken most strongly to me is “Laugh of the Medusa,” by Helene Cixous. As I read her ideas about the relationship between self-expression and sexuality, her words washed over me, made my heart race, spoke to some deeper part of my consciousness previously untapped by any of the more academic texts we have analyzed. The idea of having sexual freedom has been part of my definition of feminism since before I decided to take this class; now, however, I am starting to more closely examine why that concept holds so much relevance for me. The experience of reading her essay got me thinking about how my relationship to sexuality mirrors other aspects of my life: how I approach the process of writing, how I feel about speaking up in this class, how in almost every situation, I never fully express myself because I am afraid to put myself and my thoughts out there, figuratively naked, for the world to see.

    In this way, I am inclined to want to learn about how feminist thought relates to the individual in a variety of contexts. I would love to incorporate more diverse readings into our curriculum, ones that involve women of different races and sexual orientations, at different times in their lives, of different religious faiths and perspectives. In essence, I would like to be able to extend my knowledge of feminism’s effect on the individual beyond my own experience, and begin to understand how it affects women of varying backgrounds and experiences.

    In addition to seeing feminism as an personal journey, I have also come to realize that there are many different ways to look at feminism – as a means of achieving large-scale change, as a perspective on how to express oneself, as a theoretical lens through which we can examine literature. I would like to examine how these different views of feminism intersect and interact, and how their relationships have changed over time. Once again calling upon Kauffman’s statement regarding justice and happiness, I am curious to know how the individual’s journey relates to larger feminist issues, such as equality. I am also eager to begin examining works of literature, by both men and women, and to begin putting the theory we have been reading to some practical use. Then, I believe, we will truly be able to understand and apply the theories' truths and limitations. As for exactly which books and kinds of texts I would like to read – I am not entirely sure. I feel that, so far, I have benefited from being exposed to a little bit of everything. I may find academic texts to be frustratingly difficult to understand, but I still believe they are valuable, and if we are to start looking at literature critically as well, absolutely necessary. I also believe it is necessary that, as women of academia, we are careful not to fall prey to the notion that our ideas are unimportant, that we have no authority, or that our self-expression is or should be held back; I believe that this will be one of the hardest goals for me to achieve, personally.


Anne Dalke's picture

Figuratively naked, literally dressed

Seems as though you are already on your way to achieving that hard goal, Rhapsodica. Another way of saying "putting your thoughts out there figuratively naked" might be...putting your thoughts out there, literally dressed, in words, shaped and honed, to speak in a voice that you have designed.  Choosing a username like "Rapsodica" is as good an example as any of this process of "dressing up one's thoughts...."

If you'd like to learn and think more about the nexus between self-expression and sexuality, between sexual and linguistic freedom, you might want to look @ the resource list for Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference.
If you're especially eager to read works of literature, I might suggest (from that list) both Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body and Dorothy Allison's Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature. Also quite provocative/productive for exploring your own sort of l'ecriture feminine--aside from further writing by the French feminists-- might be Marguerite Duras's The Lover (Duras, who was both a novelist and a filmmaker, is infamous for saying that "a word is worth 1,000 pictures": because it is so "chaste," because its relative "spareness" makes it particularly inviting of engaged interpretation).

Those are my suggestions. My questions back to you have to do with how you understand (or might come to understand) the relation between theory, self-expression, and large-scale change. Which comes first/is primary/motivates the other? Your notion of literature as having a practical use-value might be one way of beginning to answer that question.

The other thing that strikes me here is your insistance on the relation between individual journeys and feminism writ large; your curiosity both about how feminism might be shaping our journeys and how (though you don't say it explicitly) our  journeys might be shaping feminism. For that reason, you might start your search for more diverse readings with some of the writings in womanist theology, which offer an interesting intersection of variety of racial, sexual and religious orientations.