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Where I am right now

sarahcollins's picture

I think I used to be if not the worst nightmare, at least a bad daydream of feminist trailblazers. I reaped the benefits of their labors and never truly felt oppressed as a female, but was relatively ambivalent to the feminist cause. My high school assigned a fair amount of books by women, not just the Brontes, Austen, and Shelley, but Cisnero, Angelou, Hurston, Tan and more. For me, feminism was inapplicable to my immediate life, and almost historical, at least in America and other “enlightened” countries; I never applied feminism with the urgency of activism to my life, because I couldn’t see how or if I was being oppressed.

Now, a semester into the course, I see that feminism is more pertinent to my life than I could’ve imagined then, and pertinent to the world right now. Schweickart’s article was the little trickle that precipitated the flood. From an egocentric perspective, had I been immasculated and psychically traumatized without even realizing it? I thought all books were good for you. What an unsettling concept. Just how different would I be if the western canon weren’t so androcentric? How different would the world be? I think feminist literary theory attempts to address and amend those questions, as well as more noble and urgent ones, and it also fights to restore woman’s voice.

Looking back over our readings, I’ve noticed some issues that seem to never have answers, or rather to have a different answer from each scholar: Defining what it means to be a feminist, whether there is a fundamental difference between how men and women, whether the debate should be personal, if it is about justice or happiness, and where the boundaries of politics lies. Some of these oppositions may not even exist or be relevant to various forms of feminist criticism. It’s like some over the top, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome type free-for-all: the first rule of feminism is that there are no rules. This is exciting. Who wouldn’t like feminist critical theory?

In future readings, I want to keep being challenged by different theories, and keep finding reasons for everyone why feminism matters. More specifically, the issues that seem most critical to me concern the difference issue, like the idea of whether it is feasible to institutionalize the “feminine” (as generally termed by Sosnoski, Cixous, Allen, and Schweickart,) perspective of the world in literary criticism. Is there an inherent feminine style of thinking, acting, and writing? What exactly do Woolf and Cixous mean when they talk about woman’s voice being drowned out by man’s? It’s clearly not about the number of female protagonists in books, or the number of female authors, since they might be subscribing to “masculine” values. Are values, perception, upbringing, or genetics what forms woman’s voice? Does it have to have “intuition and the confession of error”, generosity, creativity, or be non-conflict based, loving in order to qualify? Where is the volume level of woman’s voice at now?

I believe in limiting personal input in intellectual discussions, I try to be a member of Woolf’s society of outsiders, and I think it’s worth the effort to be a vigilant feminist reader ever wary of immasculization. I’m very intrigued about what would happen if every woman took Cixous’ advice to heart and painted their side of the world. However, I am open to learning otherwise, and want to learn more. 


Anne Dalke's picture

waking from a bad daydream

What interests me in your meditation, sarahcollins, is your moving from not seeing yourself as oppressed to the desire to "keep finding reasons ...why feminism matters." Something's shifted for you, some awareness of structures (including literary ones?) that haven't allowed you (and other women?) to flourish. You're parting ways with Woolf, who wanted to "burn that old word," and instead following the lead of many of our more contemporary theorists, in wanting to under "the difference issue" more fully. Do women differ? From whom? And if so, how? And if how, why?

You end your piece by naming three beliefs, and the three positions that underlie them: a need to "limit personal imput in intellectual discussions," a need to be outside, and a need to be wary. I'm puzzled by that list, or more precisely by the implied relationship among the items in it: why outside, and why warily outside, if not from/because some personal location, some personal awareness...?

And I'm not clear where you want to go from here, how you think you might best "keep being challenged." Do you want to read some more books that are "not good for you"? Go exploring more in those exciting places where "there are no rules"? Is that what the landscape of feminism looks like to you now, a space without boundaries and limits of any sort?