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Towards Day 16 (Th, 10/30): "Finishing" Americanah

Anne Dalke's picture

I. course keeping:
what's our schedule today? who's leaving when?
ndifrank, Sunshine, nbarker: Penn researcher speaking on the treatment of obesity, 1 p.m. Mon, Nov 17, Park 11

for Tuesday,
we are going on with the exploration of feminism beyond U.S. borders
(which includes "globalizing" WITHIN the borders, here on campus).
I'm asking you to look @ three texts:
an essay that Chandra Mohanty published in Signs, the premier feminist studies journal,
Under Western Eyes Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles,
which revisits a classic text, critiquing Western feminism, that she published almost 30 years ago;
this is an overview of international feminist movements, and their relationship to the U.S. academy;
next, the essay by Obioma Nnaemeka, which I posted last week, 
"Nego-feminism: Theorising, Practicing, and Pruning Africa's way,"
which was also published in Signs, and focuses more particularly on African feminism;
and then--to bring it home, because the global is not always far away/can be/is local--
a report that Alison Cook-Sather wrote with 4 BMC students,
and presented @ a conference for professional development in higher education last fall:
Lessons from international Students on Campus Living and Classroom Learning.

The two Signs articles are each 30 pp. long, and fairly dense, so I want you to skim both of them,
see which one interests you more, and then settle in to read one of them carefully;
depending on who is drawn to what, I may have us teach each one to one another;
but really? I need you to help me "prune" this reading, by posting your questions and reactions on Monday evening:
what you post will help me decide how to direct our conversation--and to do that thoughtfully I need it by 5 p.m....

Sammy Love, the HC student doing a journalism "beat" on feminism, has a regular conflict @ this time, can't join us;
and/but I got a request from Erikka Goslin, one of the social work students who was in the workshop last weekend,
asking if she might come to one of our classes--what do you say to that? (I taught her mother as a McBride,
and she recommended that she sit in....)

II. for today, you
asked for an overview of the "waves" of feminism--
conventionally, there are three:
1.male-identified ("get what they got"--education/jobs/the vote)
2.female-identified ("celebrate what we've got"--w/ an emphasis on embodiment, sexuality, motherhood)
3. postmodern (unidentifying/unessentializing)

a more elaborated version of this, from Rosemarie Tong's 2009 edition of Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction:

  • liberal feminists (suffrage; equal rights; equality of education: Bryn Mawr!)
  • radical feminists (libertarian and cultural: ripping out the patriarchal system)
  • Marxist-Socialist feminists (critique of the class system: oppression located in private property--means of production should belong to all)
  • psychoanalytic feminists (shift focus from macrocosm to microcosm of the individual: psychic trap of the Oedipal complex;
    explore prelinguistic, pre-Oedipal domain of the Imaginary, before children enter the Symbolic order)
  • care-focused feminists (why are women associated w/ emotions and the body, men w/ reason and the mind;
    women w/ interdependence, community, connection, and men w/ independence, selfhood, autonomy?)
  • multicultural, global, postcolonial feminists (highlighting differences among women--
    in race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity, age, religion, level of education, occupation/
    profession, marital status, health conditions--challenge female essentialism, chauvinism, "sisterhood")
  • ecofeminists (focus on strengthening humans' relation to the nonhuman world:
    broadest, most demanding definition of self's relation to the other;
    see Donna Harraway, of "Cyborg Manifesto" fame:
    "I am fascinated with the molecular architecture that plants and animals like a leaf I am"
    [I do a lot of eco-feminism in my evn'l studies courses, including Ecological Imaginings in the spring]
  • postmodern and third-wave feminists (highlight plurality, multiplicity, difference to re-think the category "woman")

most expanded (and most relevant-to-Americanah) chapter:
"Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism"
looks @ the tendency of privileged women to speak on behalf of all;
reminds us that all women not created/constructed equal
affected by (among other things) national membership,
esp. differences between Northern/Southern Hemispheres;
interlocking sources of economic, political oppression
Two-Thirds World feminists may reject label "feminist":
economic greater than gender oppression; may reject "rights language" for valuing
personal autonomy and mobility over communal ties, @ the neglect of social responsibilities)

AND/BUT! Mridula Nath Chakraborty, "Wa(i)ving It All Away: Producing Subject and Knowledge in Feminisms of Colour," Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration. Ed. Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie and Rebecca Munford. Palgrave, 2007: Feminists of colour argue that the very idea of a phase/stage/wave-based consciousness is an ideological construct...that seeks to subsume and consume the challenges posed to it through notions of 'inclusion' and 'solidarity'....Feminism must stop conceiving itself as a nation, a 'natural' political destination for all will have to develop a self-conscious politics of partiality, and imagine itself as a limited political home, which does not absorb difference within pre-given and predefined feminist models take into account the political economy of their socio-cultural milieu and are contingent upon broad-based approaches to questions of equity rather than a simple gender divide...a new typology...engages with multiculturalism, racialised class formations, immigration and naturalisation laws..

does this answer ndifrank's question? "The dicussion we had in class really made me question who is considered a feminist.
Many said that it is woman who has agency in her daily life. It made me wonder, can someone be a feminist even if
her personal life may be filled with patriarchial opression? Is feminism a way of life or simply a belief or an action?"

"finishing" Americanah
on Tuesday, abradycole (and rebeccamec) guided us to think about the "social construction" of mental health and illness: how it differs by country and class;
rosea (and rebecca, again) got us focused on the relationship between financial and emotional dependence--and feminist independence;
ndifrank asked whether feminism didn't need to have an activist or political dimension, something beyond self-assertion;
and we didn't get to Name's posting, which focused on Obinze and Kosi's inability to see each other (especially his dismissal of his wife), and Ifemelu's need to be seen:
There are many things that strike me as important about the novel, class, race, immigrant identities, the african diaspora, and many more, but I keep coming back to Obinze and Kosi. Do Kosi and Obinze see each other? Lately I've been thinking a lot about connection between people, and what qualifies some love from deeper love. One of the biggest things can be feeling understood and safe and seen, really seen by the other person. When Obinze speaks of Kosi, at their home, he says, "...sometimes he told her senseless lies such as this, because a part of him hoped she would ask a question or challenge him, though he knew she would not, because all she wanted was to make suer the conditions of their life remained the same, and how he made that happen, she left entirely up to him" Many things changed for them when they got married, and as Obinze says, she became less secure as time went on. He describes feeling irritated with her once she starts embodying the housewife identity. Her questions about his day, what food he'd like, and preparing his clothes seem false to him, like a forced character in a play. But does he not disengage with her by choosing to be less concerned about the household? When he thinks about her becoming more insecure about the prospect of being cheated on, does he think about how his actions could have contributed to her insecurity? It seems to me that had Obinze assured her of his love, she would have no reason to worry. It is easy to look at Kosi as callous when she dismisses the young housemaid because of the condoms in her bag, because it is. The young girl had been taken advantage of, and was clearly just trying to survive. But ignorance of that issue points to a real fear for Kosi of losing her love and stability. Obinze dismisses the argument by saying that he has no interest, and that he would have to want to, and that he will never want to cheat. But at this point, we know that not to be true. In looking to be seen, and looking for connection, he'd look for it anywhere. 
femelu thinks a lot about how she is perceived in this novel. I think I got the feeling that Ifemelu was tired of not being seen in America. She was being forced to choose which identities were more important to her, instead of being appreciated as a whole person. Whether it is about seeing someone on the street, or the way she is percieved by the women in the shop, she is constantly consumed by whether her identity is being recognized. Being with Blaine and sitting with the women in the salon,and their lack of understanding about why she would want to go back to Nigeria pointed to a real lack of connection. The only person she didn't seem to be thinking so much about that with was Obinze. Almost immediately, their connection was extremely strong, and important to her. She says, "He made her feel like herself" For me, that echoed back to what we had been saying earlier in the semester, about identities making the whole person, the person being a cumulative identity. She is refusing to be a character in a play, but rather, a person with free will who demands to be read.

for today I asked for additional guidance from
nbarker and khinchey (?)

and heard a lot from (but without time to read) rb.richx::

So, in writing down notes on what I'd potentially want to talk about in class, I thought I'd also just throw some things out that someone may want to run with (and I suppose anyone else can feel free to add on in any way to these relatively unformed thoughts):

  • gender (though we start to have this conversation with the feminism discussion)
  • immigration (though with my very simplistic post on diaspora, this conversation may also be covered)
  • language, bi/multilingualism in forming an identity (some ideas below)
    • Imefelu worried that Igbo will become a language of anger to Dike
    • various microaggressions because of accents
    • words/dialects taking on different meanings
  • education (some ideas below)
    • ndifrank pointed out in our disability class yesterday that education can mean so many different things. How does education create an identity?
    • Education is a common theme in the book, partically because it follows two people who have the privilege of going to college first in Nigeria and then elsewhere. How does this change their identities?
    • How is education take forms in other ways, such as with the blog postings that Ifemelu makes?
    • Something interesting that might enrich this conversation, maybe not - an interview with Adichie via NPR: "I really love the American liberal arts college education system and the way you can take classes in philosophy, political science and communications. I was thrilled [as an undergraduate]. I don't think I quite had a plan. I did think I would go back home, which in many ways I have, because I have a life in both places. But I didn't really have a firm idea of what I would do with it."

first of all, to get this out of my system, DARKMATTERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Iwanteveryonetocheckthemoutrightnow. even if you have before or looked at specifically just the stuff that sunshine posted, always consider looking at their stuff again and again.

website // twitter // youtube // facebook


i think i'm good.

I was thinking about this same idea, as Sunshine says, "This makes me wonder how it must feel for African-Americans to try to reconnect to their African heritage, which was stolen from them generations ago, while having Africans looking down on them for being American."

This book doesn't give an analytic answers or questions, generally, but so much of the novel touched on varying levels of diaspora. Probably the point in which this idea was put most succinctly for me:

Wambui is talking to the African Student Association. "We call people like Kofi American-African, not African American, which is what we call our brothers and sisters whose ancestors were slaves. ... Try and make friends with our African-American brothers and sisters in a spirit of true pan-Africanism. But make sure you remain friends with fellow Africans, as this will help you keep your perspective. ... You will also find that you might make friends more easily with other internationals... Many of the internationals understand the trauma of trying to get an American visa and that is a good place to start a friendship."

But the trauma, I think, is not just of trying to get an American visa.

I think there is so much more I could say here, but I just want to start examining some things here, such as

  • blackness as a forced identity vs a taken identity
  • recent diasporic events creating an identity vs diaspora of ancestorly migration
  • how those two convene



I'm partially replying to these posts, as well as to continue some of the classroom discussion yesterday about it; in an oversimplified summary, I'd say that the large questions here are -

  • What makes a feminist? Does this include activism?
  • How is Ifemelu a feminist (primarily here considering she does not do what I'll call "Women Activism TM" for the sake of this discussion)?

rebeccamec: Does Ifemelu consider herself a feminist? ... Ifemelu seems fiercely independent, but some of her thoughts about men made me wonder if she thinks her purpose in life is to serve them. [Ifemelu and Obinze's] thoughts don't sit well with a person who tries to be aware of gender inequalities.

ndifrank: In some aspect I agree that as long as you believe in the social and political equality of the sexes than you are a feminist yet, I have a personal dificulty with both making feminist a broad title or by doing the opposite and catorgorizing feminism... A part of me strongly feels she is a feminist yet, I struggle with imagining Ifemelu standing up for someone outside her family and friend and then I think maybe she isnt a feminst  which to me implies some sort of activism and instead she is just a strong woman. I think that feminism to me includes some sort of political or social activism and not only resisting conforming to gender/relationship/ societal norms. I also struggle then identifying what activism is. Does one have to protest or make huge statements to be activist or could they simply make alternative choices within their life?

Does Ifemelu ever explicitly say she works to serve men or that she is a feminist? I don't recall either being the case. So, to these statements/questions, I ask - what is feminism if it erases one's background completely? I can say that, in my experience, most if not all people are going to parrot what they have learned, though many of us who have awareness will try to unlearn certain things and decolonize our minds. But the latter is a constant struggle. Are any of us not feminists when we haven't unlearned something that our society has taught us that might not be the epitome of feminist ideology? To that, I extend that Ifemelu is Nigerian, and we cannot force our idea(l)s of feminism onto her, at least without noting the contextual differences first. (And to that I add, what's the difference in a person being feminist vs someone performing feminism?)

Secondly, I'd ask - what is feminism if it is not pro- people of color (or specifically in this case, pro-blackness)? Even though Ifemelu is constantly learning and critiquing other black people, she also acknowledges that she is both constantly learning herself and that black people in America experiences microaggressions daily, which she verbally fights and even starts a blog about.

I saw Dear White People multiple times recently. I bring it up because I thought the blog posts that Ifemelu made sometimes had a likeness to the YouTube clips that are inserted throughout the film that address white people; Ifemelu's posts tend to not address anyone but sometimes they do address fellow black folks... I would say that Sam, who is the creator of the YouTube channel Dear White People that the movie is then named for, is a feminist. She does not do activism for womanhood, but she constantly is using feminist/womanist/race-studies ideologies to further her points. She is advocating for equality (or, rather, justice, but that is a discussion for another time) which, imo, is inherently feminist. Also, Sam is fighting for racial equality/justice, and race cannot be separated from gender. There are lots of examples of this within Americanah, but perhaps one explicit example: Aunty Uju talks about how Dike is addressed at school, and mentions that anything he does that is masculine is considered aggressive simply because he is black.

(Also, another question that I'd like to ask, though it doesn't relate inherently to the book -- if activism is necessary in feminism, how can disabled people be feminists when not all disabled folks can't always physically or mentally be part of activism?)

rebeccamec: Obinze has had some very problematic and sexist thoughts, especially when referring to how sorry he feels for his "good wife" who seems to never be good enough, though she's very pretty. His thoughts aren't blatantly sexist, but have the twinge of sliminess that Margaret Atwood's male characters have. [Ifemelu and Obinze's] thoughts don't sit well with a person who tries to be aware of gender inequalities.

I think this is very important also in defining Ifemelu as a feminist - her chapters are put alongside Obinze's, and I felt that, as the story progressed, I could see more and more of a difference between the two of them in their thoughts and actions; if nothing else, one's feminist status can be defined when by comparing to others. If you compare Ifemelu and Obinze, Ifemelu is definitely more feminist.

IV. in closing: reflections on how we have been talking w/,
granting access, listening to each other?

additional topics you want to discuss on Thursday?