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Towards Day 24 (T, 12/2): Nego-feminism

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping

* invitations to submit proposal to Re: Humanities Conference!

* updating the schedule/portfolio instructions-
-still in process, but, so far! this week!

* signing up to meet with Kristin, Sara and me the week after classes end:
T, 12/16: 5, 5:30
W, 12/17: 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4
Th, 12/18: 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4

* for Thursday, I've selected a reading that steps off from some of your postings:
I am questioning our focus on the veil…. isn't it so very Western to focus on the material, visible aspect of this oppression?

bridget: Take...Satrapi's relationship with the veil: Nnaemeka explicitly critiques Western feminism for ...neglecting the dynamics
of other societies, instead imposing Western values (like freedom of expression and the female body) and claiming the oppression
of structures like the veil.

so! read
Banu Gökarıksel and Anna Secor. “The Veil, Desire, and the Gaze: Turning the Inside Out.” Signs, 40, 1 (Autumn 2014): 177-200 --
we'll need some postings/initial reactions/thoughts to guide class discussion (nix last night from
Abby, Kate, Natalie, Nkechi, Rhett--so I'll expect you 5 to craft the agenda for Thursday's class;
those postings are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday...)

* By 5 p.m. Sun, 12/7:
posting to the full cluster (or just e-mail to Niki?): your contribution to the 'zine
(rather than proposal for my "internationalizing feminism" paper, which got pushed forward....

* By midnight Mon: 'zine to Sarah T for printing by Tuesday's opening?

* checking in (again?) re: plans for our gallery/conversation/finale?
'Zinesters: Amelia, Kate, Niki (contact person for sending materials to) and Rebecca (photography)
Campus Center Gallery: Rebecca (and Bridget?)
Art Supply Trip: Niki, Natalie, Rhett (need more from you?)
Outreach: Gabby, Sula, Sophia
Structuring the intentional conversation: Natalie and Nkechi
Bottom-liner: Abby

Abby's thoughts re: 'zine-->
we could include concepts we've learned
(i.e. the meaning of a contact zone and how relevant that idea has been throughout the 360),
topics we've discussed in all three classes,
skills we've learned (i.e. step by step brief instructions on How to Listen by Monsoon and Benaifer),
illustrations of our experiences ? (i.e. a sketch of our interactions w camphill community),
snippets of conversations we've had that have been particularly impactful (only as much as we're comfortable with though), etc. etc
plus (Sula?): use this space to pose questions that people might consider before attending the listening conversation event?
plus Hummingbird: perhaps we can include the poems we
co-wrote near the beginning of the semester (the "Mantrafestos").
Maybe we don't need to include all of them, but several? 
Another zine idea: can we capture a "360 conversation" in some way? Maybe
include a brief transcript of a brief conversation? I'm thinking of how
smalina pulled out the part of my notes from class where someone asked about
"queering" and someone else asked "is that feminist" – i.e. can we capture
in some way several lines of conversation that seem to really epitomize our
360 experience? I feel like that could be held in a loving and fun way within
the form of a zine. I'll keep my ears open and my note-taking on.

II. for today, I'd asked you to read  Nnaemeka's 2004  essay on
Nego-feminism: Theorising, Practicing, and Pruning Africa's way, and to reflect on
how it invited you to think differently about Mohanty's essay, Americanah and/or Persepolis.

In spring 2011, I co-taught a course w/ Liz McCormack, in the Physics Dept here,
called Gender, Information, Science and Technology,
about the intra-actions and entanglement of those four things.
We started with the “science and technology of gender,”
or how we make/re-make ourselves—
with cosmetic surgery, surgical re-shaping, and—
what interested the students most—on the internet:
how we re-present, even re-gender ourselves on-line selves.

We were collaborating w/ a course on Gender and Technology @ MIT,
and they read an essay by Raka Shome, "Thinking through the disapora:
Call centers, India, and the  new politics of hybridity,”
which told a very different story: not the freedom to re-make/
re-represent one’s physical body, but rather the need to
remake oneself to “perform” Americanness;
Shome emphasized the "privitized disappearance" and
"biopolitical invasion of the body's natural time" on the part of the Indian call workers.

When one of my students went "undercover" to reveal a counterstory to Shome's--
the deep sense of threat on the part of American and English people,
who feel that their own identities are under assault when tasks once
performed "at home" are taken up by others "halfway around the globe”—
I realized that apparent complaints about competency are actually veiled complaints about identity theft.

And I realized that my courses were way too US-centric: that talking about
“identity and the internet” differs very sharply, if those whose identities are being remade
work in a call center in India (for instance) or sit in a college dorm @ BMC.
I’ve since tried to expand all my feminist courses from "home" into other geographic and cultural domains;
hence Americanah, Persepolis, these essays by Mohanty and Nnaemeka….which advocates
"no ego" feminism, a feminism of "negotiation, give and take, compromise, and balance"--
this is NOT the radical feminism that I advocate and practice!

And so I suggest we start  today’s discussion with bridget’s claim that
Bryn Mawr offers exactly what Nnaemeka critiques: "A homogeneous classroom
that is anesthetized by the comfort of the familiar: ‘home’ needs the ‘foreignness’
that challenges and promotes self-examination; it needs the different, the out of the ordinary,
that defamiliarizes as it promotes the multiple perspectives and challenges rooted in heterogeneity”….
[bridget goes on to say that] We live, interact, and learn in an environment that not only produces
the "familiar/'home'" but actively tries to be home. It knows that it is homogeneous in terms of sex
and prefers itself to be that way (obviously). In this, I see a conflict: do historically women's colleges
still promote self-examination? Is it necessary for us to go coed to do so?'s so damaging to
have feminism be gendered when it extends well beyond a classroom filled with women.”

nbarker: One of the things that resonated with me most strongly in Nnameka's article is her
call for a more truly "globalized" view of feminism…. for many different, culturally-inspired ways
of talking about feminism….An essential problem of western feminism is its inherently colonialist-like ideas…
What would feminism look like if African feminism was the dominant discourse…?

smalina: This really highlights for me the necessity of using…frameworks belonging to their
respective cultures be used as primary lenses for the texts….[for example, our] assumption
that Aunty Uju is failing to act as a feminist by becoming involved with The General….
in America, a woman is liberated when she is freed from the need for a man….[so]
we see a woman marrying a powerful man, instead of attempting to become powerful on her own….

rebeccamec: I love her discussion of culture and who defines it…. "Border crossing entails
learning about the 'other,' but more importantly, it should also entail learning from the other”….
A lot of Nnaemeka’s arguments are stated so poetically--reinforcing that we must take a more
personal, creative, centered-in-the-now approach to feminism--including all sides of the story
in one construction while also dissecting them…. I have picked out some especially juicy passages...:
"A modulated shift in focus…from ontological considerations (being there) to functional imperatives
(doing what there)”…reminds me of Americanah…a dynamic, realistic character that demonstrates
many levels of intersectionality….Adichie's writing absorbs the reader [who] experiences
more understanding than any theoretical conversation could accomplish….

abradycole: I found her argument about African cultures putting value on collective success and happiness
to be an interesting way to look at feminism….when everyone's happiness and well-being is necessary….
feminism can catch fire and spread….[and be] adopted as a universal….I’ve begun to understand some
of the mechanics of how the patriarchy and capitalism are intimately connected….
Nnaemeka takes us back to the very first exercise we did with Kristin….
more value is placed on our vertical identities because they connote progress and change
and fast-moving advancement within one patrilineal line of descent.

Sunshine: Because gender is a performance, it is important to remember that acts that may be
considered anti-feminist in America or other western cultures can still be feminist. Like black women
to be able to relax their hair or have a weave could be considered an affirmation of gender….
Ifemelu relaxed her hair before her job interview…It is a way to temporarily work within the system,
without changing it, which is my understanding of nego-feminism.

bridget: In reading Nnaemeka's piece, I kept on going back to Persepolis and Americanah….
Nnaemaka criticizes the treatment of "third-world" women as "case-study and country-specific sections"
that …can't be used in theorizings…[but] we should read them as pieces of a larger narrative… because
[memoir] provides a concrete way to contrast our understanding of feminism and to negotiate the values
of nego-feminism…..looking at personal stories enables us to build a theory from the ground up….
leading us to realize that [feminism] is built off of primarily Western ideology instead of experiences,
subjectivities, and the realities of women outside of the Western sphere.

Hummingbird: some of my own presumptions….came from approaching her work with a western feminist eye.
Nnaemeka quotes, "Neither sex is totally complete in itself. Each has and needs a complement,
despite the possession of unique features of its own." This phrasing of "incompleteness" made me assume
heterosexual relationships and the need for a man and woman to be partnered together….
something I felt resistance to immediately….however, I caught myself….If I read this as acknowledging
the spectrum of gender…then [it’s] asserting that a range and diversity of people are necessary in the world…
.Which is ultimately something I agree with. Of course a diversity of people should have access to and
should practice feminist thinking! There's no question!...I felt embarrassed to have been reading
so strongly on the defensive.

Nnaemeka's description of how to "walk like a chameleon" reminded me deeply of Marjane Satrapi
and her friends' forms of feminism within Iran in Persepolis…. something I'd like to discuss further in class.

If you want to read more about African feminism, I recommend a second article  (also from Alice Lesnick):
Agnes Atia Apusigah, “Tullum: A Gendered African Wisdom with Possibilities for Development,"
which I've put in our password-protected file of readings...As Alice explains it, "Westerners are too
quick to think that big things are more valuable, and the more unrestricted something (generally a
market for consumer activity) is, the better. ...That something is the barest possibility,
to this way of thinking, limits its legitimate call on our attention and resources....But here,
in Apusigah's writing, that something is scant or small is a sign of its power...."

Anne’s reading notes

Killing opposition between text and activism
Nussbaum dismissed for theorizing, instead of offering clear road map for action
wary of anti-theory
Africans interrogate ways in which theory raises concerns
about invention, appropriateness, applicability
double apartheid of social and epistemological exclusions
@ heart of disjunction in globalizing world:
What is the hidden dowry of globalization?
Can the media be turned to the interests of the poor?
increasing divorce between parochial debates in academy and vernacular discourses outsideà demands new, imaginative ways to view,
conduct research from below, with imagination:
meeting in “the third space of engagement”/interaction
nego-feminism: feminism of negotiation, no ego feminism
diverse as continent, w/ foundation of shared values, attitudes, institutions
interrogate/reposition two crucial issues in feminist studies:
positionality and intersectionality

constant interrogation of positionality as
active subject location of shifting reciprocity
shift of intersectionality from ontological considerations
(being there) to functional imperatives (doing what there)
go beyond historicizing intersection to focus on history of now, moment of action
whom does our theory making serve?
cross-cultural theorizing fraught w/ questions
--of provenance, subjectivity, positioning
feminist scholarship puts a human face on body of knowledge,
and unmasks the faceless body
focusing on methodology, feminism brings up for scrutiny the human agency implicated in knowledge formation, information management
you cannot mobilize a movement only and always against;
must have a positive alternative

Butler: a radical critique that frees feminist theory
from a single, abiding (and invariably contested) ground
Christian: “race for theory”à people of color theorize in narrative forms
cf. Cartesian theory, with
anonymity of communal voice in narrative forms, proverbs
4 exam questions: who said, to whom, when, where?
(identifying  the voice that authorizes, passivity that legitimates it,
temporality that marks it, location of one-way traffic of “transaction”)
endemic pattern of quarantining “third-world” voices,
excluded from “theory section”:
African women instrumentalized, not included as collaborators, co-authors
serious questions about information gathering and knowledge construction
research focus often donor driven;

unequal relationships between and Southern counterparts and Northern NGOs (demand transparency and accountability, maintain secrecy and no accountability)
Lugones and Spelman on being accountable to those about whom we theorize
deconstructive, subversive nature of African literatureà
only conceptualized/theorized in context of post-modernism? no,
African worldviews can provide a theoretical rank for African literature
how about indigenous contexts and formulations:

nmanwu (masquerade) and akataka (more disruptive form)
nmanwu indeterminate, blurring boundary between “high, low” art,
crosses genre boundaries, pastiche of narrative, playful attitudes,
multi-perspectivist, bricolage
akataka most fragmenting, subversive of masquerades,
deconstructs, decenters everything:
“One cannot stand at a spot to watch a masquerade”:
profound issues of perspective, subjectivity
development discourse part of an imperial process,
appropriating, turning others into objects
true development of human beings involves empowerment, inner fulfillment
globalization focuses more on the material, less on the human

la mondialisation (from le monde) captures both materiality and humanity
the West has mounted persistent, wrongheaded insurgencies
against the “weird’ regimes of “unacceptable” cultures
(i.e. blaming their culture instead of their socioeconomic predicament)
when do certain acts become “culture”?
object to unidirectional intervention, aimed at
transforming the “victims” in the image of the interventionists

(ex: narrative of “impossibility” of taking an
 “individual” photography in village in Burkina Faso:
no distinction between mother and her family)
border crossing entails learning from the other
(cf. learning about, tinged with arrogance and superiority)
‘the West’ does not exist in isolation, but in constant contact w/ other spheres,
in ‘constant reconstitution through specific exclusions, conventions, practices’
anthropology constructs, produces, maintains difference--
as a professional discourse elaborating on the meaning of culture
to account for difference, gives cultural difference the air of the self-evident
people in need are complex beings
attempt to find out what ways culture is positive force serving development well
man should not be an economic tool; development leaves behind African humanity, responsibility, compromise and true partnership @ heart of democratic values
proverbs: when something stands, something stands beside; a person is a person because of other people; one head cannot go into counsel; the sky is vast enough for all birds to fly without colliding
to meaningfully explain African feminism, refer to the African environment;
African feminism is proactive, and rooted in the indigenous,

taking African societies seriously as they are
cf. the traditional (fossilized existence of African past, reified culture)
with the indigenous (what is important to peoples’ lives,
authentic expressions of themselves)—
clear the space for the functioning of the now and the here
deCerteau: a place implies a stability; territory defined by movements within it;
space an expansive terrain that allows for interplay of resistances
foundation of shared African values:
principles of negotiation, give and take, compromise, balance
detonate and go-around patriarchal land minds; negotiate around patriarchy
theology of nearness: performance, altruistic act
cf. feminized environment of women’s studies classes in the West,
with healthy mix of men and women in African  context
homogenous classroom anesthetized by comfort of the familiar
needs the foreignness that challenges and promotes self-examination;

needs the different, the out of the ordinary, that defamiliarizes
ex: development of Women’s Studies @ Makerere U, Uganda:
linking academic work to policy, advocacy, development enterprises
sensitive to the social utility of academic work
views human life from total, not dichotomous, exclusive perspective
the male is not the ‘other’ but part of the human same
each has/needs a complement

pervasive willingness/readiness of African women
to negotiate with/around men

(Mariama Ba dedicated her novel “to men of goodwill”)
African feminists collaborate, negotiate, compromise—
runs counter to Western feminists,
who challenge, disrupt, deconstruct, blow apart
African women modulate their struggle in deference to cultural, local imperatives
practice of “I hold back”
defamiliarize feminist theorizing, seen through the “other” world view
great uncle’s caution: walk like the chameleon”
(looks in different directions, cautious, takes the color of the environment)