Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Feminism Broke the Window of Cultural Studies

I'm taking one official sit-in-class course this final semester of my Masters, and it is one that I avoided and dropped out of my first semester in the program: Transnational Feminist Cultural Studies. It's a good marker to have since I (the first time around) came to the class for two weeks and royally freaked out by how over my head the whole course was, and now it's very manageable.

I wanted to share an incredible narrative by Stuart Hall (one of the keystone theorists in the opening and founding of Cultural Studies) on their first true encounter with Feminism. This comes from his addition to the Cultural Studies reader in 1992: Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.

"We know it was, but it's not known generally how and where feminism first broke in. I use the metaphor deliberately: As the thief in the night, it broke in; interrupted, made an unseemly noise, seized the time, crapped on the table of cultural studies. The title of the volume in which this dawn-raid was first accomplished-Women Take Issue- is instructive: for they "took issue" in both sense--took over that year's book and initiated a quarrel. But I want to tell you something else about it. Because of the growing importance of feminist work and the early beginnings of the feminist movement outside in the very early 1970's, many of us in the Centre-- mainly, of course, men-- thought it was time there was good feminist work in cultural studies. And we indeed tried to buy it in, to import it, to attract good feminist scholars. As you might expect, many of the women in cultrual studies weren't terribly interested in this benign project. We were opening the door to feminist studies, being good, transformed men. And yet, when it broke in through the window, every single unsuspected resistance rose to the surface- fully installed patriarchal power, which believed it had disavowed itself. There are no leaders here, we used to say; we are all graduate students and members of staff together, learning how to practice cultural studies. You can decide whatever you want to decide, etc. And yet, when it came to the question of the reading list... Now that's where I really discovered about the gendereed nature of power. Long, long after I was able to pronounce the words, I encountered the reality of Foucault's profound insight into the individual reciprocity of knowledge and power. Talking about giving up power is a radically different experience from being silenced."

First, I just love how he painted the scene, but second... I wanted to stop to think about how one would typically address such an encounter with critical engagement. In this description, Hall is checking his power, and awakening to the need to surrender space to truly allow another perspective to be of any real effect to the foundations of the former belief system.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why do we insist on relying on the condition of the body to understand identity?

Why is it that identity must match the body, or that the body is tied to identity at all? Who says what the body is and what identity it is attached to? Some of the biggest mainstream jokes on race plays on the White teen boy who thinks he is Black. Yes, there are ways that one is seen and treated- racism, sexism, homophobia & violence runs the show and keeps us all scared. Material effects keep us from being able to see that Blackness, womaness… that they are all inventions we can’t even properly define with certainty. By a transgendered person’s supposed transition from their correct gender to their desired gender, we give no value or truth to how they experience their identity. We are instead looking through an assumed truth of an origin, feeding evidence into the gender-body matching machine. Is it too far to question transexuality and the need to make the body be truly woman (as if it wasn’t already)? Why is manhood and womanhood tied to genitals as the truth? By correcting the body aren’t transexuals recognizing an inconsistancy of their body pre-op and their identity, giving evidence for their bodies being broken beforehand?

Loren Cameron, Photographer's self-portrait

Who is to say that they aren’t men (and are instead transmen) or that they weren’t men? Who says what manhood is? Be defaulting to only being complete with surgeries, we are feeding the assumed truth of sex, and limiting who can access a complete self. Historically, before surgeries were performed, were “transgendered” folk incomplete? I don’t think so. Are today’s transexuals incomplete in comparison to chromosome-therapy-using-transexuals of the future? By letting in, we prove that science knows identity; that science knows truth. How do we shatter that? How far do we go to keep this charade running?

Who is this? Why should I care? Do we have anything in common?

Hello, I don’t think that we’ve been formally introduced.

My name is Chy and I am in the Women & Gender Studies masters program at San Francisco State (which sounds a bit more prestigious than “SFSU” in my opinion, but it’s all the same!). I am also enrolled in a fantastic school of transformation disguised as a restaurant business. It’s called Cafe Gratitude and I work as their Admin Assistant ( I am completely in love with the company for obvious reasons that I will further express.
I am also a crafty crafter. I have my own shop at where I have uploaded various special creations for sale. I love hodge podge collage patchwork meaningful useful things and I hope that that gets across to those who view my shop.

I’m finishing my thesis this semester on intersexuality and Crip and Queer embodiments through online expressions and community (with a transnational feminist framework). If you know a little about any of this, you can see my obsession with borders, boundaries, definitions and identifying through definitions. If you don’t understand any of that, know that I am intrigued with borders and I’ll work to speak English as much as I can. DOWN ego DOWN!

I’m a large White hairy woman (last I checked) who loves all sorts of genders, sexes, races, ages, (dis)abilities, nations, classes and religions. So that might make me queer. I’m living with the love of my life (Brian) for 5 years now and he understands himself as a male born man (last he checked) and so most people see me as heterosexual, which I understand.

Topics (in near order) of value to me: vibrators, Social Change, Feminisms, Queer Theory, sexuality, desire, gender, (dis)ability, transformation, activism, working at Cafe Gratitude, critical race theory, transnational feminist theory, anti-capitalism, homemade art, winterguard, colorguard, Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, Raw organic deliscious food from Cafe Gratitude, Dexter, raw Mexican clams, I <3>