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.

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