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Equality

Equality

Throughout this class we’ve tangled with “equality” as both an idea and social reality. Specifically, we’ve asked whether “women” can become “equal” to men and whether “women” would really want to be “equal” (what WOULD this “equality” look like?).

In order to further problematize this question (as if we haven’t thought enough about this over the past 4 weeks) I’d like to subject the idea of equality of women to the opening few paragraphs of Marx’s critique ‘On the Jewish Question’:
Marx wrote this famous article in response to Bruno Bauer’s Die Judengrage in which, among other topics, he articulates what it means to be human amidst others in a social environment. Very generally, Bauer criticized the Jews for desiring emancipation within the German order while not working to emancipate others.
Marx takes this analysis further, and describes that the Jews’ yearning for freedom is flawed in that it does not address the cause of oppression. The Jews wish to be equal to the Christians within Germany, but not only is this impossible (the impossibility rooted in the functioning of Christian anti-Semitism), but it is also unreal because it recognizes and legitimizes the oppression of the German dynastic state under which all are oppressed:

“…Do the Jews demand the same status as Christian subjects of the state? In that case they recognize that the Christian state is justified and they recognize too the regime of general oppression. Why should they disapprove of their special yoke if they approve of the general yoke? Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?”

Thus Marx identifies the root cause of division between Germans and Jews. It is very apparent that religion is separating these classes of people, and that this chasm is unbridgeable in its current manifestation:

“By its very nature, the Christian state is incapable of emancipating the Jew; but, adds Bauer, by his very nature the Jew cannot be emancipated. So long as the state is Christian and the Jew is Jewish, the one is as incapable of granting emancipation as the other is of receiving it.”

How, asks Marx, can the Jew expect to operate within a system that is so anti-Jewish? Within the Christian state, identities are allotted by religious devotion, and social standing (the arena in which Jews fight for equality) contingent upon a Christian basis:

“The Christian state can behave towards the Jew only in the way characteristic of the Christian state, that is, by granting privileges, by permitting the separation of the Jew from the other subjects, but making him feel the pressure of all the other separate spheres of society, and feel it all the more intensely because he is in religious opposition to the dominant religion.”

Marx continues:

“On what grounds then do you Jews want emancipation? On account of your religion? It is the mortal enemy of the state religion. As citizens? In Germany there are no citizens. As human beings? But you are no more human beings than those to whom you appeal.”

As the consequence to the German political order, humanity is repressed and crass religious divisions of society are exploited in order to preserve this order. And yet, Marx asks exasperatedly, you want to maneuver within this oppression in search of equality?
Bauer arrives at his solution by criticizing Judaism, identifying The Conflict as being the points in which Jews differ from Christians. Marx thinks differently: if the basis of division goes unaddressed, then there can be no solution.

“The formulation of a question is its solution. The critique of the Jewish question is the answer to the Jewish question. […]
“We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others.
“The most rigid form of the opposition between the Jew and the Christian is the religious opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is religious opposition made impossible? By abolishing religion.”

While it is unlikely that gender and patriarchy are completely analogous to the contradiction analyzed by Marx (Jews within a Christian power system) similarities can be identified. How can women be “equal” in a gender system that is predicated on the gender divide? Rather than settling for a “solution” that involves false reconciliations (in which the “special yoke” of oppression is “addressed” while the “general yoke” persists), the root of oppressive tendencies must be abolished. This infers an abolition of gender is necessary to destroy a violent system of gender/sexual oppression.

Is this correct?

Cultural Relativism: n.

Cultural relativism can be understood as a three-step intellectual process:
1. Values, customs, ways of life (that is, culture) evolve and take form in particular historical and material conditions.
2. Since the above assumption includes our way of life too, we cannot look upon another’s culture and evaluate it critically without our view being influenced (some might say ‘tainted’) by our own culture.
3. This means we cannot fairly/judiciously/rightly interpret another culture. Our being embedded in our own culture compromises any semblance of objectivity.

Cultural relativism is then used as a rebuttal against so-called “cultural imperialism”—the foisting of external values on another’s way of life. What is at root a ‘universality vs. particularity’ debate has spiraled wildly out of control into a ‘native vs. imperialism’ argument. But all this hot air and bluster that is cultural relativism revolves upon limited and, I would say, harmful and deleterious perspectives of ‘culture.’ The relativists make frightening assumptions about culture:
• Culture is monolithic, unanimous in its practice, strictly bounded, and known by all adherents.
• It is assumed that ‘cultures’, much like Huntington’s laughable perception of ‘civilizations’, are stark in their dividing lines—that there is clear, unmistakable differentiation between one and the other culture like different colored states on a map. However, to use the ideas of Terry Eagleton, cultures are not bounded by electric fences but are instead like horizons. They are porous and constantly assuming new cultural practices from outside and molding them to various degrees to accommodate differing material and historical conditions (2003, 62).
• The relativists provide no explanations as to how cultures go about changing (as they do constantly and fluidly) as well as how it is possible that criticism is constantly being leveled at culture by their supposed adherents! The relativists claim that, in order to formulate a critical opinion, one must assume a vantage point outside of the criticized environment, but doesn’t this indicate that intra-culture multi-positionality is very real?

What’s most frustrating is the absolute poverty of theory in relativism—that is, what happens when we approach the limits of relativism (ie. follow relativism to its extreme conclusion)? According to the relativist, we in the United States happen to live in a social and political environment that is reluctant to torture individuals (though this reluctance was certainly challenged by Jonathan Alter, Alan Dershowitz, etc.). We believe that torture is morally abhorrent and we are incapable of reconciling our social consciousness with waterboarding a “suspected” terrorist with the intent to glean information. According to the relativist, “cultures” that have torture firmly embedded in their “ways of life” ought to be immune from censure, criticism. Eagleton explains the conundrum created by cultural relativism and torture:
“Not many thinkers are bold-faced enough to go entirely relativist on such issues and claim that if torture happens to be in your tradition, then more power to your elbow. Most of them would claim, with varying degrees of reluctance and liberal guilt, that torture is wrong for such people, too. Most people, if they had to choose, would rather be seen as cultural imperialists than champions of cruelty. It is just that for the anti-theorists, reality itself has no views about whether torture is admirable or repulsive. In fact, reality has no views about anything. Moral values, like everything else, are a matter of random, free-floating cultural traditions” (2003, 57).

Yes, we are informed by our positioning in this world; and, yes, this positioning involves being immersed in socially-defined modes of life (culture). But the cultural relativist’s condemnation that we cannot judge the Other because we lack “objectivity” or “neutrality” is absolutely absurd. Eagleton again:
“There is no need to struggle out of your skin in order to make fundamental criticisms of your situation. You do not have to be standing in metaphysical outer space to recognize the injustice of racial discrimination. This is exactly where you would not recognize it” (2003, 61-62)
The assumption is then that cultures are as individual entities, total in their definition and unanimous among constituents. But this simply isn’t the case! There are so many cross currents running throughout what is portrayed as stand-alone “Culture.” As members of these multifaceted cultures, we can draw on strands of our own familiarity in order to comprehend a foreign situation. “There is a good deal within our culture which we can draw on to do so. Anti-theorists make the mistake of seeing cultures as more or less coherent. So criticism of them comes either from the outside, in which case it is irrelevant or unintelligible, or from the inside, in which case it is not really radical. But there are many different, contradictory strands to a culture, some of which allow us to be critical of others. To act according to the Western way of life may mean to throw up barricades in Piccadilly just as much as to tear them down. If scones and cream represent one English cultural tradition, the suffragettes represent another. It is good news that we cannot entirely escape our culture—for if we could, we would not be able to submit it to critical judgment” (2003, 62).
Of course, we must familiarize ourselves with the situations that we are criticizing! The choice is not between being a cultural relativist and an ignoramus. Understanding the local on-the-ground particularities of the exterior cultural phenomenon should be seen as a way of informing our critique, not explaining why we should not enter into discourse! Relativism is as much a washing of one’s hands as it is an anti-theory.
Feminist theory runs up against the wall of cultural relativism when it addresses international issues. Lata Mani, in her struggle to identify a platform to criticize sati (Hindu widow burning), writes of walking a fine line between relativism and imperialism: “how to argue for women’s rights in ways that were not complicit in any way with patriarchal, racist or ethnocentric formulations of the issues” (p. 368). She resolves this conundrum by analyzing sati in contradiction to the critiques leveled by “imperial” sources such as the British colonial outrage at sati—by centering her critique on women, not culture. It is for women, woman as subject, that her criticism is situated.

Separatism is a mode of thought—often borne of oppression (real, perceived, or otherwise)—that advocates dividing the human species along lines of particular shared/homogenous traits. Oppression of a particular identity group by other elements of the human species is often utilized as a grievance explaining the need for group isolation. Such oppression is, according to the separatist, insurmountable or so profoundly harmful that drastic measures must be taken—that is, striving to isolate a certain population from the rest of humankind.
Examples of separatist populations include religious, ethnic, racial, gendered, and sexual identification groups. We’ve in this class encountered separatism explicitly in the article by Bunch and implicitly among other writers.

A critique of lesbian separatism (or separatism in general):
An argument for lesbian separatism: if men (and, thus, patriarchy—though this ‘automatic’ correlative is questionable) are removed from the social life of women, an oppression-free society of liberated women can thrive. The absence of men necessitates the absence of patriarchy, and therefore of sexual oppression.

From this (admittedly oversimplified) description of lesbian separatism emerges a flaw prevalent in all separatist thought. In order to reveal this flaw one must turn to Derrida and the inherent obstacle/antagonism between the condition of impossibility and possibility (Zizek 2000; 17). In order to illuminate the flaw in separatist thought one can take as an example an erroneous Marxist critique of capitalism and the transition to a communist society.

Communists (indeed Marx himself) believed that once the fetters and oppression of capitalism were abolished then communism would emerge as a similar economic environment minus the deleterious effects of capital. This involves the false belief that once the obstacle (source of oppression) is removed the situation will persist to function in a machine-like way, that social and economic life will continue as before. The problem is that it is often this very obstacle or coercion—the idea or social practice which must be excised—that makes the system function as it does in the first place.
The furious production pace within capitalism occurs only because of the coercive and oppressive practices of capital toward labor. Once labor is freed of this coercion, why should it then be assumed that production will maintain its hurried pace? It is then a flawed assumption that unbridled production exceeding (or even equaling) that of capital will emerge outside of capitalism. This belief is, as Zizek explains, “an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient” (2000: 19).

Where does this leave lesbian separatism (and all forms of separatism)? “If we take away the obstacle [patriarchy], the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates” (2000: 18). Removal of oppression radically changes a social situation, and adaptation to a new set of power structures is required. Keeping the obstacle/antagonism relationship in mind, one must ask: ‘Why does the absence of men mean that there will remain a void where oppression once existed?”
With the unifying force absent—that is, the abolition of the obstacle (patriarchy, the social presence of men, etc.)—what binds together this assembly of women? Were they not thrown into one another’s arms by the hostile forces of male supremacy, found themselves united by the common cause of fighting their oppression? With the sudden disappearance of patriarchy and men, a new social system, wrought with power dynamics, emerges amongst these women. Is it not likely then that new forms of oppression based on difference will manifest? It is evident that this will occur since the ideology of separatism is wholly based on identifying according to difference (e.g. “I am many things, but I am NOT a man”). Who’s to say that this emphasis on difference-distinguishing and identification of difference—a primary feature of separatism, that of Othering—will not resurface within the newly-created utopian community, creating schisms between new identity groups where oppression finds safe haven in new gradations of power?

That is not to say that oppression emerging within the separatist community could not be combated, but it has delivered the separatists directly back to the situation they sought so desperately to escape. It must be asked: Why then divide and subdivide the human species when it is likely that addressing oppression and power relations cannot but be accomplished in the arena of humanity united, whole?

proletariat

Proletariat: the population operating within the capitalist mode of production that does not own the means of production. Consequently, the proletarian is forced to sell her labor to the owner of capital in order to secure her livelihood. These two forces, proletarian and capitalist, operate in contradiction to each other: the former to secure her due compensation and the latter to generate maximum surplus value by withholding from the worker a portion of her labor-value. This contradiction between laborers and owners, according to various theorists and schools of thought, establishes in the mind of the worker a revolutionary class-consciousness.
Contrary to common belief, particularly due to male-dominated labor movements in the past two centuries, the root of the word proletariat owes its origin entirely to the woman. Terry Eagleton explains the classical etymology behind the term:

“The word proletarius in the ancient world meant those who were too poor to serve the state by property, and who served it instead by manufacturing labour-power. Their role was to produce children; and since the historical burden of this task has fallen more on women than men, it is no mere modish gesture to claim that the proletariat is a woman. If that was so in antiquity, it is equally true today.” (Eagleton; 2001)

Feminine

Dictionary.com defines Feminine as this:

1. Pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress. 

2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness. 

3. Effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk. 

4. Belonging to the female sex; female: feminine staff members.   

A website online gave tips for how to become more feminine: these tips were:

  1. Take care of your hair and make sure it smells good. It’s okay if your hair is slightly frizzy or imperfect, as long as it is not stringy and/or greasy. Also, try to keep your hair out of your face.
  2. Only wear as much makeup as you need. Always have powder handy wherever you go. Keep make-up minimal. You decide how much, but TOO much isn’t very attractive. Many may view you as insecure and in reality not very beautiful, as you have so much to cover up. If you use more then 10 minutes in front of the mirror, you should think about toning it down.
  3. Wear neat but conservative clothes. Really short skirts come across as slutty, not feminine.
  4. Don’t be loud and obnoxious.
  5. Don’t fish for compliments. Be confident even if you aren’t completely happy with yourself. Even if you aren’t the prettiest or skinniest girl, if you believe in yourself, chances are it will have a positive effect.
  6. Remove unattractive body hair. Wax your upper lip if necessary and tweeze your eyebrows.
  7. Be confident and happy. Nothing is more beautiful than a smiling woman.
  8. Try not to use profanities. We all do it, but if you could make a sailor blush, you should think about toning it down.
  9. Be aware of your body posture. Chin up high, straight in the back and think positive thoughts.
  10. Intelligence is a big one. Most people like smart women who are able to have a discussion about something. Don’t make yourself dumb.

       http://www.wikihow.com/Be-FeminineFinally a test online ask questions that would determine how feminine you are the questions were: 

You love to shop. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

Gossiping about celebrities and friends is a fun way to pass the time. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

You are squeamish about rodents, spiders, and blood. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

You would rather be a fashion designer than a fighter pilot. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

When you get sad, you tend to break down and cry. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

 You enjoy beauty for its own sake. You like to be surrounded by beautiful things. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

You enjoy a good romantic story – true or fictional. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never 

 If someone disagrees strongly with you, your first instinct is change the subject or compromise. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  You tend to judge people based on what your intuition tells you. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never  

You think that working with children or animals could be very fulfilling. Always Often Sometimes Rarely Never

These three websites all define Feminine in a way that is very stereotypical. It calls for women to completely conform to their gender role and become the perfect housewife. The online quiz applies aspects of a “women’s live” to what makes her feminine. She is suppose to be afraid of bugs, love shopping, when in a fight try to compromise, have a thing referred to as a “intuition” love children. All of these images of feminine have consequences for those who do not fit into the norm. Girls, who like to play outside, be adventurous, are considered tomboys; Boys who like fashion, like to bake and are nurturing are said to be feminine and are rejecting their male roles. It seems that this idea as to what it means to be feminine is very confining and has terrible implications for the future,  because it reinforces what is means to be a “women” and what it means to not, therefore only furthering male supremacy. It is alright to want to wear a dress, and to wear pink, but it is not ok to be expected to act feminine and be looked down upon for not conforming.

Gender roles

Gender roles are specific activities or behavior norms that are gendered for males or females. Gender roles can be very problematic because it requires people to conform into their roles in order to not been seen as an outcast. Gender roles are sprung on children from the start. If you are a little girl, you should want to help your mother in the kitchen and play with dolls. If you are a boy you are encouraged to go play outside, play with tool and toy guns. Boys are to show more aggression and be more self dependent. Then as people get older they are still required to fit in these certain gender roles. Women should want to have children, should cook clean and take care of the children. Men are required to make the money and to do outside chores such as mowing the lawn.            

But what happened to people who do not fit in either one of these male or female categories. There are many people in our country and around the world who are inter-sexed and do not fit in the male or female gender. It is almost required that these children be given a gender in order to apply gender roles to them. Society is confused and scared when children do not have a gender. This is because gender roles are so prevalent in our society. If we cannot dress our child in blue or a pink dress we are confused how to interact with the child. I believe gender roles are the first assertion of male supremacy and are the root to sexism, because they require that everyone conform and play their specific role.

Bridge

Bridge is a person who relays knowledge to those who do not understand on issues and experiences of sexism, racism, and other oppressions that women face, in order to educate and unify the feminist movement. A bridge is a very important person because without women helping others to understand subjects that they might have not experience or will never experience helps deepen a women’s understanding of her political or social standing. Without knowledge the feminist movement would be lost.            

Donna Rushin write in her poem, ‘The Bridge Poem” that she is sick of being everyone’s translator, and to go find another source of information (Rushin, 173).  I would ask her, if the collaboration of women allows women to find a deeper understanding of sexism furthering the unity of women; wouldn’t a better understanding of racism, allow for women to have a deeper understanding of other oppressors that affect women. Therefore bringing a more rounded political view of oppression, to the collective group? Knowledge is the only way for women to become aware of oppressions. Women studies has broadened my understanding of feminism. It not only has enlightened me enough to notice the oppression in my own life, but also oppression I observe. Feminism is no long a word that sends images of radical lesbians who run around with non shaven under arms and legs, who hate men. But feminism is a collective struggle to educate one another, and be proud of being a woman.

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