Intro to Critical Feminist Studies
Although I had a truly satisfying encounter with Helene Cixous’s Laugh of the Medusa I fear that I may have been blinded by my own ecstasy. For that which thrills and excites me in her argument is also that which irritates my very core, creating a sense of uneasiness I cannot ignore. I believe it was when one of my classmates used the word “vulnerability” that I really began to take pause. In the world Cixous creates: one in which women freely express, share, give, experiment and do NOT hold back, I wonder, is there room for the woman who chooses to withhold? Is there space for women to feel vulnerable? Is there anything valuable in an inherent vulnerability? Perhaps I am about to take Cixous and her ideas into a territory she never imagined them inhabiting, perhaps I am taking her sexual metaphor too seriously, but with those risks in mind, I have to ask: Is it oppressive to insist that every woman be public?
A variation of this question was raised during one of our first class meetings: Do we as feminists have a responsibility to be public? I’m not sure where exactly I stand but I want to explore both sides of this question. Of course I believe that we must be heard; that as women we have to speak up for other women. I believe that the talents, ideas and energy we possess are all indeed like powerful explosives. And when finally lit they will do nothing less than shatter the standards of oppression that surround us. I do, however, resist the notion that there is any one standard that women should conform to. Just as women were formerly shut up, locked up and silenced to harness their passion, women can also be pressured quite forcefully into exposing what they are not yet ready to give.
My other concern is with the lovely Linda Kauffman when she asserts that to believe in the intrinsic uniqueness and value of the individual is to believe in a harmful illusion. In the world Kauffman seems to create: one in which our personal thoughts, hopes and dreams are not as important as we might have thought, where randomness and absurdity seem to take precedent over structure and the individual does not represent the universe, where is there space for the “justice” she so boldly upholds? She decries the “rhetoric of familialism” as being just another “staple of bourgeois ideology” but is it not when we divide ourselves, take sides and eventually dehumanize each other that we hurt each other most profoundly?
It is quite possible that I am misreading both Cixous and Kauffman, taking them out of their rightful contexts and imposing their thoughts on the literary world onto my own world of daily feminist life. But I suppose I’m in the process of finding out what kind of feminism is going to be the most useful to me. I repeat: Orgasms are powerful and so are words. I really do believe that. I believe that the theories we design, though we may not be able to physically touch them, have substance and weight, that ideas can break buildings just as easily as dynamite can. So my hope is that the rest of this semester will be a chance for me to find out what my own earth shattering ideas are, and hopefully I might even be able to articulate them as well.