Reflections

tbarryfigu's picture

Over the course of the semester, I had decided to stop commenting on the weekly blogs. I, like many of the alum, felt that there was no conversations taking place and felt more comfortable speaking my mind in a classroom where debates could be started and responses were immediate. I felt that many people in the class were either summarizing the texts to prove that they had read them, or using personal testimony to discontinue conversations. Now, towards the end of the semester, I think it would be interesting to go back through the weeks and make comments based on what we have discussed in class since. I am hoping that some new ideas can come of it and would love if others could contribute to the conversation to see how we have evolved as feminists or merely women studying feminism.


Week 2:
What does it mean to write as a woman? What does it mean to write as a man? Women are and will forever be regarded as the nurturers of society no matter how hard we struggle to break the mold of expectation. If we give birth, we are assumed to have maternal instincts. From a scientific standpoint, this is true as the birth process releases a great many number of chemicals which change a woman's mood, physical functions, etc., but from a realistic viewpoint, this is not always the case. It is interesting then to consider female writers as the mothers of their work...especially when thinking about history. Did male writers sire the works of the earliest female writers in that many females gained voice by "writing as men wrote?" This question is nearly impossible to answer. However, when one reads the writings of a female, is it sometimes impossible to discern it from a male's writing? Does this signify a "maleness" of writing style, a universality of writing that is assumed to be male because men gained the authority to write before women? Is a woman's writing "female" only if her internal nurturer shines through her words? It is true that the voice of the woman is one that has often been silenced. Thus, when I read the works of a woman I expect to hear a note of rebellion, intolerance of oppression by the opposite sex and their imposed ideals with regards to writing and style. However, rebellion and anger too are regarded as very "male" emotions. In order to gain voice, must we manipulate the authority devices utilized by men? Or must we conform to the male-inflicted ideas of womanhood? It seems we are victim to their perceptions: we either write "as men" (and by this I mean, the universal voice regarded as male) and acknowledge the power of this form of voice, or we become submissive to the idea of a "less powerful" one, completely unique and independently owned by all women. Where is the happy medium?


Week 4: The idea of women as the "other" to men really struck a chord with me. The concepts of "othering" and "self-othering" have been central to my own personal discussions of race and class, and now I find it necessary to apply them to interpretations of societal sexist norms as well. A few of my friends of color are traveling abroad to Europe over the next semester. Many of them are worried about wearing their race on their skin, worried about the stare and being made "the monster." Though some of their fears are valid based on their country of interest, most are traveling to areas where colonialism was never a concern...where education promotes healthy race relations and racism is scorned. Though it is true that people of color are not always prominent in such areas, my friends felt the need to "other" themselves to the extent that they set themselves against all white people. They refused to understand that the stare/gaze was not always intended to be harmful...that sometimes attention was granted due to curiosity in one's own person. It showed a lack of knowledge in the histories of their host countries...illustrated the ignorance that they themselves expected to encounter. Now, however, I find it easier to understand the background behind their assumptions, as women have always been made "other" to men. Because I have been raised within this construct, I am of the impression that it is Omni-present. I feel that, regardless of the country I visit, men will always be given more than women...even in countries where male/female rights are nearly equal, men still have the upper hand. In biblical texts, woman was made from man, Eve from Adam. In today's world, this remains the case...a woman only gains prestige by appealing to the constructs of men. Women thus become inhuman, struggling for more than they have, attracting the stare in the fight for more than "otherness." We strive to break boundaries and are othered for it...we self-other because we must in order to set ourselves apart from those satiated by minimal gains.


Week 5:
"A part of me will always be gone, I realize now that what I did was wrong" begins one of about thirty abortion poems I just encountered following a Google search. What resonates about "The Mother" is the ownership, the defiance, the unapologetic remorse, the detached loss. She comments on forgiveness that she neither asks for nor truly wants. She admits the bodily component of her aborted children, the physical beings that are no longer in existence, but negates their spiritual being or identity. She describes their actions as children...reaching, crying, groping...but fails to give them the emotions that she herself embodies. This is different from all the other poems I have found, ones that beg for understanding, forgiveness, request guidance, etc. These poems speak to the "other worldliness" of aborted children, giving them foresight and a god-like understanding of life (which is ironic, for they never experienced it). These poems seem more like wishes...women looking for answers, trying to find wisdom in the loss of their aborted children. Gwendolyn Brooks expresses a degree of bodily ownership that screams womanhood, which is comforting to me. Instead of tearing away from the poem due to an inability to relate, I read on, perplexed, identifying with a woman who has experienced what I never have (maybe more than once). What is most compelling is the idea of motherhood past the limitations of "having had a baby." Is she a mother because she is a woman, a mother to all? Is she a mother because she once had life within her? Is she a mother because she imagines her children, imagines being a mother to them? The idea of the woman as a mother to all brings to mind a beautiful portrait that used to hang in a family friend's restaurant bathroom. It is a gorgeous black woman set against a naturalistic scene. She is pregnant and through her stomach you can see her child, the planet earth. We have Mother Nature, Mother Earth, a million goddess mothers; responsible for any number of naturalistic occurrences...women seem to be connected to the world in ways that can only be described as motherly...which brings me back to my discussion of the nurturer. When women own secular items, we often hold them close to our hearts. We place value and meaning upon things that would otherwise be meaningless. Perhaps men do this to, though to the same extent I'm not sure. We "mother" things, making sure they are safe, keeping them organized and in check. When we lose these things, we keep their memory, maybe in the same way as one would an aborted child. Alright, enough. My conclusion is this: I have changed my mind. Originally, I didn't want to draw general conclusions about women, but I find I can't help myself. I truly believe that all women are in some way "mothers," "nurturers." Whether it be chemical, metaphysical, symbolic or instinctually induced, I know not...

 

Week 6: "Marks of Gender" As I sat in class listening to Susan Stryker, I recall turning to Jessy and writing upon a piece of paper "Is Susan a male born-female or a female born-male?" I could not recall anything more than her identity as a transgendered individual from the texts we read, and so I suddenly felt a great need to "figure it out." I realized later that I had completely embarrassed myself, even if only to a classmate. I had grown up in a very liberal household in New York City. I had been surrounded by my parents' gay, lesbian, Trans colleagues my entire life. I was supposed to know better...supposed to see past the marks of gender! Why did I try to box her in? I realize now that the answer may tie in with our discussion of personal testimony. When someone you respect is sitting there, in the flesh, spilling out experience and inspiration, you want to relate to them. You want to find something that will allow you to start a conversation...a jumping point. With every anecdote told, I was reminded of how dissimilar we were...she a genius and I a lowly undergrad. My first instinct then, was to relate as a woman...but my mind got the better of me. What does it truly mean to be transgendered? How am I to know the difference between the many types of transgendered-ness without being forward or rude or nosey? What does it mean to be a woman born in a man's body, a man born in a woman's body, a man/woman born in a man/woman body? I was aware that there were many distinctions, many ways in which a trans person could identify...many ways to offend. In my life I have had many gender-queer friends. Some appreciate interest in their self-identity...if you ask, you shall receive...it shows responsibility in recognizing that identity may not be as concrete as perceptions indicate. Some are deeply offended by gender questioning..."why does it matter?" Thus, the reactions one can receive when asking about gender identities are innumerable, which makes everything so much more difficult. Am I supposed to be intentionally ignorant or intentionally-not-ignorant? I find myself wanting to think "why does it matter," because I truly don't care who people sleep with or how. However, when it comes to identity...one's gender identity...I can't help but feel the need to relate. How can this rift be remedied when every individual has their own preference. Am I not meant to understand?

 

Week 8: "The Multiplication of Identity" I was sorry to find that a real, live conversation happened underneath my nose (reference to Jessy/Calderon's battle royal) right when I was looking for one. At the time, I myself was unsure about the true importance of cannon, and thus faced difficulty in making sense of the argument. I had often felt left behind in class...wanting to shoot out names and theories like a city slicker...but I, like Ingrid, was not able. I needed an introduction, not a summary. A brush-up, not a clean sweep. Of course, looking back, I find that I took what I needed from each reading, each conversation...the cannon did not turn against me as I imagined it would (I'm thinking Daffy Duck, my bill getting blown to the back of my head). Instead, I gained just enough to debate my mother over Thanksgiving dinner...just enough to understand and discuss a few feminist counter-theories...just enough to learn a little bit more about myself...I am a feminist (oh, isn't it exciting! I'm so proud.)
I found great comfort in YJ's post concerning the eradication of racial/ethnic categories and how that ties in with the eradication of gender/sexuality categories. I felt like my poem "Re-verbalized" (which I sent and got to perform for Anne & Susan Stryker) really spoke to the conflict between identity and definitions...that which is fixed and that which is fixed.

Re-verbalized

Do not evaluate my skin tone
Prevent your eyes from qualifying my face
Don't be discouraged by my uncharacteristic shape
I'm in a body from which I can never escape (ain't it great?)

When you drink me in with your eyes
Do you see cafe con leche or just coffee?
Didn't I ask you not to look at me?
I mean, you can look all you want
but please, ignore that conversation with yourself
I cannot be categorized, labeled, and placed on a shelf

You cannot collect me, you cannot correct me,
I am what I am and that's all that I am
I'm like Popeye the sailor man

Should I air dry my hair so that you can calculate
the degree of wave in it?
should I show you the ass on which I sit?
are you confused by my lack of tits?
Do I not look like a Spic?

And by Spic I mean Spanish Person In Control
This is the posse with which I roll
This is the window that leads to my soul
to educate, not legislate is my poetic goal

I am not literal
but I am lyrical
I am not spherical
but I am spiritual
I am not unique
But I am individual
I am not complete
but I assure you I’m residual

In another time, another place or poem
I re-verbalized the complex concept
That I stand my ground and fight for causes
that have no merit in the "real world"

I scream too loud, I am too proud
Don't ever doubt where my intensions lie
Because I may have this caramel-milk skin
and visually that conflicts with the "suburban" girl within
But if I have a cause to die
But if I have a cause to fight
But if I have a cause to work for
You'll know where my sense of rebellion came from

You see, I was blessed to escape the life of oppression
inflicted on one by oneself
so while mis hermanos made money (unconventionally)
I paid attention to health
I watched as my loved ones fell victim to shortcuts
Inflicted by desire for wealth
And now behind bars, bearing scars, I can only ask:
Were these the cards they were dealt?

Were these the cards I was dealt?
I am an anomaly for you am I not?
Por que yo tengo un acento perfecto
But I’m not like that "Latino" lot

I will not dress to accommodate your expectations
I will not reveal to you my Taino revelations
I will not express the sensation or feeling of elation
That resonates within me every time somebody gets it right:
"Tu ere una Latina"
Si, yo estoy. And what?

I am struggling within this skin,
Struggling with the idea of definition
Because even if you define me
I will not listen
What I want is for you to define me without defining me
without denying me, without defying me
I don't want to be what you see

But I do want you to see

Even though my poem is clearly about race, I feel a great deal of it can be applied to identity categories of any type: gender, sex, what have you. There is something to be said of the assumptions we make and the identities we own. If one's definition of a woman is not the same as another’s should the category be eliminated? It is obvious that this is the question on a lot of people's minds, especially in reference to the beliefs and writings of Judith Butler. What does it truly mean to be a woman when a central argument of today's feminism is deliberately opposing the box? This too, ties in with my argument for unity (squared). How can we work together as women for common goals if we do not know how to define ourselves as women? What unites us, makes us relate to one another, links us in the face of patriarchal oppression? It's the end of the course and I still have yet to discern this for myself.



Week 9: A main topic which I've wanted to expand upon was the idea of beauty/sexuality as disabling. Why is a woman's sexuality always under so much scrutiny? Is a woman who owns her sexuality a slut? Has she been unknowingly brainwashed by the patriarchy? Have the women who have watched men stare convinced themselves that the stare/gaze is disabling? Has that, in turn, disabled them from owning their sexuality? Does any of this make sense? Let me try to break it down.

(A) Either a woman owns her sexuality OR she has been brainwashed by the patriarchy to be sexual OR she thinks she is owning her sexuality but really she has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.

(B) Other women judge her for owning her sexuality because they know she has been brainwashed by the patriarchy...which just means that they themselves have been brainwashed to think that female sexuality is in the interest of men.

What then, can we make of the feminine? Are our definitions of what is feminine based on male expectations? Biologically, women are built with softer features, longer thinner hair limited to certain parts of our body, smaller hands and wastes, larger hips and breasts. What then, makes our sexuality the possession of men? Our sexuality should be as internal as our DNA. Is it society's suggestion that we do not break these biological expectations that disables us? And by disabled, I mean to say that sexual women are often looked upon as weak...it is a rare occurrence to find a strong, outwardly sexual woman who is not judged by other women or subject to the male stare. Women who need sex, who need to dress in a sexual manner, "who need to attract the stare in order to validate their self-worth" (please keep in mind these are all separate definitions of sexual women, though they can be used together and interchangeably) are "weak" because they are wanting for something...women who "want". Women who "need" can be either stronger or weaker, depending on the type of sexual woman. Women who want for nothing are the ones who are "strongest" but WHY? Are we that afraid to become object? Do we assume there is no way to avoid doing so? Women, we will never not be objectified...but if we "other" ourselves and one another, we are simply making ourselves victims of the patriarchy which we so wish to overthrow. Call for unity (cubed).


Week 10:
"The week I learned nothing" I apologize for this posting, for no conversation can come of it. This was the week of reading that taught me nothing about Feminism...it happens. Kindred didn't speak to me at all, which was further emphasized when I took up the identity of Bell Hooks...Kindred didn't speak to her either (and I believe she said so). This is hilarious to me, as the book was centered around reindeer games between the slave and the slave owner...race relations, my favorite subject. There should have been something to take away, some message that Octavia Butler could only get across through her writing...but no. It was much like the movie Crash in that "if you know racism exists, you aren't blown away." I almost felt like she was speaking in circles, "talking a whole lot but not saying a thing." I was sorry to see such a great opportunity for race/sex conversation deteriorate simply because her writing was not to the liking of many members of the class. However, I understand it completely.


Week 11: "To the Salted One"
There was something miraculous about the salt touching my tongue. I had a mini-epiphany and I can't explain why. Suddenly, I wanted to taste salt before every experience. It was delicious & dreadful...it made me feel like I was alive. It reminded me of a little game I sometimes play with myself: "I'm really here." Sometimes, when you're living out of the moment...that is to say, when you're not taking advantage of life, but just going through the motions...you can experience something grand and feel unaffected. When this happens (say for instance I’m looking out across a beautiful landscape after a hike) I find myself saying "I'm really here." For a brief millisecond, my brain processes the thought. In this millisecond, the brain is not able to assess the body's surroundings and, in an effort to catch up, it re-realizes that "you are really there." Again, the brain processes the thought, and the circle continues for as long as you want it to...it's like a little lapse; your thoughts trying to catch up with your brain (or maybe the other way around). When you finally stop saying "I'm really here" you either return to your state of going through the motions or you learn to appreciate the things around you. Maybe this, too, like tasting salt to remember that you're still alive, is ridiculous, but it incites my senses. I tasted clouds when I exhaled the salt. In response to this experience, I wrote a series of three poems. The first is called "To the Salted One," and is a comment on my own feminist identity...though I rant and rave about a call for unity, I myself am a hypocrite. Feminism now lingers on the corner of my every thought as it has recently become a part of who I am and how I identify as a woman...but it has not taken the spotlight as it must if I am to live the activism I envision for all feminists. The poem is slightly angry. The next poem is called "Skin" and is my attempt to write the kind of sexy poem that makes Anne smack her lips and say "delicious." It's not all the way there yet, so I have decided not to share it. The last poem is simply titled "Salt," and is about the reality of circumstance. It is short and sounds like another love poem though it is metaphorical in nature.

To the Salted One

I taste you on the edges of my
Cracked, scorched fraction of a
Half-blood mind

You, sitting there, submissive
Playing fate against the
Quality of lies

Tattooed and painted
On the inseam of your lip
(skin regenerates fastest
Where it cannot be seen)

And you, advocate to
So much more than devils
Demons
Lick your own skin
To taste the atmosphere
Of displeasure

Then lift your face to
Catch the light
Of shadows
Making rites of passage
Into darkness,

the forgotten argument
The abandoned battle
The whispered scream

I breathe you in
and you stick to my lungs
I exhale clouds
And find myself lost in a fog

Outreached hands can make no sense
Of navigation
When there is no direction
And everywhere is South
Of your destination

 

Salt

I taste salt on
Your skin
I breathe and take
You in
You melt upon
My lips
I taste you when
We kiss

You are salt from the ocean
You linger in the air, soak in my clothes and
Crystallize
A reminder that you were once there
You wash upon me, dry and knot my hair
Hide in the corners of my mouth
Linger until my tongue seeks you out
You erase everything
Amplify my senses, make me beg for sugar
I did not live until I tasted salt

 

Another Look @ Skin

It’s like the first definition
It’s irony
You taste it, don’t you?
That salt?
I want to paint
Your colors with mine
Mix worlds and tastes
We’re both pink where it matters
Aren’t we?
Between your toes
Your soles
Your palms
Your lips
Your tongue
We’re described by sweets
And while their combination
Makes the taste buds of wonderers
Dance
You and I stand still
Transposing images of one another
One each’s fantasy-soaked mind
We are miles apart
And holding hands


Week 12: "The Irish Maid" In class, this week, I had difficulty expressing myself. We were speaking of poetry and oppression and of privilege...all things which have shaped my identity and the manner in which I view the world. I knew that there was something to be said of Cisneros' struggle versus that of Emily Dickinson, but I didn't know how to form the words. Why would I think myself capable of equating two completely independent struggles? Why did I feel as if Cisneros "deserved" more attention, more credit for overcoming boundaries? The answer is not hard to derive: I too am Latina, from a family with little and sometimes no financial means, a poet...I too had a house like that on Mango Street. Yet, funnily enough, the connection I made was not one with Cisneros. Instead, I thought of Emily Dickinson's Irish maid, a silent poet...a silenced poet. I recalled a conversation with my 32 year old half-brother, a man-boy who has struggled his entire life as a teenage father, a high-school drop-out, an alcoholic, and a person of color. Upon reading my poetry for the first time, my brother remarked on his own poetic capabilities. Both of my brothers have "writing" in them, we got it from our father...but they are much like the Irish maid in that their words are trapped by their occupation. They will never have the luxury of sitting in a room of their own, writing dreams. They will never evolve past the silence. They are too busy supporting their children...too busy trying to hold a job...too busy trying to get through each day without a drink. When I think of my brothers, and of the rest of my relatives, all I see is potential. We are a family of silenced dreamers, writers in the making. If we were not cleaning house for Emily Dickinson, we would all undoubtedly take to the pen, as I have done. I am more privileged than my brothers, though strictly by chance and by choice. Though I myself am no longer the Irish maid, I carry their struggles with me and let them leak from my pen. I had to work for my own room; it was not given to me. Perhaps this is why I find it hard to identify with the struggles of Emily Dickinson, though hers are the struggles of every woman. I find this makes a rather strong statement about how I identify: first as a person of color, then as a female. I am still trying to figure out what that means for me as a writer.

Comments

Jessy's picture

Let's Get Intergenerational

Blogging has become so necessary and natural to me that I think I've forgotten what it was like before I adjusted to the particularities of this kind of communication. I've been vaguely displeased that the alums were not participating in the best way available, but it didn't occur to me that the best way may not seem to be a very good way at all.

But conversations only happen if we bother first of all to read other posts and secondly to *reply*. To some extent, it was in *your* hands to create a conversation. If you thought that "many people in the class were either summarizing the texts to prove that they had read them, or using persomal testimony to discontinue conversations", then why didn't you say so? Not in a critical way, but as a way to explore how we communicate, as a way to refine wha others are thinking and how they're thinking. And so far as summarizing texts, sometimes that's a good way to start an analysis of a text; this is a place to think out loud.

And I've got to say, I'm curious as to what an older generation thinks of trans issues; I have a personal stake, you know. And it's very generational, the ppl I choose to come out to. For some reason, I assume that people not of my generation will automatically react negatively, that they will not understand. Prof. Dalke is the only person not of my generation I'm out to, now that I think about it. Prof Dalke, and all you alums. And I have no clue what you all think, so I've got nothing but my own reason with which to fight my agist assumptions about what people of your generation can understand and accept and support and respect.

And I'd like to grapple with the set of questions you raise in the rest of your post, but the paragraph I wrote when in circles, and I have a paper to write for another class ... Though I very much like your line "If we give birth, we are assumed to have maternal instincts."

Anne Dalke's picture

experimenting

Thanks, tbarryfigu, for trying out this experiment--yet another way of using exchange and expanding the limits of in-class conversation. I'm hoping others might join you--

Anne

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