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Byron WGS 245 Midterm Essay Oct. 18th 12 How do I relate to feminism?

Before delving into this essay there are some important acknowledgements to make. I am a white male who comes from a well off family. With that comes a considerable degree of both economic and gender privilege. This position undoubtedly influences my writing. My relationship to feminism is dichotomous; at times a philosophical tension and at others a coherent synthesis. I find myself simultaneously identifying with the western academic tradition of modern thought that emphasizes reductionism, universalizability, and metanarratives with Marxist, positivist and empiricist inclinations on the one hand, and feminism with its anecdotal particularities and amorphous nature to which I ascribe a large emotional attachment. In my mind feminism straddles a dichotomy of both cohering with my western views but at the same time challenging the boundaries of those views, which in itself is the nature of the greater western experiment, self-criticism. Feminism is a process that I engage in, a dialogue and an act of incremental appropriation through which I am synthesizing the contradictions; a kind of dialectic. Correspondingly, this essay will elucidate this mental process showing (to use a Hegelian framework) a thesis, its antithesis and their synthesis. I first picked up the Communist Manifesto in high school, as a matter of personal curiosity. In hindsight I had little understanding of what the text was actually saying. But I continued to mull over the antiquated language of this dated text because something about it resonated with me. Years of self-reflection and arguments with friends solidified and refined my understanding. Consequently, I had internalized dialectic materialism. I found that I could apply this world view to understanding a great number of subjects. Due to the historicism contained in Marxism it is possible to frame most events and ideologies in terms of material processes. This framework has informed my understanding of politics as class struggle and the manifestations of

Byron WGS 245 Midterm Essay Oct. 18th 12 How do I relate to feminism?

class interests. Similarly, it pervades my own reflections on philosophy, I regard most modern and enlightenment thought as a consequence of the class interests of the bourgeoisie and their mode of production. While I have some misgivings toward it, Marxism is like a steamroller in its reductionism, universalism and teleology. Marxism is reductionist in that it posits a single irreducible cause for the state of the world. For dialectic materialists the structures and ideas that shape society are a consequence of the mode of production. Consequently, a Marxist must hold that any society with a given mode of production must be similarly organized, including gender roles. Finally, the material processes that constitute a mode of production lead to tensions that manifest themselves in opposing forces. Those opposing forces come into conflict, propelling that mode of production toward a new mode of production and, ultimately, a new social organization. In vivid contrast the epistemology of feminism is, overarchingly, an experiential knowledge. (pg 131 The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves) Ironically or perhaps fittingly, I have found this to be generally true of my experience with feminism. In my life, feminism is something that has been experienced more than it is something that has been learned in an academic or theoretical capacity. My mother is a gynecologist and used to be an obstetrician and my father was a stay-at-home dad. I remember staying up late at night listening to her dictating her patient charts over the phone. Hearing about asymmetrical breasts, 10cm dilations, and pap smears was normal. She would often regale us with tales of growing up in her lower class family headed by her Pentecostal father, and how he didnt believe in the value of womens education. It was completely natural to me and my three brothers that a woman should get an education. My

Byron WGS 245 Midterm Essay Oct. 18th 12 How do I relate to feminism?

feminist experiential education started again in college. I started when I began listening to the stories my female friends had to tell. There were recurring themes in most of their stories. I was reading a lot of Foucault at the time, so I largely internalized these stories in terms of language, power, social normativity and particularity. From their experience I began sorting out ideas of gender normativity, and the recurring words of obligation, entitlement, and co-dependence. Additionally, from my own interactions with these women I was often made to generate my own experience, and turn what I had learned back upon myself. As a male, feminism has been a process of listening to and learning to empathize with the experience of women around me, acknowledging that my experience is not universal. The experiential nature of feminism has similarly been reflected in our course reading. Many of the texts and excerpts that we have read for class are in the first person. Rebecca Walker discusses her own experience on a train as her blood boils listening to some men objectify women. Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha tells of her experience as a Sri Lankan in Canada after 9/11. Kat Yoas recalls her experience conflicting with feminism and her mothers experience. Imagining Ourselves, is itself an anthology of womens experiences. Fundamentally, the 1971 Our Bodies Ourselves, is a womens discourse and knowledge that is founded upon its writers experience which is amply included in the text. It is self-experience that is mustered as a counter-discourse to the male dominated scientific discourse. I find myself in conflict with the universal, reductionist mode of modern western thought and the experiential nature of feminism which is admittedly a generalization on my behalf. The schism results from a tradition of modern thought that deterministically declares a particular cause and effect relationship that dictates the organization of society and what Susan Striker

Byron WGS 245 Midterm Essay Oct. 18th 12 How do I relate to feminism?

formulates as postmodern and poststructuralist where ideas are valued not necessarily in terms of their explanatory utility (especially in terms of direct institutionalized power) but rather, how many other issues it can be linked with in a productive fashion. (p86 Transgender Feminism: Queering the Woman Question) For me it is a conflict between epistemological systems, one that is universal and objective and another that is subjective, and emphasizing context and particularity. The process of synthesizing these two worldviews has been a very enlightening balancing act. It is a bending of the universal to incorporate the particular experience of women. It is the creation of a more encompassing narrative that takes the experience of women seriously, instead of handling feminism as another product of a mode of production. While it would have been straight forward to use The Burqa in Vogue: Fashioning Afghanistan and Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists: A Comparative Study of Grassroots Activism and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign to demonstrate how Marxs 1844 manuscripts work to explain the intersection of materialism and gender, that is not the point, that is not how I relate to feminism. For me it is the removal of my own personal world lens and the expansion to incorporate women. More concretely this means a move beyond Marx and Engels discussions of gender roles and how they are a product of the capitalist system that turns women into productive commodities and beyond their discussion of bourgeois prostitution and female economic dependence. It is a removal of the abstraction. It is stepping away from the focus upon larger theories and instead focusing on the people who are directly impacted. The synthesis is the emotive, real life connection between the experience of women and the larger material understanding. The impressing of the real tangible consequences of capitalism and the emotional internalizing of

Byron WGS 245 Midterm Essay Oct. 18th 12 How do I relate to feminism?

that. That is, acknowledging the harm and oppression that a woman like Rebecca Walker encounters on an emotive level and bringing her experience into the larger narrative. Additionally, it means looking back upon the socialist movement and seeing how it has marginalized women in its own ranks, like Rosa Luxemburg and learning from it. My relationship to feminism is a dynamic push and pull. It is a process of synthesizing the universal and modern, and the particular and postmodern. It is learning and experiential process. But, most fundamentally, my relationship to feminism is listening.