« April 2006 | Main

May 4, 2006

Jen's thoughts on womb envy and emancipation

Sorry this is a bit late. I had a last minute interview that I had to attend. Hope I was still able to contribute to the conversation.

I have a bit that I would like to pick apart with Ocampo on the basis of liberation and emancipation. I found it interesting that she leans more towards liberation. I also find liberation more accurate, as I’m sure many others do. However liberation means the attempt to achieve equal rights or status, where as emancipation means to free someone from the control of another. Now in most cases liberation seems to be the more obvious word, yet Ocampo continues on to describe how men occupy women, that “woman is a colony for him to exploit?(229).
I’m also curious on what people think of Ocampo’s statement “we are not interested in taking their place (this is an error that our extreme reaction to their attitudes may have contributed to creating) but in taking our own completely-something that has not happened yet? (231).
I love the question that Castro-Klaren give on feminist practices. On if we are more reactionary then action? Have our practices of feminism become more reactionary? Is that in our system to do? I also love the questions from Farina’s poetry of “How will I be able to represent myself, to rewrite myself? How do we think ourselves? Where does our thinking belong, how is it received by a discourse…that leave us out?? (273). What a fabulous creation of questions. If we are to think in terms of D’Bevoir, then the definition of women changes. Who we are is predefined, thus how do we come to know of ourselves under a predefined world, of which we were not apart of the creation of such a definition? What does it mean for us to be?
I’m wondering what people though to Flax’s critique? I liked the piece taken from Lacan, so I’m wondering if others did as well? She (Castro-Klaren) seems to be very much going off the work of Iriaquay when she discusses the phallic realizations of the mother. On a side note I love the term womb envy!

I have to be honest, my entry this week is pretty self-involved, as some of the readings have me thinking about a research paper I'm writing for an Anthropology seminar on the feminization of madness and the discourse of hysteria in 19th-century Britain. Before getting into that though, I have to pedantically argue some of Ocampo's points. In her introductory section, Ocampo discusses the physiological differences between the upper and lower classes. I would just like to say, that from 1850 until WWII (when there was a major revolt against service as a form of unemployment), taller (and stronger) servants were very desirable for their improved reach. Also, the awareness of height differentials amongst the classes was present before Huxley et al, as achieving equal nutrition for all was a priority for the British government since the Crimean War. (Sorry, I had to get that out and I shall now leave my soapbox)
Castro-Klaren's examination of the "othering" of women (in various contexts) was particularly poignant for me. The establishment of the feminine psyche and physiology as abnormal (binarily opposed to the male normal) in the 19th-century still lingers with us to this day, as we see any sort of reproductive activity (from menses to pregnancy to labour to breastfeeding) as tainted and abnormal. Even though we may not consciously be aware of these biases, the implicit message is that these feminine activities need to be controlled and monitored through medicine and masculine modes of performance. Reproduction becomes unnatural and abnormal and therefore contested, both in feminine and masculine spaces.
As Castro-Klein states, "[a woman's body's] materiality is the source for a myriad of metaphors that try to stand for her subordination." (285) So much so, that colonized territories are conceived of as feminine, in which imperial powers justify Western domination in a masculine/feminine rhetoric, in which the latter must be controlled, submissive and constructed along the lines of the former's ideals. It is hardly surprising that subaltern theories can encapsulate both the experience of the colonization of a land and its peoples, as well as the colonization of women in both the West and the East. The subjugation of these things is justified through conceptualizations of a "natural" order that are reiterated through practice, habit, legislation and pedagogical tools that reaffirm extant power dichotomies.
I was also moved by some of Ocampo's discussion of oppressors and the oppressed. It made me think of how to reach "new" feminists. As we have heard many times over, many younger women feel the moment for feminism has "passed," because they don't "experience" misogyny or discrimination. I feel we (as feminists) need to adapt Ocampo's assertion, "We must not wait for the help of men. It cannot occur to them to recover from the rights of which they do not feel deprived." (234) We need not wait for the help of others, but realize where deprivation occurs and take it upon ourselves to help others recover. Yes, this sounds a lot like the imperialist and hegemonic discourse of colonialism, but it is motivated by a desire to "liberate" others, both within and without our culture. I find it hard to feel guilty about "imposing" equality for others, when they have been supressed. NO, I don't advocate forcing emancipation on other people (lest I start to sound like George Bush, bringing "freedom" and "democracy" to people whether they like it or not), but I believe in education people as to their options.
I thought Ocampo's piece was nice to finish the semester, as she echoed the sentiments of Mary Woolstonecraft from the beginning of term. Both see education as an emacipatory tool for women, Woolstonecraft writing from a position of privilege, where her only handicap is being a woman and Ocampo writing from various sites of oppression. The opportunities provided to any group determine their level of participation in society, politics and economics. Perhaps I should labour more for providing opportunities than for education in and of itself.

a little bit of each

Schutte -- I find if interesting how no matter where in the world we are in the discussion of gender/feminist/cultural issues the conversation ends by bringing up the continent of North America and its theories regarding the above mentioned matters. And what it comes down to is : feminism vs. affirmation of gender and sexual difference. There seems to be a certain level of surprise when she says that these notions of sexual and gender differences always happen in the context of a ‘feminist critique of patriarchal relations of power’. A reversed statement of this sort would not be possible as that would mean that women actually have power relations in Latin America – men are therefore bound to be happy in their nests, setting them up as high as they like because it will be the women who will be trying to get equal, climbing the trees with their children in one arm and a kitchen pot in the other - not vice versa.

When she says that along with the changes of gender identities in the public and private spheres, the meaning of family, in fact, the transformation of thereof, will have to take place – how can it not? Sooner or later it had to become obvious that women cannot be present everywhere, and do everything and in the meantime be the happy wife and mother of all. Philosophy, although it should be contributing to this emancipatory project, has in fact in the past rather undermined it – as the ideas and visions of cultural identities were only cut out for men, rather than keeping in mind that women are the vast majority on any continent. But since it has in fact always been so separatist – how does one make it truly interactive with other ideas, how do we change the understanding (and implications afterwards) of what philosophy is and how it should treat one subject or another? This just kind of merges in with the whole idea of power relations and the impossibility (or am optimistic enough to say difficulty) of its change for the nations?

Ocampo-- Is it because women would be directly affected by men that she prefers to calling the issue ‘liberation’ rather than ‘emancipation’? Can women disconnect from men and just make emancipation/liberation happen on their own? I really enjoyed her sarcasm when she says: “women have learned to enjoy letting men mistreat them….women themselves will have to take the initiative and “deprive? themselves of the delightful narcotic to which they have become no less addicted?. Could we also in her debate on page 228, where she is trying to change the way of the discourse – “by constitution? to “by force of habit? – replace it with “by culture?? And this would sort of bring us back to the veil…

She is determined also that women aren’t interested in taking men’s place but rather just occupy their own that has belonged to them and yet they weren’t able to get a hold of it as of yet – but doesn’t that happen with regards to where the man’s place is – where women can find theirs? Yes, we might not want to interfere on ‘their’ territory but doesn’t women’s territory just depend on what men allow women to have?

Roy-Féquiere -- I was just wondering when the survey that is referred to in the text has been done in Puerto Rico - it seems that the article has been published in 2004 – which means it is as current and contemporary as possible (though I know little about feminist movements there). Yet the ideas that these men AND women have shared seemed so outdated – to me anyway. Are we again arguing against culture? It seems that we aren’t ever going to be able to just dis-connect all these issues from it unless we would learn (which probably means create) to deal with discourse on human/feminist rights on their own, disconnected from that which is known and/or accepted.

Jessie's entry

I realize that Ocampo wrote "Woman, Her Rights, and Her Responsibilities" in 1936. I realize this was a time when women were very much expected to exist in the private sphere, to take on domesticity as their life role. But still, I couldn't help but be bothered by the essentialism throughout this piece. Why is it she "who can contribute powerfully to creating a new state of things"? Why must it be a woman's role in life to raise descent "little men"? Why is it not just as important to raise women (or for that matter, people of other genders as well, though i'm noting the time period) who will change the world? If a woman chooses to have children, in order to raise people who will create "a new state of things," I think it would be helpful for women and men to be involved in this project, as it is good for children to have all kinds of role models (not that women cannot or do not raise children successfully on their own, they do, but why should men not be involved in the rearing process?). Throughout the piece Ocampo refers to woman's role as mother. Although this clearly bothers me, perhaps at the time (and even still now but with some modifications) she had a good point. Effort needs to be put into raising children differently-- raising them so that they see the world differently early on, so that they want create change.

Maria on Schutte and Castro-Klaren

I agree with Katherine that the idea of ‘feminist’ exploitation of lower classes as domestic workers is an important topic to discuss. I don’t believe that this issue is limited to Latin America in the least. In fact, I house-sat for a wealthy progressive family a few times. The woman was very feminist and politically engaged, and yet she also had ‘cleaning people,’ who were Latin American. I was very taken aback by this, and I tried thank them for their work in my terrible Spanish. They laughed at some stuff I said incorrectly – it was a good time. But I felt horrible.

Hopefully I am not the only one, but I was very surprised to read about all the benefits afforded to women in Cuba. I was very impressed. It reminded me of how skewed and biased information can be, because here in the U. S., I am frequently given the idea that Cuba is bad. It’s just that simple. Castro is bad, Cuba is bad, and it’s a backwards place. And yet seem to understand some of the obstacles that women face, and are taking actions to help the situation.

The Castro-Klaren article was a very difficult read for me (though not as tough as Spivak). I am interested to see what people may think about the discussion on male/female sexualities on page 286. It is stated that “male orgasmic “pleasure ‘normally’ entails the male reproductive act? while the female does not necessarily?. How can this be used to theorize? Is she saying somehow that female sexuality is more developed in some respect? I don’t quite understand the point of bringing this up.

Katherine, Latin American feminisms

One issue from the Schutte article I hope we can take up in class is middle- and upper-class "feminist" women's exploitation of lower-class women as domestic servants -- especially the last full paragraph of page 222. (I tried to pull out a quote but it was crazy long.) Hiring someone else to do their housework (and paying them lousy wages) frees these more privileged women to work outside the home and possibly accomplish things for women and for feminism in the public sphere. I thought it was interesting that Schutte wrote about this not as an accusation, calling the employers hypocrites or blind to the exploitation their practicing against other women... but as a choice, "these women generally opt for a personal solution." I assume Patricia Ocampo and Mercedes Sola employed poor women and the fact that they didn't have to worry about that housework allowed them time to work for women's issues in other ways. Do you think this issue is specific to Latin America or to developing societies? In the US it's much less common to actually employ someone to do domestic work, but most of us are benefiting in less direct ways from the work done by less privileged women for not enough money.

An idea touched on by both Ocampo and Schutte that bugged me a little bit was that women as mothers suffer when injustice and violence are commited against their children. Ocampo talked about how women oppose war because of this, and Schutte mentioned the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organizing to protest human rights violations. Schutte also writes "Women who are the sisters, mothers, wives, or loved ones of victimized men and children identify strongly with their suffering" (217) I don't really understand whether she's saying that women identify with the suffering of others more strongly than do men, or if it's just the opposite, that the widespread poverty and violence in their societies cause poor Latin American women to identify with other oppressed poor people rather than with other women, (especially since they are sometimes being exploited by other women).

I had a lot of trouble trying to understand the Castro-Klaren article. It looks like no one else has taken it on yet and I won't try. I'll just whine a little and say I'm frustrated because I'm interested in literary theory and female subjectivity and other topics she's writing about but I really don't like the way she writes. And this seems to happen over and over again.

Ocampo

I'd like to hear more people thoughts on Ocampo's quote:

"It is she who can contribute powerfully to creating a new state of things since all her physical and spiritual being is concentrated on teh very fountain of life- the child. She lives, therefore, closer to the future man, since the childover whom she exercises her power, consciously or unconsciously, is that man" (231).

Like Naomi, I thought of women's responsibility to raise "little men." I also thought somewhat of Republican motherhood, or women's traditional role of raising good male citizens. I think she means we should try to change men's thoughts when we have power of them- as their mothers when they are young. Like she says, "Most grown men don't change, they only wear disguises" (232). I think women have begun to do this. In my experience, I think the some of the generation of men raised by mothers from the feminist era have different attitudes toward women and gender roles.

Last week of class

I was truly inspired by Ocampo's piece, "Woman, Her rights and Her Responsibilities" which was written in 1936. It seemed really ahead of its time. Of course I couldn't help but relate it to the US women's movement because that is what I've studied so much and know far more history that it was confusing at times to stop and remember that this was not written about US, white women's movement but about Argentina and colonialism. I couldn't help but think that it was just 15 years prior that women got the vote in the US and the first world war ended and I was amazed at how this piece did not seem regional to me. It stayed focused on women's world and their position but was not specific enough that I was constantly reminded that there were influences like colonialism and racism at work along with the obvious internalized sexism that her article talks about. That men and women have just learned the gender roles and almost enjoy now the mistreatment. At the end of the article she talks about the sad thing is that a lot of women will either be resistent or indifferent to the "liberation" of women. I can actually understand why in the beginning a lot of women were afraid of this. The women's movement challenges the basis for the entire society. In the first page when she debates if she likes the word "liberation" over "emancipation" because there is always an association with the women's movement and the working class and untions. Somehow there is a shared identity of being powerless. the part about education interested me. That these women are educating the future men of the world. Therefore she has the power to change things? Was that the point of that section that mothers should not teach their children the horrible gender relationships and "liberate" them from the sexism of their generation? Earlier articles that we've read have also used motherhood as a reason for the access to education and it seems completely logical. Really one of the only ways to demand education from men. The parts about war were interesting and scarily relevant today. It gave me sad associations with the war in Iraq and then I was blue. However I found it uplifting towards the end when she talks about that the liberation of women is actually to bring men and women closer, just on a better - less patriarchal - level. The article is not a complete revolution of the system just a change for the better. It was hilarious to me when she said that the relationship between a man and a woman is a miracle because it is so hard and demands so much patience. I thought that seemed like a light-hearted way to say it although her article was very poignant. This will be a fight and women should not expect the help from men but knowing that there will be women against the fight will be the hard part. It seems wrong to fight ourselves. That at the end she gets serious and says that the emancipation of women will challenge the negatives of femaleness and maleness because they are of course relational and can not be separated.

May 3, 2006

Naomi on Ocampo y Roy-Ferquiere

After reading Victoria Ocampo’s piece I was left wondering what exactly it is feminists would say there were/are fighting for today. Ocampo says that men need to understand that we do not want to take their place but rather want to take our own completely. She goes on to say that men need to stop “invading the territory of women.? I’m not sure exactly what this women’s space is, or where it is. What is “our territory?? It was interesting also to think of this place in relation to her discussion on mothering/creating a new generation. Is woman’s place in the home, creating “little men? that will be more peaceful, more respectful, stronger believers in the equal rights of men and women (and all people)?

Roy-Fequiere mentions a similar theme with respect to the writing of Mercedes Solá. Solá seems to think that it is women’s job to create a new world through their work as mothers. I’m wondering then, since both of these women come from highly privileged places, what would happen to the children that they were raising. Since women with a solid education and independent income would have more intellectual pursuits, wouldn’t these same women be away from home, leaving their children to be raised by lower-class nannies and such and thus not raising the future generation themselves but rather leaving this important job to other women who certainly would not have the “moral training? of the upper class women. While Roy-Ferquiere compares Solá’s feminism with that of Luisa Capetillo I don’t see that she clearly explains the latter’s ideals. Since it is so clear that Solá played into the patriarchal system, even taking “great pains to show men what advantages they will derive from feminism,? I think it is important to have equal information regarding Capetillo. I have read some excerpts of her writing and believe that she was quite a deviant in her time in her dress, lack of conventional marriage and mix of self-education and working-class status. What were her takes on motherhood I wonder?

Aren't all these writers form an educated class therefore, privileged to a degree?

Victoria Ocampo is certainly, as is everyone we've read from a certain privileged class, because they are educated. I don't espect many women who are uneducated in the higher academics get published very much. Even though she wrote this 70 years ago, I found alot of it still relevent and very funny. I am not sure what post- structuralist is. Is it something like writng against essentialism, because she is doing some of that yes. For gender any way, and she does touch on class-essentialism too, for example on page 231, she writes, "...It is also evident that the quantity of innate talent that a person possesses depends for its realizations and expression upon the outlets it encounters for its development, and these in turn depend upon such factor relaive to environment as economic resources, social resources, social climate, and existing educational systems. An apparent reason why the children of the upper classes have proportionately better results in their studies than the children of the lower classes is that they have had more opportunity to recieve a better education, whether or not they are gifted by heredity." Ok this is an argument that needs to be made today and everyday!!!! I work in the public shcool system and I know what is said about students who are from backgrounds that have experienced poverty. I also know our present regime believes in being very punitive to the public school system and its educating of these children, believing for the most part that these children have no value and that is why they would like to dismantle the public shcool system. Our educational system is institutionally racist and classist. There is a very powerful and influential belief in cultural, class, and race essentialism that premeates our institutions and those who legislate them. So, what Ocampo writes above can't be said enough or loud enough. I also though the way that she puts things, or writes things was extremely funny and clever, for example on page 229,"...man stop thinking of a woman as a colony for him to exploit and that she become instead 'the country in which he lives.' Ok that can be said over and over too, and is still relevent, although perhaps not for homosexuals. I also thought it was interesting when she wrote about women have learned to enjoy letting men mistreat them, "...as it is also true that men, for their part, have learned to enjoy allowing themselves to mistreat women.' I don't know that women enjoy being mistreated, and I am sure many women would never allow this. I am also sure women sometimes had no choice but to put up with the abuse, because there were no support systems in place for her to escape the abuse. But perhaps what she is saying is that these things of course are not biological but learned, and therefore can be unlearned. I also loved what she wrote on page 231, "What men, apart from a minority that I bless, do not seem to understand is that we are not at all interested in taking their place...but in taking our own completely..." I agree, and I personally have not learned to do this, and am in the process of trying to achieve this. Find my own voice, my own independence from negative and distructive forces, whether they are from within or without.

May 2, 2006

This is so long, it's sickening -or- sorry guys, I got carried away

I’m just going to post a few comments here on the Victoria Ocampo piece. I figured I’d start with the shortest one first.

Anyways, I was trying to contextualize her writing as I was reading along, so I went on Wikipedia and looked her up. Here are some interesting little facts I found:

1. Ocampo came from a fairly well-off Argentinean family. They believed women should not be formally educated, so she was taught at home by a French governess. However, her family did let her sit in on a few lectures at Sorbonne when they traveled to Paris.

2. Wikipedia says she was married in 1917 “briefly? – I’m assuming this means she got a divorce, or her husband died.

3. She was an important Buenos Aires intellectual during the 1920’s and 1930’s – she wrote much of her work during this time period – In 1931, she founded the literary magazine Sur.

4. She was imprisoned for speaking out against Perón in 1953 for a short period of time.

5. In 1976, she became the first woman to be a member of the Argentine Academy of Letters.

The significance of all this info is that when I was reading, I kept in mind that this lady was from the upper class and that, while not trained in a formal school, she nonetheless appears to have been fairly well educated. Plus, she had access to an immense amount of Argentinean literature and contact with many Argentinean intellectuals.

I think it’s important to note that she does touch on class issues, but it is still from a position of privilege. I think it’s equally necessary to point out that she herself does not mention this. In fact, I had no idea where she was coming from until I Wikipedia-ed her. I don’t know how many women writers were doing this kind of thing during the 1930’s though, so I suppose I shouldn’t expect it.

Also, and I could be reading this wrong, but did anyone else get this sort of post-structural feeling when reading over some parts of her essay? I’ve been reading ungodly amounts of post-structural writing for my senior paper, so it might just be that I’m so overloaded that I see post-structuralism everywhere. I guess, specifically, I’m looking at the part on page 228 where she says, “The English thinker who affirmed that the masculine sex is sadistic by constitution and the feminine sex is masochistic has found, as I see it, part of the explanation of the problem – but only if you take away the words ‘by constitution’ and substitute ‘by force of habit.’? I read this as, men and women are a certain way not because there is something inherent inside them that makes them act the way they do, but that because they have done a certain act so many times (“by force of habit?), it has appeared as if it is something that comes natural. Or rather, the meaning of their acts is shifting and not tied to anything biological. I got this feeling on page 230 as well, where she’s talking about certain abilities meaning different things in different contexts. Again, I saw this as evidence of her understanding of meaning as unstable.

If I am reading this right, Ocampo seems ahead of her time. I didn’t think post—structural thought came into being until much later in the century. Could be wrong. Alright, I have written an obscene amount. Time to stop.
Love,
Sarah