Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Praxis. Let's take that ideology debate and try to apply it

Lauren at Feministe has a post on "Feminism and Class and Context," (posts on class and feminism are so rare that they often get extremely general titles like that, so that one who wasn't already familiar with the blogger might think she was just barely sensing class might have anything at all to do with feminism).

She's concerned that the emerging class of "professional feminists" around the blogosphere will insulate themselves from other feminisms and feminists. Her concern is primarily about being able to find representation of working class women in mediums that only seem to cater to middle class, successful, "professional" types.
Class issues are abound in feminism as they are everywhere else. In today’s economic hierarchy some of us will be stuck on Maslow’s lower rungs while others celebrate their own impending self-actualization. This isn’t a debate. But only the climbers get the microphone, and their world is pretty insular. As a friend wrote via email:

The problem with hearing the voices of working people is structural. Even if folks have the time and energy to write, it’s a lot to expect folks to self-educate so that they have the tools to express something about their experiences, even if they had the time. Some folks do; my mother was incredibly widely read coming from poverty and with only a high school education. But broad references and eloquence are going to be much more common among folks trained for them. That leaves the intelligentsia to speak for everyone else; but they’re not so good as seeing past their insular class experiences. I have no idea how to fix this.

Neither do I.

And part of this is why I’m bothered with some aspects of the feminist movement, specifically the feminist blogging movement, as so many of the people who take part in it are beginning the tricky business of quitting their day jobs and monetizing their writing. Most feminists are not Professional Feminists — they are Professional Something Elses and have to hang their feminism along with a whole host of other political beliefs at the door to pay the bills. And I wonder too if those making feminism their career change the message to remain marketable? Will the new Professional Feminist have to set aside some of her feminist beliefs to keep the paycheck rolling in? Will she self-censor? Will her experiences, now that she’s begun the insular work of writing, continue to resonate with non-writers? I don’t know. I know I sense a disconnect.

The old argument was that Professional Feminists, aka academics, were out of touch with non-Professional Feminist women. Feminism has long been criticized for its inability to get off campus, and now that it really has, thanks in part to the work of bloggers and writers reviving feminist media, now what? We’ve widened our feminist economic circle, as it were, to include a whole host of actual jobs that actual feminists can fill to perform actual feminist work and get an actual paycheck. But most stable, paying work isn’t that. Will the professionals remember us?

Let's make sense of this from the perspective of all the posting we've been doing lately on ideology and identity and subjectivity.

1-This post includes an approach to critiquing feminist politics taken straight from the playbook of cultural criticism--like I mentioned earlier--by focusing on representation instead of say, justice.

2-It relies on identity to frame its concerns and its demands. Working women are the subjects Lauren is concerned about. She fears that middle class or professional feminist women (she even creates her own identity class, in order to make sense of the difference she senses) will contribute to their marginalization.

But again, what she demands for the working-class women is not an economic system that will provide for them a room of their own, but instead representation by their professional feminist counterparts. Take the below quote from T's post on Butler, and where it says 'women,' think instead, 'working-class women,' for the sake of considering Lauren's post.
The idea that representation of 'women' (uncritically accepted as an unproblematic category, unmarked by power) is all that is necessary to facilitate emancipation, overlooks the structures (legal, educational, cultural, economic, etc.) which actually produce the subjects in question. In other words, merely quibbling over the Senate's gender makeup is not going to cut it. Butler acknowledges, though, that such concerns are hardly reactionary, indeed by and large we inhabit a world where the pervasive social/cultural condition is such that women's lives are "misrepresented or not represented at all". Nonetheless, 'representation' must not go uncriticized as the goal of feminist politics. For Butler, feminist political practice requires a "radical rethinking of the ontological constructions of identity appears to be necessary in order to formulate a representational politics that might revive feminism on other grounds." What this means more specifically, is that "the identity of the feminist subject ought not to be the foundation of feminist politics, if the formation of the subject takes place within a field of power regularly buried through the assertion of that foundation."
So, Butler is sympathetic to the desire to want representation, since there is indeed a notable lack of representation. But that can't be the goal of our class-conscious feminist politics, not if the formation of that working-class woman as a subject takes place in the very field(s) of power in which we're seeking representation. If capitalism has created the working-class woman, then a feminist with her very feminism tied up in capitalism cannot liberate her by representing her (this isn't my opinion, just what happens if I try to apply Butler's logic to actual apparatuses and subjects)...

If Butler doesn't like Lauren's identity-based, representation-seeking approach, what does she prefer? That's where I'm stuck.

I'm tempted to say, stop worrying about whether your experiences are going to be represented, and start fighting whatever it is you think is forcing this experience of working-classness on you to begin with. But as I noted earlier, talking about and altering representation are a lot easier than talking about and altering the material conditions behind those representations. So? How do we perform this subjectless feminism?

1 comment:

T said...

Quick response:

I think there is much of interest in Butler that doesn't seem to turn on her polemicizing against 'the subject' and humanism in feminist politics.

She is dismantling the unproblematic invocation of 'woman', showing not only that it fragments along other axes of analysis (race, class, etc.), but also that it is already in itself a mark of oppression. Subverting the given, prescribed notion of 'femininity' is her political project, not trying to uncover some feminine essence (which she thinks is rife with ideology) which lacks appropriate representation. But its not just subverting the category of 'woman', its gender/sex she's targeting. She's challenging the heterosexist assumptions which underlie the binary sex/gender regime which is forced upon individuals and (sometimes) enforced with violence for those who transgress it.

More on this later...