Feminists without Feminist Theory

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“My persistent critique has been informed by my status as a member of an oppressed group, my experience of sexist exploitation and discrimination, and the sense prevailing feminist analysis has not been the force shaping my feminist consciousness. This is true for many women. There are white women who had never considered resisting male dominance until the feminist movement created as awareness that they could and should. My awareness of feminist struggle was stimulated by social circumstance. Growing up in a Southern, black, father dominated, working class household, I experienced as did my mother, my sisters, and my brother) varying degrees of patriarchal tyranny…” – Bell Hooks.

As students of cultural and literary theory, we often have to face embarrassing questions from people, asking us what we are really doing for society. The questions are embarrassing because the answers are not very clear. We are not social workers, or teachers, or doctors whose roles in helping society are rather well defined and less questioned. We, as a group, are rather imagined as high-sounding intellectuals, who sit in their cozy armchairs or conference rooms, simply talking and theorizing and jargonizing about real issues.
In this article, I speak of three women, from three very different geographical and social backgrounds, and try to show how they have resisted sexism in their own ways.

Chimamanda Adichie : She is an African author, considered one of the top black writers for an Anglophone audience.At the December, 2012 TedxEuston talk, she delivered an informal speech on the need to be a feminist. She said how she was called a feminist when she was 14 and arguing with a male relative. She did not know the meaning of this term. Later on, when her novels were published, a journalist advised her to use lesser “feminist” themes because, according to him, feminists are women who were sad because they could not get a husband. She narrates how she, as child, she was not made monitor of her class because she was a girl, even though she was the best student; and later on when she visited restaurants, the waiter greeted her male companion, but not her. Adichie rounds up her speech by giving her own definition of a feminist: it a man or a woman who can envision equality of sexes and works to establish this end. She mentions that she is inspired by her grandmother, who was a big feminist, without ever coming in touch with the academic discourse of feminism.

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Anusheh Anadil : She is a popular Bangladeshi musician, famous for her modern band performances of the songs of Lalon Fokir. Since she was young, she always wanted to do, what guys could do. She decided to travel extensively on her own- something that girls are very rarely heard of doing in South Asian countries. She travelled with Bauls and Fokirs and other rural musicians, in order to connect spiritually with their music and mystic philosophy. While in Ranikhet, a man tried to molest her. He entered through the back door. First she struggled to protect herself, but finally she stabbed him. It did not kill him, but he was injured. He turned out to be an official of the tourism company she was travelling with. He made sure that she got off the bus- no amount of protest and shouting on her part, could help her. Still, she survived by her sheer zest for life and love for music and her country.

Anusheh Anadil at a performance

Anusheh Anadil at a performance

Lorelei Lee: We do not think very highly of porn stars, do we? They are often dismissed for the highest level of moral and social transgressions. Lorelei Lee resists categorization into that water tight compartment. She is smart, educated, is a polyglot, and holds an MFA from NYU. Lee looks at pornography as her own personal professional choice, not coercion. She believes that pornography is actually liberating and empowering for women. This profession helped her to go beyond the tabooed notions of sex, and search for many alternative ways of physical union than the conventional heterosexual one- which is often seen as a male- dominating- woman thing. She chooses to undermine certain clichés that society preaches- that men want sex, women want relationships; that men are the aggressors, and women just satisfy their desires; that female sexuality is shameful, etc. She is 31 and is married to a transsexual man.

Lorelei Lee

Lorelei Lee

Feminism as a theory is limiting. The academic feminist course is divided into the three waves- the first wave of the late nineteenth century as a movement demanding Suffrage for women, the second wave extended the demand for equality of women to the workplace and domestic spheres, the third wave is concerned with more fundamental problems of gender and identity. However even though the need to focus on multiple voices has been recognized, very few “feminists” are accepted in the mainstream without the glamour of academic theory. That does not make them any less feminists than the academics.

I began with a quote by bell hooks, the pseudonym of Gloria Jean Watkins, American author, feminist, and social activist. Let me conclude with another quote by her.
“Frequently white women act as if black women did not know sexist oppression existed until they voiced feminist sentiment. They believe they are providing black women with “the” analysis and “the” program for liberation. They do not understand, cannot even imagine, that black women, as well as other groups of women who live daily in oppressive situations, often acquire an awareness of patriarchal politics from their lived experience, just as they develop strategies of resistance( even though they may not resist on a sustained and organized basis).”

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