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Scene 1 (Androgyny and its Problems)

Radhika comments (27th June, 20:08):
It is ironic that in a forum that is explicitly dealing with postmodernism and gender, we are implicitly assuming the male/female binary.
This notion of masculinity as belonging to men and of femininity as belonging to women is so culturally ingrained in language, it is sometimes difficult to problematize it sufficiently in interaction.
In this respect I'd like to introduce Eve Sedgwick's notion that masculinity and femininity are orthogonal. That is, instead of being opposite poles of the same axis, they are actually in different, perpendicular dimensions, and therefore they are independently variable (Constructing Masculinity, eds. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis and Simon Watson).

Michael replies (11th July, 21:43):
The thought of dimension is very important in my opinion. But orthogonal dimensions from mathematical statistics are not adequate for the dimensions I see. By considering dimension more deeply, a way to get beyond biological, etc. determinations of gender can be indicated. Orthogonal dimensions are the co- ordinate perpendicular x-y axes familiar from co-ordinate geometry or, more properly, the dimensions in which statistical variables can move orthogonally to, i.e., independently from, each other. This idea would imply that masculinity and femininity were something like symmetrical, independent factors, each with their own weight, which would result in the ``gender mix'' of a particular person, culture, group or whatever. Dimensions have to be thought more originarily here, however. A dimension is an open space that can be measured-through, i.e., moved through. I propose that masculinity and femininity be thought of neither as biological attributes (sex) nor as socio-cultural attributes (gender), but as dimensions of being.

Lydie responds (28th June, 0:04):
Radhika is right too about our assuming the male/female binary. Although I started my contribution to this list in binary mode (analysing gender-specific communicative styles), my point was to share studies that reveal the predeterministic social reality still entered by infants today. My contention is that, once aware of this predeterminism, we will be able to change it. Of course the assumption of a binary position on gender issues is somewhat passé. It overlooks in many ways the instability of gender divisions and the many differences that exist both amongst women and amongst men. However, if you go to the street and organize an anthropological survey asking people about their definitions of women and men, the majority of responses will fall into the binary stereotypes we all know

Michael (23rd June, 14:12):
In asking the questions about the origin of gender and of the ways in which people understand themselves as men or as women, I passed over the fact that we as humans are either men or women. And it is justifiable to pass over these facts because the questions concern modes of human being rather than distinctions among entities called human beings.

Erin replies (23rd June, 18:17):
You imply here that humans becoming is somehow separated from society as a whole. But as infants, we learn language from interaction, as toddlers we learn how to walk from emulation, in latency we learn to project a generalized other - a voice that represents society and that is sometimes called a conscience - in order to integrate laws and social control. As pre-adolescents we learn the rules of the mating game from urban mythology. As teenagers we fumble through the darkness of negotiating comfortable sexuality. None of these activities is done inside our heads alone. They are all social activities, modified and attenuated by feedback we get from our parents, peers and objects of affection. I don't think that humans becoming can be separated from society.

Lydie (27th June, 17:46):
In relation to overcoming the male/female binary I would like to speak about feminist movements and the different phases it went through. The first feminist movement was labelled as ``radical feminism.'' It was composed of women (often perceived as anti-men, and for reasons that are understandable) who detached themselves from men in order to assert women's identities - these latter being denied by the patriarchal order.
Once women had managed to assert their presence in the Western World, they realized that they were exploited as a cheap labor force. This realization led to a Marxist feminist movement (especially in Europe). In the U.S. this movement was labelled ``Liberal Feminism'' and it advocated equality for all individuals and citizens. However, this notion of equality was a totalizing and general concept which did not take individual differences into consideration. Thus inequalities and unfairness still prevailed.
The concept of equality is, indeed, very tricky: People in general understand equality in terms of sameness and they do not know how to deal with differences. For instance, women had to adopt a masculine style in order to be considered seriously in the socioeconomic world. That's when postfeminism comes into play: postfeminists assert and acknowledge personality differences of both men and women; they look for communication in full awareness of such differences as an enriching part of life. The aim is an androgynous society in which gender differences fade away. Postfeminism assumes that adults are aware that their gender-specificity is imposed on them by traditional social norms, and that, in the light of their awareness, they are ready to construct a gender-free society by orienting future generations in this direction.
This view of a ``brave new world'' coincides with the postmodernist premise of ``polyvocality'' - a participation of different voices that will not silence or exclude any other. Ideally, postfeminists (Haraway) advocate that we consider each other as human beings and not as gender-specific beings.
Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir very rightly raised the question: ``Are there really women?'' And the answer for postfeminists is ``no.'' In fact there should be neither men nor women; there should only be human beings whose differences are to be respected and considered as enriching given a symmetric multi-faceted society in which there is no ``one difference'' that prevails and that becomes dominant and oppressive of others. For Postfeminists there should not be any generalizing and totalizing theories on either women or men.

Michael (28th June, 22:30):
Lydie, there doesn't seem to be anything postmodern to me in insisting on a plurality of individuals' rights. What I find much more disturbing is that this expression of individuality is so uniform, i.e., that there is no difference (although there may be heaps of differences in the sense of squabbles and conflicts). There are many different levels on which differences between people come into play: private relations, politically, in discourses. Individuals are also captives of the discourses they speak and thus they are often not individual (i.e., indivisible) at all; rather they are one of the crowd.

Lydie (25th June, 20:09):
Sameness is a myth that does not fit postmodern reality. Maybe we can share a desire for communication. From a postfeminist point of view the ideal androgynous human being would be competent in both male and female paradigms of communication.

Michael (28th June, 22:30):
But why should gender differences fade away? And what androgyny is at all remains for me a task of thinking. The fading away of gender difference... don't you hear alarm bells? Here the difference between overcoming and getting over seems apposite: learning to live with difference as difference; not its levelling. But first we have to see, to know what difference is. And I do not think that feminist discourse has worked that out.

Lydie (27th June, 17:46):
Derrida was very clear in that regard: Considering that we all have different schemata in mind and that language does not exactly transcribe our thoughts and realities, a written document can be as many texts as there are readers. Cameron says: ``The representation of experience by language is partial in every sense of that term.'' The linguist Roy Harris also mentions that meanings assigned to forms (words, texts) are not fixed and he maintains that to assume the opposite is to fall into the trap of language myth. Postmodern communication is based on the premise that multiple vocality and interpretations reflect the inherent right of individuals to express their individualities. Whether we write, speak, listen or read - these are all production skills that construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct meaning as the basic right of expression. Knowing that all individuals have their own different schemata and experiences, the basis of mutual understanding is to transcend one's own schemata in order to grasp one's interlocutor's perspective and frame of mind. Only in so doing can one perceive that other person's reality. How can an heterosexual communicate with an homosexual if that heterosexual does not attempt to see life from an homosexual perspective? If such empathic transfer makes someone feel uncomfortable, doesn't this indicate that we are not very clear about our own identities? Do we think that differences are drawbacks and weaknesses? Minorities are willing to communicate, yet how do you explain that dominant groups have difficulties communicating with groups whose lifestyle and experiences are different from their own? Isn't it time that we recognize differences as valid expressions of personal identities and not as divergences from the norm?

Erin (7th July, 21:19):
``Stepping out of our schemata'' seems problematic in several ways. One problem is the simple ``biology as destiny'' argument. We are physically sexed and our psychosexual outlook on the world is underpinned by a knowledge of how our sexed apparatus work. Hence, on this view, men ``penetrate'' and women ``envelop;'' men quest into the unknown, women nurture. We can't step out of our schemata because of this biodeterminism. There is also a problematization simply on the level of individual ego. If all sensory perception is filtered through the ego, then ``to step out of one's schemata'' is tantamount to saying one is going to ``detach one's brain from one's brain.'' And it is difficult to know what sense can be made of this. Kant, Heidegger and Kierkegaard all understood the metaphysical problems in trying to know the unknowable. Lastly, there is the problem of socialization. Other than everyone running round naked and not reacting sexually to one another, how does one propose to shed schemata? We may be back to one arena of problematics in first-wave feminism; that of presuming that we can reach a state of ``skinlessness.''

Michael adds (25th June, 22:23):
Also, any social scientific research into differences between the behaviour of men and women, such as Lydie Meunier has presented, has to proceed from a pre-understanding of masculinity and femininity that is taken as self-evident to even start. This preunderstanding of maleness and femaleness has always-already understood certain ways of human existing - for example, human being as male or masculine. Instead of proceeding from this pre-understanding and then leaving it behind in order to investigate human behaviour socio-scientifically, I propose climbing back behind this pre-understanding to ask where it comes from.

Lydie (25th June, 20:09):
I don't really understand how we can bypass pre-understanding in order to understand something which is beyond it and which would not itself be a form of pre-understanding. What is pre-understanding? To me, understanding belongs both to the past and the present, the past often providing valuable information on the present.

Fiona (4th July, 19:20):
I think we are all agreeing and disagreeing here about the same points. Michael claims that there is a mode of being prior to gender. Erin's thoughts about a sensory virtual reality ultimately lead towards a genderless being and Lydie's suggestion of androgynous discourse is likewise reminiscent of this same uniformity. But at the same time we are all uncomfortable about this proposed androgyny. Erin has problematized the notion of ``transcending schemata,'' Lydie has questioned how we can possibly comprehend that which lies beyond our preunderstanding of being and Michael has worried about the problems of uniformity in difference.

Erin (7th July, 21:19):
I suggest that, rather than seeking homogeneity, we celebrate pangeneity. The stable identity of mythic selfhood should become a wavering mirage. This may cause the subject pain and confusion. But this ex-centricity of dislocation and absolute relativism presents new opportunities. The participant could take pleasure in the understanding that singularity and contradiction exist unresolved and that these latter can proliferate in productive ways.

[Radhika steps forward centre stage]

Radhika cites Grewal (7th July, 17:05):
``A nonessentialist position does not imply a nonbelonging to a group, nor does it imply loss of agency or of coalitions and solidarities. For some feminists of color, identity politics remains central, though identity may be multiple. One may position oneself or be positioned in many different groups for different reasons. One may belong to different groups by gender, sexuality, class, race, ethnicity and so on. There can be syncretic ``immigrant,'' cross-cultural and plural subjectivities, which enable a politics through positions that are coalitions, intransigent, in process, and contradictory. Such identities are enabling because they provide a mobility in solidarity that leads to a transnational participation in understanding and opposing multiple and global oppressions operating upon them; that is, these subject positions enable oppositions in multiple locations. Multiple locations also enable valuable interventions precisely because the agendas of one group are brought along to interrogate and empower those of another group.''

[Erin applauds]

Lydie (25th June, 20:09):
We all have to remain on the qui vive and we have to make sure that we readjust possible interactional imbalances in full awareness and recognition of our and others' communicative styles. We will thereby adopt a postmodern approach geared towards recognition and validity of differences.

Michael (27th June, 18:04):
But I am not in favour of allowing just anything at all to pass as an opinion worthy of respect.

[An audience member suddenly clambers on stage and proclaims:]

Anonymous (11th July: 09:05):
Blood, sex and money are the determinants of Western culture. You can ``discourse'' your head off and it won't change reality. It is the Heideggerians and the impotents of postmodernist discourse who would have us believe one can never be so ``sure'' as to commit oneself for moral action.

[A scuffle ensues between Erin and the audience member. The usherette finally shows the audience member back to the stalls. The person eventually decides to leave the theatre altogether.]

Michael adds (28th June, 22:32):
Lydie, is there a way of turning away from humankind, of leaving the centre free for something else? Can human being become decentred instead of insisting on rights, etc.? Could it be time to get a little sick of humankind and its occupation of the centre?

A couple of people leave the theatre.


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Next: Poetic Break Up: ACT 2 Previous: ACT 2

hh
Fri Jul 25 22:00:35 MEST 1997