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Friedman Locational Feminism

Friedman Locational Feminism

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Published by Caitlin
From: " Feminist locations: Global and local, theory and practice"
From: " Feminist locations: Global and local, theory and practice"

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Published by: Caitlin on Feb 14, 2013
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SUSAN STANFORD FRIEDMAN
LOCATIONAL FEMINISM
Gender, Cultural Geographies,and Geopolitical Literacy
N
ew French Feminisms
(1980) was a path-breaking anthology in Ameri-can feminist theory. Edited by Elaine Marks and
Isabelle
de Courti-vron, this collection of contemporary French feminist writings didmore than introduce American academic feminists to the debates inFrance and to the speculative possibilities of poststructuralist theoryfor feminism.
1
In pluralizing the conventionally singular term
femi-nism,
the volume's title created a grammatical anomaly that perfectlysuited the debates and political struggles that more particularly re-flected the North American scene of feminist theory and
praxis—
namely, the important attempt, pioneered especially by women ofcolor, lesbian women, and Jewish feminists, to base an understand-ing of women and the gender system upon the recognition of dif-ferences among women. The feminisms reflected in
New FrenchFeminisms
fell largely into the binarist division between materialistand psychoanalytic/deconstructive theoretical traditions representedby
Simone
de Beauvoir and Monique Wittig on the one hand andHelene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva on the other hand.Haunting each were the shadows of Marx and Freud, Sartre, Lacan,and
Derrida—intellectuals
whose oppositions have long been set intodialogic interplay in Western philosophical and political traditions.Transplanted to the United States, however, feminisms quickly
13
 
14SUSAN STANFORD FRIEDMAN
acquired its own local coloration, much influenced by the way inwhich the civil rights movement of the 1950s to 1970s along withthe general social/political ferment of the 1960s had contributed tothe reawakening of feminism and the formation of the gay and les-bian rights movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. Within this con-text, the
s
added to feminism developed a geographically specificmeaning, far more in tune with American political conditions thanwith French or European intellectual traditions. As Audre Lorde putit, "By and large within the women's movement today, white womenfocus upon their oppression as women and ignore differences of race,sexual preference, class, and age. There is a pretense to a homogene-ity of experience covered by the word
sisterhood
that does not in factexist."
2
The predominant focus of feminists on the differencesbetween women and men had worked to obscure the difficult andpotentially creative differences among women based on other oppres-sions, Lorde argued. "It is not our differences which separate women,"Lorde insisted, "but our reluctance to recognize those differences andto deal effectively with the distortions which have resulted from theignoring and misnaming of those differences" (122). Lorde's call fordirect acknowledgment of differences among women based on mul-tiple oppressions highlighted a process of pluralization into
feminisms
that had already begun in theory and practice with the formation ofsuch organizations as Black Feminism, the caucus structure of theNational Women's Studies Association, and anthologies such as
This
Bridge Called
My
Back:
Writings by Radical Women of
Color,
edited byCherrie Moraga and Gloria
Anzaldiia.
3
In this context, abandonmentof the singular term
feminism
and the adoption of the plural
femi-nisms
signified a theoretical and coalitional praxis that refused anyaffirmations of a universal sisterhood of women joined togetheragainst worldwide patriarchy in the name of
WOMAN
My intention in this chapter is to
call—somewhat
polemically, I
realize—for
a reinstitution of
feminism in the singular
and then to ex-amine the spatial/temporal literacy such feminism requires. I do notmean by this
re-singularization
of feminism a return to a notion of auniversal feminist subjectivity or a movement based on an assump-tion of female homogeneity. Nor do I mean to suggest that the foun-dational recognition of differences among women based on othersystems of stratification such as race, class, or sexuality is no longer
LOCATIONAL
FEMINISM
15necessary (been there, done that). Indeed, I believe that we must re-main continuously vigilant to the conditions and effects of such dif-ferences. And I accept as a profoundly important advance in feministtheory and praxis that gender can never be fully understood in iso-lation from other constitutive elements of human identity and thesocial order. No one register of social organization and no one com-munal identity sufficiently defines power relations or individual lifeas negotiated within
them—whether
gender or race or class or na-tional origin. Moreover, the interactive dynamic among these distinc-tive systems of stratification requires more than an additive approachto differences. The processes by which race or class or sexuality (andso forth) mediate
gender—and
vice
versa—are
themselves key spacesfor theoretical reflection and coalitional activism.What I do mean by feminism in the singular is a locational femi-nism that is simultaneously situated in a specific locale, global inscope, and constantly in motion through space and time.
A
locationalfeminism is one that acknowledges the historically and geographi-cally specific forms in which feminism emerges, takes root, changes,travels, translates, and transplants in different
spacio/temporal
con-texts. The feminism that mandates a quota of representation by lowercaste women in village councils of rural India (reported in the
NewYork Times,
May 3, 1999) is not the same feminism as that whichmotivates those who demonstrate for reproductive choice outside abeleaguered abortion clinic in the United States. But both feminismsare still political practices informed by theories of gender and socialjustice that are recognizably a part of a singular entity we can callfeminism. Both participate in the notion that the given social orderprivileges the masculine and distributes power inequitably accordingto gender (in whatever ways, for whatever reasons, and however dif-ferently interactive with other issues of power). Both advocate for aform of gender equity (however equity is conceived or to be achieved).Putting these two locationally different political practices under thesame categorical umbrella named
feminism
requires what GayatriChakravorty Spivak calls
"idiomatic
specificity."
4
Reflecting the wayin which specific languages are tied to particular places, she uses alinguistic metaphor to insist on feminism's locational particularity.Any given embodiment of feminism is inflected with the over-determined conditions of its history and geography.
 
16
SUSAN STANFORD FRIEDMAN
Moreover, any given local instance of feminism can travel toinfluence others and be influenced in turn by differently inflectedforms of feminism. Feminism is global in its widespread indigenousformations, but it is also global in the way that it travels, transplants,and transculturates. I invoke here Edward Said's essay "TravelingTheory," in which he examines how "ideas and
theories...
movefrom one culture to another."
5
"Such movement into a new environ-ment," he continues, "is never unimpeded. It necessarily involves pro-cesses of representation and institutionalization different from thoseat the point of origin. This complicates any account of the transplan-tation, transference, circulation, and commerce of theories and ideas"(226). Said's assumption that every traveling idea has an identifiableand presumably single origin from which any transplantation neces-sarily departs as it localizes needs to be modified, in my view. Thenotion that a given social order privileges the masculine does not, Ibelieve, have a single origin. Nor does the advocacy of gender eq-uity. Rather, these constitutive components of locational feminismhave emerged differently in particular times and places and have trav-eled from one culture to another, producing hybridic cultural forma-tions of indigenous feminism influenced by other traveling forms offeminism. Such syncretic practices result from ongoing processes ofwhat anthropologists often call transculturation, whereby one cul-ture absorbs and redefines within its own terms what it takes fromothers as an effect of multiple contact zones.
6
Feminism in the singular as I have characterized it involves a newemphasis on spatiality evident in the very languages of feminism.Without this locational idiom, feminism would collapse back intomisleading and politically regressive forms of universalism.
7
It is thisspatiality as an epistemological formation with important implica-tions for praxis that I want to explore in mapping locational femi-nism. I am in agreement with the postmodern geographer Edward
Soja,
who suggests
"an
overdeveloped historical contextualization
of so-cial
life
and
social theory..
.
actually submerges
and
peripheralizes the geo-
graphical or spatial imagination
[original emphasis]."
8
Like culturalstudies in general, formulation of a locational feminism requires acompensatory emphasis on the spatial over the temporal. Such a pro-visional privileging of space takes place in the context of an overrid-ing understanding that as interrelated coordinates of human thought,
LOCATIONAL FEMINISM
space and time are unthinkable without each other. What the geog-rapher Henri Lefebvre calls the "production of space" is a process thattakes place in time, just as the social production of history takes placein a specific geographical location.
9
However, the demand for par-ticularity is still most often posed in terms of historical rather thangeographical specificity. An argument or position might
well
be cri-tiqued as
ahistorical,
for example, but much less often asageographical. Consequently, as a compensatory gesture, I want toprobe the meanings of spatiality for feminist theory and praxis.To do so,
1
will examine the prevailing rhetoric of space in con-temporary U.S. feminist theory for the way it reveals a cultural epis-temology related to feminist modes of thought and activism especiallysuited to the conditions of postmodern globalization. In tune withconstructivist assumptions, I take as foundational that a given rhetoricreflects how a person or a group of people in a large social settingthinks. The cultural
epistemology
embedded in feminist theory andpraxis potentially provides access to the underlying categories ofthought that impact on feminist agencies in the world. Rhetoric isthe linguistic
materiale
of consciousness, and, we might add, to whathaunts or remains lost to consciousness. For in combination withother determinants, how we think contributes to making us who weare and how we act in the domains of the local and the global.In this sense rhetoric is more than the garment of thought, morethan the figurative arts of language or the communication systemwithin which speech acts take place. Rhetoric also reveals widespreadcategories of social thought as these in turn shape how we under-stand human experience. Moreover, as a cultural formation, any givenrhetoric has a particular history and location requiring historiographicgenealogies and "thick descriptions" of local manifestations. In thespirit of this idiomatic specificity, I will characterize certain feministrhetorics produced in English largely in the United States in the pastthirty years. During this same period, national boundaries have be-come increasingly porous with the accelerating pace of globalizationand transnational cultural traffic. Consequently, my focus on femi-nist cultural epistemology in the United States takes into account themultiple ways in which rhetorics from
outside—particularly
those pro-duced by diaspora, immigration, and
transnationalism—transform
those inside.
17

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