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SaraH Lucia HoagLand
Articulating heterosexualism is not to supplicate for gays (that’s the work of ‘heterosexism’ and ‘homophobia’) but to better understand consequences of institutionalizing a particular relationship between men and women. In this essay, Hoagland takes up the claim from a number of women of color that women are not all the same gender.
i argued in Lesbian Ethics (1988) that heterosexualism undermines female agency and leaves women unable to sustain a community of women. at the Lesbian caucus gathering of the Midwest Society for Women in Philosophy one spring, María Lugones raised the issue that most lesbians of color cannot come out in their communities and white lesbians do not seem to think this is our concern. Exploring the idea of community in Lesbian Ethics, she has argued that while my discussion within lesbian communities addresses intersections concretely, my sense of lesbian community is nevertheless abstract because i do consider the spatiality of actual gatherings and i do not take up the concrete paths various lesbians travel in getting there (Lugones 2003, chap. 9). i am not directly addressing these issues in this essay; instead, i am working to better position myself to take up these issues by investigating the interdependency between heterosexualism and white supremacy. My motivation remains, as always, engagement and connection among women in many complex locations, the possibility of re-cognizing each other in resistance, the possibility of collectivity, indeed the possibility of lesbian connection in all its many forms. Protecting “Men” and “Women” i believe i coined the term heterosexualism when i wrote Lesbian Ethics. at any rate, the only arguments i came across then concerned homophobia or heterosexism, and i was challenging the limited nature of liberal resistance to
Hypatia vol. 22, no. 1 (Winter 2007) © by Sarah Lucia Hoagland
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
lesbian and gay oppression framed in these terms. “Focusing on heterosexism challenges heterosexuality as an institution, but it can also lead lesbians to regard as a political goal our acceptance, even assimilation, into heterosexual society: we try to assure heterosexuals we are normal people (that is, just like them), that they are being unjust in stigmatizing us, that ours is a mere sexual preference” (Hoagland 1988, 28). i questioned the strategy of convincing straight society that we are being harmed and they should stop the harm. of course, heterosexuals know there’s harm, just as whites know there’s harm from racism, just as the middle class knows there’s harm from classism. We all just won’t deal with it. or we do deal with it and approve of it—society properly ordered . . . as the conservative right is succeeding in again making reasonable, indeed rational, in mainstream normative thinking. So, in challenging the social order, i argued for addressing what i called heterosexualism: “a particular economic, political, and emotional relationship between men and women: men must dominate women and women must subordinate themselves to men in any of a number of ways. as a result, men presume access to women while women remain riveted on men and are unable to sustain a community of women” (Hoagland 1988, 28–29). Following Monique Wittig (1992), i argued that, functionally, lesbians are not women. and i proceeded to pose different ways of approaching values in lesbian engagement, ones aimed not at control of individuals but at development of community, development of contexts which would help us maintain what we had created—distinct grounds of meaning and meaning-making. So, it has been with dismay that i have watched the appropriation of lesbian meaning by those lesbians and gay men who seek political power in Washington by formulating such programs as “The Lesbian agenda,” as was brought to chicago recently, focusing their efforts on M&M (marriage and military). i really found nothing to say to those community and activist lesbians who regard becoming assimilated americans (including the concomitant racism and classism) as the political ground for liberatory work other than, “You’re joking, right??” as Trishala deb (2005) argues, this movement is coming from social conservatives of the LgBT community. Their focus has resulted in the erasure of the ground of meaning that provides a radical critique of heterosexualism from within lesbian communities, and it has been effective. i was dumbstruck. You wouldn’t think there’d even been any lesbian feminist critiques of marriage or any radical feminist critiques of war. However, precisely because so much official gay effort is assimilationist and accepting of dominant logic, the right-wing response to these efforts is significant. What really is bothering those who are rising testerically to “defend” marriage? They haven’t risen to undermine wife abuse or incest in defense of marriage. That would undermine critical aspects of marriage’s functionality as an institution to bring women and children into male structures of hierarchy, ownership, and power.
right-wing conservatives think that a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ in marriage are central to maintaining (their) social order. and they are right. (as Simone de Beauvoir wrote, one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.) nevertheless, why is gay marriage such a threat to the right wing? i think it is precisely because so many of those seeking marriage “rights” look just like right-wing conservatives: white, respectable, capitalist, often republican, gay men and women who work to fit in. That is, gays and lesbians showcased in the political bid for marriage who would look like “model americans” on the job, in the street, in the courtroom, in the corporate boardroom, so resemble proper conservative social products that it is hard to tell them all apart; i suspect it is precisely because of these gays and lesbians’ otherwise respectability that right-wing conservatives are leveling big guns. and this suggests that right-wing concern has to do with the maintenance of a certain kind of man and woman, has to do with a particular economic, political, and emotional relationship, has to do with the maintenance of heterosexualism. i find the battle currently being played out over gay marriage, when it is not simply being used as a crass political tool to stir up middle america into ignoring what the power elite is engaged in, is not about gays so much as about straight people, about the relationality between men and women and about the resulting identity of men and women. ironically, gay marriage is the ontological ground on which the right wing is positioned to erase, finally, second-wave radical feminism from the dominant logic as it erased first-wave radical feminism during the fight for suffrage. in both cases, the reinforcement of marriage has been central. and, in each case, rather than examining and questioning the social order, those seeking liberal reform simply have upheld marriage. (regarding the first wave, note, for example, Kate Millett 1969, 121–23, 215.) Marriage and its productions—adultery, loose women, prostitution, the double standard, whores, virgins, wife beating, illegitimate children, incest, bastards, marital rape, domestic abuse, women’s economic disabilities—are a critical means by which the state institutionally intervenes to define what it means to be a woman or a man and the proper relationship between them. Still, who are ‘men’ and ‘women’? How are they constructed? What is it that those defending marriage within a liberal frame are trying to preserve, that is, maintain, that is, re/create? a particular relationship. (note, for example, carole Pateman 1988 on the sexual contract.) But studying the work of women of color, i find there is more to it than that. i find that simply evaluating the relationship framed by the state between (white) men and (white) women, that is, those framed as (real) men and women—the standard of men and women by which everyone else is measured and falls short of in one way or another (too fat, not white [enough], not feminine enough, not masculine enough, too old, not bearing children, and so on), misses the mark. Evaluating this ideal relationship that the state wants animated distorts as much as it exposes.
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
it reinforces the silencing of knowledges that ideal men and women are not the only men and women needed to maintain this social order. or, possibly with right-wing logic, they are the only “men” and “women” but they are not the only genders created through the enforcement of this ideal, and they are not the only genders required for the maintenance of this social order. Such an evaluation is not enough because it does not take into account that this idealized relationship is constructed, in part, to maintain other types of relationships—slave and colonial relationships, for example. attending only to (white) men’s entitlements in relation to (white) women awkwardly generalized is not enough to understand what is at stake in the social conservative project of denying lesbians and gay men access to (state) marriage.1 given the practical and theoretical challenges to (white) radical and liberal feminist and lesbian theory and practice coming from women of color, i want here to work on the interdependency between heterosexualism and white supremacy. But rather than working simply with a categorical analysis, which when acknowledging other categories employs an additive approach, i am working toward an intersectional analysis to argue that heterosexualism is internally, not accidentally, related to white supremacy. Heterosexualism is an economic, political, and emotional praxis designed to protect “men” and “women,” that is, to maintain the power of the white race. indeed, heterosexualism as practiced in the united States is an institution for the promotion and maintenance of white supremacy, and it effectively keeps white women and lesbians politically engaging white men rather than women and lesbians of color. Moving toward intersectional analysis challenging black men’s and white feminist’s responses to the public framing of anita Hill or of 2 Live crew, for example, Kimberlé crenshaw demonstrates how the rhetoric of antisexism among white feminists provides occasion for racism, and the rhetoric of antiracism among black male theorists provides occasion for misogyny. as a result, black women, and more generally, women of color, are erased (crenshaw, 1992, 1993). approaching situations categorically rather than intersectionally leaves black men and white feminists theoretically and practically more vulnerable to the strategic maneuvering of white male supremacy. There is in much white feminist theoretical work, including some of my own, a taking up of the category ‘woman,’ as if a logical analysis of the means by which mainstream white men exercise power in relation to white women ultimately captures oppression faced by all women. This analysis has been important; and nationalist, radical, socialist, and separatist categorical framings have been important in generating logics sufficient to galvanize movements in resistance to hegemonic mystification. But it is equally important to take up the resulting lessons. all of that work and the problems, erasures, exclusions, and betrayals arising from it have positioned us to work more complexly. For
example, we would do better to recognize analyses as local, not universal: local in challenging specific strategies and tactics of dominant containment, exploitation, and abuse as well as local as we develop skills to recognize and take up different women’s particular strategies and tactics of resistance. The appeal to the category of woman, out of all context, is an abstraction. Meaning-making occurs in contexts; when abstractions make sense to anyone, it is because a context is implicitly referred to.2 Moreover, as many women of color have pointed out, when a category such as ‘woman’ or ‘black’ is taken up, the privileged members ultimately come to represent it and thereby define the problems to be addressed. in much feminist work, white, middle-class women’s experiences and situations are the model—assertiveness training and mediation as feminist praxis, the right to obtain an abortion as freedom of choice. The pretense of universality draws on particular contexts and particular women while at the same time hiding the particularity by universalizing it or representing it as normality. other contexts and other women are marginalized, and when taken up, they are read through the logic of the grounding context. consequently, the practice of failing or refusing to take up a contextualized, intersectional, local analysis and instead focusing categorically on (white, middle-class) women as models for understanding the oppression of women yields the wrong information and analysis. While white feminists were consistent supporters of anita Hill at the Senate Judiciary committee hearings on the nomination of clarence Thomas to the u.S. Supreme court, Kimberlé crenshaw argues we were unable to consider the distinct ways black women in the united States experience gender power. as a result white feminists de-raced anita Hill to fit her into the narrative of a violated Madonna and so could not effectively understand what was going on. no one mentioned, for example, that the history of lynching which clarence Thomas appealed to and which stopped so many white men on that august occasion is not a formative element in the sexual harassment of black women; its history lies with the construction and maintenance of white women (crenshaw 1992). While in many respects both Kimberlé crenshaw’s analysis and my remarks here appeal to categories, the critical move for my purposes concerns the internal, not external, relationship between the gendering of heterosexuality and the construction of white supremacy. That is, one only makes sense in terms of the other. acknowledging this does not widen but fundamentally changes our understanding and analyses (Smith 2005). Heterosexualism So, the question is, who are “men” and “women”? in the first place, heterosexualism is constructed as white women are framed in counterpoint to women of color. Valerie amos and Pratibha Parmar argue that “historically white women’s
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
sexuality has been constructed in oppositional terms to that of black women and it is to this history that white women refer as their starting point” (2001, 18). Patricia Hill collins argues that “the prostitution of Black women allowed White women to be the opposite; Black ‘whores’ make White ‘virgins’ possible” (2000, 145). Kimberlé crenshaw notes that Black women are packaged as bad women in cultural narratives about good women (1995b, 369). consequently, the state can exercise with impunity very different practices toward white women and women of color. as anannya Bhattacharjee argues, state agencies and law enforcement praxis toward women of color, both immigrant and u.S. born, prevent women of color from caring for their children while accusing them of child neglect: a white suburban housewife who stays home to care for her children is applauded, while a poor woman of color who seeks state support to do the same is stigmatized as lazy. an undocumented mother who crosses the border in order to be able to provide for her children is seen as negligent for exposing her children to the considerable risks involved—even though such risks have been entirely created by shifts in state policies over recent years. (2002, 36) Kimberlé crenshaw argues that “race consciousness is central not only to the domination of blacks but to whites’ acceptance of the legitimacy of hierarchy and their identity with elite interest” (1995a, 112). For example, to gain public empathy for victims of violence, men promoting the domestic violence lobby will talk about “protecting our women.” The racial and class identity of the women to be protected is central to the effectiveness of such an appeal (crenshaw, 1995b, 363). challenging the nature and extent of that “protection,” angela davis argues that the prison system was developed to contain white men who were suddenly brought together in towns in large numbers as a result of industrialization. Those deemed in need of punishment were slotted for rehabilitation in the developing prison system. on the other hand, slaves were not imagined to be prison occupants, instead corporeally punished by their masters. angela davis argues that the public nature of abuse of black men and other men of color by the police is an extension of corporeal punishment from slavery. on still another hand, white male domination of white women was enforced through the maintenance of separate spheres. White women were also not imagined to be prison occupants, instead kept in line by their husbands under the “rule of thumb,” and while “protected” from other men, were considered fallen, not rehabilitatable, when committing a crime that went public. and on still another hand, there were no separate spheres for slave women; forced sexual access to black women was institutionalized in slavery. White authority treats the rape of
black women as differently today as it did then. The praxis of violence against women in the united States extends from all of this (davis 2000). and it is critical to the construction and maintenance of heterosexualism. citing Paula gunn allen (1986), andrea Smith argues: “native peoples needed to learn the value of hierarchy, the role of physical abuse in maintaining that hierarchy, and the importance of women remaining submissive to their men. They had to convince ‘both men and women that a woman’s proper place was under the authority of her husband and that a man’s proper place was under the authority of the priests’ ” (2005, 23). andrea Smith continues: “Thus in order to colonize a people whose society was not hierarchal, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. Patriarchal gender violence is the process by which colonizers inscribe hierarchy and domination on the bodies of the colonized” (23). Most white women working on understanding central dimensions of heterosexuality, such as violence against women, focus on their relationship to white men, or the relationship of women of color to men of color, and fail to recognize or develop analyses addressing the different histories involved. Hence they fail to recognize or understand or give back-up to distinct dangers facing women of color as a result of white supremacy, including state policy, as well as failing to re-cognize distinct creative resistances developed by women of color from within different communities of color. Moreover, most of the work has involved preserving relationships with white men by working for more “sensitive” laws and police policy or funding for more shelters or training lawyers and social service workers . . . a contested relationship with white men in power, but thereby an engaged one. ultimately, this political process involves white women sacrificing women of color and the possibilities of women’s community, and is another dimension of heterosexualism. Historically, white women’s activist work has been more often than not grounded in racial supremacy. We all know that the suffrage movement in England, as is true of the suffrage movement in the united States, ultimately was grounded in theories of racial superiority and empire. as suffragists worked to raise the age of consent for girls from thirteen to sixteen years, for example, the arguments were entwined with discourse on gross indecency around sodomy laws (Bhaskaran 2004, 82–83). and although the birth control movement yielded a crucial gain for women, it was grounded in eugenics (amos and Parmar 2001, 25). in other words, as the organizing of the first wave progressed, most white women activists were choosing not to identify with black women or other women of color as their political companions or political community. activist work today continues in this pattern. Much white feminist work addressing domestic and sexual violence has turned to professional social service and ultimately the state, failing to recognize connections between state violence and interpersonal violence in the lives of women of color. remedies
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
white feminists push for and the state provides have resulted in medicalization and criminalization of woman abuse which, while helping some white women, have made the situation worse for women of color.3 For example, some battered women’s shelters are now cooperating with the police and immigration “services” (Scully 2002). anannya Bhattacharjee argues that the “private” violence women experience (for example, from intimate partners) is related to the “public” violence women experience (from state authorities) (2002, 44). Many migrant women depend in various ways on their husbands for information regarding their legal status. The state benefits from this dependency because women who are uncertain of their status are less likely and able to organize to challenge exploitative working conditions. if a migrant woman goes to authorities and her abuser is deported, she will be too, without regard for her safety (crenshaw 1995b). While much criticism of white feminism concerns exclusionary tendencies in feminist theory and practice, anannya Bhattacharjee argues that the growing tension between women of color and the mainstream (white) antiviolence against Women Movement is not a question of who is “included” in the movement, but rather reflects contradictory understandings of the impact of collaboration with the state (2002, 12; note also Bhattacharjee 1997). That is to say, working in tandem with the state is to preserve above all a relationship with white men while sacrificing women of color, ipso facto promoting and even enforcing white supremacy. Moreover, such political praxis indicates that white feminists, lesbian and straight, are not seeing women and lesbians of color as political companions, are unable to sustain a community of women. Heterosexualism. For example, a Latina lesbian challenged a Feminist Majority campus organization on racism. as she became increasingly angry, the anglo lesbians and straight women in charge found her “disruptive.” This only made the Latina angrier. in response they determined she had gone off her meds and they retreated to a “bottom line” position about rules of engagement, calling this lesbian’s anger abusive and refusing to talk to her unless she addressed them “appropriately” . . . middle-class engagement as feminist engagement. When that made her angrier and she sent more angry emails, they simply removed her from the organization’s email list. in the aftermath, the anglos were uninterested in exploring ways their actions, at any point, might have been racist. They were willing, indeed relieved, to have her disappear from their work. Later, isolated and tired of being enraged, she apologized to the three anglos whose indifference set her off. and in this vein they were interested in what she had to say, apparently assuming her apology vindicated their earlier actions. The conciliatory Latina lesbian was the “real” lesbian, the one they would pay attention to . . . at least insofar as she racially validated them. it has never been critical to them to make sense of what
she was saying in calling them racist. nor did they see themselves as ganging up on her; they could or would only understand themselves as victims—she frightened them, they said. Had she insisted on coming to a meeting in anger, likely they would have called campus security, as they openly speculated at one point. Heterosexualism: anglo lesbians and feminists choosing the state and its risks over other lesbians and the risks of engagement, including the risk of being exposed as complicit in the dominant structure. White supremacy keeps white women and lesbians engaging white men rather than pursuing political engagement, communication, and community with women and lesbians of color. relationality But what would embracing women of color as political companions mean for white lesbians? and what is involved in lesbians and straight women of color embracing political companionship with each other across cultures in a white supremacist nation? as Laura donaldson, anne donadey, and Jael Silliman write: “To understand the experiences of Puerto rican, Mexican, or caribbean women who now live in the united States, it is essential to understand how colonial forces shaped their experiences in the united States today. For these women, the ongoing economic and political relationships of their countries to the ‘First World’ led to very distinct experiences in the united States” (2002, 441). and this is true as well for lesbians in these communities. at a recent inciTE conference workshop entitled “Heterosexism and Empire,” Trishala deb and Joo Hyun Kang facilitated a discussion about the roles heterosexism, homophobia, and transphobia play in reinforcing and furthering colonialism, militarism, and imperialism. Joo Hyun Kang argued that empire is maintained on gender binaries, and that gender binaries as well as heterosexism are a product of colonialism. This is not typically addressed by those whose agenda is socially conservative M&M (marriage and military). To understand and challenge heterosexualism as a relationship, we need to acknowledge not only differences—how “women” are differently abused and exploited—but also the relational nature of those differences and how that affects the construction of “men” and “women.” We need to take into account the means by which white women are framed in counterpoint to others. as Sid Lindsley argues, the united States is not “the passive recipient of the world’s poor, but is active in shaping the formation of a migrant workforce” (2002, 179). This workforce is critical in the formation and maintenance of those whom mainstream u.S. society normatively represents as “men” and “women.” consider current progressive global north policies and assumptions about “developing” global South nations. discussing the effects of structural
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
adjustment programs (SaPs) enforced since the 1980s by the World Bank and the international Monetary Fund, grace chang argues that while allegedly intended to promote efficiency and sustained economic growth, SaPs do the opposite, un-developing nations’ existing economies and preparing local peoples for imperialist exploitation (1997, 132). Structural adjustment programs strike Southern women the hardest. as wages are cut and peasant families are evicted from lands taken over by corporations for export crops, many women are forced to find work in the service industry or manufacturing. “When women take on these extra burdens and are still unable to sustain their families, many have no other viable option but to leave their families and migrate in search of work. asian women migrate by the millions each year to work as servants, service workers, and sex workers in the united States, canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Japan.” Functioning as sources of cheap and exploitable labor, migrant women are “channeled directly into the service sector, where they do every form of care work for a pittance and no benefits” (chang 1997, 132–33). They thereby sustain those mainstream society understands as ‘men’ and ‘women.’ The sex trade is a central component of care work, the service industry. as Sia roowojee and Jael Silliman argue, “asian women’s sexuality—both in this country and abroad—cannot be disengaged from its global context. u.S. servicemen abroad have worn T-shirts that describe asian women as ‘Little Brown Fucking Machines’ ” (1997, 78). Prostitution and military violence against women and girls are products of the militarization of the global economy. “a huge part of Korean women’s informal economy is the sex trade including as military comfort women to the Japanese and later continued with the occupation by 37,000 u.S. troops” (Louie and Burman 2000, 132). Men’s expectations of these services extend to women workers in other service industries including restaurants, snack shops, barbershops, bars (Louie 2001, 127–28). This is a critical element of heterosexualism and the maintenance of the “men” who protect and serve. Moreover, these service women are themselves understood not to be subjects in need of either service or protection. This is true of other kinds of service workers as well. grace chang argues that “migrant women workers from indebted nations are kept pliable not only by the dependence of their home countries and families on remittances, but also by stringent restrictions on immigrant access to almost all forms of assistance in the united States. Their vulnerability is further reinforced by u.S. immigration policies, designed to recruit migrant women as contract laborers or temporary workers who are ineligible for the protection and rights afforded to citizens” (1997, 133). Sid Lindsley argues that the policies blocking immigrant access to “public” services in the united States should be seen as attacks on immigrant women’s abilities to reproduce and maintain their families. “immigrant women of color and their children are targeted because of white anxieties about a
racially pluralized society” (2002, 185, 190). This is true as well of lesbians in these communities. The “men” and “women” being protected by the right-wing defense of marriage are understood to be white. The maintenance of heterosexualism is the maintenance of white supremacy. But that means other genders are critical, that is, women who are not (real) women and men who are not (real) men, men and women not paraded by the right wing as models but instead are used as workers to sustain those models. (anne Mcclintock argues  that as the Victorian middle class distinguished itself from the working class over labor, the model of a woman as someone who does not work, does not involve herself with dirt, disappeared working-class women. That is to say, working-class women also are not real “women.”) Elsa Barkley Brown argues that not only are “africanamerican, Latina, and indian women’s” histories different from the history of white middle-class women; these histories exist simultaneously and in dialogue with each other: We need to recognize not only differences but also the relational nature of those differences. Middle-class white women’s lives are not just different from working-class, black and Latina women’s lives, it is important to recognize that middle-class women live the lives they do precisely because working-class women live the lives they do. White women and women of colour not only live different lives but white women live the lives they do in large part because women of colour live the ones they do. (Brown 1991, 86–87) Thus, “the demand for service workers and especially for private household caregivers and domestic workers, is exploding in wealthy nations of the First World undergoing their own versions of adjustment” (chang 1997, 133). Taking up critical questions of relationality, Jackie anderson remarked, For us, slavery is a genesis. For white people, it is another institution, an institution that is over so it is not something that comes up in any conversation between whites. i don’t think we live in the same society. For whites, racism and segregation were symbolic; once you no longer have the symbols, it’s over for whites. can you blame poverty on white people? They say no. They don’t have a clue about having a head start; slavery gave them a head start. The most fundamental truth is that white americans deserve everything they have because they worked hard for it. Whites are not counting the stuff they stole, the inventions they stole; nor are they acknowledging that everything blacks built, whites destroyed—whole towns were
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burned, destroyed. So when talking about racialization of the u.S., there’s a wall.4 There are different kinds of walls between Latina and african-american lesbians, between South asian and african-american lesbians, and so on, within white supremacist united States. Heterosexualism constructs and reconstructs these walls, making lesbian engagement, communication, and political companionship difficult to sustain and easy to let slide away. gendering Elsa Barkley Brown argues that “we still have to recognize that being a woman is, in fact, not extractable from the context in which one is a woman—race, class, time, and place. That is as true for white women as it is for africanamerican, Latina, asian, and indian women. We have still to recognize that all women do not have the same gender” (1991, 88). Significantly, white men undermined the matrifocality of native american clan societies such as the Montagnais, the iroquois, and the cherokee while promoting the matrifocality of slave societies, in both cases for the establishment and maintenance of white supremacy. While not all native tribes were matrifocal, many were. and a critical step in the colonization of native peoples, bringing them under a white system, involved undermining the leadership of women, undermining women’s authority. as Paula gunn allen argues, since the reconstitution of tribes “through colonial fiat and u.S. law,” the status of tribal women has seriously declined (1986, 30). in discussing the undermining of female authority prior to the 1830 forced relocation of the cherokee nation in the Trail of Tears, Theda Perdue argues that the exclusion of women from having a political voice ultimately meant, that the “group traditionally opposed to land cession could no longer be heard on the issue” (2000, 98). Slaveholders, conversely, fostered a matrifocal society among slave women, the line of descent going through the mother, not the father, for example the slave master. This permitted white men to move in the world as did Strom Thurmond—having black children a white man could benefit from, even have a relationship with, but publicly pretend do not exist as descendants. But the matrilineal structure related to enslaved men as well. Brenda Stevensen argues that “undoubtedly, slave masters felt that if it became necessary for them to challenge the power that slave parents had in the lives of their children, it would be much easier to do so if the parent with whom the child most readily identified as an authority figure was a female rather than a male” (2000, 42–43). as María Lugones argues, it is difficult to argue that the women are the same—what they do with bodies, production, is very different. consider
traditions of mothering that we’ve come from. cherokee women’s children followed the mother’s line until white and christian “civilizing” authority forcibly changed this. White women’s children did not follow the mother’s line, and well-off and plantation white women, a key model of womanhood, did not care for their own children. Black women cared for white women’s children, having little time for their own, and knew that their own children could be sold at any time after a certain age (Lugones, personal communication). The preservation of white women as racial breeders through the lynching of black men, white men raping slaves and using their descendants as increased instrumental holdings and white women benefiting from this by gaining in property and also relief from their husband’s sexual demands while also being humiliated for not being able to contain their husbands, the Victorian model of frigid white women in relation to the white stereotype of the black lascivious woman, and the unrapeablity of prostitutes, . . . Heterosexualism is an institution to maintain the power of the white race, and in the hands of white men (Lugones, personal communication). understanding heterosexualism and white supremacy intersectionally positions us to rethink what is involved in state structuring of relations between a “man” and a “woman.” individualism The tendency to think individually and in terms of rights sets us up to fit into state parameters (as the state constructs “rights”) and turn away from forming complex communities of resistance and support. going for individual rights such as marriage does not undermine, but rather promotes all this, the paranoia of right-wing conservatives notwithstanding. individualism is a critical marker that distinguishes the Western concepts ‘primitive’ and ‘civilized.’ individualism is a gauge of civilization. Justifying the practices of colonizing amerindians in the 1500s, Juan ginéz de Sepúlveda argued that the root of indigenous barbarity lies in nonindividuation (collectivity). Communal means “barbaric” (dussel 1995, 65). This is how “civilized” society continues to portray a group as backward and in need of “civilizing”—that the group does not honor individualism and private property. ronald Takaki points out, To advance and civilize the indians, the white reformers argued, the tribal system had to be destroyed, for it was perpetuating “habits of nomadic barbarism” and “savagery.” . . . The key to civilizing indians was to convert them into individual landowners. as long as indians owned their lands in common, Senator Henry dawes contended, they would lack “selfishness,” which was “at the bottom of civilization.” (1993, 235)
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Theda Perdue (2000) notes that prior to the Trail of Tears, cherokee men, in attempting to assimilate, were tricked into accepting an individualist frame that involved hierarchy in the ranking of individuals and the across the board devaluation of women. and Elsa Barkley Brown notes that the white Freedmen’s Bureau officials “regarded the ethos of mutuality as one of the negative traits that had to be curtailed in the process of preparing freedpeople for life in a liberal democratic society” (2000, 126). The individualism of Western culture repeatedly turns its practitioners away from understandings of relationality and intersectionality. The cartesian imaginary suppresses altogether relationality and intersubjectivity, which sets up white feminists, for example, to avoid struggling to develop and articulate intersectional analyses or engage in complex communication. (note Lugones, 2006) addressing white women, Jackie anderson remarked, “When you’re white, you don’t have to think about your presence when i’m not around. You don’t interrogate my absence. You take the absence as a real absence and that it is your choice to include me. But i’m not an addition. i’m always there.”5 central to the individual freedom constructed by liberal democracy is the idea that one can do anything he wants except encroach on someone else’s freedom. This positions us to embrace the illusion of autonomy (note Lugones 2003, 210). it sets us up to regard any engagement with others a compromise rather than the possibility for creativity. it sets us up to think, from privilege, that everything is ours or should be and that any engagement involves concession and hence is a calculated loss (Hoagland 1988, chap. 5). That is why it is so easy for white lesbians and feminists to sacrifice women of color. individualism positions us against collectivity and the kind of complicated and difficult work that entails, and it keeps us from recognizing that our lesbian possibilities emerge collectively, not individually, engaging others in community.6 now, certainly, i am as embedded in modern Western individualism and political, as well as postmodern, resistance to modernism as anyone who has been educated in the united States. But as a lesbian struggling with the conceptual coercion of the dominant logic, struggling with others to make sense where there was none, nonsense, no sense, it’s clear to me that finding each other in communities is a central part of developing and maintaining our lesbian possibilities. By community i mean not an institution but a context (that will change), a place of reference, a place of our possibilities, a place from which we grow. one of the devastating effects of heterosexualism has been the erasure of lesbian meaning. it stifles imagination and blocks memory. and lesbian meaning is not something heterosexuals can give us—although progressives try, for example, creating programs such as “Queer as Folk,” and “The L Word.” “We are fully dependent on each other for the possibility of being understood and without this understanding we are not intelligible, we do not make sense, we are not solid, visible, integrated; we are lacking” (Lugones 2003, 86).
contrasting Western concepts of subjectivity with amerindian subjectivity, rodolpho Kusch compares the german concept of Dasein with the aymara concept of utcatha.7 Dasein includes being thrown there, a being that is in a particular context, but thrown into it, suggesting alienation and something to be transcended; it suggests nothing that is particularly nourishing—the place you are thrown into is not taken to be a place of germination (Kusch forthcoming). The self of such a place is isolated, individualistic, aggressive, alienated. in contrast, utcatha is connected with domicile, dwelling, plaza, womb, vital center. it is a place from which you grow, is a source of germination, a place of support; it makes for your possibilities.8 understanding self in community is understanding oneself not posed to compromise but rather embedded in a context that fertilizes our possibilities. We are Everywhere . . . or not at all communities, of course, can become oppressive in critical ways, particularly when their practitioners think of them as institutions rather than contexts (looser and more ambiguous), for example, when those assuming “leadership” act in terms of purity and authenticity (note Lugones 2003, chap. 7). What brings lesbians together in community? not fear, which is the current basis of u.S. solidarity, nor is it common oppression. To begin with, there is our desire. desire and creativity are a central part of our possibilities, ingenious lesbian creativity, making so much—bookstores, coffee houses, poetry, publishing houses, music, bars, sports teams, record companies, theory, music festivals, jewelry, methods of healing. and what are possibilities of lesbian communities? in addition to loving women, because we are everywhere, there is enacting a praxis of engaging through difference rather than similarity, at first brought as a structural challenge by audre Lorde. and that, it seems to me, grounds our possibilities, our work—not working for state-constructed “rights” but developing complex communication (Lugones 2006). i despair at the multilevels of heterosexualism and white supremacy by which our actions and imaginations are framed. it undermines possibilities of lesbian community and all the work in community building we have to do. in taking up el pasar discontinuo de la cachapera/tortillera del barrio a la barra al moviemiento (the discontinuous passing of the cachapera/tortillera from the barrio to the bar to the movement),9 María Lugones notes “la tortillera exists en la comunidad only as a pervert. Perversion constitutes her and marks her as outside of countenanced relationality. . . . En la comunidad, under the reigns of nationalism, la cachapera is silent, her meaning is made by others” (Lugones 2003, 174). Within african-american communities, out lesbians can be seen not as black, but as a white perversion (carruthers 1979).
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
Yet “instead of cultivating her company toward impure shatterings of colonized communions, la cachapera becomes the Latina/Lesbian,” moving into the territoriality of the Lesbian Movement—white locales, movement that does not move into Latino communities. So “Latina/Lesbian is an oxymoron, an absence of relation. Latina/Lesbian lacks a hyphen” and so hybridization. “The movement of the tortillera into the Lesbian Movement is a fantastic flight because she comes out to a forced speaking in a bifid tongue; because the eyes that see her coming out, remake her in their own imagination” (Lugones 2003, 174–76). and so the Latina/Lesbian who was working to make a place for herself in the campus Feminist Majority, not to mention the campus gLBTa, finds herself alone once again. at the “Heterosexism and Empire” workshop, one Vietnamese lesbian questioned, given the history of gendering in her country, what it would mean for her to talk about being masculine or feminine. a Korean transperson talked about the effects of christian missionaries in her immigrant community. and a Palestinian woman noted there was an assumption that if people are queer, they are not going to be Muslim. communities are the places of our possibilities, the places from which we grow. Moreover, my capacity to be a lesbian involves a relationality proscribed by dominant fragmentation, by heterosexualism. it animates through praxis of engagement.10 if tortilleras, bulldaggers, marimachas, swing girls, desi dykes, among many others, can only act out in lesbian community and are forced into the closet among family and local community; if la tortillera is cut off from a critical community, from a central source that nourishes her, if she can only be lesbian outside a critical place of her possibilities, and once outside only as someone acting out, if her possibilities of utcatha are negated, then as María Lugones suggests, she is a phantasm. and if she is a phantasm, then so am i. What, finally, concerns me is community, lesbian communities. That’s what heterosexualism and white supremacy destroy. Lesbian activism has shifted from community building where we developed resources and came together to create, to make something happen, shifted from coming together in collective work to develop communities that undermine oppression, shifted from all that to asking and depending on the state to frame what is significant in our lives. i don’t doubt the sincerity of those who are fighting hard for rights; i despair the appropriation of lesbian imagination, the loss of Sinister Wisdom.
as always, i have had formative help in developing these arguments from my partner, anne T. Leighton. in addition, conversations with María Lugones and Jackie anderson have been central and invaluable. Finally, i have benefited greatly from monthly discussions with collective members of the institute of Lesbian Studies. 1. The related right-wing challenge to abortion is not simply about men controlling women’s reproduction, but about white men controlling the production of white babies. certainly when the Supreme court decided Roe v. Wade, it was generally understood that women of color would be having the abortions. and when the numbers of white women having abortions began coming in, the right wing began its struggle to reverse Roe v. Wade in earnest. Yes. But restrictions on access to abortion cannot be understood separately from the forced sterilization and other means by which u.S. and immigrant or migrant women of color’s reproductive rights have been systematically undermined. nor can it be separated from the fact that poor women were long ago denied access to abortion. nor can it be separated from population control agendas in the ”Third World,” including efforts by environmentalists and other ”First World” progressives. 2. For example, while Wittgenstein effectively argues that descartes’ premises are nonsense (rather than mistaken), the fact that we continue to make sense of them is because they are local. descartes was framing a methodology of philosophy, which while apparently acontextual, is grounded in and promotes Eurocentrism (Hoagland 2003). 3. inciTE: Women of color against Violence! “get involved,” www.incitenational.org/involve/statement.html. 4. Jackie anderson, remarks made at the institute of Lesbian Studies gathering, chicago, Winter 2005. 5. Jackie anderson, remarks made at the Midwest Society for Women in Philosophy, Minneapolis, Spring 2002. 6. For example, anannya Bhattacharjee argues that the anti-domestic–violence movement is lodged in individualism and undermines collectivity. understandably, activists have pushed for decisions made on the basis of an individual survivor’s wishes, to give her a sense of control. But, anannya Bhattacharjee notes, this “creates a disjuncture between the interests of the individual woman and that of collective women, as if the two were always conflictual, and implicitly encourages the battered woman to relinquish all responsibility to her larger community of women.” While collective action would greatly alleviate the burden on individual women, this individualist approach undermines it (1997, 33–34). 7. rodolpho Kusch (forthcoming) is contrasting enlightenment rational thinking embedded in a capitalist economy with a distinct conceptual framework enacted by amerindians of colonial times and peasants of amerindian descent today. Particularly critical, he is not approaching his work as an anthropologist or other social scientist, seeking distance for scientific objectivity. “Kusch is no longer the outsider, trying to understand the other from far away. The other for Kusch is part of his own country, part of his own everyday life and community. ‘us’ and ‘they’ are subsumed in a third space in which both become ‘we,’ the members of this country [argentina], the inheritors of a colonial legacy” (Mignolo 1995, 14). Just as Martin Heidegger was exploring the roots
Sarah Lucia Hoagland
of greek and Latin to elaborate his thinking, rodolpho Kusch sought roots in popular aymara and Quechua (Mignolo 2000, 161–62). 8. Thus, for example, rather than understand the Zapatistas as fighting for liberation or rights, we can understand the Zapatistas as defending their dwelling, their be-ing, what they come from, what nourishes them, gives them their possibilities. it is not individual rights but a way of being that is contested. 9. Tortillera, like marimacha and cachapera, are used in Latino communities in complex ways much as lesbian, dyke, queer are used complexly in anglo communities. María Lugones notes that simply translating each other’s names into lesbian, gay, and queer travels badly. She suggests it is important to know each other’s names: marimacha and tortillera, for example, swing girl and bull dagger. 10. one might ask whether a white lesbian can be lesbian if she is engaged only with white lesbians. But she is never only engaged with white lesbians, even if there are no lesbians of color physically present or living in her neighborhood. That’s part of what makes her white.
aguilar, delia d. 1977. Lost in translation: Western feminism and asian women. in Dragon ladies, ed. Shah. allen, Paula gunn. 1986. The sacred hoop: Recovering the feminine in American Indian traditions. Boston: Beacon Press. amos, Valerie, and Pratibha Parmar. 2001. challenging imperial feminism. in Feminism and race, ed. Bhavnani. Beauvoir, Simone de. 1974. The second sex. Trans. H. M. Parshley. new York: Vintage Books. Bhaskaran, Suparna. 2004. Made in India, new York: Macmillan. Bhattacharjee, anannya. 1997. a slippery path: organizing resistance to violence against women. in Dragon ladies, ed. Shah. ———. 2002. Private fists and public force: race, gender, and surveillance. in Policing the national body, ed. Silliman and Bhattacharjee. Bhavanani, Kum-Kum, ed. 2001. Feminism and race. London: oxford university Press. Brown, Elsa Barkley. 1991. Polyrhythms and improvisation: Lessons for women’s history. History Workshop Journal 31 (Spring): 85–90. ———. 2000. To catch the vision of freedom: reconstructing southern black women’s political history, 1865–1880. in Unequal sisters, ed. ruiz and duBois. carruthers, iva. 1979. War on african familyhood. in Sturdy black bridges, ed. roseann P. Bell, Bettye J. Parker, and Beverly guy-Sheftall. new York: anchor Books. chang, grace. 1997. The global trade in Filipina workers. in Dragon ladies, ed. Shah. collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. 2nd ed. new York: routledge. crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams. 1992. Whose story is it, anyway? Feminist and antiracist appropriations of anita Hill. in Race-ing justice, en-gender-ing power, ed. Morrison.
———. 1993. Beyond racism and misogyny: Black feminism and 2 Live crew. in Words that wound, ed. Matsuda et al. ______. 1995a. race, reform, and retrenchment: Transformation and legitimation in antidiscrimination law. in Words that wound, ed. Matsuda et al. ———. 1995b. Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. in Words that wound, ed. Matsuda et al. ———, neil gotanda, gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas, eds. 1995. Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. new York: The new Press. davis, angela. 2000. From the convict lease system to the super-max prison. in States of confinement, ed. Joy James. new York: St. Martin’s Press. deb, Trishala. 2005. Heterosexism and empire. inciTE national conference. new orleans, Louisiana, March 12. donaldson, Laura E., anne donadey, and Jael Silliman. 2002. Subversive couplings: on antiracism and postcolonialism in graduate women’s studies. in Women’s studies on its own, ed. robyn Wiegman. durham, n.c.: duke university Press. dreyfus, claudia. 1978. Sterilizing the poor. in Seizing our bodies: The politics of women’s health, ed. claudia dreyfus. new York: Vintage Books. dussel, Enrique. 1995. The invention of the Americas: Eclipse of “the Other” and the myth of modernity. Trans. Michael d. Barber. new York: continuum. Hoagland, Sarah Lucia. 1988. Lesbian ethics: Toward new value. chicago: institute of Lesbian Studies. ———. 2003. Practices of knowing: Transcendence and denial of epistemic credibility, or engagement and transformation. International Studies in Philosophy 35 (2): 21–37. ———. 2004. Walking together illegitimately. Off Our Backs 34 (7–8): 38–47. Kusch, rodolfo. Forthcoming. indigenous and popular thought in américa. Trans. María Lugones and Joshua Price. durham, n.c.: duke university Press. originally published as El Pensamiento Indigena y Popular en América. Lindsley, Sid. 2002. The gendered assault on immigrants. in Policing the national body, ed. Silliman and Bhattacharjee. Louie, Miriam ching Yoon. 2001. Sweatshop warriors: Immigrant women workers take on the global factory. cambridge, Mass.: South End Press. ———, and Linda Burman. 2000. Women’s education in the global economy. Berkeley, calif.: Women of color resource center. Lugones, María. 2003. Pilgrimages/peregrinajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppressions. new York: rowman & Littlefield. ———. 2006. on complex communication. Hypatia 21 (3): 75–85. Matsuda, Mari J., charles r. Lawrence iii, richard delgado, and Kimberlé crenshaw. Words that wound: Critical race theory, assaultive speech, and the first amendment. Boulder, colo.: Westview Press. Mcclintock, anne. 1995. Imperial leather: Race, gender, and sexuality in the colonial contest. new York: routledge. Mignolo, Walter d. 1995. The darker side of the Renaissance. ann arbor: university of Michigan Press. ———. 2000. Local histories/global designs. Princeton, n.J.: Princeton university Press.
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Millett, Kate. 1969. Sexual politics. new York: avon. Morrison, Toni, ed. 1992. Race-ing justice, en-gender-ing power. new York: Pantheon Books. Pateman, carole. 1988. The sexual contract. Stanford, calif.: Stanford university Press. Perdue, Theda. 2000. cherokee women and the trail of tears. in Unequal sisters, ed. ruiz and duBois. rowrojee, Sia, and Jael Silliman. 1997. asian women’s health: organizing a movement. in Dragon ladies, ed. Shah. ruiz, Vicki L., and Ellen carol duBois, eds. 2000. Unequal sisters: A multicultural reader in U.S. women’s history. new York: routledge. Scully, Judith a. M. 2002. Killing the black community: a commentary on the united States war on drugs. in Policing the national body, ed. Silliman and Bhattacharjee. Shah, Sonia, ed. 1997. Dragon ladies: Asian American feminists breathe fire. Boston: South End Press. Silliman, Jael, and anannya Bhattacharjee, eds. 2002. Policing the national body: Race, gender, and criminalization. cambridge, Mass.: South End Press. Smith, andrea. 2005. conquest: Sexual violence and american indian genocide. cambridge, Mass.: South End Press. Stevensen, Brenda. 2000. distress and discord in Virginia slave families, 1830–1860. in Unequal sisters, ed. ruiz and duBois. Takaki, ronald. 1993. In a different mirror: A history of multicultural america. Boston: Little, Brown, and co. Wittig, Monique. 1992. The straight mind. Boston: Beacon.
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