Monday, February 11, 2008

What is...?

What is feminism to me?
Feminism is a commitment to the deconstruction of gendered norms which are produced and are oppressive in function. De Beauvoir echoed this sentiment when she said, “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” She challenged the accepted approach of Platonic essentialism, by suggesting that there is no inherent essence of woman; there is only the construction of norms and beliefs which determine her essence. We attach meaning to woman; being the owner of a vagina makes her nurturer, caregiver, other. It is the meaning attached to woman that makes her recognizable as such and treatment is prescribed according to this conscription. Since the ritual of gender is what reifies men and women, feminism needs to be dedicated to the troubling of these rituals.

What is liberal feminism?
Liberal feminism is derived from the philosophy of classical liberalism, which lays emphasis on the idea of individual freedom; we are individuals before we are gendered, classed, etc… Women’s freedom, or equality to men, is accessed through legal reform and is understood in negative terms, to be free from boundaries and obstacles. As a Liberal Feminist, J.S. Mill challenged the “might makes right” notion that designates women as inherently unequal to men. He argued that while women appear to consent to their condition, their lack of protest is just evidence that women have been adequately trained in the art and practice of submission. The arguments Mill made against the subordination of women include a moral argument, the subjection of women is inherently wrong; a modernist argument, subjection looks too similar to a caste system to keep up with the tenets of progress; and a utilitarian argument, holding back half of the population impedes the advancement of civilization. His solution was to remove the obstacles women faced on the road to freedom by granting them the right to vote and opening labor markets and education to female competition.

What is Marxist feminism?
Marxist feminists, such as Kollontai, believed that a person is first a member of a class and women’s equality to men will be achieved through a gender-informed revolution from capitalism to communism. Kollontai was especially concerned with the working woman and her access to motherhood. Propagation is necessary for the livelihood of a nation; it should not be commodified in the form of luxury. She argued that government should fund the move of reproductive labor from to home into the world; which would grant women the freedom of have leisure time. She also believed that child-rearing should be a community event. According to Kollontai, these actions would relieve woman of her triple burden and grant her access to the modern promise of freedom.

What is existential feminism?
Existential feminism is concerned with the dichotomies of self/other, transcendence/immanence, and subject/object. Woman is mythologized in ambiguity as the mantis and the dutiful wife, the virgin and the whore, everything and nothing. According to De Beauvoir, the construction of the woman myth defines and constricts her to the margins; she is the other, the immanent, and the object. De Beauvoir’s undertaking was to dispute the Platonic idea that there is something that is essentially “woman” which determines her destiny, by arguing that instead the treatment woman endures creates the essence that is she. She is not born a woman; it is her existence and the rituals of gender that create her as such. According to De Beauvoir, the world will know when woman is liberated because she will have attained grand stages for transcendence, like man and his Super Bowl.

What to all three have in common?
Liberal, Marxist, and existential feminism are all concerned with securing woman’s right to enjoy the modern promise of freedom. The difference lies in how they define this concept of freedom. As a liberal feminist, J.S. Mill adopted a negative construction of freedom; power is located in the law and state and both need to facilitate the removal of obstacles women face in order to attain freedom. On the other hand, Marxist and existential feminists view freedom in more positive terms; freedom is not found in the absence of obstacles, but instead in the availability of options. For example, Kollontai would argue for “material availability,” or the access to resources. De Beauvoir would prescribe a revolution of cultural mandates, which reify men and women, in order to grant women equal access to the act of transcending immanence, or exceeding essence.

p.s. VDay is hot, but Valentine's day can suck it!