Tuesday, August 29, 2000
Guy talks about pretentiousness in social/cultural theory. I agree with him that often meaningful, important things are lost in endless waffle (like the Foucalt quote), or indeed endless waffle is used to hide an absence of any meaning at all (the other one). I suppose that's why I've been drawn to a lot of explicitly activist social theory of late, despite my general preference for engaging with ideas in isolation rather than in regards to their actual application (except where I stand to gain, ho ho).

Often though activist literature can be wonderfully compelling (and generally far more inspiring than activists themselves) because the writers, in their need to get their ideas across as quickly, simply and powerfully as they can, distill their thoughts into concise dewdrops of inspiration (memes I suppose, or theoretical soundbites if you will) which I often find powerfully memorable as much for their poetic resonance as for their arguments and reasoning. eg:

“A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.” - Radicalesbians, "The Woman Identified Woman"

Reading the rest of "The Woman Identified Woman" (taken from the influential 1970 feminist publication Notes From The Third Year), which I would highly recommend, the essence of the argument being put forward by the Radicalesbians group becomes clear: that women cannot escape oppression within a patriachal power structure until they can create an identification and conceptualisation of womanhood which is not dependent upon men for validation. By eliminating men from the picture, lesbianism undermines and renders void the typically patriachal power structure within relationships and/or sexual conduct, and is thus seen to be an integral and ultimate expression of freedom from an oppressive male-imposed and female-internalised conception of women.

For me, this general argument (described more succintly by one feminist in these terms: "Radical feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice") is problematic, in that it a) ignores the possibility of power structures and assumed gender roles within some lesbian relationships that would be seen by Radical Feminists to perpetuate and mitigate systemic gender inequality; and b) disallows women in general and feminists in particular from finding liberation outside of a lesbian relationship (as feminist Anne Koedt notes, what if a woman who does want to arrive at a self-identified understanding of herself simply isn't attracted to any other women? What if she does not feel the desire or need to be in a relationship at all?). Furthermore, the implication that all lesbians have arrived at their sexual orientation and identification through a political or ideological rejection of heterosexual norms is clearly a fallacy.

The fact remains though that the intensity of "The Woman Identified Woman" renders it very powerful to me. Certainly I'll remember it long after I've forgotten some of the somewhat detached subjectivist or post-structuralist essays I've read which probably closer matched my own conception of the world. And it blows the usual dry, stuffy positivist approach right out of the water. Like Marxism and all other purposive analyses of society, feminism offers a (necessary) distortion of reality in order to reveal fundamental "truths" (which are distinct from "facts" or "realities"). But this distortion, while occasionally making it immensely frustrating, is also at the core of what makes feminism such a compelling social force.

I'm going to post a follow-up entry regarding how this relates to music tomorrow morning hopefully. Otherwise you'll see it probably this time tomorrow night. (or whatever the time is in your wacky land).


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