giggly guys

Rob Schaap rws at
Mon Mar 22 18:46:45 PST 1999

Time for some clarifications, I think, Catherine. I feel I'm making you crosser than I need to.

>But the utter impossibility of separating these 'images' from their
>'context' makes this pretty pointless.

It can help, as I said, to discover the point at which the disagreement originates. I might come back to this in a minute.

>I was pointing to the ludicrousness of this division between
>Anglo-Saxon and European feminists. It's ludicrous in several ways, but to
>begin with no one here, a group you are inferring to be Anglo-Saxon, could
>certainly be described as that, and said description would say nothing
>whatsoever of their positions on this issue. Despite your explanation here,
>Anglo-Saxon doesn't describe any 'locality' now does it?

No, it doesn't - I don't feel my point requires 'locality', and I made no reference to it. But I could make a pretty tenable case that there are many things that enjoy general agreement in Australia/USA/United Kingdom that might not in France/Germany/Netherlands. They can usefully be differentiated as politico-cultural categories, I think. When people speak of Anglo-Saxon neo-liberalism, I understand them to refer to a common sense that is not a common sense in continental Europe. But that's merely from my personal experience, readings of political discourse, and the kinds of governments these blocs have. It may be overly simplistic. If it's useless or dangerous to make such distinctions, you'd have to be a little more specific if you're to enlighten me.

>Surely in Australia we know enough of the dangers of
>either casual or very bloody serious use of these categories to not need to
>repeat them? And as a description of political positions in particular, I
>would have thought.

Just because there are dangers, does not mean there re also not benefits, does it? Let's ignore my experience as a man abroad who keeps a conscious, if not particularly sophisticated, eye on variations in relations between the sexes and views on sexuality.

Let's look at the level of the academy. Am I wrong in thinking people like Millet, Showalter and Donovan stress 'culture' to the point of granting it an ontologically a priori status in determining gender differentials? Am I wrong in thinking Anglo-Saxon lefty feminists (like Barrett and Kaplan) tend to an anti-essentialist, anti-humanist structuralist/post-structuralist account, where, at the ontological level, 'ideology' may be inserted for 'culture'?

And am I wrong in thinking that Irigaray and Cixous point to essential (natural) difference, and actually see usefulness in that proposition? These continental feminists ontologise nature, and root linguistics and behavioural differences there - not to constrain in the manner of conservatives, but to chisel out some space for emancipation and self-esteem. The female body is given voice eg. women's writing. Male writing but refers us to the male body, the real author of that writing. But the male body is a poor thing as generator of voice for Cixous - too narrow in its possibilities: 'A woman's body, with its thousand and one thresholds of ardour ... will make the old single-grooved mother tongue reverberate with more than one language ... More so than men ... women are body. More body, hence more writing', she writes in 'The Laugh of the Medusa'. For the likes of Cixous, representationalism is just so much patriarchal narrowness. Pornography is but uninteresting for her, I think. If there be anything wrong with it at all, it's not its context, but that it represents poor narrow man's representation of the female.

Ya wouldn't get all that, in all its floral and 'gynocentred' majesty, from any Anglo-Saxon feminist I know of (I think Germaine Greer has related suspicions, but she is out of fashion here, or so it seems to me). In Australian feminisms I've been near, continental authors get a lot of mentions (including C&I), but the body doesn't make the trip. The deconstruction does, as does Kristeva's psychoanalytical bent, but not the voluptuous earth-mother, who rejoices, it seems to me, in her sexual being with more confidence, more optimism, and fewer mediations than do the feminists I know here.

A lot of this is impressions from scattered and secondary readings, but I initially made my modest points from experience, and was not aware I it was dangerously wrong to point to differences I'd rather uncritically taken for granted. I am not trained in this stuff, will accept corrections in good spirits, and realise I am implying a preference for what I've experienced as explicit feminism in continental Europe over what I experience here. Whether that's because I'm a boy or a recalcitrant modernist (both humanist and materialist), I don't know.

Cheers, Rob.

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