Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Male Domination

I felt male domination most acutely when I was fourteen years old. Geraldine Ferraro was running for Vice-President. I could be cagey and suggest that I don't recall who was running for President, though of course I do. It was Geraldine Ferraro on whom I was most focused at fourteen. It was my first foray into campaigning, particularly the grueling work of knocking on doors and talking to people in support of a candidate. You're too young to even vote, whyare you bothering me? Don't listen to all of those things those fem-in-ist-s say, sweetie. Men aren't that bad. President Reagan is a movie star, you know. These are things I heard on my own campaign trail working for Gerry, as I liked to call her, though I had never met her.

Perhaps it was that failed Vice-Presidential campaign that made me feel male domination most acutely. Perhaps it was my age in life. Perhaps it was the historical moment. Today, while I can recognize male dominance in the world, in the material conditions of my life, it is often invisible. For instance, I think that I can go whole weeks, perhaps even months, without having a sustained conversation with man. It is definitely months if we exclude pro-feminist men; they are the only ones with whom I have sustained converations. Men who are interested in promoting patriarchy and male domination seem to be doing fine without my attention, so I don't bother to give it to them.

This alters my view of the world, however. Sharply. I was struck in the readings from last week and this week by palpability of male domination in the lives of some of these writers. Of course, Beauvoir stuck me this way, but also Millet, Chodorow, Ortner, and Rubin. I wonder if it is a weakness of my life right now and how it is structured to not have contact more often with male domination in more serious - and generative? - ways. It facilitates a particular anger and analytic clarity that I like and admire.

This contact with male domination and response to it also positions writers in a broader public sphere. This is something else that I found striking about the readings: the relationship of the author to her reading public. In her introduction, Gubar writes, "Although this section begins with such writers as Beauvoir and Millett, who considered themselves public intellectuals, it quickly turns to the work of an unprecedented number of women who began entering the professoriate during the 1970s." This is one of the revolutions of feminism that Professor Smith outlined in some of her comments to the class. It's a revolution for which I'm grateful, but in reading these essays in conversations with the essays of last week, in particular, Woolf, Rich, Lorde, and others, I'm struck by the move from public intellectual to the professoriate and in some ways that move to me is to a smaller audience. An elite and important audience, certainly, but I do hunger for the moves of Beauvoir, as essentializing and problematic as they may be, "History has shown us that men have always kept in their hands all concrete powers" (p. 300). Beauvoir speaks with authority to us, a broad public implication, and in doing so, constructs a broad public for her work. Where are today's public intellectuals who are women - and speaking to women? Is the conversation of feminism today in a smaller room? Are fewer people listening? Is that a problem?

These are some of the things that I have been thinking about while encountering these readings. I've also been thinking about a comment made at a poetry conference I attended last weekend called Lifting Belly High: Women's Poetry since 1900. (N.B. I summarized the public plenaries and some workshops on my blog, One speaker, Susan Stanford Friedman talked about the astonishing rapidity in which women's cultural work is erased and forgotten. This is another reality that has been rolling around my mind while encountering these readings. The reclamation work of Gilbert, Gubar, Showalter, and others was conceptualized as particular work for a particular historical moment that would eventually pass when the canon had been reformulated and women's writing returned to its rightful place in it, but the forces of erasure continue and accelerate. How can they be stopped? While canon formation will continue to evolve and be contested, what intervention could happen to bring basic parity for women and people of color? Why do we fall into obscurity so quickly? Can that be changed?

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