So my class, WMST 621, Feminist Genealogies requires weekly writing on the reading. I love this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I can’t help it. I’ll post these weekly. This is from last week.
WMST 621: Weekly Response #1
The Color Purple is Alice Walker’s epistolary novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Through a series of letters from Celie first to G-d and then to her sister Nellie, Walker tells the intertwined stories of these two sisters and through that explores the inner life of Celie, an exploration of the brutality against women, particularly black women, and their resistance to this brutality, and the challenges that women enact in their resistance to family structures and to creating their own lives. Themes that are particularly important in the book are the lesbian continuum and the spectrum of lesbian relationships, the connections, real and imagined, of African-Americans in the United States with Africa, and the portrayal of dialect.
Woman on the Edge of Time is Marge Piercy’s feminist utopic/dystopic novel. Published originally in 1976 it was Piercy’s fourth book. Taking Consuela Ramos as the central character, Piercy explores the impact of mental institutions on women, the intersectionality of race and gender, among many other issues for women in the “contemporary world.” These are counterpointed with a utopic world of Mattapoisett, one hundred fifty years in the future, and a dystopic world of totalitarianism. By weaving these world together, Piercy explores the nature and functions of sexism in women’s lives, particularly how motherhood and child-bearing are connected to women’s oppression.
Regarding the novels, in some ways I think of both The Color Purple and Woman on the Edge of Time as feminist utopias. (HA! I wrote that before I read Professor Moses’ lecture!) They have different relationships to time and history, but I think both are invested in presenting a vision of a future that creates new possibilities for women and that seems to me part of the utopic project. I’m interested in thinking about what made the messages of these books of interest to women and men at the time. Both of these books were best sellers and captured the imaginations of people at the time. Why? And, are there any more contemporary books that have similar feminist themes that do the same today?
Claire Moses writes, “women have often organized most effectively when they have organized separately from men, as community activists, professionals, unionists, and feminists” (Unpublished manuscript, p. 3.) My first question about that is, is this true? I believe that it is, but I’m interested in assessments of its veracity in the literature and also reflections on it. My second question about this relates to my own thinking and research about the possibility of separatism, and I would even say lesbian separatism, as an analytic category. As I said in class last week, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the difference between feminism as a category of personal assignation (what people call much more conventionally an identity category – and this is further complicated by the contemporary perception of “stable” or “immutable” identities like race, sex, and sexual orientation and identities of affinity like feminist) and feminism as an analytic category. When Nancy Cott asserts that we should just use the word feminist for people who used it for themselves, it seems to become more of a category of personal assignation than a category of analysis, which I find problematic. It’s of interest to me because it relates to how to use the word lesbian when speaking of historical subjects. Let me return to the question of separatism, however. I am increasingly thinking of separatism, particularly lesbian separatism, as both a personal assignation and also an analytic category. It seems to me that thinking about organizing that is exclusively women is separatist organizing and even lesbian separatist organizing, though in the 1970s and 1980s that phrase had a different meaning than applying it to the work of say Women Strike for Peace or the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I’m interested in thinking and talking about this as an analytical framework (and quite aware that it may be of no interest to anyone else!)