Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I'm A Barbie Girl, In A Barbie World

"Let us note in passing that in none of these discourses we are analyzing here does the moment of death give room for one to take into account sexual difference; as if, as it would be tempting to imagine, sexual difference does not count in the face of death. Sexual difference would be a being-up-until-death."

- The Gift of Death by Jacques Derrida

This quote was brought up near the end of a recent class, and we ended up discussing what was going on here. The general consensus seemed to be that Derrida was basically saying "In all these ways of talking about death, we're not bringing up gender - but we could."

Well, ok... I guess. Once that discussion wound down, I said that every time gendered language comes up, I am hopelessly confused. I simply don't see how a concept could be gendered. As if there was a male temporality, and then a female temporality. A male finitude, and a female finitude.

My confusion basically comes down to this. I understand that various contingent factors affect the possibilities that are closest to me as a man. A women will have other possibilities lying closest to her. But this is all contingent; aside from anatomy, there is nothing about me as me that is essentially "masculine." Sure, there are situations in which I have to take up a masculine position - a certain amount of aggression and confidence is required to get a woman to look twice at you - but this is all contingent, unessential. It does not touch on my own, personal existence.

And I think most of my comrades would agree with me. I have a few friends that are very concerned with gender and whatnot; they've done Women's Studies, they march in Pride Parades, etc. They'll be the first to insist on the contingency of gender. At least, I think they would.

If gender is entirely contingent, then it seems to me that concepts - specifically structures of existence - must be gender neutral. I would insist that my own ecstatic temporalizing is no different from a woman's.

So this is what I said in class. Unfortunately, the discussion was derailed a bit. It was pointed out that that exact words I used were "How can temporality be gendered? What would a female temporality look like?" My friend then correctly pointed out that I was using "male" as a default baseline; it was the unspoken assumption. When I wanted to ask about a different temporality, I immediately jumped to the feminine.

Well, ok, but so what? That still doesn't mean that temporality is gendered. A little bit of reflexivity on my part will excise that sort of prejudice for the next time.

I just don't understand how a concept can be gendered, without relying on some sort of essential gender. As if there was an essential masculinity, and so things could be essentially masculine, rather than just being viewed as masculine by a culture. It just strikes me as a bullshit idea. Concepts are gender neutral.

I suppose this might come back to my own antipathy to gender discourses in general. First, because I think gender is so contingent that it is beneath serious thought. Secondly, I don't understand the value of a political project based around gender. Feminism, for one. Maybe I'm too much of an economic reductionist, but I see the suffering of women as almost always being based in material circumstances - circumstances that the men around them fundamentally share. And no, I'm not saying "what about the men??"

As an example of my apathy, last year the UWO student newspaper published a April 1st spoof issue that became notorious. In one article, a satire of the Vagina Monologues, a group of walking, talking vaginas were protesting something or another. A police officer, "polishing his night stick," took one into an alley to "teach her a lesson."

Ok, rape jokes suck. But this became an epic struggle on campus.

I don't know. The 20th century saw striking miners face down military units. Civil rights workers faced down Jim Crow's fire hoses and attack dogs, and cut his head off. Mid 20th feminism finally forced Liberal Democracy to honour its promises to women. Are we really so comfortable that our greatest enemy is now that trivial little rag The Gazette? It seems to me this is what gender based politics in our time and place has been reduced to.


Jamie A. Grant said...

The part that piqued my interest was the response you got from the class challenging your unspoken assumption. Did you defend yourself at first or just accept it as easily as you accepted it in writing?

I agree, your classmate seems to have made a valid comment but it neglected your real point. I just like this example of how y'all challenge each other.

I get to do that a lot at work but the benefit about computers is that there's often some way to prove who is right in the end, depending on what we're discussing. Challenging ideas, and letting others challenge our own, is incredibly stimulating.

Mike said...

Well, the exchange had a bit more going on. My initial response was to say that if I was denying a female temporality, then I'd obviously have to deny a male temporality too.

That isn't quite her point, though. The response that I should have used is what I said in the OP - so what?

And yes, she did neglect my real point.

Unsane said...

Perhaps the real social problem is not the critiques of the state of gender brought by feminism, but the contemporary culture of narcissism and solipsistic feeling which reduces it to so little.

Anonymous said...

ps I get it now.