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Feminisms and Gender Studies
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Under Construction
Untitled, 1982. Photogaph by Barbara Kruger

Main Issues:
    1. women's positions in patriarchal society and discourses: ( Patriarchy and the History of Feminist Writings)

    2. history of feminist writings and feminisms     3. women's discourse (part of male discourse or against it and its binarisms) & gender difference: the female and the feminine; sex and gender(Gender Difference and Women's Writings)

Major Feminist Schools:
French Feminisms; Postmodern Feminism;
Lesbian/Gender Studies

French Feminisms

issues: 1. What is phallocentrism? And phallogocentrism?

    1. What is Women's Writing?  Is it writing signed by women, writing for women, or feminine writing (ecriture feminine)?
    2. Why does Cixous, Irigaray, or Kristeva, refuse to define 'feminine writing'?
    3. What problems are there in equating the semiotic and non-rational discourse with the feminine?

1. J. Derrida's critique of phallocentrism and binarism

  • "[D's] idea of writing as the endless replacement of meaning which both govern language and places it for ever beyond the reach of a stable, self authenticating knowledge" (Christopher Norris)
2. Lacan's "the Symbolic Order" and the Imaginary (the Pre-Oedipal; the plenitude);

3. jouissance (Barthes—that which is indeterminate, mobile, blank, the explosion of language, when language no longer has meaning; Lacan--female sexual pleasure; Cixous & Irigaray--characteristic of feminine writing)

    Cixous: "The Laugh of Medusa"
1) individually (writing from the body 320)
  1. seizing the occasion to speak (321)
  2. from woman and for women --"first music from the first voice of love"; writing in white ink (322);
  3. the Realm of the Gift vs. the Realm of the Proper (property-- appropriate--the fear of castration)
  4. writing (323-24) -- 'work on the difference'
  5. the other bisexuality--multiple, variable and ever changing, consisting as it does of the 'non-exclusion either of the difference or of one sex'.
  6. flying (325)
  7. "heterogeneous" and erogenous

Postmodern Feminism

  1. Conflicts between postmodernism and feminism: Postmodern critique of
    1. epistemology: meta-narrative, or narrative of legitimation, vs. the need for cognitive map
    2. selfhood: depth-psychology vs. politics of identity
    3. representation and politics (--play of difference or undermining system of representation)
  1. connections of postmodernism and feminism
    1. against master/masculine narratives
    2. strategies of double coding (irony, intertextuality, parody, etc.)

Feminism/Postmodernism "Introduction"  Nicholson, Linda, ed. Feminism/Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1990:  1-18. similarities (p. 5)  
1) [both have] uncovered the political power of the academy and of knowledge claims.  In general, they have argued against the supposed neutrality and objectivity of the academy, asserting that claims put forth as universally applicable have invariably been valid only for men of a particular culture, class, and race.

2) [Postmodernists have alleged that] ideals which have given backing to these claims, such as "objectivity" and "reason,"  have reflected the values of masculinity at a particular point of history. Feminists have criticized other enlightenment ideals, such as the autonomous and self-legislating self,  as reflective of masculinity in the modern West.

3) pm offers feminism some useful ideas about method, particularly a wariness toward generalizations which transcend the boundaries of culture and region.

differences (pp. 5-6)
1) pm's criticism of f's essentialism and traditional notions of history (e.g. the ways they locate the cause of women's oppression
e.g. biological determinants; a cross-cultural domestic/public separation; the assumption of monocausality

(pp. 6-7
2) feminists' critique of postmodernism's

  1. decentered self -- e.g. Christine Di Stefano  " . . . for women to take on such a position is to weaken what is not yet strong."
  2. critique of epistemology -- e.g. Sandra Harding  "To this critique she counterposes two alternative feminist theories of scientific knowledge: feminist empiricism, .  . . and feminist standpoint theory. . . . she claims that both theories have incorporated postmodernist elements to deal with [their problems in not supporting the norm of 'value-free' research and in elaborating linkages with the standpoints of oppressed groups other than women.];

  3. e.g. Seyla benhabib against postmodern relativism
(p. 8-
  1. feminist concern with the loss of the categories of gender and body;  the loss of particularity.  

postmodern feminis -- principle (p. 35)

1) forswear master narrative; theory would be explicitly historical

2) non-universalist

3) dispense with the idea of a subject of history. It would replace unitary notions of woman and feminine gender identity with plural and complexly constructed conceptions of social identity, treating gender as one relevant strand among others.

4) pragmatic and fallibilistic

Different Kinds of Postmodern Feminisms:

1. Donna Haraway:

A Cyborg -- "contradictory, partial and strategic" (197), "a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective self"?(205), breaking the dichotomies between "mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized…"

(Question: Does this involve erasure of the body?

Susan Bordo

"What sort of body is it that is free to change its shape and location at will, that can become anyone and travel everywhere? If the body is the metaphor for our locatedness in space and time and thus for the finitude of human perception and knowledge, then the postmodern body is no body at all." (8)

2. Judith Butler Gender Trouble

p. 136 If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity.

p. 139  Consider gender, for instance, as a corporeal style, an "act," as it were, which is both intentional and performative, where "performative" suggests a dramatic and contingent construction of meaning.

3. Postmodern Feminist Artists:

  • Barbara Kruger,
  • Cindy Sherman,
  • Madonna (See "Hollywood images vs. feminist artists-- Cindy Sherman and Madonna ")
  • "The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism", an outline by Lisa Li



    Lesbian/Gender Studies


    1. What is "lesbian"?  lesbian writing?  Is there a lesbian aesthetic? --Consider style, sexual orientation (heterosexuality, bisexuality, pornography, butch and femme) , political position
    Different Kinds of Lesbian writings:
      1. in the closet: gay and lesbian relations in traditional literature—e.g. Shakespeare's sonnet, Iliad, A Room with a View
      2. "It is writing which exhibits, within the confines of the text itself, something which makes it distinctively about, or for, or out of lesbian experience. That element may lie in the plot, in the subject, in the theory, in the cold or the genre, but it has to be there in the writing. The writer herself may never have kissed another woman. Even if she has, she may not call herself a lesbian" (Margaret Reynolds 1993: xxxii)

      4. 周華山  pp. 184-86: Lesbian writings defined by the author's sexual orientation? e.g. Woolf? Jane Austin?; By content e.g. Sula ?
      lesbian style: "tortured lesbian"; "romantic lesbian" ; "lesbian allegory/science fiction"

      What is lesbian experience? (sexual relations; woman-centered experience; experience subversive of the patriarchy)

    queer reading and the lesbian/gay texts in the closet

    Lesbianism & Lesbian movement: Three stages; three definitions of the "lesbian" (Cf. 周華山; 矛峰)

      1. 70's--political lesbian: desexualized p. 110; e.g. Women Against Sex 組織

      2.  Rich: Compulsory heterosexuality "Lesbian continuum" 114;

        Wittig: Lesbians are not Women 115

        critique: 117- e.g. 122 Lesbian as a pre-discursive subject

      3. 80's--sexual liberation
      Think through the body ; arguments about porn. 134-37

      arguments about butch and femme 140-45

      Black (Third World) feminism: e.g. Lorde's argument about sex and "erotic" 149

      1. 90's--politics of difference
      postmodern feminism—in relation to 1. logocentrism; 2. theories of Sexual equality, and Sexual difference, (e.g. vaginal orgasm)

      Foucault and Derrida

      Judith Butler –gender identity as corporeal styles, as a lack (non-identity); masquerade
      and Diana Fuss—identity established through erasing/suppressing difference

      What is "Lesbian"

        Three Stages of homosexuality: (Cf. 矛峰)
      1. biological stage -- homosexuality as a primitive instinct
      2. cultural stage -- endowed with cultural or religious significance; in myth or folk religion
      3. (political stage--)

      4. aesthetic stage -- p. 424-25


        1. representation of women with a focus on rape and spectatorship;e.g.

    1. literature: "Araby"; "I'm Running for my Life"; "Rape Fantasies" "Rape"(Adrienne Rich);
    2. paintings: excerpt from Ways of  Seeing;
    3. popular culture--music video: Dream World;
    4. popular culture--films: "Rear Window";
    5.  popular culture--ads: Contemporary Images of Women on the Ads

     **Choose a Chinese or English text (literary or non-literary) and study its construction of women in relation to men. Are the women in the chosen text subordinated to men, objectified (used as a symbol or an object of desire) or stereotyped (angel or whore)? Is their development constrained in the patriarchal society? Is the text critical of,or complicit with, this sexual inequality?

        2. Women's discourse;
    e.g. "Greek Goddess"; "I Stand Here Ironing"(Tillie Olsen); "Yellow Wallpaper"; Margaret Atwood,A. Rich*s "Diving into the Wreck," "Rape," M. Atwood's "Rape Fantasies"; A. Munro
    **Choose a text written by a woman and study its attitudes toward patriarchal values and/or its construction of  gender. Remember, a woman is not necessarily a feminist; some woman writers may be complicit withpatriarchal society.

    Artists on Women's Images: Madonna, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Chinese Americans
    and Female Artists and Femininist Issues: Taiwanese and Western feminist painters

        3. gender studies and lesbian studies
    e.g. "Maidemoselle" (Maupaussante); k.d. lang; 台灣的同志運動;  representation of gay and lesbian in mainstream films (Crying Game, 《新同居時代》,etc.), Philadelphia, Tongues Untied, Out: Stories of Gay and Lesbian Youth, Paris Is Burning, 〈安卓珍妮〉
    **Choose a text and study its construction of gender. Are gender differences in the text absolute or relative?    What constitutes the "female," the "male," or even the third sex (biology, language, psyche or culture)?

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