Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Judith Butler - I must distance myself from this complicity with racism

Judith Butler refused to accept an award from Berlin Pride, making this anti-racist statement:

"When I consider what it means today, to accept such an award, then I believe, that I would actually lose my courage, if i would simply accept the price under the present political conditions. ... For instance: Some of the organizers explicitly made racist statements or did not dissociate themselves from them. The host organizations refuse to understand antiracist politics as an essential part of their work. Having said this, I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.

We all have noticed that gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans and queer people can be instrumentalized by those who want to wage wars, i.e. cultural wars against migrants by means of forced islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism. Currently, many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian, queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us. Therefore we must say no to such a deal. To be able to say no under these circumstances is what I call courage. But who says no? And who experiences this racism? Who are the queers who really fight against such politics?"

Read Judith Butler's statement here

"I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism." 'Civil Courage Prize' Refusal Speech. Christopher Street Day. June 19, 2010.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

As you might know, there's a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's classic feminist text, The Second Sex, out in hardcover. I don't have a copy yet and I don't think the library does either, but I spent awhile at Orca skimming through it a few weeks ago and if they didn't have a cat that was making me sneeze I would probably have read a lot more in one sitting.

I'm tempted to get it this week because the next reading in The Feminist Theory Reader (FTR) is the introduction to The Second Sex and it would be cool to compare the translations here. I'm not sure how different it will be, but I'm excited to re-read it.

A few years back I was involved in a feminist theory book club. We tried to take a "break" over the summer and a few of us (ok two, hi Marissa) agreed to read The Second Sex. I should have known better. Out of all the book clubs I've started, most of them fall apart over the summer or when we tried to read classic, long books. Other examples: Moby Dick, Ulysses and what were we talking about, oh yeah The Second Sex!

So anyhow, I had to read a lot of it in school -early 1991- along with a packet of queer theory articles, post-structuralist feminist theory and a bunch of books by radical WOC. I remember getting 50 pages of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble handed out as a xerox and losing my mind! But really, The Second Sex, despite its flaws and limitations, really inspired me at the time. I had taken a lot of philosophy from male teachers who were open-minded, inclusive and knowledgeable but it was reading De Beauvoir and not Foucault (though I am a fan) that really got my mind thinking critically in ways that applied to my own life and helped me navigate my way out of the very male-dominated world I was living in at 21...I could relate to a lot of her personal conflicts and the way she explained the world was truly illuminating to me. She articulated things I had felt for so long, that I had no words for (I stopped talking an hour ago) and she was so precise and funny and smart. I think of her writing a lot and often return to her work.

Still, as hugely influential as it was on me, I'm not sure if I've ever read The Second Sex cover-to-cover...I've read The Ethics of Ambiguity, The Mandarins, She Came to Stay, The Prime of Life, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Woman Destroyed and I don't know what all else by Simone de Beauvoir, not to mention several biographies, literary history, late 20th century feminist critique etc.

In the past few months I re-read the ending of Prime of Life and started reading Force of Circumstance. I'm currently in the middle of A Very Easy Death and re-read the introduction to The Second Sex in FTR yesterday.

So maybe it's time to try again, seeing as how Simone de Beauvoir is haunting my brain right now and this book is there, sitting at Orca Books, just a few blocks away?

Or maybe it's because today is the longest day of the year and I think I can read every book and play guitar every day and write and exercise and go to work and still have time to listen to all the records I need to review? Not to mention, making dinner, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom and clearing a space to write in my room?

Well, I won't make any promises, but I did just find this:

Maybe if I just take it if I'm not already moving slow enough...well I guess I'll just read and keep track of it here and you'll have to wait and see what happens dot dot dot style.

P.S. Joaquin just reminded me that today is not only Summer Solstice, but it is Jean Paul Sartre's birthday. You might know him as Simone de Beauvoir's boyfriend/life-partner/comrade. Ha.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vijay Prashad & Inji Aflatun

Anti-colonial nationalism, even in its reformist incarnations, worried about the woman question. An end to social oppression found its way on to the agenda of national liberation. At its most traditional, such an end looked like the modernization of patriarchy, with the new woman relegated to the domain of the home. On the more progressive side of national liberation, one finds many who argued that cultural traditions had ossified under the impact of patriarchy and feudal relations, and any opportunity to redress this had been suffocated by imperialism's alliance with the old social classes, which benefited from misogyny and status. Women and men, in this model, had to struggle against conservative domesticity and reconfigure what it is to be the public space of the nation and the private domain of the family.
-Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations

The chapter "Cairo" in The Darker Nations by Vijay Prashad provides context to "We Egyptian Women" by Inji Aflatun in the Feminist Theory Reader.

Prashad views women's participation in anti-colonial struggles as a "first step towards liberation", claiming that "imperialism made progress for women nearly impossible". Women fought alongside men for national independence in Algeria, Cuba, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, Oman, Venezuela & Vietnam. Women dominated street protests in Egypt, India & Zanzibar, etc. This was a basis for anti-colonial solidarity all over the world. The struggle for representative democracy provided an ideological basis for extending political rights to women. This setting needs to be taken into account when reading 20th century feminist theory.

Putting Aflatun's essay in this context is helpful.

Egypt briefly granted women the vote in 1923, after independence was established. The Egyptian feminist movement can be traced back to this time period. Women won the vote again in 1956.

Writing in 1949, Aflatun equates democracy & modernization with women's full political participation. She claims the enemies of women are enemies of democracy, arguing that women are citizens and that to deny them rights would be an "injustice to society".

Rejecting the public/private split of classical liberalism, Aflatun does not see family (the domestic sphere) in opposition to society. She points out that women deal with social problems on a daily basis, naming clothing, food, health care, education, children and housing as issues.

She identifies British imperialism as contributing to illiteracy, noting that rates were highest before 1923. Education and literacy are goals to strive for, not barriers to granting women the vote.

Aflatun concludes by examining the status of women in an international human rights framework, noting that the UN Charter (1946) names equality as an issue and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) claims that everyone is deserving of the same rights, regardless of sex.

Because I still don't know that much about 20th century Egyptian political history, I am not sure why Aflatun's feminism hinges on the idea of Egypt as a modern state. Following Prashad, I think it's important to view this as part of the larger struggle for Third World independence, but it's unclear to me why Aflatun is so focused on viewing Egypt as a civilized nation. What do "modernization" and "civilized" mean in this context? In order to understand this, I think I need to know more about Nasser's Pan-Arabism.

Prashad notes that Nasser's Egypt has been criticized for promoting "state feminism", where women became dependent on the state instead of the family.

Aflatun's essay ends by praising Syria as the first Arab nation to give women the right to vote, but notes that this was limited progress because it was only given to educated women. It's not clear if Aflatun believes that all women are equal, but she does advocate full political participation for all women.