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Feminism is Important and so might be Bad Feminism

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Feminism is important and so might be bad feminism. (I hope I’ll get an insight on what the term “bad feminist” means for Roxane Gay – that is, I can’t wait for the book to arrive.) As so often, situations are paradoxes which adds to their beauty, but also makes them more difficult to describe.

And there I find myself: Surrounded by thin ice. I walk.

Oppositions, such as depicted by Chris Kraus in I love Dick and Siri Hustvedt in The Blazing World, clarify, each in their own way, by pointing towards the still existing problems for women.

I think of these texts as good, important, necessary; I found myself in them for moments, sometimes even for longer periods and still couldn’t but feel as the disadvantaged or even the weaker gender after having read them. This isn’t a problem per se, it depends on what it does to you. It just kept me wondering about the different ways of living with this topic and the need of oppositions.

I know a lot of people, born into the body of women, who gain  a lot of energy and motivation from reading about the differences—as Chris Kraus and Siri Hustvedt in the two books mentioned above, describe them—followed by the urge to fight these differences.

Not me—I don’t feel motivated. Instead, I had to remind myself over and over again while reading “The Blazing World” that Siri Hustvedt actually has what her character fails to have, not to mention Chris Kraus and her success. Hard earned with a lot of hideous experiences I am sure, but received and recognized.

This seems to be an opposition in itself. Pointing towards the possible failure of oppositions. “Fortunate” I would like to say, but am a bit nervous of slipping on the ice.

Reading these two books I became aware that I could keep on a kind of feminist—and at least in my eyes—dark glasses and look at the world/society through those, but noticed that this would not make me more motivated to work against those existing differences or continue my goals/ambitions/interests. Instead, defined “a woman” by society, I feel weakened. As if, being born into the body that I was has labelled me “most likely to fail”. Apart from that, these glasses didn’t really seem to fit me at any point—always slightly too big or too small.

Those books posses certain strength, which they achieve largely by operating with oppositions. As such, they point towards ‘social violence’ as Didier Eribon calls it in his book, Returning to Reims. I find this term quite fitting as a way to describe how it may feel like—regardless of which box society has ready for you—to be confronted with expectations of how one ought to behave in certain situations and codes that one ought to keep. One can give in, or try to go against, though the latter usually means a lot of awareness, failure and energy put into it in everyday life. And there we are back again to the different ways of approaching the ‘differences’.

Am I a bad feminist? Not that kind that Roxane Gay seems to talk about, more like – none at all? Or even worse?

I bend my legs as people do (for whatever reason when being on thin ice, having heard the first crack – it does not really make them lighter though) and continue walking. Carefully.

Maggie Nelson does something in the The Argonauts that I find rather beautiful. She seems to interweave genders and describes the blurriness of roles in a calm and subtle way—pointing towards their periodic absence interrupted by moments where they reappear, often brought up by other persons. This might be to some extent because of the changes Harry, her partner, undergoes, but not only: it’s an interplay between those changes, other more subtle moments and the language Maggie Nelson uses to convey them.

In the beginning of the book the narrator refers to her partner sometimes as ‘she’ and sometimes as ‘he’. As a reader, I wondered what might be the reason for doing so. Whether it was simply the conviction to not reduce people to one gender or something else unknown to me. While reading the book I did understand after some time that Harry was born into a female body and decided to get it transitioned into a male one—to follow the feeling of being more one gender then the other and wanting to be seen as such by society as well. This last aspect is not mentioned as such in the book and might be read into it more by me than it is actually intended. However, the reasoning of this reading is that I think how one is defined by society plays such an essential role that it sometimes seems easier, when leaning towards one gender, to go so far, even if that means insecurity, a difficult process and dangerous operation, not to mention all the bureaucracy and so on. That is the case, when a person leaning towards the other gender does not want to always have to come up with the energy for fighting and correcting the images that get projected upon oneself by society, culture, codes and categories, time and again. Those codes and categories, which society and culture bear, are not bad by definition. Rather, the opposite is the case: they are necessary and important, and so is the awareness of them.

To get back to the reason why the narrator refers to Harry in the beginning sometimes as ‘he’, sometimes as ‘she’, it is because the narrator is going back and forth in time. During the time when they got to know one another, Harry had a female body, while later on and closer to the writer’s present, the narrator would refer to Harry as ‘he’. This is one aspect, which seems to be a more obvious one for the point of interweaving and there are other beautiful and subtler ones, later on.

Now this could be an example of the male in the female and vice versa, as Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark describe it at several times in their e-mail exchange published under the title “I’m very into you”.

However, I believe that the book The Argonauts goes even further, even though the words ‘he’ and ‘she’ are used and there are references to the roles at different points, it seems to make the definitions more flexible, not so bound to the bodies and therefore allows these to be something else.

Some sort of third thing, which I would like to call “Das Neutrum” and feel encouraged to do so by having recently stumbled upon the book of the same name by Roland Barthes.

The ice I’m walking on cracks here –

at least for a lot of feminists, I suppose, and I find myself in a sort of a dangerous situation.

Am I a bad feminist? Not that kind that Roxane Gay seems to talk about, more like – none at all? Or even worse?

I bend my legs as people do (for whatever reason when being on thin ice, having heard the first crack – it does not really make them lighter though) and continue walking. Carefully.

I hear a loud voice coming from somewhere on land, out of sight, towards me: “You harm us.”

And I reply, standing with bended knees, in a raised whispering tone, afraid to break the ice even more: “I didn’t mean to, I just don’t feel comfortable with no oppositions to the opposition.”

This is ridiculous, I think, and suddenly smirk a little upon this absurd situation, seeing myself standing there on the ice. How again did I get here?

The answer has not to be waited upon for too long: “You can have that within feminism.” And I know that it is true somehow, but not totally – at least not for me. I clear my throat and answer: “I think I need something else.”

Without claiming to have understood Barthes definition of “Das Neutrum”, which he circles around in a somewhat fragmentary way—always pointing back to the middle of the circle where “Das Neutrum” stands, waiting to be looked at and defined through other topics/themes/words—I would like to grasp some of the aspects that constitutes “Das Neutrum”. Sometimes supported and sometimes disturbed by the book of Barthes.

“Das Neutrum” is not masculine, nor feminine. It knows about these characteristics and is familiar with them, because it lives and grew up in a society, which operates with those terms. Even more so, they make it possible for “Das Neutrum” to exist. The reason why it is not just the male in a female or vice versa, is because those roles/genders, defined by society, seem to be somewhat equally present, not definable as either female or male characteristics and detached from the body the person got born into. Surely, only a minority of us will be able to live “Das Neutrum” fully, because the opposition female/male seems to be too anchored in the society and because the human body (most of the time) is too much human body in order to negate this opposition, but the definitions used are not fitting anymore and have therefore become something else.

They interweave and dissolve at the same time – till they finally become something third. Not the third out of three possibilities – there are many more I suppose, but the third out of the opposition I was talking about.

The third seems to be stronger than the gender by birth/the body and therefore it seems not to be too important anymore as a characteristic that can be labelled—this does not mean that labelling isn’t happening anymore, or that it is less irritating, nor that the problems of difference caused by the labels are less existent—the bodies are more like a necessity by nature that most members of society are either/or.

The personal pronoun for the term “Das Neutrum” should not lie in the grammatical ‘es’ and ‘das’ in German, which would be ‘it’ in English, all loaded with etymological connotations, but in a possible other word or rather many other words free of these connotations. It would be an alternative to the “Feminine” and “Masculine” and as such open.

The opposition and therefore feminism is still important and necessary and I fear it still will be for a long time in the future. However, paradoxically, it increases the gap, at least momentarily-/periodically and can give people the feeling that they have to decide on which side of the opposition they might want to place themselves, if not to appear ignorant towards or unaware of the problems of differences. That puts me into the dilemma that on top of having to ‘defend’ myself from the eyes of society already, I gain the feeling that I ought to be able to place myself on the side of feminism because it signals an awareness of the problem of difference and the willingness to work on them and that I fail if I can not do so, due to reasons other than a lack of awareness.

“Das Neutrum” allows me to be, despite the oppositions we work with in society, as someone with a female body I feel comfortable with and am grateful for, but feel neither nor, and to work against differences in another way.

I continue walking. It’s silent.

 

***

Photo by: Marie Høeg and Bolette Berg

When I showed this selfportrait (I don’t do portraits usually – if I don’t get asked to) to one of my very good friends, we both burst out in laughter – started fragmenting everything: ‘the eyebrows are great’ ‘did you see the nose, isn’t it so weird!’ ‘the eyes…’ …we kept going quite a while. So fragments are what you get. It’s anyway all we get all the time and we puzzle along. : ) She studied art at the Academy in Essen, the beaux-arts in Paris and finished her MA at the Art Academy in Copenhagen. Apart from that she holds a BA in ‘Philosophie und Kulturreflexion’. If you want to see, what she loves doing and spends all her time on, check out her webpage: http://annekristinkristiansen.com/ And then she likes these beautiful moments with family, friends, reading, writing, at good exhibitions and the bookstore with the splendid volunteers.

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