Beside/s: What is (your) theory for?

Currently, I’m in the process of crafting an autobiography of sorts over at my new site, UNDISCIPLINED. I haven’t written much about the new site on this blog yet because I’ve slowly been working on adding and creating content. My focus for the last few days has been on my experiences with the AIC (the academic industrial complex). As I was revisiting some lectures notes from Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, I came across this passage from Shaunga Tagore in A Slam on Feminism in Academia:

some of us need to engage with feminist theory
so we can ground it in our community activist work
our creative works
our personal relationships
for our families, communities and histories
for our own fucking deserved peace of minds
maybe we need to know how to make sense of oppression
because we’re so heartbroken we don’t want to end up being locked away in psychiatric institutions
or in a hospital overdosed on pills, getting our stomachs pumped
because we don’t know WHY all this shit is constantly driving us CRAZY (Tagore, 40)

Powerful. I want to think more about how this passage resonates with my own experiences and my own increased resistance to the academy and academic thinking/theorizing. But for now, I want to put it beside another passage that I’ve just started writing about, bell hooks eloquent description of the healing power of theory in Theory as Liberatory Practice:

I found a place of sanctuary in “theorizing,” in making sense out of what was happening. I found a place where I could imagine possible futures, a place where life could be lived differently. This “lived” experience of critical thinking, of reflection and analysis, became a place where I I worked at explaining the hurt and making it go away. Fundamentally, I learned from this experience that theory could be a healing place (61).

When taken together, these two passages make me wonder:

what is (your) theory for?

using twitter to talk back? #notbuyingit

Can twitter enable folks to talk back and resist sexist commercials?  The following tweet links to an article from Mother Jones that discusses how people watching the Superbowl tagged their tweets about the commercials with the hashtag, #notbuyingit. The hashtag was started by Miss Representation (check out their description of the project on their blog). You can check out an archive of some of the tweets, along with the commercials being tweeted about, in a storify created by Mother Jones. I really like how Mother Jones combines the commercial video with tweets about it; I can imagine some pretty cool class assignments that could use storify in this way! Feministing also discusses the hashtag. I wonder, do any of these sources link “talking back” with bell hooks? [implied answer: if not, they should]

 

The trouble with footnotes

When I was in graduate school, I loved footnotes. Yes, I’m a big nerd. I loved reading author’s asides and contextualizations of their arguments. I also loved following the trail of their sources to new sources and new possibilities. I remember first reading bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and being disappointed (even as I loved her ideas and writing style and recognized the politics behind her decision) that she didn’t have footnotes. How could I see where her work comes from? What shapes her understanding of her claims? Now, having spent so much time blog writing, my love of footnotes has been replaced (has it? well, maybe not replaced but joined?) by an equal or greater love of links and parenthetical and italicized asides. (okay, maybe I have too much love for parenthetical asides. Ha!)

Do footnotes belong in blog writing? I’m in the process of posting parts of a “academicky” article on this blog and I keep asking myself this question. Nerd that I am, I feel compelled to do some research on the (I’m sure) numerous ways that others have weighed in on the point of footnotes (in all writings, offline and online). I think I’ll start with bell hooks and page 81 of Talking Back.

tracking trouble, day two

It’s day two of tracking my troublemaking practices on the Virtues app. Not convinced that this is the right approach for my reflecting on/assessing/building up my virtuous troublemaking. I must spend some time researching and thinking about other approaches. Anyway, I ranked myself at 3 out of a target goal of 3. Yay me! (Yes, this is a reference to London Tipton from Suite Life…RJP loves her and the show and it’s on instant netflix so I see it all of the time.) Like I did on my first day, I used the “reflection box” to pose questions about the app. I like creating space for these questions–but is it preventing me from taking the app seriously?  How do I assess my troublemaking from yesterday? I still can’t imagine how you evaluate something like making/being in/staying in trouble (especially my version of staying in trouble, based on critical thinking, curiosity, pushing at my limits of knowing, being open to other ways of thinking).

Here are my comments from the reflection box:
Not sure why I’m giving myself a 3. What is the point of the score? Franklin didn’t have a score. How does ranking yourself in this way help? Are numbers important for people? What if you encouraged people to reflect without number rankings? Where do we learn what a virtuous action is? Doe we just know? Do we get it from our parents? What does Aristotle say? What does Ben Franklin say? Just downloaded free BF autobiography on iBooks.

All of these questions, make me even more skeptical of the ranking approach. They also make me think that I might need to narrow down the specific set of practices that I imagine to exemplify effective troublemaking for me. One goal of this evaluation process seems to be checking to make sure that your intentions and values are matching up with your actual practices. This goal reminds me of bell hooks’ discussion of habit, virtues and values in a “Revolution of Values” which I must reread) in Teaching to Transgress. I started writing about this section of hooks’ book way back on October 14, 2009 (just 2 weeks after my mom died). I never published it, but kept it as a draft on my wordpress dashboard. Here’s what I wrote in that draft:

This past week [for October 7th, 2009] my Feminist Pedagogies class read bell hooks’ Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. I am struck by her discussion of values in Chapter 2 (entitled “A Revolution of Values”). Her emphasis on transforming oppressive values that guide our lives and the habits and daily practices that (sometimes unwittingly) reinforce those values is helpful in my thinking about why we need to engage in more talking and theorizing about virtues. I want to add hooks’ Chapter 2 to my list of theories/ideas/writings that inspire my own promotion of virtue (which I discuss at the end of this entry).

Connection to virtue: In this chapter, hooks asks: “What values and habits of being reflect my/our commitment to freedom” (27)? She wants to shift away from reliance on “fancy” and “elaborate” theories that describe why we want freedom and focus instead on the values and habits that we actually practice on a routine basis (on the street, in the classroom). Her point, I think, is to suggest that theorizing by itself is not enough; we need Freieran praxis (theory, practice, reflection).

As I reflect back on these words [now on july 27, 2011], I am struck by how important reflection (and praxis as connecting theory and practice with reflection) are for assessing our own behaviors. For the Virtues app to be effective, a lot more attention needs to be given to learning how to be “honest with yourself”–which is the main advice that the app authors give for figuring out how to evaluate yourself (see yesterday’s post for more on this discussion). Being honest with yourself is not as easy as just committing to being honest. Instead it requires the tremendously difficult labor of developing both an awareness of your false consciousness/internalized sexism and racism and a critical consciousness of oppression and the need for social justice (this is a big goal for both bell hooks and Paulo Friere–with his idea of conscientization, or conscientização). In emphasizing a numerical ranking as the central part of the virtue evaluation process, the Virtues app encourages us to bypass reflection (and opt out of the difficult labor of thinking through how/why we fail to be honest with ourselves*) for an easy evaluation. I don’t care if my troublemaking is at a 2 or 3; I care about how/why I practice (or fail to practice) troublemaking in the ways that I do. And I care about finding ways to encourage myself to do the hard work it takes to make and stay in trouble in virtuous ways.

*I should say more about the various ways we are encouraged/trained/educated to be dishonest. Must leave that for another entry.

Note: my questions in the reflection box also made me what to think more about moral exemplars, education and our role models for developing virtuous practices. Could such reflection be incorporated into an app (maybe too much…need to think about this more).

Why did we stop asking questions?

I am really enjoying using my course blogs (here and here) as a way to experiment with and further enhance my pedagogical practices. With all of the organizing of the blogs and posting entries and comments, I haven’t posted much here. I would like to find a way to balance my time on the different blogs. Any suggestions?

Okay, now to the purpose of this post: curiosity. I have been interested in curiosity and its connections to troublemaking and care as feminist virtues for some time on this blog (like in these entries). As I was preparing for my feminist debates course this semester, I was really pleased to find Cynthia Enloe’s book, The Curious Feminist. I know I have looked at the book before–it’s from 2004–but I don’t remember paying attention to how cool her introduction is. It’s called, “Being Curious about Our Lack of Feminist Curiosity.” I was so excited that someone had spent time reflecting on the importance of curiosity from a feminist perspective that I assigned it to my feminist debate class. We will be discussing this introduction in connection with my own reflections on the topic: What is feminist debate?

In her essay, Enloe is primarily concerned with exploring why so many of us have stopped being curious. As her title indicates, she is curious about our lack of feminist curiosity. Enloe attributes this lack to a variety of factors: laziness and an unwillingness to exert too much effort; the desire to conserve energy for more “important” activities; an over-reliance on what is “natural,” “traditional, “always” and “oldest”; a strong encouragement by those in power to not question or think about why things are they way they are and how they could or should be different; and a desire to remain comfortable (because thinking too hard and asking too many questions might be too disruptive or unsettling to ourselves and/or others).

Enloe reflects on this lack of curiosity by offering up an example of her own laziness. She writes:

for so long I was satisified to use (and think with) the phrase “cheap labor.” In fact, I even thought using the phrase made me sound (to myself and to others) as if I were a critically thinking person, someone equipped with intellectual energy. It is only when I begin, thanks to the nudging of feminist colleagues, to turn the phrase around, to say instead “labor made cheap” that I realized how lazy I had been. Now whenever I write “labor made cheap” on a blackboard, people in the room call out, “By whom?” “How?” They are expanding our investigatory agenda. They are calling on me, on all of us, to exert more intellectual energy (2).

I really like this idea of creating phrases that encourage (and sometimes even demand) that we ask questions about our basic assumptions or the ideas that we become (almost) too comfortable with using. It is relatively easy to throw around the phrase “cheap labor” without really thinking about what that means and at whose expense. “Labor made cheap” invites us to take the topic seriously.

But, what does it mean to take a topic seriously? Here is Enloe’s explanation, from pages 3-4:

  • listening carefully
  • digging deep
  • developing a long attention span
  • being ready to be surprised
  • recognizing that something (and/or someone) is worth thinking about
  • paying close attention to

And, what is the aim of our curiosity? Why should we exert so much effort? Enloe argues that being curious about and giving serious attention to women enables us “to throw into sharp relief the blatant and subtle political workings of both femininity and masculinity” and to expose patriarchy, in its many forms. In other words, being curious about the world enables us to become aware of how power structures work–”inside households, within institutions, in societies, in international affairs” (3)–and at whose expense. And, that awareness enables us to organize, to connect with others and to develop strategies for transforming unjust structures/cultures/societies.

In her promotion of curiosity, Enloe wants to encourage/inspire/entreat us to be curious; to never stop thinking and paying attention and, most importantly for me and my thinking about feminist virtue ethics, to care about the world. What is really cool about her brief essay is that her framing of a discussion of curiosity participates in that very effort. Instead of merely telling us that curiosity is important (for feminist thinking or as a way to connect all of her essays), she asks us to think about why we need to be convinced of that in the first place. Why, she wonders, aren’t we curious about the world? Where does our lack of curiosity come from and who is invested in preventing us from asking questions and wondering about the world? By focusing on our lack of curiosity instead of on the value of curiosity, Enloe creates an opportunity (much like “labor made cheap”) for investigation. Maybe writing “Feminists lack curiosity” instead of “Feminists value curiosity” on the blackboard would be followed by, “Why do they lack curiosity?” or “Why did we stop asking questions?”

One more thing…In my feminist debates class, we recently read bell hooks’ feminism is for everybody. Hooks uses the phrase “white supremicist capitalist patriarchy” instead of just patriarchy (see my class blog entry for more information). In contrast, Enloe continues to emphasize “patriarchy,” which she describes as “the structural and ideological system that perpetuates the privileging of masculinity” (4). Later in the essay, Enloe suggests that patriarchy is only one of many forms of oppression and she encourages us to investigate, “How much of what is going on here is caused by the workings of patriarchy? Sometimes patriarchy may be only a small part of the explanation. Other times patriarchy may hold the causal key” (7). Yet, even as she recognizes other forms of oppression and their connections to patriarchy, she still wants to separate out patriarchy and focus on it. So does one of these phrases, hooks’ “white supremicist capitalist patriarchy” or Enloe’s “patriarchy” encourage more curiosity and require more (potentially productive) effort? What do you think?

Note: I was planning to post this entry yesterday (1.31), but some trouble occurred. See my recent “oh bother” post for some details.

the rebel as troublemaker: a few sources

I was in the process of cleaning my home office when I realized that maybe, just maybe, having 57 books (and more coming soon, including Queer Optimism) checked out of the U’s library is too many–especially since I have had some of those books for a couple of years. Yikes. So, in the interest of cataloging some of the important parts of these many books so that I can return them, I offer this post on the rebel and rebellion.

51F96TE0J7LOUTRAGEOUS ACTS AND EVERYDAY REBELLIONS
by Gloria Steinem

This is an edited collection of Steinem’s greatest hits from the 1970s and 80s. I picked it up over a year ago because I was interested in what she might have to say about the rebel and rebellion as a concept and a practice. Having skimmed the introduction (finally), I am happy to return it. I was hoping for a more substantial fleshing out of what is meant by everyday rebellion and outrageous acts than Steinem offers. Instead she provides a narrative of her own experiences as a writer, engaged in the rebellious practice of speaking her mind–and writing about it too! I have nothing against Steinem, I just don’t find her description (or lack thereof) of rebellion to be very compelling or thought-provoking.

51VSCSASZ6L._SS500_REBELLIONS: ESSAYS 1980-1991
by Minnie Bruce Pratt

Before skimming this book there were three things that I knew about Minnie Bruce Pratt. First, she wrote a highly influential essay, “Identity: Skin Blood Heart,” that served as the inspiration for Chandra Mohanty and Biddy Martin in their article, “What’s Home Got to Do With It?” I read this article as part of my masters’ research on identity politics in 1997/98. Sadly, I have yet (over 10 years later) to read Pratt’s essay in its entirety. Second, Pratt is one of several (Dorothy Allison and Mab Segrest are two other important ones) Southern white lesbian writer-activists who reflect on their intersecting experiences as white, Southern, female, feminist and lesbian. Third, Pratt is partners with another highly influential writer/activist within the worlds of gender studies, Leslie Feinberg. But, enough of that trivia. Back to the book. The first essay in this collection is “Rebellion” and in it Pratt does a much better job than Steinem in fleshing out exactly what rebellion is to her. Pratt places her experiences growing up in a very racist Southern community at the center of her coming-to-consciousness as a rebel. Here is how Pratt defines (and practices) rebellion:

when we speak, say certain things, certain words, we rebel; we put ourselves outside manners and civilization; we step over a boundary into the forbidden (24).

This speaking and saying certain words that are not supposed to be said is what Pratt practices through her writing and her everyday engagements with others (hmm….is this what Steinem was getting at with the everyday rebellions of her title?). She is a self-proclaimed rebel. But, as the final passage of her first essay suggests, she did not name her collected essays solely after herself and her own activism. She writes,

I begin to understand that a white woman of the South can live and write, but not of the dead heroes. She can live and write a new kind of honor, the daily, conscious actions of women in true rebellion (25).

Nice. I think I will have to keep this book for a little while longer. Or, maybe I should just buy it..

8115_medium“INTRODUCTION: OR IT IS ALWAYS RIGHT TO REBEL” from PUBLIC SEX
by Pat Califia

I think I picked up this book from the library in preparation for my Introduction to GLBT Studies course in the fall of 2008. I didn’t use any essays from it then and I probably won’t use anything from it this fall in Queering Theory. As I was scanning it earlier today I came across the introduction (which is always my favorite part of the book. Is that wrong? I like conclusions too!) and decided to throw it into the mix here. Slowly but surely I am learning more about the 70s/80s epic battle between anti-porn feminists like Dworkin and Mackinnon and pro-sex feminists like Gayle Rubin and Pat Califia. But that’s not why I had checked this book out. Pat, now Patrick, wrote a compelling piece entitled “Manliness” that is included in the Transgender Studies Reader. I had my students read it last fall and they really liked it.

But, I digress. Back to the introduction from Public Sex. For Califia, to rebel is to be a sex radical or someone who is not only deviant but defiant. The sex radical as rebel is

aware that there is something unsatisfying and dishonest about the way sex is talked about (or hidden) in daily life. [They] question they way our society assigns privilege based on adherence to its moral codes, and in fact, makes every sexual choice a matter of morality (11).

Here we go again. Morality is bad, as in repressive and prudish. Does Califia feel the same way about ethics? Is it possible to envision and construct morality (sexual morality) and/or ethics outside of the Moral Majority? Obviously Califia doesn’t think so. I will have to read more of this book to determine whether he believes that rebellion is always rebelling against ethics/morality and about being “bad.”

His reduction of morality to conservative and repressive thinking aside, I do like this introduction. Much like Steinem and Pratt, Califia places his discussion of rebellion in the context of his own experiences within feminism and the sex radical movement. I really like the conclusion to his section on what he left out of the book and that still needs to be done (and written about):

But this and other topics will have to wait for another book. I can’t imagine that there won’t be another book, just as I once couldn’t imagine living past thirty. Today, at the amazing age of forty, I am trying to cause just as much trouble as I did when I was twenty-five. Fifty should be awesome, and sixty incendiary (26).

Not only does he link rebellion with making trouble, but he envisions troublemaking as something sustainable–something to develop, maintain and promote throughout his life. Makes me think of Bernice Johnson Reagon’s fabulous essay “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century” and her emphasis on politics as learning how to survive and continue to do important political work throughout your life.

9781403963642REBELLIOUS FEMINISM: CAMUS’S ETHIC OF REBELLION AND FEMINIST THOUGHT
by Elizabeth Ann Bartlett

Isn’t this title great? When I first found it online a few years ago, I was very excited. I should have bought this book in 2007, but it is really expensive–especially considering how small it is ($85 for 255 pages!), and my frugality won out over my desire to write in the margins. In this book (which I still need to read closely–and beyond the introduction), Bartlett suggests that there are some important connections to be made between Albert Camus’s work (especially in The Rebel) and feminist theory/activism. The book is organized around four core ideas that are fundamental to rebellion (and that are fleshed out by Camus and a wide range of feminist thinkers): 1. rejection of oppression and affirmation of dignity; 2. solidarity; 3. friendship and the primacy of concrete relationships; and 4. the valuing of immanence (5). I like Bartlett’s complex vision of rebellion, and her extension of it beyond the classic equation of rebellion = refusal or rejection. I also like her final chapter (yep, you guessed it–the conclusion!) on “A Politics of Limits and Healing.” Healing and limits are two themes that keep coming up in my work. I will have to let you know how Bartlett connects them and what she has to say about their value. Okay, here’s a teaser: she works through her ideas with the help of bell hooks and Audre Lorde (among others).

So, there you have it. But wait. While this lit review has helped me to catalog some important ideas from these books, it hasn’t helped encourage me to return them. It looks like I only plan to return the Steinem, but read more in the Pratt, Califia and Bartlett. Oh well. 1 down 56 to go.