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.
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