OT feminisms

Ika blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Fri Mar 12 05:05:43 EST 2004

Minnow wrote:

> I'd been wondering what feminism and homosexuality had to do with DWJ,
slightly.  She clearly is neither a feminist nor a homosexual herself, and
> she doesn't seem to depict people who are either of these things as
> *primary* characteristic.

and Charles responded:

> Seems like everyone's agreed that DWJ sees people as people first,
> sticking them with any kind of label. For some this is a sign that she
> a feminist, for others (me included) it's part of what feminism is all
about. Either way, it seems like the disagreement is still about the
definition of feminism, rather than about the kind of writer DWJ is.
> Just my two penn'orth.

And I can't resist putting my two [<surveys length of post> or perhaps
slightly more] penn'orth in, because, I suppose, I think that gender is a
dimension of *being* a person: that's why it's very difficult and takes a
conscious effort and a great deal of resistance to write a character
*without* a gender (I don't think, f'rex, that Ursula K LeGuin quite
manages it in The Left Hand Of Darkness). That is, being "a person first"
doesn't mean you're not gendered.

The kinds of feminist theory - often called theories of sexual difference
- that I most often use in my work are attempts to get at this quite
complex area of the relation between gender, personhood (or subjectivity)
and language/text.  They are traditions of feminist criticism which are
attentive to the ways in which a text (any text) inherits and produces a
*system* of gender as a dimension of that text's coherence. I'd say it
would make a difference to Polly's character if she was a boy, f'rex;
which doesn't mean that her character is *primarily* determined by her
being a girl, only that gender is one of the ways in which we read and
understand the world, people, and texts; and theories of sexual difference
are designed to get at that dimension, rather than to classify characters
(or authors) according to a fixed schematic of identity.

Similarly with not having to be a homosexual - or to write about
characters who are homosexual - to write books that are sympatico to queer
theory. In fact, a lot of iconic queer texts don't depict any people who
are primarily characterized as gay (Wizard of Oz, Picture of Dorian Gray,
etc) - and the book that's sometimes credited as the beginning of queer
theory, Between Men, is by a 'heterosexual' woman (Eve Kofosky Sedgwick, a
hero of mine) and is about non-sexual relationships between men.

So... yeah. Back on topic. I've been thinking about gender relations in
DWJ over the last few days, and I realized that she's one of the few
mixed-sex writers I really enjoy: I have a tendency towards books and
films with single-sex casts (action movies, boarding-school stories, etc),
because so often when there are two sexes in a story it seems to me that
the characters start becoming examples of The Type "Boy" and The Type
"Girl". And that's something that absolutely doesn't happen in, f'rex,
Charmed Life or Homeward Bounders. There might not be any feminist
characters in them, but they're extremely compatible with feminist reading
practices (by which I mean something a little more complicated than the
classification of books into "sexist" and "non-sexist", as in the
children's booklists my gf drew up in the seventies - though of course CL
and HB should make it onto any such lists as well). The ways in which
gender is distributed across DWJ characters produce really interesting
systems of gender relations that resist reduction to anything as simple as
'strong women and caring men' (or indeed vice versa). I mean that the
characters are *all* differently gendered from each other, so that those
differences don't line up in such a way as to make all the women
constantly demonstrate their not-manness and all the men constantly
demonstrate their not-womanness. And feminist theories give us the tools
to read in a way that is attuned to that dimension of the work. Which, in
a nutshell, is "what feminism has to do with DWJ" - for me, at least.

Similarly with queer theory: one of the things I value in DWJ is the way
that she *doesn't* subordinate the affective bonds and loving
relationships in her books to a well-defined and well-policed distinction
between 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual', always referring desire and love
to some fixed identity which would be expressed in a consistent choice of
sexual objects according to their gender. Christopher Chant/Chrestomanci,
for instance, is depicted neither as a specimen of the type
'heterosexual', despite marrying Milly, nor as a specimen of the type
'homosexual', despite being in love with Uncle Ralph and Tacroy. And one
of the things queer theory does is pay attention to characters and desires
that exceed, resist or subvert those classifications.

Minnow also wrote:

> As in books, so in life: if someone insists on being only noticable for
> particular aspect of his her or its personality, isn't it somewhat dull?
> don't think I know anyone whose *only* interest in life is his or her
> height or sexual orientation or political views, and if I did, I
> If you see what I mean.

<g> Well, I'm still watching *Friends* after nine series making it
perfectly clear that it's not much beyond an extended dissertation on
heterosexual serial monogamy, so presumably I must find some interest in
characters who are only noticeable as examples of a particular sexual
orientation. Not sure I could define quite what that interest *is*,

Love, Ika

"I had no choice but to recognise that the world was suddenly making
itself available for improvement, and it was all Morrissey's fault" -
Andrew O'Hagan

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