Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kate Durbin's response etc

"Also, the choice NOT to choose, to remain "passive," or, to be more accurate, to give the finger to the illusion of true "choices" for women, is even more huge and crucial than choosing cruelty or manipulation. We equate passivity with weakness or "disempowerment" because it's seen as essentially female (and ties in directly to what happens to a woman's body during sex, or when pregnant), whereas empowerment is seen as masculine and "active". But passivity and the choice to not "empower" oneself or take action can often be a radical choice...particularly when the choices women have are all bullshit, and only give the illusion of real empowerment. I should probably give some real examples here, but I have to go, unfortunately..."

That's something interesting Kate Durbin wrote in the comment section so I thought I would point it out.


Blogger Max said...

I really think she does need to give some examples here.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

No she doesn't. Perhaps the best thing is to leave it blank and have you ponder it a bit instead yourself.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Well, I'm pondering, and I still can't wrap my head around how choosing passivity does not, in itself, represent an attempt at empowerment. It would seem to me that all we're doing here is including passivity within the overarching mode of empowerment, by arguing that it is a distinct option, rather than the act of not having made an option. We're not escaping the empowerment paradigm, if we use Durbin's logic.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Max said...

And also, I think that passivity is actually more often the source of illusion, this idea that if you choose to bow out, it absolves you of responsibility or complicity in whatever the empowered people are doing, that it gives you some kind of moral or ethical superiority over them, a position from which you can take a righteous stance.

This is also an idea that seems to have its strongest footing in America, where the doling out of responsibility/complicity is done on an individual basis. If you opt out, refuse to participate, then you are effectively on the outside of any potentially negative stuff that goes down. I think that this mindset is not only faulty, but not even particularly ingenious. Rather, it's part of a fairly long American tradition by which people are allowed to cleanse themselves of complicity merely by ignoring an event, by rejecting it, by sitting outside the circle, by being "passive."

4:50 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

I'm currently in Seattle visiting family and friends but really want respond to this later in the week when I'm back in LA...

And actually I think the examples that might need to be provided and discussed/dismantled the most are actually the so-called examples of "empowerment" for women that Johannes was talking about in the comment section of his earlier post...he just started to touch on them "having kids" "being a career woman," etc.--but I'm getting ahead of myself. More soon!

10:04 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Where did "women" go in your response, Max? Talking about how "people," whatever those are :), engage in power dynamics & "an event" strikes me rather different than the subject at hand: how women engage the constructions of "empowerment" available to them. I can't tell if you're purposely shifting the terms of the argument, or if what Kate's saying is really unfamiliar to you? Either way, seems tough to advance a relevant critique of feminist practices without discussing feminist concepts. I don't per se agree with Mark Wallace's comments in the other stream, but I def. appreciate their very direct relationship to liberal feminism.

For my part, I think there's something a bit more twisted happening in Gurlesque...maybe not a straight up rejection of the faux-empowered stance so much as a purposeful misreading or misperformance of power dynamics. It's very post-Plath, post-Loy, Ackerish to me--an irreconcilable mix of degradation and authority. To speak from the site of violation and grotesque refusing to doll that site up in the socially appropriate trappings of empowerment (no J.Crew suiting for the Zoo Keeper's Wife), but also perversely wrenching the power dynamic by fixing the gaze on that which has the potential to terrify, infect, disable, etc. Tyra Banks talks about "penetrating the camera" on America's Next Top Model. Lara's new book--the overwhelming repetition of female body parts, fetal somethings, and highly stylized horrors, one can't look away. One can't tell if the speaker is a sack of maggots or exiled with God (Loy's geniuses). Rather than fetishizing power or powerlessness, it's a hyperbolic performance of the empowerment model a woman (let's say privileged in most other respects) has available at this point in time in this culture. Or so I'd argue off the cuff--it's very 3 am here.

I'm reading the Lennard J. Davis Enforcing Normalcy right now, btw, and happy to see you picked up the Ngai, Johannes!

2:29 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I'm not shifting the terms of the argument. I'm going with what I understand of it, based on Kate's rather abstract argument. If I understood what you meant by "the constructions of 'empowerment' available to them," another fairly abstract phrase, perhaps I could respond more satisfactorily.

What I'm saying is that, in looking upon passivity as a choice, passivity becomes active, and becomes an extension of the "empowerment" paradigm that's being questioned in the first place. It doesn't put one outside of the "empowerment" paradigm to "empower" oneself by choosing to be passive. It merely gives the illusion that one is on the outside, at a safe enough distance for throwing stones.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Eileen Myles in LETTERS TO POETS:

"Female history is always destabilized by whatever guy is now watching the line of women parading by. It's maddening but those guys will never change. We have to think differently. ....I think females need to write new fictions to hold their truths..... We gave to set each other up better all the time and the terms of the world are always inadequate to women's true accomplishments.....The feminine line means that above all women mustn't be contemptuous of themselves. Just when the last thing going on is one's purported femininity, it erupts like a big bow. We're just so many things. I distrust my own jargon, my abandoning of the feminine for the female. I guess I was preferring
sex over gender, but later thinking how arrogant to pretend not to be feminine. For anyone really. Why is the feminine the thing to hate. Something men, or mothers made to control girls. Surely it can free us too, then in some homeopathic way. I often forget words, that's why I like holes. All this quiet diving through the dictionary and a bird comes up tweeting."

2:20 PM  

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