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VOLUME 3, NUMBER 2       BACK TO VOLUMES

A Feminist Theorizing of Gender in Commonwealth Caribbean Societies
Confronting Power and Politics

Eudine Barriteau

In this article I argue that feminist scholarship and activism in the Commonwealth Caribbean is under attack by the post independent state, institutions, individuals and deeply entrenched social practices. One outcome has been that Caribbean feminists are increasingly reluctant to confront the gendered relations of power that seek to maintain conditions of inequality for women. I analyze the politics confronting the creation of knowledge about women’s lives in the Caribbean and the attempt to derail contributions to feminist epistemology. Feminist scholars and activists are encouraged or admonished to focus their energies on the male marginalization thesis and saving men from themselves, at the expense of a feminist political agenda. I identify and discuss the discipline of women studies, the academy and everyday life as three principal sites for feminist engagements. I argue that feminists must develop a ‘will to power’ and use that to deploy political strategies to prevent the erasure of our contributions to Caribbean intellectual traditions. Ultimately our academic and activist work should be guided by the promotion of gender justice in everyday life.

 

An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer
Margaret Crumpton

In this interview, Judith Ortiz Cofer discusses many issues relevant to her writing and to the condition of living as a woman of color in the world today. Among the topics covered are how she lives her Puerto Rican culture so far from her cultural homeland, gender differences within Puerto Rican culture, and how she has come to terms with an ethnic identification by which others define her. Ortiz Cofer also reveals the feminist nature of her writings when discussing how other women have influenced her art and how important the physical body is in her portrayals of women. Another recurring topic is her role as an artist. She explains where her work comes from, how it defines her, and the new directions her writing is taking at this time.

 

Daffodils, Rhizomes, Migrations: Narrative Coming of Age in the Writings of Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid

Using the sociological model of “diasporic citizenship” as theorized by Michel S. Laguerre, and the rhizomorphic model of Gilles Deleuze (as filtered through Edourad Glissant’s poetique de la relation), I explore the literary texts of Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat as fictional models for reading citizenship, race, roots and diaspora. I examine how Danticat-and for contrast, how Jamaica Kincaid-resist the territorializations of body and homeland, while suggesting botanial tropes (such as daffodils and rhizomes) as models for disco ordination and communal, national and even transnational migration. Drawing on literary criticism that focuses on the ‘girl’ subject in Kincaid’s works, my own reading of these two writers theorizes coming-of-age narratives in migratory relation to Laguerre’s theorizations of “diasporic citizenship”, Deleuze and Guittari’s figurations of the rhizome, and Glissant’s (Caribbean-) detours through the rhizome.

 

The Ultimate Rebellion": Chicanas Representing Sexualities and Inscribing Modernities
Katherine Sugg

Like other feminist theorists, Chicana feminist writers have returned again and again to the role of female sexuality in discourses of communal identity and scapegoating, reflecting on the regressive social investments in the control and symbolization of “woman.” The Chicana cultural icon of “La Malinche” offers the most influential and widely cited instance of this deep relationship between racial-ethnic identity and disciplinary ideologies of sexuality and gender. Here, especially in the “revolutionary” registers of Chicana cultural histories and nationalism, the weight of communal tradition that ostensibly rests on women translates into discourses of female sexual treachery and duplicity. Through an exploration of the inscribed responses of Chicana writers (Anzaldua, Moraga, Cisneros, Castillo) to the matrix of sexual, racial and ethno-national discourses, I suggest that Chicana feminist re-visions of these discourses participate in a number of modernities: particularly those associated with female sexualities and revolutionary practices.

 

“We Shall Have Our Manhood” Black Macho, Black Nationalism, and the Million Man March
Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd

Michele Wallace’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman was released in 1978 to a storm of criticism by academics, political commentators, and even some feminists. Although its publication is regarded as a watershed in the development of Black feminism, Black Macho has yet to receive the scholarly consideration it deserves. Despite its lukewarm reception by students of Black Politics, there is much that can be learned from this oft-dismissed, but rarely analyzed feminist work. This essay examines how recuperation of Wallace’s analysis of 1960’s Black nationalism can aid in our understanding of dominant forms of Black nationalism at that time and today. Situating Wallace’s analysis within recent trends in scholarship on Black nationalism, the essay demonstrates how Wallace’s insights are relevant in analyzing Black nationalist politics today, through a consideration of the discourse on Black male endangerment and Black cultural pathology that generated the 1995 Million Man March.

 

Dreaming in the Delta
Kristal Brent Zook

In Indianola, Mississippi there is a catfish processing plant owned by 178 white male farmers. The workforce inside the plant, however, is ninety percent black and female. A little over ten years ago, the women at Delta Pride led the largest strike of black laborers ever to take place in that state, and won. Going there and meeting Sarah White, a union organizer and key leader in the struggle, meant making an effort to understand the plight of working class women in the modern-day South. Sarah White and the women of Local 1529 could have rejected my efforts. But they did not. They shared their dreams with me. And it was good.

 

“Taxation, Women, and the Colonial State: Egba Women’s Tax Revolt”
Judith A. Byfield

“This paper casts the history of taxation in Abeokuta and specifically highlights the ways in which taxation shaped women's lives and political thought. It examines the implementation of taxation in Abeokuta, the community's response to the plans, its impact on women's economic roles and the ways in which their status as tax payers informed their political thought. This reexamination allows us to appreciate a lengthy historical dialogue among women about their relationship to the state, a dialogue through which taxation was often interwoven. The historical overview is especially important to our understanding of the 1947 women's revolt. It challenges efforts to regard this revolt as an anomaly, or unplanned and impulsive and the outcome of a political discourse created and framed exclusively by men. Historicizing the political dialogue between Abeokuta's women and the colonial state also contributes to the larger reexamination of nationalism. As Cooper argues, nationalist movements were not a linear progression, rather they were a conjuncture of social movements that built coalitions ultimately in the name of the nation. The 1947 revolt was one of numerous social movements that critiqued colonialism and forced the colonial government to envision a world that they no longer ruled. These women brought to that political dialogue issues and perceptions that were shaped by their subjugation as colonized people, overlapping gender ideologies and their engagement with capitalism in the multiple spheres they inhabited as mothers, wives, traders and producers.”

 

“Feminist Tigers and Patriarchal Lions: Rhetorical Strategies and Instrument Effects in the Struggle for Definition and Control Over Development in Nepal”
Coralynn Davis

The Lakshmi Women’s Development Center (LWDC) is a domestic non-governmental organization (NGO) first registered with the Nepali government’s Social Services National Coordination Council in 1992. In the following analysis of the events leading to the establishment of LWDC, I aim to unravel some of the powerful discourses, threads of interest, and unintended effects inevitable under a regime of development aid. The conflict introduced by the two quotations at the start of this essay and described below involves individual and yet historically informed wills, and illustrates one axis of the field in which women’s development takes place. This altercation was essentially over two factors: definition and control. Was the project alluded to in the opening quotations centrally about community development or women’s empowerment? Are the two mutually exclusive? And who should make decisions about the project’s organizational structure and use of funds? The twin concepts of definition and control together provide a lens through which some of the fundamental cultural and political tensions at the Lakshmi project can be understood. Following some historical and theoretical contextualization of women and development in Nepal, the remaining sections of this article analyze the rhetorical and actual battle for control of the organization’s funds, activities, and goals. This analysis is drawn primarily from written records, representing the conflicting perspectives and strategies of Danielle Marston, the young Western feminist who originated the idea of paying Maithil women to paint on paper, and particular members of the Janakpur Lions Club, whose ranks include some of the town’s leading men. As we will see, the resulting rhetorics leave out of the standpoints of Maithil women; I have therefore attempted to reconstruct their views from interviews and participant-observation with women, some of whom had joined the project before the dispute and some of whom came into the project later.

 

Shameless Women: Repression and Resistance in We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry
Keluka Silva

The central argument of this essay situates gender oppression and devices of female resistance in a specific temporal and special context. Taking the case of a literary text, We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry (1991), I will explore the ways in which cultural production becomes a tool of resistance in a climate of social repression. In this anthology a group of women poets from Pakistan, who refuse to conform to both sociocultural and literary traditions, react to oppression by calling attention to the way in which female experiences are policed and controlled by the state. I aim to demonstrate that though poetry is often regarded as a private, “emotional” genre, it can and does become an enabling vehicle during political and social upheaval. In combating legal ordinances like the Hudood Ordinance through their poetry, these women reveal that feminist praxis can be a unifying force when the social fabric of a nation is under siege. My engagement with the text is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on experiences pertaining to the female body: menstruation, childbirth, and veiling. The poets speak of how personal choice is denied and political and national significations are assigned to them and appropriated by the state. The second section is devoted to analysis of oppression couched in the traditional, interlocking “public” discourses of law, tradition, and religion. These two sections—the private and public spheres—aim to highlight the totalizing control imposed upon women.