Hello everyone! Welcome back! Hope everyone enjoyed the spring break and is ready to get back into business.
In the beginning of class, we briefly discussed the film Kandahar and everyone’s initial reactions. We discuss how in this film the significance of burqa took on various roles, such as protection, but also as simply a piece of clothing, an accessory. Also mentioned was the American ‘doctor’ in the film is played by a real life fugitive, Dawud Salahuddin, who has confessed to killing an Irani diplomat and then fleeing the US. Here is the preview of the film about him:
Also mentioned was another film set in Afghanistan,Osama. This is a very strong film about a family who loses their men, which means that the women are stuck in their homes starving. Under Taliban rule, women cannot go out unaccompanied without a male figure from their family. The family decides to dress up the young daughter Osama as a boy, a son, in order to have access to the world outside.
A question asked during class is how is Afghanistan doing now? A difficult question that varies depending who you ask. This led to the mention of RAWA, Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan. According to their website, RAWA is “the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977.” They are very active today in their struggle. Below is a video created by the organization about thier founder:
We continued onto Assia Djebar. We did not get to discuss her in class prior to spring break, so various elements of her texts were further explained. In the text assigned, Djebar focuses most of all on the harem. The harem is a sacred space, a private space for the family, that outsiders do not have access to. Delacroix is able to look at it, and he paints from his memories, creating an exotic representation that does not reflect the reality for those of the harem. It is his vision that he recreates, and it is not seeing the harem for what it is.
Djebar also considers the ideas of spaces, moving in and out of them, being able to look at it, from it, or to it, and how this is related overall to the power in the female gaze. There is a fear of her gaze as well as what she sees. Gazing and gazing back is considered threatening. She articulates the female gaze as a dangerous one with a lot of potential. Djebar writes critiquing colonization, presenting us her analysis through post-colonial theory.
Marilyn Frye’s “Oppression” is an important text, assigned for the prior lecture, and we briefly went over its main points. Frye’s text is significant in its ideas on how to define and see the structures of oppression. Oppression is the convergence of systematic pressures, or barriers, that keep one with limited choices, all of which have negative consequences–see below for the double bind. She uses the bird cage as a metaphor. The cage is made up of various wires, all of which together keep the bird trapped. When a person is oppressed it is because s/he is linked to a group that faces these “wires,” these systematic barriers. Women are in a group that is oppressed together. Yet, women are not unified.
Oppressed people suffer the double bind, which roughly sums up to, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” For instance, Frye brings of the idea of a young women caught between being openly sexually active or sexually inactive. One has everyone think she is easy, a floozy, while the other as frigid, prude, possibly a lesbian. You can’t win. (Although, mentioned in class were SlutWalks which attempts to combat this double bind.) Your choices are limited, and all choices carry penalties. This is characteristic of the oppressed, and this is what defines oppression. Later on, we will be introduced to such thing as the triple bind, that add even more layers to the concept of oppression and the oppressed.
Before going onto class lecture, I want to ensure that everyone has a copy of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s “Grandma’s Story,” this was assigned reading for this class but was not in the reader. Here is a link to the PDF: 62005613-Minhha-Grandma-s-Story
Week 12: This week, we had texts by both Gloria Anzaldúa and Trinh T. Minh-ha assigned. We only were able to go over Anzaldúa, we will hopefully get to Trinh next week.
Above is a minute-long biography on Gloria Anzaldúa, but here I will present further detail on her background. Anzaldua calls herself a “chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist.” She was born on September 26th, 1942 in South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. Her parents were agricultural field workers of Mexican descent. After relocating at age 11 to Hargill, Texas on the border of the United States and Mexico, Anzaldua also entered the fields to work in order to help her family, along with her other siblings. Her family would at times relocate based on availability of work, and Anzaldua herself worked as a migrant worker for a year in Arkansas. Her father realized this lifestyle would not benefit his children’s education, so he decides to go back and to keep his family in Hargill. He died there at 38 years old when Anzaldua was 14. Without her father, Anzaldua would be obligated financially to continue working the fields throughout her formative years in high school and college.
In 1969, Anzaldua received her B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from Pan American University. She also would earn an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas. As an educator, Anzaldua instructed a wide variety of students including students from a bilingual preschool program and a Special Education program for mentally and emotionally handicapped students. In the college setting, she worked to educate her students about Chicano/a literature, feminism, and creative writing. She worked at the University of Texas – Austin, Vermont College of Norwich University, and San Francisco State University.
Sadly, Anzaldua died of diabetes complications on May 15, 2004, weeks before receiving her PhD from UC Santa Cruz.
Anzaldua won numerous awards for her work, including the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award and the Sappho Award of Distinction. Her book Borderlands/La Frontera was selected by the Literary Journal as one of the 38 Best Books of 1987. According to VG/Voices from the Gaps, a website based in the English Department at the University of Minnesota, Borderlands/La Frontera “examines the condition of women in Chicano and Latino culture, Chicanos in white American society, and lesbians in the straight world. Through a combination of history and personal narrative, Anzalda allows the reader both a close-up and distanced view into a life of alienation and isolation as a prisoner in the borderlands between cultures.” The book consists of writing made up of essays, quotes and poetry, in English, Spanglish, Spanish, Tex-Mex, and other languages that make up Anzaldua. She uses a blend of eight languages that make up her tongue: two variations of English and six of Spanish. In this book, her main focus is around language, and through her work on it, she demonstrates to us a sense of anger and the problematic issues on immersion that occurs when living in the (literal and metaphorical) borders.
By writing in Spanglish, she creates the sensations of confusion for the non-bilingual reader, to give them the task of deciphering the full meaning of her words. This is meant to be ironic, as the academic reader’s feelings of frustration are there to bring attention to the frustration those at the border experience. It is about recognizing those feelings of exclusion while being expected to fully immerse (into the US, into Chicananess, etc.). This was part of Anzaldua’s experience throughout her life, as she has struggled with trying to communicate in a place that non-English speakers are criticized, abused, punished. By writing about her language, she reclaims the strength of her identity and shares with us its multiple voices. Of course, this is a process, and part of this process is dealing with the anger inside her because of her border-identity. This is a provocative element of her text, but also one which has received a lot of criticism. This book was an outlet for venting her anger.
We spoke of her life as we discussed her chapter “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Some important words we went over in order to greater understand Anzaldúa, as presented in class, are as follows:
- hegemony – dominance of one group over other groups, with or without force
- borderlands – used as a trope – figurative and literal – borders to divide – metaphor for identity of not belonging to either and both at the same time
- Chicana – Mexican-American girl or woman – Chicanos are citizens or permanent residences of Mexican descent, characterized by ethnic pride and/or connections to the Chicano movement
- mestiza – mixed heritage of indigenous and European descent – also a metaphor
- hybridity – mixing of two things (perhaps to become a better thing) – comes from Latin hybrida which is the word of the offspring of a tame sow with a wild boar
For most of class, a lively discussion on identity and language ensued. Language is so intrinsically linked to our identities that many of you shared wonderful insight and stories.
The word mother-tongue came out, which brought up interesting reflections. Why mother-tongue or motherland? One idea is that it is feminine so that it can be ruled, but perhaps we can recapture these words to be more positive.
In the second chapter of Borderlands, “Towards a New Consciousness,” which we did not get to go over in great detail, we did mention the idea of being mixed. Of being mestiza. This creates an interesting dialectic of inclusiveness and exclusiveness. The mixing of mindsets is seen as powerful, and in this sense further emphasizes the power in being a person at the border.
Next Week: For next week, please remember to read Trinh T. Minh-ha. We will also cover bell hooks‘ “Feminism, a Transformational Politic” and Angela Davis‘ “Outcast Mothers and Surrogates: Racism and Reproductive Politics in the Nineties.”
Please keep in mind that the Reading Response 2 is due; however, you can choose to do Reading Response #2 or #3.
See you Wednesday!