...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gender essentialism rears its well-coiffed head

You all know the old trope, right: "Women are to men as nature is to culture." In its less careful manifestations, the analogy often becomes the idea that women have some innate, natural connection with the Earth and the cycles of the moon and whatnot that men are not privy to. Now, I'm not actually sure that interpretation is supported by the analogy itself, which is more a statement about the ways in which gender roles are constructed across cultures, without making a statement on the validity of those roles. Women's innate connection with nature is trotted out regularly by people from all over the feminist and antifeminist spectrums. (Note: I'm not a gender essentialist feminist, but I don't deny their feminist credentials. I'm also kind of a spiritual essentialist--I believe in the soul, for instance--so I'm sympathetic to essentialists, even though I disagree with them.)

I feel like "women are to men as nature is to culture" was sort of the battle cry or whatever of last semester, since it came up in nearly every session (if not in discussion, then in my own reflections) of Feminist Theory, Methods in the Study of Religion, Short Story, and James Joyce/Virginia Woolf. And it's not like it's not an interesting idea, and it offers an incredible interpretive power in beginning to understand gender, but at the same time, I kind of feel like it's the only thing I ever write about, especially in my literature classes. For me, gender essentialism is to literature as Hasidic Judaism is to Religous Studies.

Even Rishona, who taught Joyce/Woolf and is now my Postcolonial Literature professor, joked in class that I was probably sick of the analogy. But I'm working (well, "working") on a paper right now for Postcolonial about Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and the only thing I can think of to write about is "women are to men as nature is to culture." I feel as though Rishona's expecting me to write about the biblical allusions in the text, but I just can't find the right angle on that, and I'm thinking I can maybe do something interesting with the fact that Nwoye, Okonkwo's son, subverts traditional gender roles by preferring to listen to the women's folk tales, which are all about animals and the natural world, than the men's war stories.

The paper is due at 5:30 tomorrow afternoon, so I'll have a couple hours to pull it together after Spanish (and I finished my six page Spanish paper yesterday), but it would be great to have an outline for this thing before people start coming over tonight for my birthday.