House of Mirth

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Chapter 1

Problematizing Absolute Otherness
O ne of the basic precepts of feminist philosophy that provides a common axis for various female subcultures is the conviction regarding a shared history of otherness. A commonality of female sensibility and perception is recognized, that obliterates boundaries: of nation, race, language, religion, and culture. This has opened up manifold avenues for communication between widely separated women's groups such as the Afro-American and the Indian, across their geographical and cultural frontiers. An identity of issues and interests is revealed, that facilitates mutual enlightening, strengthening and reassuring.

At t he same time, over and above the assumptions of uniaxialiiy of female experience. women have begun to recognize critical differences that underscore the specificity of multiple female identities. The idea of a collective feminine is identified as a patriarchally informed, universalizing concept aimed at trivializing specific identities. The generic use of the term 'woman' is found inadequate to represent a huge chunk of humanity, which is divided and subdivided on diverse bases, with a surprisingly varied range of marginal experience This awareness has given rise to a n identity politics that asserts the validity of cultural differences and hence of the diversity of feminist perspectives. In "Feminist Practices: Identity, Difference, Power," Nickie Charles writes:

Dissatisfaction with'universal explanations and a recognition o t he f
different ways of being female encourage feminists to study gender relations as they existed rather than as they were theorised to exist. This has led to a much greater understanding of the forms taken by gender divisions a nd their relation to other systems o social relations f

( Charles a nd Hughes-Freeland 10)

Debates around the issue of deviant practices have brought about fragmentation of mainstream feminism, causing the emergence of new racial and cultural identities Like the African and the Afro-American Ceminisms. Even obscure female groups in remote corners of the world, who are not directly involved in discussions of feminist issues, have been influenced by the feminist strain of thought and have come to recognize and assert their autonomy and difference

Critical opinions vary on this question of difference. According to Kate S oper, for instance, the post structuralist/post modernist theoretical positions that favour "extreme particularism" and "hyper-individualism" are bound to deconstruct the feminist politics itself that is based on a "common cause'' and a collective identity ( M. Eagleton, Feminist Literary Theory 364). There are others who hold that between the humanist view of a unified feminine and the antih umanist~post modernist commitment to the concepts of difference and construction of identities, feminism has to take an intermediate position. For instance. there is "an alternative conception of the subject as constructed through r elatjonsh~p."as Patricia Waugh points out. She draws attention to how much of contemporary feminist fiction has "accommodated humanist beliefs in individual agency" with modifications suggesting the possibility "to experience oneself as a strong and coherent agent in the world, a t the same t ine as understanding the extent to which identity and gender are socially constructed and represented" ( M. Eagleton, Feminist Liferary Theory 361). The work of the emerging women writers of the Third World and ethnic minorities illuminates the obscured issue of otherness. Otherness, in this context, refers to the 'difference' that becomes the basis for these categories' being treated as inferior. By extension, the term applies to the marginality that they experience as a result of this othering process operative in

manifold situations. If w oman is othered on account o h er sexual difference f
from man, internal divisions o r ace and culture marginalize women further. f
This has...
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