history, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Francoise Vergès, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage (Duke University Press, 1999), Pp. 394.

 

Verges.jpgFrancoise Verges takes a different approach to discussing the political history of a non-inhabited space—well not until t the French brought slaves to the island of Réunion. Verges monograph entitled, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage, discusses how the history of one Island, Réunion, was the “creation of a colonial act” (xiii). The history of Réunion starts as an island with no inhabitants whatsoever. By the seventeenth-century not only was their inhabitants but there was colonialism. The motivation to inhabit the small Indian Ocean Island was for potential possibilities of sugar plantations.

Verges ultimately wants to examine the differences of this locale but also points out the “emancipatory discourses disciplined there” (xi). Verges gives warning to the reader that this narrative focuses on male identities and citizenship, and is not about female history or even entirely non-fiction.This becomes the biggest problem of this book. The back and forth narrative of fiction and non-fiction could confuse readers. Especially readers that are not well versed in history but captivated by the title. I think this is a huge failing of this monograph. For the sake of this book review I will focus on the non-fiction narrative Verges offers.

The main themes that come out of this history of Réunion is the creation of class and race out of the sugar plantation industry. Until 1848 the way of life for colonial subjects was slavery (xiv).

So why is nostalgia of the days of French colonialism so prevalent to the history of Réunion? It is not uncommon for colonial spaces to have nostalgic thought and feeling. But the nostalgia in Réunion’s history is not only of  “fantasy” of colonial success but that of resistance and anti-colonialism. How verges tackles these abstract notions in colonial history is by relying on what he notes as the “family of romance” narratives. Verges notes the two different manifestations of this kind of narrative. The first is the “‘cololinial family romance’” which relied on this notion of “imaginary parents” and the ties to French empire (3). Second, “‘métissage was a term that spoke of the cultural and social matrix of diversity born of colonization and assimilation” (8).  This is another key attribute, the métis was the signifier of rebellion,  categories like these personified what kind of a person you represented in society. What ultimately came out of this category was fear of rebellion (by colonizers) but also that of hope for resistance. Verges discusses the “discourses of emancipation” that came out of Réunion and the nuances as well as the mimicry of Enlightenment discourse in France. After 1848, the abolition of slavery, the discourse had a new word that would come to mean so many different things—freedom.

This resistance and work towards emancipation was now the new fraternity, becoming a sort of new citizenship between colony and metropole. Another example of colonial contradictions, that Verges highlights,  is demonstrated through “blood politics” (Chapter 3). Verges calls upon Laura Ann Stoler to elaborate on this notion stating, “the ‘symbolics of blood’ and its reoccupation with legitimacy, madness, and pure blood,” was at the heart of the next step of colonial forces—the medical establishment (97). Unfortunately,  this history fails to meet certain nuances in providing an equitable narrative for women and men. Although that was not the project Verges set out to do, I feel the historical narrative falls flat, and leaves the reader wanting much more.  I would recommend this monograph to historians,  women and gender studies majors, as well as others who want to complicate their own historical knowledge of colonized and colonizer. Great book for book groups that can discuss the abstract concepts in these pages.

7/10

 

 

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#feminism, black feminism, black feminist history, feminism, feminist agendas of the 1970s, feminist studies, feminist theory, lgbtq, politics, Uncategorized, women, women and gender studies

Article Review: Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977)

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(Photo Credits: https://combaheerivercollective.weebly.com/)

This article is produced by a group of black feminist  in the mid-70s. They outline four major topics that they provide as their mission statement. These topics included: “the genesis of contemporary black feminism,”“ specific province of our politics,” organization and unity problems and a “brief herstory of our collective,” and  “Black feminist issues and practice” (271-280). These topics provided a framework for this group ,of black feminist, to articulate their feminist agenda. The Combahee River Collective highlighted their aims in hopes of creating a strong group and powerful objectives that would translate to society at large. If you are interested in feminism, women, and black feminist power you need to check this article out!

10/10

feminist studies, herstory, history, history of class, history of gender, history of race, history of sexuality, history of the united states, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Massachusetts:Harvard University Press, 1999), Pp.416.

book.jpgLinda Gordon’s historical monograph entitled, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, discusses the shifting ideas about race, class, and gender in twentieth-century Arizona.  This book investigates a case that involved Irish children, from New York,  who were being taken to Arizona in hopes of a better life. This “better life” was more invested with class and preventing poverty than it was about race. Gordon’s central theme of the book discusses the intersection of “Mexican-Anglo relations” (x). Gordon presents this story in a multifaceted way by looking at the Anglo’s motive and intentions, while also discussing how race and class differed within the same nation. The story starts out with a grim depiction of immigrant life in New York. Children were suffering at the hands of poverty and were struggling to survive. In the nineteenth and twentieth-century religious organizations, specifically the Catholic Church, were intervening and removing children from impoverished living conditions and re-locating them with different families. Gordon discusses these particular event in 1904 in North Clifton Arizona. In this particular event Gordon focuses took Irish immigrant children to new families that could provide an adequate life for them in Arizona. The one difference was the race of the children did not match the race of their new families. Instead it matched their socio-economic status.

This is where we see the intersection of race, class, and gender in this monograph. 

 In Arizona the potential parents were Mexican and the type of labor that was common among this group seemed to be the best fit for the orphan immigrants. This was not seen as an improper race placement but a proper class and religious placement. The immigrant children were being placed with class appropriate family structure. Gordon notes this as the “‘wageworkers’ frontier,’” in which the affiliation to ones class would structure the whole way of life (25). The national movement to find better jobs and more opportunity was not only in the working class adults frontier but also in children’s frontier history.

Out of competitive class structures race and gender became more solidified and produced a ridged rhetoric by the twentieth-century. In the case of the orphan train from New York to Arizona, race was being constructed in a very gendered way. The train pulled up to Clifton Railroad Station on the evening of October 1, 1904, with the children prepared to enter their new lives, with the families that would best fit them in terms of class and religion. But something in particular happened on that night, a racialized lens of ownership came upon those children by Anglo women who watched these children come off the train and go home with their new Mexican parents. The Anglo women noticed their light skin and proposed that the children needed to be with them and not the Mexican women and families (41).  This started a several month long battle that would end up constructing notions of race, class, and gendered politics for Clifton Arizona. Race was dictated in this case not only by looks but in how these children should be raised, ultimately by white mothers. Motherhood then became one of the most controversial constituter of race in the case of the orphan abduction of Arizona in 1904. This is a provocative historical case study and would be interesting for those interested in United States history and women and gender studies history. I will warn it is a long text but it is filled with historical details that provide to her overall study and thesis.

10/10

feminist studies, feminist theory, history, history of sexuality, lgbtq, philosophy, political theory, queer history, queer studies, science and technology, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1 (New York, Vintage Books, 1990), Pp.169.

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One of the most influential scholars in gender theory and history is Micheal Foucault. Not only does Foucault speak to ideas of resistant but also to the making of nation-states regimes. In this way, Foucault is interested in documenting legacy of medical body politics, knowledge-production, and discourse of the bodies and their taxonomy in history. Foucault thesis states, “I would like to…search instead for instances of discursive production,” “of the production of power,” “of the propagation of knowledge…I would like to write the history of these instances and their transformations” (12). Individuals become tied to discourse. Discourse then is the main taproot of how bodies and their identities get created for Foucault. Thus, the nation uses these discourses to produce a norm and to create its subjects.

Foucault specifically speaks to sex and sexuality in this narrative; addressing power through tracing the chronicling of  sex throughout the emersion and aggrandizement of societies. Foucault’s literary project in this book is to discuss the arenas of power and not only how power is used but also where it is coming from. For Foucault, power is not a repressed or muted entity. Power for Foucault is through the vocal and expressive. Foucault states, “the central issue, then…is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex…but to account for the fact that it is spoken about” (11). This is fundamental to Foucault’s argument on power and thus sex. The importance of this, is in refuting the repressive hypothesis by Freud, and then moving forward looking/locating power from a different axis point. Foucault goes on to say, “to discover who does the speaking, the position and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said” (11).  Again the significance placed not only on what is being, how its being said, but also on what come of it—ideology. This ideology begins to differentiate category and hierarchy.

Ideology, producing power, is the main theoretical investigation Foucault sets out to discover. Foucault clearly explains the realms in which power is mediated in, then what and how power is mobilized. Foucault states, “a transformation into discourse, a technology of power, and a will to knowledge…” (12). This explanation Foucault gives is insightful and pushes the critique of power further. Foucault uses a specific example of a “technology of power” which he arraigns as the confession. Foucault addresses this “technology of power” by stating, “for telling the truth of sex which are geared to a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret: I have in mind the confession” (58). This being another central idea that Foucault presents is knows as the “knowledge-power” ideology. This “knowledge-power”  idea questions the ways power works to control through individuals through spoken words, categorization, and then the production of knowledge that is derived from linguistic expressions. Foucault uses sexuality to present a critical analysis of power, as well as a historical reverberation, that can be woven in and out of time and spaces to demonstrate the power of construction of bodies.

It is imperative to rely heavily on the text in understanding the articulation of “knowledge-power” given by Foucault. Foucault elucidates his prime example, the confession, and how power is dispersed through the immersion of terminology, that gets spoken and then transformed. Foucault states, “the confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship…the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console and reconcile…” (61-62). Foucault highlights how power relations are not only determined but then reappear.  Foucault states, “power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Within this sphere, the confession serves as a space where the speaking and the spoken swirl into a production of power through the construction and manufacturing of “truths.” This objectification, categorization, and simplification of bodies and their experience through articulation is the very point Foucault points out in moving into the calling into consciousness—sexuality.  

Foucault also proposes an unveiling into the acknowledgment of power through sexuality by stating, “the history of sexuality—that is, the history of what functioned in the nineteenth century as a s specific field of truth—must first be written from the viewpoint of a history of discourses” (69). Keeping this in mind one can now consider why and how Foucault uses sexuality to bring a rich and robust analysis of power to the forefront.

Turning back the hand of time, Foucault looks into the past for evidence of power stating, “power mechanisms are, at least in part, those that, beginning in the eighteenth century, took charge of men’s existence, men as living bodies…methods of power whose operations is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization” (89). A direct linkage to forms of power and domination is in the normalization of bodies and interpretations of acts. Again pointing out and falling back to the example Foucault uses, the confession, to really showcase that operation. Before one looks to the counterattack or if there is any agency in these matters it is important to point out once more, to make sure there is a clear understudying, of why again Foucault calls upon sex in the analysis of power. Foucault states, “sexuality…it appears rather as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power” (103). Again, Foucault allows for an opening of understanding into a form of power. Foucault points out the apertures in these power relations stating,“where there is power there is resistance” (95). It is paramount to point out Foucault’s statement about just how one can resist and recognize resistance.

In conclusion Foucault distinctly leaves the reader with a few answers on  general question about resistance. Foucault answers questions about resistance drawing on the importance of social construction and historical underpinnings. Foucault states: “sexuality is a very real historical formation, it is what gave rise to the notion of sex…The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasure (157).” This important articulations offer a new way at looking at the history of sex, deconstruction of bodies and their domination through sex and sexuality history. In conclusion,  Foucault touches upon the history of control, in critiquing  bodies politics, through gaining knowledge of acts that people do and the categorization of these acts. Foucault’s  history of sexuality becomes a road map in discussing not only how sex is used for building of empires but how race and gender get deployed as well in the making of the nation-state. I would most definitely recommend this monograph to academics, philosophers, and historians!

10/10

american literature, feminist studies, history, history of the united states, History of the US, humanism, Inspiration, short story, Uncategorized, women and gender studies, world history

Book Review: Velma Wallis, “Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival (Harper Perennial, 1994), Pp. 128.

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Forgiveness…Patience…Unconditional Love…. These are all the themes Wallis brings forth through this remarkable tale of two women. What I want to do in this book review is give brief highlights of each chapter and then give my recommendations!

About the Author, Velma Wallis: “born in 1960 in Fort Yukon,  remote village of about 650 people in interior Alaska…Wallis later moved to her father’s trapping cabin, a twelve-mile walk from the village. She lived alone there intermittently for a dozen years, learning traditional skills of hunting and trapping…” (128). This story is a tale her mother told her that she has added some of her own flavor too.

Introduction: In the intro. Velma Wallis is recounting how she came upon the story of the two old women. In Alaska, where she is from, her family had a story that had been pasted down from generation to generation. Wallis states, “This story of the two old women is from a time long before the arrival of the Western culture, and has been handed down from generation to generation, from person to person, to my mother, and then to me…This story told me that there is no limit to one’s ability—certainly not age— to accomplish in life what one must” (xvii).

Chapter One: In chapter one were learn of a band of Native Americans in Alaska that are suffering from starvation and a harsh winter. Wallis refers to these people as “nomads were The People of the arctic region of Alaska” (1). In this band there were two old women who were basically taken care of by members in the band.  These two characters are the main characters of the story.  Ultimately, the band decides to leave the women behind, due to the lack of starvation and devastating winter conditions— they felt it was best for the band. So they decided to leave the elderly. The two women were heartbroken and in shock.

Chapter Two:  In chapter two the women are hopeful at least to give it their all to live rather than to sit and die. not trying at all. Tenacity and perseverance are other themes that permeate this story. The strength of these women is were the story begins to head.

Chapter Three: Chapter three thus becomes about mobility and creating a counter narrative that involves persistence and women working together to overcome obstacles and survive.  This narrative of women helping women to rise up and not giving up on one another is a contradictory narrative to Eurocentrism, deterministic and individualist narratives that are so common in history.

Chapter Four: The two old women make it to their destination and remember when they were younger how old women were left behind. By persisting, these two old women were breaking the chain of being left to die and dying they were surviving. Wallis writes, “the hunting skills they learned in their youth reemerged and each day the women would walk farther from the shelter to set their rabbit snares…” (63). The way that these women survived was by remembering how to take care of themselves—they were not hopeless even though The People had deemed them to be.

Chapter 5: Chapter five the two women begin to create their own society and new way of life but there was still something missing. The author writes, “soon the women fell into a daily routine of collecting wood, checking rabbit snares, and melting snow for water. They sat evenings by the campfire, keeping each other company” (83). But even so they were growing lonely…

Chapter 6: At this point The People are still struggling and did not transcend from a place of surviving to thriving. Instead they are struggling and turn back to the place where they had abandon the two old women (85). Wallis states, “The People were suffering, and this winter found them on the verge of hopelessness” (86).  As they returned to the place where they had left the old women the chief notices that something is off, so he sends someone to check and look around for the old women. The birch tree had strips off of the trees and this lent a clue to The People that there was someone, maybe another band, but regardless there was someone else out there (90).

Chapter 7: The two old women hear their names being called and decide to stand ready to be found. They are afraid of The People now but know they will be found. What becomes blatantly clear at this point in the tale is the themes of  transformation and strength. The two women, coming from a place of rejection, are now re-envisioned. Understandably, both the women are apprehensive of The People coming and finding them and taking all their took.  They set boundaries and limits to being discovered and how they now felt about their band. 

Chapter 8: The final chapter deals with respect. Wallis writes, “in this time of hardship the news of their [the two old women] survival filled the band with a sense of hope and awe” (112).  They are not just some old women. They are survivors and individuals to look up to and respect. “The People had thought themselves to be strong, yet they had been weak. And the two old ones whom they thought to be the most helpless and useless had proven themselves to be strong” (115). This speaks volumes to the way society not only sees elderly persons but women also.  This tale re-writes that narrative. Wallis states, “after everyone had been reunited, the chief appointed the two women to honorary positions within the band…they enjoyed their newly found independence. So The People showed their respect for the two women by listening to what they had to say” (122). Again, this is a different narrative and the two old women become an allegory for not only older women but any age of women.

I would recommend this to just about anyone. Some subjects in particular this book may pertain too may include but not limited to: women and gender studies, history, feminist studies, cultural theory/history, and social studies. This would be a great book for children as well as college students. Its expansive nature makes it a wonderful piece of literature.

10/10

 

 

american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

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(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10