Tuesday, June 3, 2008

i don't actually know what a red herring is

academic projects are, for the most part, red herrings. take mine for example. i say that i study online dating - which is true - but only to an extent. do you feel lied to? deceived? undermined? well you should. but don't be a baby about it. what i mean is that often research topics are vehicles (distractions for the audience) that allow us to study that which truly interests us - in my case again those things are gender, sexuality, technology and media studies. so when one says something like "i study online dating" they in fact mean something entirely different. however, we fear that if we told you what we were actually interested in, you'd stop listening. and in most cases, that would be true. but sociologists are at an advantage. they are the lucky ones of the academic world. they usually study things that people are interested in. of course, this results in people thinking that they already know everything about your work, but whatevs, at least they are engaged.

last weekend i went out with my new favourite neighbour-friends who, amazingly, were engaged by the theoretical direction my project was taking. granted these women are bright. warm. receptive. open. but really, i asked myself, do they really find this interesting? shockingly, they did. and it made me fell all warm and bubbly inside. primarily, i am interested in subjectivity which is really just a way of saying, states of being in the world. with gendered subjectivities we have few options, male, female, and well, at present, that's it. what has always profoundly resonated with me since i figured out what poststructuralism meant in my undergrad is that male and female exist in dichotomous relation to one another, meaning that they can only be understood as a relation - a diametrically opposed relation, where one is what the other is not. what i have recently come to understand about these forms of gendered subjectivity is that men and women are not only related to each other in this binary structure but that the structure itself is intelligible within the broader structure of heterosexual relations - that is, men and women exist, to some extent, in the service of the heterosexual imperative that exists in most contemporary societies.

have you ever wondered why there is only one "appropriate" way for human beings to come together? why only a man and a woman can come together in loving relationships to the exclusion of all others? if that man wants another man, that is something "else" - and needs to be labeled otherwise (thus resulting in other binary forms such as straight and gay), if a man and woman want to engage in sexual relations with others, that too is labeled something "else" - something deviant. unusual. being heterosexually coupled is not simply a choice. it is a compulsory activity. this is not a new idea for me as it has been central to feminist thinking for a while. however, it wasn't until i read something by french radical lesbian feminist monique wittig that it clicked. i had the academic equivalent of an oprah "aha moment." i know - exciting, eh?

wittig argues that:

“...it would be incorrect to say that lesbians associate, make love, live with women, for “woman” has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. lesbians are not women.”

friggin' profound, no? while asserting that lesbians are not women may on the surface seem exclusionary, when we look deeper, we understand that it is meant to be so - as a radical embrace of that difference, or abjection. but it is also ultimately subversive. to say that lesbians are not women is to question the false cohesion that binds women to men, and to men exclusively. for wittig, the category of woman is problematic insofar as it excludes other modes of being, that is to say, lesbianism for example. but to deny the status of woman opens up the possibility of plurality. different modes of being that are not demanded by a heterosexual imperative. by a femininity - a "womanliness" that is limited, limiting. predestined by virtue of the vagina.

i have made this post unfortunately dense but it has been fun, if only for me. i'd love to hear people's reactions to notions of alternative subjectivities, beings. can we live in a world of "monstrous bodies," as technofeminist donna haraway calls them, of difference not defined within the confines of nuclear families, male/female relations, and intelligible bodies - that is, bodies that "make sense" to us, and engage in sexual relations that are condoned and not condemned, are coherent and "manageable." or do we understand a need for inclusion. of making space. of diverse forms of being that acknowledge common humanities.

just asking.

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