In chapter four of The Sex Which Is Not One – I know, I know, I’m a real Arts student now – Luce Irigaray talks about turning forms of subordination to resistance:
There is, in an initial phase, perhaps only one “path,” the one historically assigned to the feminine: that of mimicry. One must assume the feminine role deliberately. Which means already to convert a form of subordination into an affirmation, and thus to begin to thwart it.
My approach to social justice is that it should be expansive, not restrictive. We must not give up the feminine, because to do so would be to give up something that has been derided because it has been associated with women. We’ve got to make it optional, and play with it, and refigure it. The problem is not the form in and of itself: the problem is how that form is manipulated to subordinate those made to take it on. We’ve got to take everything for ourselves, all at once, and resist by taking pleasure. That’s how we break down harmful norms without setting up new harms. Making it okay to be masculine while we get rid of the feminine is not what we should be going for: it’s the opposite.
A particular practice isn’t going to work for everyone, and some things aren’t worth saving. There’s tension within oppressed communities on the reclamation of slurs. They can be hurtful, and they can also be powerful means of building community: I’m thinking of the pleasure of having written for a magazine called Bitch, and of what a versatile and useful tool a once-slur is for the queer community. I respect that rejecting the institution of marriage is a necessary and radical thing for some people, but I love to see how others take it on anew and make it something beautiful and radical and worth keeping – and there are others fighting for the right to do just that.
This is why pluralistic approaches are necessary: we need people to be themselves, we need to explore social potential in every way we can. Justice isn’t in letting potential and pain and history slide away into the dark, it’s in taking up everything and sharing it in abundance.
Alice Sheldon, whose work made me a feminist and for whose essay this blog is named, once told her friend Jeffrey Smith that ‘There are stages in all revolutions of consciousness where certain things are unsayable, because they sound too much like the enemy’s line.’ When you’re fighting for something new, you’re always treading close to something old. These are thin lines, and porous ones.
Let’s figure it out as we go along.