Two specific sects of Postmodernism are Gender Studies and Race Studies. The writers who study gender argue that sex and gender are not only different but are not bound by each other as well. In other words, Gender Studies theorist believe that cultural implications and constructions are what define masculinity and femininity as opposed to a natural "otherness" that can be connected to either males or females. Race critics, on the other hand, often focus on the labels that are placed on minority groups (creating "otherness") by those who represent the majority who is in power.
Respectively, two critics, Chandra Talpade Mohanty (engaging gender "otherness") and bell hooks (race "otherness"), each take on aspects of these two fields. A third critic, Mae Gwendolyn Henderson, takes a step further as she engages the effects of "otherness" on both gender and race. Although exploring very different topics, each critic has the same goal. He or she aims to show that ideas such as gender and race are unfairly defined and explored by those who can not truly understand their subject matter.
Stated differently, each author aims to show, whether it be race or gender, that the assertions made by not only critics, but the larger public in general often ignore the feelings and attitudes of those that are being observed, or the feelings of the "other. " This thus proves to be problematic because the ideas, assertions, and/or opinions of those on the outside tend to be skewed or wholly false. Like the three aforementioned critics I too fully agree and assert that studies of the "other" are incomplete as they leave out the attitudes and beliefs of the "other.
" I too emphasize my belief that Post Modern studies would be strengthened if all who encompassed "otherness" became more than a source of study or critique, but were too allowed to assert their own ideas and attitudes. Mohanty engages gender with regards to western perceptions. In her essay, "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses," Mohanty aims to break down the western perceptions of third world women as. Mohanty challenges her readers to see that the ways women of third world countries are viewed are merely constructions of outside cultures as opposed to realities.
She asserts that all ideas and critiques of the third world woman are merely constructions used to create certain political and ideological feelings towards the woman's country. This is outright stated as Mohanty says, "For feminist scholarship, like most other kinds of scholarship, does not comprise merely objective knowledge about a certain subject. It is also a directly political and discursive practice insofar as it is purposeful and ideological," (Mohanty 192). This same assertion is restated a few pages later as Mohanty says, "What binds women together is a sociological notion of the sameness of their oppression," (Mohanty 200).
These are assertions and beliefs that I fully agree with. Like Mohanty, I see the west as a place that situates labels on third world women. I too see these labels as a means of defining not just the women themselves, but an entire country or region. These markers then prove to be problematic as they are used to create specific ideological constructions for those whom are on the outside looking in. For me, the problems that come with the labeling or defining "others" without too assessing their own feelings towards their situation comes clear in American news programs.
As an American citizen of twenty years citizen, I can not recall a time when I watched the news and a reporter actively engaged a woman from a third world country. Instead, broad questions with obvious answers are asked. For example, the reporter will ask the third world woman if she has been abused or if she is required to do hard work. However, the reporter always fails to ask the woman what she feels about these subjects. Instead, the reporters, who in this case are more so of a story teller than a correspondent of facts, formulates his or her own view of what the woman must feel.
These views are nearly always negative as the story teller will express how he or she can see the deep soulful hurt in their subject's eyes. This then leads the story to shape a view of how negative the woman's country must be. As does Mohanty, I see this as a clear and obvious tactic to instill within westerners a sense of ideological and political superiority. That is, those on the outside become the "other. " The so called pain and hurt that journalist tell their audiences they have captured through the third world woman is constructed as a means of defining even the most extreme of circumstances such as war.
Specifically, The Vietnam War was greatly based on the "fact" that the U. S. government could not bear to live with what was being done to the Vietnamese women. The citizens of the U. S. were told that the women were being tortured and beaten. However, they presented little evidence by or from the women themselves to endorse these claims. Clearly then, it can be seen that the construction of the third world woman is problematic in that it is used as a tool to create inferiority/superiority instead of being a means of help.
The problem of defining those viewed as "others" is too grappled with by bell hooks. Hooks, however, does not locate the problem of gender, but instead formulates his theories around the aspects of race. For hooks, in her work "Postmodern Blackness," "otherness" is specifically centered on the idea of blackness. Like Mohanty, hooks espouses her belief that the notion of blackness and what is defined as the black experience are unfair sociological constructions. hooks, feels that blackness is used as a means of subordinating African Americans.
This is explicitly stated as hooks says, "Apparently no one sympathized with my insistence that racism is perpetuated when blackness is associated solely with concrete gut level experience conceived as either opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory," (hooks 421). Furthermore, hooks asserts that it is altogether wrong and harmful to define an experience for all blacks (or any "other") without first finding support from those that are being critiqued or engaged.
This is shown as hooks says, "Without adequate concrete knowledge of and contact with the non-white Other, white theorist may move in discursive theoretical directions that are threatening and potentially disruptive of that critical practice which would support radical liberation struggle, (hooks 423). Put altogether, hooks is declaring that it is fully wrong and at the same time dangerous for whites to believe that all who fit into a group of "otherness" experience or label objects, ideas, or instances in the exact same manner. Arguably, hooks is asserting that "otherness" is wholly wrong in itself.
As it was with regards to the declarations of Mohanty, I too fully agree with all that hooks asserts. I see blackness (and all "others" regarding skin tone, color, shade etc. ) as a dangerous term and idea that unfairly clusters people together. For me, like the plight of the third world woman, blackness is used as an ideological tool that creates a sense of superiority for whites. White America uses blackness as less of means for defining a people, but more so as an indicator of a difference that allows its group members to be labeled as wholly different.
This said difference allows whites to view themselves as set apart from the "other" and thus creates the sense of being better. This example is best explicated using another cultural aspect of America, film or cinema. American films that engage African American subjects or subject matter, to me, try to capture the essence of what it is to be black while experiencing the subject or theme of the movie. In other words, white film writers make the mistake of trying to convey experiences, attitudes, or opinions that are felt or expressed by the entire black community.
This is clearly problematic because people of the same skin color will not always share the same emotions with regards to their experiences or ideas. Take for example, films that try and capture what it is like for African Americans to live in "the ghetto. " Always, film makers show the blacks in these films as people who are struggling with finding a way to escape. For the blacks in these films, their environment is wholly negative and nearly always dangerous. However, the problem lies within the fact that not every single black will experience said environment in this exact manner.
Just like some whites of a poor area, some blacks are fully proud of and embrace their surroundings. It is thus unjust to say that they all have the same experience. This holds true with not only surroundings, but ideas and ideals as well. It is safe to assert that no two "others" will give the exact same account of what it is to be black, or what defines true success. Thus, as I assert alongside hooks, the grouping of feelings, ideas, etc. into one opinion and referring to it as blackness is fully wrong.
A third critic, who undertakes both race and gender, is Mae Gwendolyn Henderson. Henderson somewhat combines the beliefs of Mohanty and hooks in her writing, "Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition. " In this piece, Henderson shows that it is doubly hard when a person fits into more than one group of "otherness. " For Henderson, the problem comes in not only being black, but being a woman as well. The injustice, for Henderson, lies directly in the fact that the written works of black women is grouped together.
Henderson says that this is problematic because it creates the false belief that all black female writers are after a common goal of identifying with the "others" of their group. This belief is shown as she says, "Such approaches can result in exclusion at worst and, at best, a reading of part of the text as the whole – a strategy that threatens to replicate (if not valorize) the reification against which black women struggle in life and literature," (Henderson 258).
Henderson then moves to show a solution to this problem as she says, "What I propose is a theory of interpretation based on what I refer to as the simultaneity of discourse… This concept is meant to signify a mode of reading which examines the ways in which the perspectives of race and gender, and their interrelationships, structure the discourse of black women writers," (Henderson 258). Stated plainly, Henderson promotes that it should be acknowledged that a writer is black and a woman, but these two facts should not therefore bind the writer's subject matter or understanding of the subject matter to only black women.
Instead, it should be seen that, yes, black women writers are aiming to speak to each other, but what they are saying within their dialogue can too be seen, understood, and interpreted by any member of society. Henderson even clearly states this as she says, "If the psyche functions as internalization of heterogeneous social voices, black women's speech/writing becomes at once a dialogue between self and society and between self and psyche," (Henderson 259). As I did with the two aforementioned critics, I fully agree with all that Henderson asserts.
Like Henderson, I see the boundary placed around black women writers (and truly all "others") as unreasonable and truly ignorant. I too assert that there should be an acknowledgement of the connection between "other" writers, but beyond this connection, those that are on the outside can too understand and even embrace the "other's" subject matter. However, I strongly believe that this can not be achieved if "otherness" is continually labeled as a wall or boundary.
What I do advocate, as does Henderson is an understanding of yes, these people do have many aesthetics in common, but that does not mean that what they assert, declare, or embrace is bound solely to them. We will take for example American bookstore franchises. Anyone that walks into such a franchise can see that the books, magazines, etc. are all neatly grouped by category such as sports and travel. Within these said groupings are too sections for men and women, and even breaks that down by ethnicity.
Just like nearly all men would refuse to set foot in the section dealing with women's menstruation, all that do not fall under the category of black women would shy away from the African American women's section. Yes, some that are not included within the group would venture in, but the attraction would mainly be towards at least people of color and mainly women of color. As I stated before, this grouping is not fully unnecessary. It creates tidiness.
However, the danger behind this grouping will only fall when people acknowledge that it is too possible for those who are outside of the realm of "otherness" to understand and embrace the "other's" subject matter. Section 3: Tearing Down the Walls of "Truth" Richard Wright's attack of ideology proves how America's culture shapes exact roles for people to live by. Like Wright, I see these constructions as dangerous as they lead to the belief that there are clear biological differences between people. It creates "otherness.
" For Mahonty, hooks, and Henderson "otherness" is a dangerous construction that enables the majority to place social rank among different peoples and groups. Furthermore, each critic argues that all "others" should be given the chance to voice their own opinions with regards to their identity. Each critic also strongly asserts that "otherness" should not place boundaries or labels (whether they be positive or negative). Instead, "otherness" should be merely seen as a means of embracing and understanding someone or something different.
These are all assertions that I fully agree with. Until the "other," which is created by ideology, is no longer seen as an inferior being, their will be a severe lack of understanding between different people and groups. I strongly assert that ideologies and "otherness" should as dangerous constructions that should be assailed by any and all citizens. They each hinder people from experiencing and appreciating ideas, passions, themes, subjects, (and eternally on) that are wholly different from their own.
This will not happen however, unless all those that encompass "otherness" (as I do myself being a black male) voice the known fact that the identities and labels that have been and will continue to be thrust upon them are iniquitous. Until then, those outside of "otherness" (mainly wealthy whites, and specifically affluent white males) will continue to subordinate, through ideology, all they see as different.
Henderson, Mae Gwendolyn. "Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition. " Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Laura Chrisman and Patrick Williams. New York. Columbia University Press. 1994. 257-267. hooks, bell. "Postmodern Blackness. " Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Laura Chrisman and Patrick Williams. New York. Columbia University Press. 1994. 421-427. Kavanagh, James H. "Ideology. " Critical Terms for Literary Study. Eds. F. Lentricchia