Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: An Historic Challenge for Contemporary Concerns
This paper explores the knowledge production of people who claim a marginalized identity through either gender or ethnicity. Helpful to this discussion is a closer examination of 19th Century America’s struggle with gender and race where we can see historic attempts to privilege gender over race or vice versa. I base my work on the 1861 narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Linda Brent. Brent makes her break with the Cult of True Womanhood (the Cult) by bankrupting the terms and parameters of normativity demonstrating her keen awareness of the schism between the feminist social philosophy of the Cult, and her own social location. This reveals part of her genius. Using her own unique vantage point, Brent evaluates the very feminist social philosophy which excludes her from womanhood, and ultimately, human dignity. I apply two reading positions: postmodern and feminist social philosophy. In postmodern theory, Michel Foucault offers a helpful analysis of power where he delineates the connection between power, truth and right, further guiding listeners in their critique of the “rightness” of those in power. A feminist reading analyzes practices which oppress women in community. bell hooks is helpful to this discussion as her own critiques of feminist theory, race and class analysis, provide a particular framing for my concerns. My thesis: historic parameters of female normativity emerge from an inability to fully integrate gender oppression with themes of social justice and equality. A closer reading of this historic gap helps contextualize contemporary political situations by interrogating: 1) the codified approach to gendered normativity in 19th Century America; and, 2) the victimology of genderized thought which disables a connection to those outside of White feminist norms; I conclude by analyzing the way this disconnect from social justice impedes feminist struggles.
Keywords: Racialized Identity, Gender Normatives, Michel Foucault, Bell Hooks, The Cult of True Womanhood
Dr CL Nash
PhD Student, Divinity, University of Edinburgh