Introduction: Feminist Diversity

Carol Siegel

[1] This special issue of Rhizomes is not meant to represent the wide variety of perspectives on women's liberation that come under the heading of feminism. Instead, it presents a selection of views that have been excluded from what can be considered the mainstream of feminism. The academic branch of that mainstream, which I follow Deleuzian theory in calling majoritarian feminism, is made up of ideas generally accepted by scholars and taught in the classroom as feminist. Majoritarian feminism has been useful to us as a way of constructing canons of objects for study, determining preferred approaches, and assessing the work of our colleagues. But it has also resulted in the unproductive othering of many women who consider themselves, with good reason, to be feminists.

[2] While the feminist movement has been similar to liberation movements for other oppressed groups, in one way it has differed markedly. Much more than the other twentieth-century movements to lessen racist and heterosexist oppression, feminist struggles have frequently been stalled because of deep internal disagreements over politics of identification that would determine common goals. In the half century since the second wave of feminism began to rise world-wide, we, the self-described feminists, have failed to agree upon a definitive set of beliefs that identifies us to others within our group as feminists. Instead, internal wars within the movement continue to alienate both feminists and women uncertain about whether they want to identify as feminists. And perhaps that is why so many independent, strong women prefer to avoid calling themselves feminists.

[3] I am typical of feminists scholars, I believe, in that for me feminism has never been merely a set of academic theories or approaches to scholarship. I have often thought of feminism as analogous to my country. Since around 1970, it has been the place I inhabit emotionally and intellectually. My allegiance to feminism, as a state of being, determines many of my choices in life and many of my modes of self-expression. But for about twenty years I have described myself as a feminist dissident. This description represents my attempt to understand the terrain that has sheltered and protected me, but always under the threat of being cast out, that has given me an identity, but always at the cost of being judged misguided or perverse. Far more than I have been anything else, of all the things I might consider myself to be, I have been a feminist. But never without having my claim to that identity contested by some other groups of feminists. As I have gained an increasingly secure position within academic feminism, I have come to understand that in this strange and unsettled relationship to feminism I am not alone.

[4] The major areas of disagreement among feminists about what exactly constitutes feminism involve expression of sexuality, gender identification, artistic practice, approaches to analysis of cultural artifacts, relations with men, concepts of the body, spirituality, and social roles. In addition, questions about other political investments, especially whether or not one believes capitalism is compatible with freedom of any desirable sort, cause contentions within feminism. Because coverage of all of these issues would have been impossible, I have chosen to focus this special issue on the five aspects of feminism that seemed most important to the many scholars who submitted their work to be considered for inclusion here.

[5] In the first section, "Fictions," each of the three essays considers analysis of a specific literary text's representation of gender as a problem concerning popular and academic understandings of what feminist politics entail. Rather than trying to determine whether or not gender is represented in the text in a feminist manner, the essays look at how specific representations call into question our ability to describe a text as feminist, and what radically different things such a description might mean. This seems to me an important starting point because literary criticism was one of the first arenas in which the second wave of feminism took form as an intellectual movement. The essay by my co-editor, Ellen E. Berry takes on the difficult issue of gender indeterminacy, which has long vexed feminism, through consideration of how feminist critics have approached Jeanette Winterson's novel, Written on the Body. Michael Kramp's essay brings together Jane Austen's Emma and the men's movements that have proliferated since the 1980s, to examine how the construction of an ostensibly pro-woman masculinity impacts on gender relations through the generation of specific readings of female needs. And in an essay on Lynne Cheney's controversial novel, Sisters, Heather Love and Mara Mills raise disturbing questions about conservative deployments of feminist teachings.

[6] The second section, "Poetics," questions majoritarian feminist approaches to canon construction by contesting the position of two excluded poets. Acclaimed Irish poet, Rosemarie Rowley defends herself against the frequently leveled charge that her work, despite its obviously woman-centered subject matter, cannot be treated as feminist because of her departures from the style preferred by the women who dominate feminist publication in Ireland and because of her disagreements with some of these women's political priorities. I have included a selection of her poetry, which I feel speaks to the need to include this writer among contemporary feminist poets of Ireland. The essay by Diane Green also deals with poetry situated in a land previously colonized by England. Green's argument for inclusion of Welsh Poet Gillian Clarke among those deemed feminist productively revisits one of the first issues to divide feminists against each other, when, in the early 1980s, feminists of color asserted their right to refuse to prioritize gender politics above racism. So far little attention has been paid to the situation of postcolonial white women in relation to feminism. This section aims to help remediate that gap in feminist studies.

[7] "Visual Media," the third section, is devoted to close examination of a collection of films and a television series that trouble existent concepts of feminist resistance. Rebecca Johnson places two Japanese anime classics within a cultural context that helps us assess their reflection of often ignored aspects of feminism in that country. Frann Michel looks at how Cheryl Dunye's films work to articulate a new vision of African-American women's heritage. This discussion moves the question of African-American matrilineage, central to mainstream films about Black history, away from the establishment of bloodlines to the recognition of the importance of lesbian heritage. Tina Krauss's website on the television series, "The L Word" continues examination of trouble in the relations between lesbian desires and majoritarian concepts of feminist community. While steadfastly revealing the series' shortcomings in terms of the values usually associated with feminist political activism, Krauss establishes its value as a source of pleasure for many lesbians, with the recognition that pleasure can make change.

[8] The fourth section, "Physicalities," goes deeply into the area of bodily pleasure. Karmen MacKendrick's essay on the sexual and spiritual pleasures of cutting one's skin engages profound differences in what women find erotic, and in so doing, pushes the boundaries of pro-sex feminism past what majoritarians allow. Deboleena Roy also goes beyond the outer borders of the flesh in her essay on the crucial importance of molecular biology to feminist theorizing of embodiment -- and vice versa. Marie Drews's discussion of conflicts within feminism over food and fat bodies, not only provides a history of this frequently trivialized battlefield, it gestures towards the possibility of rapprochement.

[9] "Societies," the final section, travels to two geographic areas very familiar to majoritarian accounts of feminism world-wide, in order to unsettle received views of them. Katriina Honkanen's essay on dominant discourses of gender equality in Finland shockingly uncovers the ways that Northern European feminism, often taken as a model, can work to silence, and otherwise oppress, sexual, racial, and cultural minorities. Amanda Nolacea Harris's essay also addresses the relationship between a minoritized group, in this case Chicanas, and respected discourses of gender equality. She also reveals how moves meant to eliminate marginalization can, instead, increase it because of their failure to attend to the radical otherness of feminist values and traditions that arise from othered cultures.

[10] I have also included a book review essay in this section to represent my own (battle)field of studies, non-normative sexuality studies, and its uneasy relation to feminist orthodoxies.

[11] My hope in bringing together the various texts that comprise this issue is to make available a view of feminism that reflects its diverse richness, and also the loneliness, sometimes sad and sometimes exhilarating, felt by those who can only inhabit it as dissidents. At least so far.