By MaryKate Schwerdt
“Just as the term parenting serves to conceal the particular and significant reality of being a parent who is actually a mother, the term gay may serve the purpose of blurring the very outlines we need to discern, which are of crucial value for feminism and for the freedom of women as a group.” (Rich 349)
Although the notion of “blurring” quoted above is quickly mentioned in the edited version of Adrienne Rich’s article in our textbook, it grabbed my attention and brought me back to last week’s Kaplan piece. In her article about the televisual apparatus, Kaplan speculates that the blurring of various dichotomies by television (tv/movie, male/female, private/public, fiction/reality) could result in a postmodernist world where these dichotomies are so blurred that they don’t exist. This is particularly worrisome and relevant to our class because if this comes to fruition, Kaplan says, “postmodernism would eliminate gender difference as a significant category.” She goes on to say, “a new postmodern universe arguably makes impossible the critical position itself, making then irrelevant any feminist stance.”
Through the first quote above, Adrienne Rich seems to have already picked up on the postmodernist changes already upon us. “Parenting” is a potentially harmful term while it’s understood that the majority of child rearing in conventional families is done by the mother. This is a perfect example of how it’s hard to take a feminist stance on blurred identities. Someone criticizing parenting methods with a sexist bias can hide behind the fact that the term “parenting” encompasses the behaviors mothering AND fathering without dividing those behaviors along gender/sex lines. The same can be said for the term “gay” encompassing all homosexual behavior. How can there be such a thing as feminist societal critiquing when the concept of the female/feminine is stifled and cunningly removed from the vernacular before the antagonism towards it?
This unprogressive blurring brings us feminists to a sort of identity crisis. To confine something as fluid as human behavior and desire into a tiny static inflexible box is limiting and frankly unfair to those who do not meet exact criteria. For example, the rigid, or academic as Rich calls it, term “lesbian” suppresses women in three of the eight ways listed in the article. It denies women their own sexuality (#1) by excluding those who don’t fit the academic definition, it cramps woman’s creativeness (#7) by establishing a certain criteria that needs to be met in order to call oneself a “lesbian”, and it also withholds from woman large areas of societal knowledge (#8) by keeping women who are experiencing various, not necessarily erotic, feelings along the lesbian spectrum ignorant and isolated from other women experiencing the same, unable to make vital connections about that part of their lives. On the other hand, give these desires free reign is to erase all boundary, causing them to slip through the fingers of identity, leaving them nameless and defenseless.
Rich attempts to resolve this conflict with the term “lesbian spectrum,” which is effective in establishing gentle, flexible boundaries but still employs a loaded word. However, I cannot help but worry for the other aspects of female identity that are being blurred out of a definable existence, like what it means to be feminine and what it means to be a mother, in this burgeoning postmodernist world that seems to be eager to ditch titles before the prejudice.