Illustration © Nikki McClure

contentarea top menu

Defamation on scale in post-fascist Europe


At first my big thank you for sharing a DIY-Archive for all the global feminist governement/-nance on subjugated feminist thoughts. Hugs and Kisses for that. I must introduce myself as a penis-wearer who lives more a-sexual than any purposes of theory like dichotomies active mood in a world commune of idolatry than ideals. It is for me very important to introduce the facts on doctors policy in esthetics and defamation the will of a free society with any habits disdained. I have lived for many decades in Hamburgs left-radical quarter with dearest implosions by and for, but nowadays I am searching....

My fun lays in

And the following essay is an inducement of how to share emotional trades with an online community like arbitrary withdained...

Should we conceptualize feminisms' others through the concept of identity, a concept that operates through exclusion? Or should we consider the problem of othering as one related to the hegemony of poststructuralist feminist theory that excludes the real life experiences of "ordinary women"? Should othering be seen as a problem that can be solved through more inclusive theories or should it be understood as a mechanism of meaning making that cannot be overcome through refinements of theory? The question of who is speaking in the name of feminism has been central ever since feminists started to question the white heteronormative thinking that feminism presented as universal (Lorde, 1988; Anzaldúa, 1987; Mohanty, 1988). Considering the nature of questions concerning exclusion it is crucial to continue asking them in various ways and from multiple perspectives. This essay asks these questions in ways particularly relevant to the current situation of feminists working with a rhetoric that is dominant in Finnish equality discourses.

"Since I have not broken the ties that bind me to underclass poor black community, I have seen that knowledge, especially that which enhances daily life and strengthens our capacity to survive, can be shared. It means that critics, writers, academics have to give the same critical attention to nurturing and cultivating our ties to black communities that we give to writing articles, teaching, and lecturing" (hooks, 1990: 30).

I have experienced the predominantly working class, white heterosexual spaces that equality politics center around. I am sure many can relate to my wonder at listening to political speeches concerning equality and feeling excluded. Trying to solve this puzzle I have thought that perhaps politics is like this—a democratic majority-rule that through some detour would also benefit me or start speaking about me. Many times women have been preoccupied with an identity politics that did not speak to my queer gender identity. Was I included "in theory"?

[2] My non-academic friends tell me that I am being too academic when I discuss equality politics or gender issues. My language is strange. They might even be doing identity politics through excluding my academic language culture from the issues that they consider relevant to their lives. At those instances I like to recall bell hooks' words, when she says that she does not only talk postmodernism to "intellectuals and academics" but also to non-academic friends. However, the relevance of one's theories might not always be received as relevant. Those outside academe might not be interested and they might even be opposed to being addressed as if they were, or should be. I think about the often quoted passage in Spivak's "Can the subaltern speak?": when we speak for the other we speak ourselves (Spivak, 1994). How am I speaking when I "speak equality" and to whom am I addressing my politics? What values am I promoting and what ethics am I motivated by in my feminist politics?

[3] So the problems concerning feminisms' others are complex ones. This essay arms to discuss othering in relation to the politics of representation. I discuss various examples of feminist practices by focusing on how these practices other a substantial number of feminist issues in the dominant local equality discourses. On the basis of this, I argue for the benefits of a deconstructive feminist politics—both on a practical policy level and an academic theoretical level. I consider this important in order to take responsibility for the problems related to representational politics, since "the power to impose on people representations of themselves, or of others on their behalf, is intrinsically oppressive" (Braidotti, 2006: 13). Theoretically my work is predominantly situated as part of European and antifascist theoretical discussions concerning equality discourse and intersectional theories.

[4] Feminists have shown the problems involved in an identity politics (for a discussion see Phoenix & Pattynama, 2006) and pointed at the unavoidable complicity we have in the very power we oppose. A deconstructive politics that takes this critique seriously needs to proceed through careful deconstruction of the very discourses that it is constituted by. This enables us to see and problematize the extent to which our practices are constituted by the political climate and global situation we inescapably find ourselves in. We have to begin to deconstruct the neoliberal individualist and Judeo-Christian values (starting with the 'Ur-antisemistism') that our ideals and values concerning human rights and equality usually are based on, especially in an intellectual atmosphere where these values are considered unproblematically "secular." This not because one would want to give up all values and finally become somehow "secular," but because feminists, as knowledge producing and political agents, have always wanted to problematize our complicity in power. A deconstruction of the equality discourse hinders a reformist approach that would firmly place one inside the parameters of the particular political discourse one operates with. Deconstructing the equality discourse reveals its ethical rootedness in a Judeo-Christian value system and a liberal individual political discourse (Badiou, 2004). Equality discourses are essential systems of power that neoliberal market economies operate through (Thornton, 2006: 155).

[5] This kind of contextualization and genealogical investigation helps when there is a wish to avoid indulging in another branch of moral and religious "preaching" directed against various others. Examples of this kind of "missionary work" can be found in the rhetoric of western and especially US based civilizing projects, directed against Islam or the moralizing preaching in the name of equality and human rights directed at Iran. Very often this moralism is promoted in the name of democracy, human rights and God (see, for instance, George W. Bush's proclamation on Human Rights Day 2004[1]). We have to ask in what ways the values that feminist critical thinkers and policymakers promote differ from the othering practices of conservative political agendas. We have to ask this because we cannot be blinded to the fact that our values might take as their departure point the very same discursive setting.

[6] Although this essay mainly discusses equality discourses, I still wanted to show that a deconstruction of the equality discourse and the two-sex model that it operates with is an undertaking that has its contexts also on this level of generality. It is important to realize that the problem of exclusion is not just internal to feminist discourses such as equality. It is not just that equality discourses can be shown to operate through othering and exclusion, it is also possible to contextualize the unquestioned nature of the value-system that equality discourses and human rights rhetoric "spring from". Equality discourses, as such, might have exclusionary effects on a more general level. These values are also used to advance oppression and warfare which makes clear that these discourses are not in any sense "innocent" or intrinsically good.

[7] Descriptive equality research that only portrays the situation internal to discourse ends up being conservative. Describing the status quo within a reformist and consensus ridden "progressive thinking", a thinking, moreover, that does not contextualize itself may end up universalizing a western liberal value-system in problematic ways.

[8] A great deal of identity-based equality politics still has to solve the problem of representation. Deconstructive anti-representationalism should be seen as a profoundly ethical move, one where the practice of deconstruction is an attitude or an ideology, if you wish, that springs from ethics. Braidotti calls this an ethical pragmatism (Braidotti, 2006: 14), and it is connected to politics as it is the site at which politics itself constituted. A productive antagonism (Butler) and the refusal to "speak for" should be seen as the poststructuralist political and ethical solution that it is. Deconstruction is much more than a method of investigation. The ethics of deconstruction lies in the practice of deconstructing representationalism. This is the main message that this article aims to communicate.

[9] Within a constructivist epistemology I ask what equality discourses leave unsaid, what is marginalized in them and what power mechanisms are embedded in them. I do this by deconstructing some of the language that equality discourses circulate. I deconstruct the theme of sexual difference. The subaltern is to me a tool that I have used to discuss ways in which equality discourse speaks its own politics through various Others I use it as a concept to open up political intersectionality.
Subaltern intersections

[10] I argue that the concept of the subaltern helps to clarify both structural and political intersectionality (as presented by Verloo, 2006). By using the subaltern as a tool in the analysis of political rhetoric, the simultaneity of politics and theories about politics become visible. Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) uses political intersectionality to indicate how inequalities and their intersections are relevant to political strategies:

"Crucial questions in analysing political intersectionality are: How and where does feminism marginalize ethnic minorities or disabled women? How and where do measures on sexual equality or on racism marginalize women? How and where do gender equality policies marginalize lesbians" (Verloo, 2006: 213)?

[11] By focusing on political intersections we can refer to the exclusions that an identity-based equality politics produces, for instance a "queer" identity not being addressed by the politics of equality. Structural intersectionality occurs when inequalities and their intersections are directly relevant to the experiences of people in society (Verloo, 2006: 213). I suggest the concept of subaltern as an analytical tool that reminds us of the coexistence of these two levels of intersectionality. I suggest deconstruction as a political strategy that feminists must insist upon in order to overcome the problems of humanism, liberalism and individualism.

[12] Maintaining an opposition between theory and politics, "applied" practice can safeguard the researcher from ethical responsibility and reflexivity in relation to her own practice of representation and her complicity in a particular discursive set of meanings. She might claim her theory to be just that—a reflection on politics without being itself a politics. In these cases the researcher can ascribe various meanings to equality that are exclusionary without acknowledging the role of her own practice. This is why we need a genealogical awareness of our academic representational practices. An assumed division between politics and theory strangely implies that politics should not be advanced through theory. It implies that there is a possibility to become a neutral "expert" that supplies policymakers with theoretically informed bulleted lists of best practices for easy consumption. It again assumes that equality and human rights are unproblematically universal values and that academic knowledge produced within these discourses is necessary for the "improvement" of policies. Since when have critical thinkers become public servants for the establishment?

[13] Within a deconstructive epistemology, it is not enough to for instance name oneself as "white middle class heterosexual" and portray "others" as lesbian in relation to one's own position (or indeed to portray others as "policymakers" representing politics and oneself as "knowledge producer" representing theory). Deconstruction proceeds from the assumption that one is advancing a politics. Without this awareness we produce subjects of equality and do not acknowledge that our own practice is a politics in itself.

[14] According to Mieke Verloo (2006) the simultaneity of structural and political intersectionality is mostly overlooked in policy-making (Verloo, 2006: 214). By using the two-sex model as a lens I will show what I understand as such instances of overlooking within an uncritical equality research. A deconstructive approach to gender is needed when we want to pay attention to political intersections. Uncritical equality discourses operate within the hegemonic two-sex model that, I will show, might appropriate "the lesbian," "ethnicities," and various subaltern "groups" through the practice of representation. These meanings are appropriated and constructed as part of the hegemonic struggle. I think that a deconstructive approach manages to reveal how feminist practices that want to take heterogeneity and the Other into account can end up appropriating the Other if and when the complicity between representation as speaking for (Vertreten[2]) and representation as the staging of the world (Darstellen[3]) is forgotten (Spivak, 1994: 74). How could feminists be constructive about the paradox they face: Being produced by the very discursive power that we resist? How could we be reflexive about the seductiveness of resistance - a resistance that calls us to become instruments of discursive power? Where do we find an opening for an ethical representational politics, a politics that we all strive for?

[15] A deconstructive approach does not seek essences behind the historical, social and linguistic processes that produce meaning but rather investigates these genealogies. The practice of representation has to be made explicit and the problems involved in seeing language as just a means of referring to objects or things "outside it" has to be repeatedly remembered. The two senses of representation ("speaking for" and representation as staging) become relevant here. If representation as "speaking for" somebody, as being a proxy for (within the state and the political) and representation as theoretical description, as a staging of the world, as a portrayal of oneself and the other are complicit and if this complicity, when unexplicated, produces silences and hegemonies, the only way to appreciate this dynamic is to deconstruct these kinds of operations (Spivak, 1994: 70, 72). The staging of the world produces the problem of political intersectionality and structural intersections call for proxy politics.

[16] The very production of categories such as "woman" is a political act and we need not see that these productive representational practices are "necessary" to further politics that would become possible "after" the category is produced. The politics of representation is the first thing to take seriously within critical equality discourse. Otherwise it falls into a naïve identity politics where "women," "working-class," "(fake-)transsexual," "lesbian," and various other categories are utilized to enable a "politics of rights" and representation for insurrectionary subjects. The insurrectionary subject needs its proxies. Although it can be argued that this might be helpful for some "groups" somewhere, I do not wish us to settle for this. In a neoliberal vein we circulate a language that "takes into account" identities such as class, ethnicity, sexuality without an epistemological (genealogical) awareness of our own academic representational practice. We uncritically buy into the very same value-system that is used by conservative regimes for oppressive purposes. We help produce the problem of political intersections.

[17] Discourses on equality are strategic sites that promote the iteration and repetition of gendered meanings. Equality discourses allow for the reproduction of racialized national and gendered identities. Genealogically speaking, for example, Finnish equality discourse has been a site for identity construction for particular kind of "woman" that stands in a particular relationship both to the "man" (the Finnish man) and the nation. The history of Finnish women (written in the 1980s and early 1990s) is a history of equality, but also of normalized heterosexuality (Honkanen, 1997). It is a history of mostly middle-class women's struggles to be able to participate in working-life, politics and education and the life of the nation. One example of this discourse [4] is the well-known The Lady With the Bow: the Story of Finnish Woman (Manninen & Setälä, 1990). The book draws the history of this "equal lady", the lady with the bow, as far back as to the stone-age, arguing that a particular rock-painting representing a figure with what can be read as breasts and a bow proves that "Finnish women always have worked together with "their" (heterosexual) men (Manninen & Setälä, 1990: 9). These representations should be genealogically analyzed and deconstructed. Otherwise they will continue to be used uncritically as part of a "politics out of history" to use Wendy Brown's formulation (Brown, 2001). These hegemonic representations, this staging of the world, these portrayals, enable the unreflexive identity politics of the equal Finnish woman and uphold the problem of political intersectionality as long as they are not deconstructed. Furthermore, this politics is backed up through history as yet another grand narrative called "the history of Finnish woman" (see also Honkanen, 2007).

[18] It seems to be the politics of this very same Woman that is advanced in recent discussions on the Finnish women's studies mailing list. This discussion was started by Pasi Malmi, a researcher on men and masculinities, who came up with the argument that certain feminist discourses oppress men. The discussion concerns how specific (wrong) portrayals of women affect the way in which men are seen. What I see as particularly telling in this heterocentric debate is that as long as it fails to name itself for what it is, it proceeds endlessly with its production of gendered meanings. It also proceeds as if it were engaged in a merely descriptive enterprise—with researchers attempting to describe how cultural meanings variously oppress either men or women.

[19] The hegemony of the two-sex model in Finnish equality discourse also leads to a strident men's movement in Finland that claims men's equal rights. Their politics is framed within an equality discourse and a two-sex system. Adding hetero-oriented men's studies to the academic scene also strengthens the naturalization of heteronormativity. It upholds the heterocentrist white academic hegemony by becoming the relational and complementary counter force to the uncritical "women's equality discourse." Within this kind of equality discourse women and men are unproblematically seen as relational and complementary categories.

[20] The subaltern is a concept that might help to further the theoretization of the ideas of diversity and multiplicity that contemporary European and local equality research is engaged in. It might also be helpful in attempts to overcome problems related to representational identity politics discussed above. The term "subaltern" means 'subordinated" or "non-hegemonic" (Morton, 2003: 48). In Latin "sub" stands for beneath or below and "alter" means the other one. I find the simultaneity of the oppressor and the oppressed in this concept valuable. "Subaltern" connotes power, dichotomy and hierarchy. The concept of the subaltern is defined by the complicity between the "sub" and the hegemonic. The concept becomes useful within a deconstructive epistemology that takes into account the two senses of representation (Vertretung and Darstellung) that Spivak puts forward in "Can the subaltern speak?" (1994: 75). Conceptualizing the subaltern within a deconstructive epistemology reveals the problems linked to political intersectionality and identity politics.

[21] Deconstructing subalterity in equality research is a practice that keeps from the problems of multiculturalism, heteronormativity or class-bias. Diversity is not merely structural, something "always already there" to be used for the researchers' merely descriptive purposes (Carbin & Tornhill, 2004: 113). Within a realist epistemology the voice of the subaltern other is constantly sought, while within a deconstructive epistemology you spotlight places where exclusive practices are at work. I argue that not even the concept of intersectionality manages to overcome the problems of multiculturalism and the continued colonialist astonishment in front of the other that it engenders (for a critique of "culturalism," see Badiou, 2004). No concept can, of course, prevent careless readings and narcissistic aggressivity, readings where the Other is simply the other of the self, but at least with careful reading, the subaltern does not allow for mere description, for portrayals only.

[22] Thus, the subaltern should not be conceptualized as "somebody"; it should not be understood as a person or a societal group. It is not a list of subjugated positions. Rather, within a deconstructive epistemology, the subaltern is a shifting place of silence and abjection constituted by the operations of the hegemonic, of power. The question we should ask is: what power constitutes the discussion on the Binary (on man's anti-sexist debates?) women's studies list? What silences is it built on? As an analytical tool the concepts' strength lies in the fact that it only becomes intelligible through operations of power. The subaltern conventionally denotes a junior ranking officer. My reading of the concept underlines the lack of a coherent political identity and is informed by a deconstruction of dichotomies.