Report on Feminism meets Queer Theory: Introduction

By Shreya Gupta

In the first Gender Studies Group meeting for this semester, we started with a discussion on post-structuralist feminism with Dr. Tellis. Dr. Tellis asked us to critique monolithic feminism and the category ‘Woman’. However, he complicated this idea by giving us an example of how the monolithic category ‘woman’ becomes imperative and of use in public protests.

He explained this to the group in the following manner –

Suppose there is a public protest demanding abortion rights and safe contraceptives. When you go to the protest, what shall your slogan be? Will you write “I am a historically situated subject that changes over time” or “I am a woman! I demand safe contraceptives!”?

The first slogan shall not stand in a public protest. So, as post-structuralist feminists, we must be careful of our subject positions. We must be careful of questioning our own subject positions and identities as we question others. What we need is a feminism which is inclusive, embracing and self-critical.

The group then discussed about how Queer came to India without any movement in the 90s and how suddenly we are all queer!  The group then turned the discussion on hegemony. We discussed that we must realize that we are still in hegemonic narratives and the response to interpellation implies that hegemony is working. Perhaps, we all seek to create hegemony.

The group then discussed about Economics and Gender. The feminist movements in India claim that they want to save poor women but they do not really care about their gender – economics taking over gender. Sexual choice and political economy are seen as separate issues without realizing that a lesbian marriage implies a different political economy where the family has no male head.

Elizabeth Weed’s introduction was quite thought provoking for the group. Weed begins her introduction by talking of Feminism and Queer theory as interdisciplinary modes of inquiry and as political movements outside the academy. When the two meet, Weed calls it “a staging of strangeness or unpredictability”. This strangeness and unpredictability can be felt in India as we see women movements’ lack of support and appreciation for LGBT movements.

Our primary topic is queer theory’s representation of feminism. How does queer theory look at feminism’s internal contradictions and multiplicity? Are they recognized or ignored? How does queer theory look at the interface between feminism and queer theory? Is queer asking enough questions?

Weed mentions, “The feminism against which queer theory defines itself is a feminism reduced almost to caricature: a feminism tied to a concern for gender, bound to a regressive and monotonous binary opposition.”

Weed says that queer theory believes that “considerations of sex and sexuality cannot be contained by the category of gender” that is, gender does not sufficiently answer sex and sexuality. Feminist inquiry takes up gender but sex and sexuality are ignored. This separation shall be one of Weed’s topics of conversation in this book of essays.

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