Feminism as Disidentification

Maria Irene Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends is a play with an all female cast that goes through a full day of a group of women sitting around talking about life as a heteronormative and/or queer women. The play is set in 1930’s New England which gives readers the impression that Fefu and her friends have the economic luxury to lounge at home drinking tea and coffee and talking about life instead of work. With an all female cast, this play is undoubtedly feminists. However, as classroom discussion brought up, just because the play is written by a Latina women the play is not perceived as “undoubtedly” about race/ethnicity. This disconnect of assumptions is partly due to ambiguity of the characters despite the obvious bourgeois setting of the play.

The ignorance of race/ethnicity in feminism is the same ignorance of race/ethnicity that we encounter with texts written by white people, about white people, and for white people. It is obvious that this disconnect causes everyone to lose out on something beneficial and important to their respective movements and lives. This (usually) intentional separation of groups is usually embodied through what most people – or maybe only what I – would perceive as countercultures. I say they are perceived as countercultures because they are marked as “outsiders” and seem to only function well within their own respective “public” rather than in the dominant/normative public.

Although race/ethnicity were not talked about much while discussing Fefu and Her Friends, I would argue that Fornes was definitely making a statement in regards to Latinindad and Feminism. While Fefu and her friends sound “white” – Julia, Emma, Christina, Cecilia – their names could as easily be pronounced in Spanish. I believe that this ambiguity allows this text to be considered more as Disidentification than countercultural or counterpublic in an effort to bring forth the issue of feminism to both applaud and critique it. The ambiguity that Fornes toys with in this play allows the audience to focus on the women’s issue at hand in the story.

Disidentification as defined by Jose Muñoz is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology. By creating a story with subversive Latinidad in it, Fornes can work on society’s assumptions by working against them. In this way Fornes invites “unaware” audiences into a space where their dominant ideologies can be questioned without a defensive attitude. That is to say that a reader will come in believing that this play is about white women feminists and probably believe it to be empowering and instead interact with a play that critiques feminism through a Latinidad lens. Nevertheless, I believe that such a subversive argument has the ability to go unnoticed very quickly.

In and of itself, I find Feminism or the Women’s Movement to be an exemplary example of disidentification even with as problematic as I find it to be. I feel that Feminism and the Women’s Movement exists to work on and against the dominant ideology. Feminism has tried to re-imagine, re-define, and re-invent the role of women in society by working on the cultural and legal perceptions of women in society. In an effort to work on the current society to make change, conscious women worked on creating spaces and groups where women could talk about their experiences and realize they weren’t alone. By raising consciousness of other women they were able to make women see how current society was not allowing them to reach their full potential and encourage them to want to make change against the dominant ideologies held about women.

Despite the fact that I think feminism and the women’s movement worked well to work on and against the dominant ideologies of their time, it has been a constant struggle to understand how other facets of identity – like race/ethnicity and sexual preference – should be discussed when it comes to women’s issues. For a while, white feminists ignored intersectionalities even when marginalized women founded their own women’s groups and wanted to help. Once black and lesbian women left the movement, it seemed to not have the same pizazz but I think something can be said for whose voice gets recognized. That is to say that while I urge other facets of identity to be recognized and incorporated, I can see why white normative faces are more often than not put on the forefront. It is more likely that they will get change for all in the eyes of the normative white man that runs our country. It is for this reason that I find that Fornes’ choice of ambiguity was smart and a great form of disidentification.

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