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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Aren’t Latinas Women Too?

“I was drawn to vaginas because of my own personal history, because of sexuality, because women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality. And, I’m obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas.” – Eve Ensler

The Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler, is organized and produced across the U.S. by the V-Day Campaign. Eve Ensler interviewed women to put together monologues which would serve as the vehicle through which their stories would be shared across the world. The monologues vary from talking about sex, childbirth, names for vaginas, rape, and much more. She is said to have interviewed all kinds of women – every age, ethnicity, and race – both in the United States and women abroad. V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls through creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations.

This weekend a production of the Vagina Monologues was put on at Willamette University’s campus and I am on the cast. I have had the privilege to be on the cast all four years of my time as an undergrad student here at WU. My first year I portrayed an escaped sex slave from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second year I did “My Short Skirt”, my third year I did “Vagina Workshop”, and finally this year I am in a monologue called “Rising”. In my fours years of participation, I  have noticed that there is generally a higher rate of non-women of color participating in this event. This may be due to the campus demographics or (as in my case) the different cultural experience surrounding women’s issues and bodies that women of color have experienced in their upbringing.

While I think that The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day Campaign were made and continue to succeed with good intentions to bring awareness and make a change, I find a very troubling ignorance to is as well. The play does a great job of talking about many of the experiences of vaginas, women who have been raped as a form of warfare, and even the experiences of LGBTQ women but race/ethnicity is not something brought up – much less in regards to brown women. There is no discussion of the Women of Juarez. Is that or is that not part of a global women’s issue that involved rape and death? On a less severe note, what about the experiences of undocumented immigrants who experience domestic abuse but have no where to run to for protection because they are not citizens? Are they not women too? Even just the experiences of brown women who never got “the talk” about their vaginas and had to figure out what their menstrual cycle was from the library or friends?

Eve Ensler believes that women’s power lies in their sexuality which is tied to their vaginas. Does this mean that if a woman is not in tune with her vagina or her sexuality, she is powerless? If we think about Cerezita from Heroes & Saints by Cherrie Moraga, who had no vagina but definitely had a sexuality as is evident from her very sexual encounter with Juan regarding la lengua, how then do we explain the power she has with just her tongue? In my experience, not many of me and my Latina friends have ever had a conversation about vaginas or sexuality with our mothers, aunts, or grandmothers. The only talk we ever received was about not engaging in an sexual activity because we are supposed to be chaste and pure like the Virgen de Guadalupe. My grandma constantly told me “No quiero que salgas con tu domingo siete!” which is roughly translated to “don’t get pregnant”! A proper  Latina woman is to remain a virgen until she is married, only then should your vagina be touched and it is only to be used for the purpose of which it was created – procreation.

I do not feel that it is only the monologues that perpetuate a “unracialized woman” image in regards to women’s issues but also that the participants feel the same way. It would be the hope that those women who get involved with The Vagina Monologues would take a second look at the portrayal of women in the monologues and ask about what is missing or why empowerment through these monologues is only given to “first-world women”. As I mentioned above, I was in a monologue called “Rising” this year. This monologue is a call to action for women and men to stand up for all of the women across the world who are raped everyday. At the end of the monologue there are various lines where we say “Raise your arm” in which me and my Latina co-monolguer wanted to put our fists in the air. Our third monolguer and director told us we should not do this because it was “reminiscent of the black panther and black power”. They argued that they were “…all for ethnic pride but we’re talking about women here.”

Are women of color not women?