reality, II


I originally posted a link to this noteworthy and highly-recommendable article by Katie Hogan, entitled, "Superserviceable Feminism," last March -- for the reason that it aligns with several analyses that I have made previously on this blog and elsewhere and for the reason that it turns the feminist gaze directly on the institutional economy and its discursive practices. And since today seems like a day in which I need to knock some sense into somebody, I am restoring the link and the excerpts from the article that most immediately apply to an issue near-and-dear to this blog -- i.e., the perpetual devaluation of feminized, emotional labor by, yes, masculinized institutions.

"A similar argument about a small scale of bias that occurs repeatedly and builds into a damaging devaluation of women and feminism emerges in Susan Fraiman's book Cool Men and the Second Sex. Fraiman meticulously discerns the practice of subdued bias in the structure and design of theoretical arguments produced by academic stars—those prominent male scholars and queer theorists who populate the pages of mainstream newspapers and scholarly journals, hold prestigious academic posts, and project an aura of coolness, both in their personas and scholarly writing. Similar to Valian's study, Fraiman identifies an underground realm of assumed ideologies about women's intellectual and social inferiority. Fraiman bluntly asserts, 'Much of this discourse is secretly and sometimes quite frankly in love with [its own] masculinity'" (123).

"Fraiman's Cool Men and the Second Sex unwittingly works in tandem with the project of theorizing service, illuminating the ways in which women, femininity, emotionality, the maternal, and feminism 'service' the advancement of scholarly arguments. In other words, small 'textual effects' of bias in male scholarship accumulate to disadvantage women, mothers, and feminism: 'What I mean to protest are cumulative textual effects, unexamined and incongruous patterns of sexism just beneath the surface of works purporting to be oppositional (and sometimes feminist)' (Fraiman xix). In the work of academic stars such as Andrew Ross, Edward Said, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and in the canon of queer theory, exemplified by Judith Halberstam, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, repression and stasis are coded female as a way to advance the idea that defiance, boldness, creativity, and rebelliousness are working-class, anti-corporate, hip, and masculine. A pronounced 'preoccupation with masculinity' structures these scholars' arguments, even while they evoke feminism. In this way, arguments that articulate solidarity with women and feminism on one level also mitigate—and in some cases, undermine—solidarity by quietly overrating that which is male and masculine and devaluing that which is female and feminine. A recurring focus in male and queer texts is the motif of a 'pejorative maternal' and the tokenization of women and feminism, rhetorical strategies that these well-received and influential texts depend on to create their arguments. ..."

"In academic women's lives, femininity and the maternal are also underlying assumptions linked to the expectation of women's unpaid labor. Not only is service not perceived as intellectual, it is often framed as a labor of love, akin to the work women do for their children, rather than as work for which one should be paid and acknowledged. "

"Feminist insurgent insights and practices were permanently altered by the force and will of academic institutionalization. Once feminism was 'disciplined,' it lost its rebellious impulse and became disconnected from social change skills, knowledge, and activism. As a result, feminist studies is more successful than the feminist movement, and the word 'activist' is more damaging to one's feminist credentials than the word 'academic.'"

"Superserviceable feminism not only illuminates the expectation that women, because they are women, will serve their institutions, departments, programs, peers, students, and so on, but that feminist studies will similarly serve in a multitude of ways as well. Fraiman argues that women, feminism, the maternal, and femininity "serve" progressive, left, male, or male-identified theoretical arguments by functioning as the Other, as that which male or male-identified arguments resist, renounce, or reject. Felski argues that feminist studies has infused the field with a capacious approach to literature, rather than the equally prevalent, though in her view, self-righteous, overly ideological approach. And Messer-Davidow argues that once feminism is inevitably 'disciplined,' it brilliantly services institutions—by opening up cross-dialogue and new specialisms—but at the expense of its original impulse for social change."


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