By Mohamed El Aazouzi
By Mohamed El Aazouzi
Morocco World News
Rabat, August 24, 2012
The examination of how women experience and convey trauma – in their daily lives –needs to consider the varying impacts of social, political, cultural and ideological factors.
This article aims at investigating the concept of trauma in relation to the female identity. The investigation of trauma and woman generates questions like: what are the sources of this psychological shock? What are the effects of this traumatic experience on female subjectivity and selfhood? The issue at hand involves problematic concepts such as: identity, identity politics, subjectivity and selfhood. I would like to establish a link between identity as a cultural product and trauma experience and the human socio-biological transformations. The concept of trauma, here, shall be used interchangeably with other concepts such as cultural and gender oppressions –since it refers to any severe inner-emotional shock provoked by a painful experience.
In her controversial work “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), Betty Friedan addresses women’s repression as “the problem that has no name.” This problem lay buried, forgotten, for hundreds of years in the mind of the majority of women who believe and stress that the fulfillment of women is guaranteed through their subordination (marriage for instance). This belief puts women’s subjectivity and selfhood at stake. But, first of all, what is subjectivity? And how we come to construct such selfhood?
Early philosophy of enlightenment views the subject as a free agent and thinking being. This understanding of man as autonomous negates the fact that the subject lives in a world that is governed by certain cultural, social and even political structures and patterns. The twentieth century theoretical debates concerning identity came to re-think and re-consider this claim. From this perspective, any attempt to understand the subject involves a serious analysis of one’s social, cultural and political structures. For instance, Jacque Lacan, in most of his works, stresses that there is an implicit relationship between language structures and individual subjectivity. That is to say, our subjectivity is structured like a language. This linguistic intervention starts during the early stages of childhood and personality development. It occurs during the transition phase from the imaginary stage to the symbolic order. Toril Moi argues:
When the child learns to say ‘I am’ and to distinguish this from ‘you are’ or ‘he is,’ this is equivalent to admiring that it has taken up its allotted place in the Symbolic Order and given up the claim to imaginary identity with all other possible positions. The speaking subject that says ‘I am’ is in fact saying ‘I am he (she) who has lost something –and the loss suffered is the loss of the identity with the mother and with the world. The sentence ‘I am’ could therefore best be translated as ‘I am not’ according to Lacan.
Thus, our subjectivity construction is never static but rather dynamic. It is an ongoing process that is marked by discontinuity and psychological interruption(s). This transition from the imaginary stage to the symbolic is very much characterized by a psychological loss of the imaginary identity. Instead, it provokes and compensates for this psychological loss by establishing a firm connection to the outside world. The symbolic world, according to Jacques Lacan, refers to the world of language as a systematic order of symbolic representation(s) of the social order(s).
Accordingly, language represents not only a set of structures and grammatical rules, but a whole range of social regulations. Thus, when one acquires language, s/he automatically receives a certain gender role –therefore cultural identity. This makes it clear that the terrain of subjectivity/identity construction is the unconscious as another face of language. Lacan argues: “what the psychoanalytic experience discovers in the unconscious is the whole structure of language.” In other words, the unconscious is a hidden structure just like language. The latter is, indeed, the medium between the human unconscious and the social order. It is the vehicle or the bearer of culture and cultural discourse(s).
Generally speaking, this problematic issue of identity construction has been tackled from different perspectives following different agendas. After dealing with this concept from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, the rest of this essay will deal with it from a feminist sub-alternist perspective.
Based on claims of injustice done to particular social groups, political movements such as the Second Wave Feminism, the Black Civil Rights in U.S, gay and lesbian liberation and the American-Indian movement emerged as reactionary acts in the second half of the 20th century.
Such social movements created a philosophical and literary body of works that pose questions about the nature, origins and future of the identities being defended. The term identity politics means a wide range of political activities and theorizing based on the shared experiences of injustice of members of a certain social group. It suggests a political orientation built around a pre-existing social identity, which, in its formation, aims at securing the political freedom of a specific constituency stigmatized within its larger context.
For instance, in the 1960s, women –despite of their pivotal role in social movements such as the movement against war in Vietnam and the 1968 students’ movement which called for more rights –were denied recognition and position they deserve.
They were often positioned as second-class citizens. Consequently, by the mid 1960s, women began to react against this marginalized position under the famous slogan “the personal is political.” Since then, women started to call for more equity and respect as activists. Women’s theoretical, philosophical and literary works have come to analyze extensively this interlocking system of oppression. Popular literature as one aspect of female literature can be considered as a terrain that manifests women’s long-life struggle against male patriarchal discourse.
Romance novel, regardless of the many literary techniques and aesthetics it utilizes, aims at dismantling this complex system of oppression either as an individual or collective experience. Based on the incidence of cultural encounter, popular romance sets women’s experience of racial, gender, sexual and even cultural oppression as universal. This multiplicity of oppression replaces the traditional notion of oppression as operating in terms of man and women, with other binary oppositions such as white woman/ woman of color; heterosexuality/ homosexuality and so on.
As a result to this theoretical multiplicity, “feminist theory is currently experiencing a crisis of identity, one that not only threatens the very foundations of feminism as it has been articulated to date, but also its continued existence, as well as its role and influence in the academy.” Multiple voices within feminism, such as Black feminism, Jewish feminism and Lesbian feminism, articulated the notion of ‘feminisms’ rather than feminism. Moreover, they further complicate the problem of racial division within the feminist theoretical discourse.
The Indian feminist-Marxist critic Gayatri Shakrobatry Spivak who is concerned with the subalternity of the (post) colonial subject especially women argues, in her controversial essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” that women are double oppressed. They are marginalized by virtue of their gender as well as in terms of their race. They are constructed as the voiceless ‘Other’ to the male colonized subject; and at the same time, they are inferior to the female colonizer by virtue of their race or color –non-white. By the same token, Spivak argues: “As object of historiography and as subjects of insurgency, the ideological construction of gender keeps the male dominant. If, in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow.” This quote highlights the idea that women, in the context of colonial production, are not only excluded from history, but they are also discriminated by the male patriarchal discourse.
Moreover, G. Spivak warns the risks of talking on behalf of the subalterns. Since, this act of liberating the subalterns through speaking on behalf of them, involves a sense of what Spivak calls ‘epistemic violence.’ For Spivak, the colonial subject, mainly woman, can speak for herself, but she is denied the space in which –and a concrete means by means of which –she can voice out her problems. Thereby, it can be said that the subaltern subject is denied a space of enunciation –to quote Homi Bhabha.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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