July 13, 2009

I Could Critique the Shit Out of That, but...

Just because you can critique it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. This is my new mantra. As a Gender Studies graduate student, I'm used to critiquing the shit out of everything. One of our favourite pieces of Gender Studies terminology is "problematic." We say things like, "The Commission on the Status of Women might help advance women's rights in some isolated incidents, but isn't it problematic that this commission is predicated on a gender binary? Doesn't it reifying the gender binary?" The truth is, however, that everything is problematic at some level. I have yet to see a perfect institution or social movement. I've yet to find a charity with perfect, consummately positive goals. And yet, sometimes I feel like our critiques begin to justify our laziness (Martha Nussbaum agrees, and that's why she doesn't like Judith Butler).

Discourse analysis is all well and good and indeed, it can constitute activism to decentre patriarchal knowledge in the canon or deconstruct heteronormative narratives. At the same time, this shouldn't be all we do. I know that when I open a women's shelter for battered women, this may have negative externalities of perpetuating a discourse of battered women's victimization and helplessness, but it will also provide them with a way to exit their abusive situations. It will give them a safe environment in which they won't get hit, and isn't that reason enough to provide such shelters?

The Commission on The Status of Women in Canada might inspire lots of questions like, who gets to count as a woman to call upon this commission for help? What type of issues constitute "women's issues", etc, etc, but still, at the end of the day, women as a group, no matter how problematic it is to define this group, are still discriminated against for their womanhood, so shouldn't we have some woman-centred activism? It shouldn't be the only activism, but if you can discriminate against me for being a woman, maybe I should organize a protest as a woman too?

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: Don't let a critique get in the way of our community work. Sure, some organizations are far too ideologically problematic to participate in (The US' Anti-Defamation League is a great example of one such group), but that doesn't mean just because an organization is a little bit problematic that serving it is prohibited if you want to be a good feminist.

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