International women’s day is here and in this special day, we intend to celebrate by sharing with Kezia Alaia (@propagrandeur) to talk about her perspective towards woman in a writings called “This Essay Stands Until Someone Else Writes Something” Enjoy reading guys!
Nothing irks me existentially as much as the sole identification of my-self as: a woman. Not so much for the awful feeling of being reduced into a one-dimensional, coded category, or for being stereotypically gendered, or for being allowed significance only when provided the position of one as relative to man, or for the famed Long Feminist Sigh:
“What is a woman? To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never get the notion of writing a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. […] A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man.” (de Beauvoir, 1949)
Having been identified as a woman writer, a woman [insert occupation here — also a subject of my irritation, but we’ll save it for some other time], a woman person, this method of (self-)recognition reveals its prime annoyance to me when it assumes an undisputed notion that there is such a thing as the Universal Woman Experience. My limited understanding of others’ personhood and my unlimited yet incomplete experience of my own personhood have brought me to the conclusion that every individual person each occupies a distinctive, ever-negotiated position that is a confused hodgepodge of also contested, ever-negotiated variables — class, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, ability, belief, sexual orientation, appearance, culture, education, wealth, location, and the list goes on…
Thus, at this point in my forever changing perception of things, I prefer not to cater to the idea of a singular, universal Womanliness, let alone of a Womankind (especially when presented with a capital W, as in, the Indonesian Woman, the [Insert Adjective Here] Woman…). This distrust or detachment from the universal idea of a Woman is of course afforded to me by the intricate position of privilege and comfort that I occupy, and my participation in this dialectics is an exercised manifestation of my subjectivity.
For the purpose of this Women’s Day column, let’s assume that I agree with some general notion of a collective womanhood. The Day dates back to the work and struggles of the women’s suffrage movement from the mid-19th and is historically associated with leftist movements, before being adopted by the global feminist movement in the 1960s and the United Nations in the 1970s. In observation of the holiday, women individuals and organizations from across the globe advocate for particular issues, campaigns, or themes surrounding women’s rights. Honestly, this year’s UN theme can’t get any more boring: “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.
In respect of the catchline, I’d like to offer my take on a particular approach to equality. In 1985, postmodern feminist scholar Donna Haraway published “A Cyborg Manifesto”, an essay offering her critique to traditional notions of feminism which focuses on identity politics and advocates for a move beyond the limitations of traditional gender and feminism. Her essay suggests a breakdown of boundaries between: human/animal, animal-human/machine, and physical/non-physical, in consideration of the effects of evolution, contemporary machine and technologies, microelectronics, and cyborgs. The text takes note of the problematic notions of essentialism, naturalism, and antagonistic dualisms (of right/wrong, self/other, culture/nature, truth/illusion, God/man) and offers a replacement with the idea of the cyborg. “The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust,” wrote Haraway, echoed in recent years by xenofeminist collective Laboria Cuboniks, “If nature is unjust, change nature.”
Essentialist ideas on womanhood placing women on a pedestal while assigning them with a set of “noble” roles — gives birth, provides, nurtures, mothers — are dangerous as it assumes that women bear responsibility for society’s morality and virtue, while depriving them of agency and freedom, especially the freedom of choice and of being bad. Meanwhile, dualism is the grounds for most, if not all, politics of oppression — the idea that things should be categorised into either one of two, that something is one and not another, that there are limits and restrictions looming as unquestioned forces. Haraway’s cyborg manifesto and Laboria Cuboniks’ politics of alienation imagine a world without both essentialism and antagonistic dualism, which are proven lacking and unhelpful in the collective pursuit of equality, allowing the imagining of an anti-natural, techno-embracing approach to womanliness and womanhood.
Both provide a trigger for the evaluation of available variables — deeming them insufficient and compromised — and the critical envisioning of an artificial reality that is potentially a fertile ground for equality. In the end, the abolishment of deterministic essentialism and antagonistic dualism open the doors to an understanding of individuals that is fluid and liberating as much as it is comprehensive and profound.
But tomorrow, this may no longer suffice. By then, someone else will mis/dis//understand, and be annoyed and irked, and in turn, they will write. Therefore, this essay stands until someone else writes something.