Here we are weaponless with open arms, with only our magic. Let’s try it our way, the mestiza way, the Chicana way, the women way. (Gloria Anzaldúa 773)
I cannot claim to be a Chicana, but I am certainly a woman, and if mestiza is defined by being the result of “racial, ideological, cultural and biological cross-pollunization,” then I am also a mestiza. After all, how many of us can claim to be otherwise? Don’t we all, at some point, if not always, find ourselves to be “torn between ways?” Doesn’t “the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another” influence us all (Anzaldúa 765)? We are all “mestiza” because we are all the product of the conflicts in our lives.
When Luce Irigaray calls for a revival of women’s essence, she opens the space for a feminine consciousness to assert itself without, however, limiting that essence to any fixed definition and without arguing that it has to be a stable, never-changing essence. Anzaldúa’s mestiza becomes a vivid example of what Irigaray calls for as it claims an essence that is forever changing with the changing forces of “cultural and spiritual values.” “We are continually caught within and between at least two constantly shifting subject-positions” Fuss reminds us, “and these positions may often stand in complete contradiction to each other” (33). Our analysis of oppression and our suggestions for improvement are then always dependent on these shifting subject-position as they also affect these subject-positions.
One of the most difficult tasks that confronted me in the process of writing this dissertation was coming to terms with a critique of a binary opposition that figures in how I see my own life. I think bell hooks was right in saying that subversion of dominant thought “happens much more easily in the realm of ‘texts’ than in the world of human interaction” (qtd. In Bordo 299). When I deconstruct the binary opposition scientific/narrative for example, I make claims that myth should be as valuable as science yet I find myself hesitant in applying this suggestion to my own life. I come from a culture that is still highly dependent on myth, traditional knowledge, superstition, call it what you may. After all, Every culture needs some form of myth. Yet I always find myself in an oppositional place with my grandmothers and the family elders who try to convince me of certain traditional beliefs arguing with them that these are superstitions not based on scientific fact and as thus should not be credited. Their answer, justly so, is that they have learned these ideas from direct observation and personal experience. As I was writing this dissertation I found myself to be more tolerant of my grandmother’s “superstitions” even if I still insist on arguing with them—being the stubborn and always oppositional granddaughter I’m still struggling to accept those beliefs I have so long worked at discrediting.
In terms of the actual process of writing, finding the appropriate terminology to describe a certain argument is probably one of the most important elements I came across. Finding the apt words to define the right belief or action, therefore, is essential to any argument. It has proven helpful to me sometimes to reevaluate what I have written and see if I haven’t fallen into one of the positions that I try to critique. In chapter three for example, I was especially attentive not to essentialize my arguments since the chapter produced some sort of a critique against essentialism. What I myself have constantly failed to remember is that I cannot, or do not want to, define essentialism as such a definition will construct certain barriers in my own argument. To call a certain position essentialist means that I have assigned a fixed definition to that position and have not allowed it to take the various forms it should take in any analysis.
Maybe this is why I call my theory a theory of phases. By revisiting these phases over and over we are constantly alerted to the dangers of fixed positions, to the limitations of viewing the world in terms of binaries, to the ways in which we can disrupt the patriarchal system of oppression.
The argument runs that only the marginalized can effect a proper disruption of binaries. Does that mean that to criticize patriarchy one has to exist on the borders; to be a woman or a Latino, for example? Maybe we can adjust our definition of marginality as we have adjusted our definitions of other terms in this dissertation. Explaining that for a scientific knower objectivity means partial knowledge, Donna Haraway argues that:
The only position from which objectivity could not possibly be practiced and honoured is the standpoint of the master, the Man, the One God, whose Eye produces, appropriated, and orders all difference. (193)
Thus stating that since Man fails to be in the position of objectivity, or partial knowledge, he cannot analyze or critique the forces of oppression. Explaining that for a scientific knower objectivity means partial knowledge, Haraway seems to posit that lacking partial knowledge, Man cannot be objective. Would Haraway mean to exclude men from the realm of feminist critique then? I believe that is not the case. I have not included a text by a white man in my analysis maybe because we do not see white men’s texts as a place from which feminist politics can be launched. We’ve grown accustomed to reserving our positive textual critiques to women writers; positive in the sense of producing a worthy feminist politics, and maybe some male writers who are known to also be ‘marginalized’ by being black, latino, gay, etc. Could we perhaps look into a white male writer for an example of a feminist struggle? That would not be saying that this writer is a feminist. I’ve included Rudolfo Anaya in my list though I would strongly disagree with branding him a feminist (I find extreme prejudice in his presentation of Antonio’s sisters). Yet I was able to find within his position a place from which to effect a feminist critique. If every one of us is a mestiza, and I strongly believe that we are all hybrids of multiple cultures, then anyone, male or female, white or black, can critique the belief in fixed definitions and oppositional binaries.
It might be necessary at some point to add a fifth phase that insists on seeing the disruption of binaries occurring not only within the realm of marginalized texts but also within dominant ones. If the argument runs that the binary is a false construct, and that the world and all that is in it proves this falsity, then certainly dominant texts, as well as marginalized ones, could provide instances for the disruption of binaries. And if this disruption is done unconsciously by the writer then we, as readers, can be conscious in our evaluation of these texts to the ways in which they disrupt binary oppositions. A theory of four phases does not have to annul further phases—haven’t I argued against closed doors earlier? —but should encourage all supplementations that can work towards elevating feminist struggles.
As they stand, these four phases can assist me, as they can assist other teachers, into guiding our students to the possibility of reading beyond the system of binary oppositions. Starting with phase one our students can be guided into understanding the limitations not only of setting the world into binary oppositions but also of restricting their reading practices to one that sees this opposition as a necessary criteria to work by. As a pedagogical tool, the phases can serve as the sections by which the course is divided, thus working the students step by step towards gaining a more inclusive type of reading that is not limited by the binary division. I personally have not come across any literary work that cannot be utilized in this fashion. Good and evil is probably the most obvious binary found in most literature and one most easily recognized by students. Our task as teachers, then, is to suggest alternative readings to our students through phases that can take them beyond the simplistic analysis of good and evil.