1 Tolmaran

Marginalization Of Women Definition Essay

As mentioned earlier, to initiate the reconfiguration of marginalization of a third world woman, I felt it necessary to bring into focus the center/periphery binary that dynamizes the global discourses on gender. This is because binary structures do not only serve as discursive “coding ingredients” (Spivak, 2010), they have, in fact, reified into material realities that govern how both genders perceive each other as discourses blend with material realities such as economic, juridical and socio-cultural institutions and practices. Hence, the discursive coding of knowledge influences the way these are enacted within the material embodiment of a particular ideology. Resultantly, the discourse formations of race and gender coupled with juridico-legal and socio-economic practices lead to the concretization of the binaristic infrastructure of social functionalism. This social functionalism produces specific modes of perceiving race and gender across the cultural divide, placing one entity at the margin and the other at the center. Therefore, to re-scrutinize the idea of marginalization, it is necessary for me to initiate a “rhetorical oscillation between a thing and its opposite” (Spivak, 1977: 5, author’s) as the “provisional origin” (Spivak, 1976: xii) of this argument to displace and reconfigure this opposition (Spivak, 1977: 5). This is done to inaugurate a rethinking of a relationship through engagement in terms of non-relationship with which my argument culminates.

If Fig. 1 were to be drawn in the light of mainstream global feminism, which is based on “a metaphoricity dominated by the photological” (Irigaray, 1974: 20), the center is seen as a phallocratic nucleus, which defines all women. This nucleus functions as a self-proclaimed “ultimate meaning of all discourse, …, the signifier and/or the ultimate signified of all desire, … as emblem and agent of the patriarchal system” (Irigaray, 1977: 67). The woman, assumed to be circumambulating at the circumference like an electron, is also a mirror looking inwards. Irigaray (1974) has pointed out that a woman is not only man’s desire, she also modifies her own desire in the self-replication of the masculine One (32) through a phallo-tropic mode of self-recognition. The neological term “phallo-tropic” emanates out of Irigaray’s (1974) notion that a woman’s only relation to the origin is prescribed by man through a form of “tropism” (33) that compels her to grow only in relation to masculine source. Intriguingly, tropism suggests that even if she grows away from a masculine center, her roots remain mired within a masculine substratum; and if she grows towards a masculine nucleus, she is engaged in a heliotropic engagement with masculinity. In brief, a woman, within the existing global gender discourses remains bound to a patriarchal nucleus that stages representational practices “according to exclusively masculine parameters” (Irigaray, 1977: 68; author’s italics). Not only that, a major issue that I have found within these theorizations is that they cannot somehow go beyond pre-determined binaristic oppositions. Hence, the notion of womanhood remains operant within a logos that is essentially based on a patriarchal Eidos. For instance, in This Sex which is not One, Irigaray takes the following position:

It is not a matter of toppling that order so as to replace it—that amounts to the same thing in the end—but of disrupting and modifying it, starting from an ‘outside’ that is exempt, in part, from phallocratic law. (Irigaray, 1977: 68)

The problem with this argument is that it presents “the outside” as a space that evades the law of the phallocratic center, without taking into account the fact that the outside is in effect created by the center. The outside is that which has been exiled by the center, hence its nomenclature as an exteriority is in effect a product of the nucleus in itself. Irigaray’s acceptance of the pre-existing categories as they are, thus, concretizes the dualisms that have led to the reification of gender-based categories. Hence, the binaries of man/woman, outside/inside remain “reactionary position(s)” (Spivak, 1986: 77) and are related in terms of a hierarchal exercise of control in the Western feminist discourse. However, while reactionary positions remain the major pattern around which all paradigms of social functionalism are structured, a displacement within the discourses that have generated these positions may be engaged to revise them, at least theoretically. Therefore, to deconstruct them, one has to begin with provisional definitions that enable one to take a tentative stand that is constantly effaced, so that no “rigorous definition of anything is ultimately possible” (Spivak, 1986: 77). This deconstructivist argument by Spivak provides me with an additional groove for problematizing the notion of the “marginalization” of the third world woman in particular.

Before further delving into the problematics of the margin, I feel it necessary to take on certain assumptions regarding third world women from Julia Kristeva’s theorization. In “Women’s Time”, Kristeva (1981) states that the solidity grounded in a particular mode of re-production and representation of any entity is rooted within a specific “socio-cultural ensemble” (14). Every socio-cultural ensemble has its own temporality and memory which exceeds the confines of local history. Humanity, however, exists across multiple ensembles and temporalities. Therefore, when one socio-cultural ensemble establishes a conglomerate with other socio-cultural ensembles, it becomes connected with an overarching heterogeneous humanity. Kristeva adds that through this miscegenation, a specific regional ensemble also rises above its spatio-temporal boundaries and becomes a part of a broader temporal whole wherein one common social denominator specific to a particular region becomes reflected in another socio-cultural ensemble. For instance, when third world feminism comes in contact with other forms of feminist discourses, some common themes and issues do come to the surface, such as issues of domestic and sexual violence, gender discrimination and so on. Yet, these commonalities serve to bring to the fore significant differences as well. To cite one example, the laws governing the penalty of rape in Pakistan differ significantly from those implemented in the United States. In Pakistan, until February 2015, DNA profiling was not admissible as the main evidence to inculpate a rapist since Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology insisted that it should only be taken as corroborating evidence. On the other hand, DNA evidence is sufficient for apprehending a rapist in the United States. Hence, the legal position of a Pakistani rape victim is monumentally different from that of an American rape victim owing to differences in cultural attitudes and legal procedures.

While the dynamics of the interaction between two socio-cultural ensembles that Kristeva has theorized are valid, some aspects of her paper are problematic for a third world woman. First and foremost, on the surface, Kristeva’s (1981) argument suggests that in the process of osmosis, both ensembles ought to undergo a socio-cultural and discursive meiosis as they become participants of a supra-cultural ensemble (14). This would be an ideal situation. However, in the interaction between first world and third world feminisms, it seems that it is primarily third world feminism that, in all its variegated patterns, is losing it solidity in becoming a part of a West-dominated supra-cultural ensemble. The miscegenation that she has presented would ideally take place between two ensembles that are equal in power and have similar racial and historical paradigms. This mode of miscegenation becomes problematic when a politically powerful socio-cultural ensemble, for example a European one, juxtaposes with a different and perhaps contrapositional ensemble such as that of Asia. In this context, what comes to the fore is that the inherent specificity and characteristics of a less dominating socio-cultural ensemble are threatened by those of the dominating ensemble. In this light, the validity of Spivak’s argument that Kristeva’s stance is essentially Euro-centric cannot be refuted as the importing of the West-centric associations of “marginalization” and “agency” within the third world feminist discourses also attests to this fact. This comes in conflict with Kristeva’s own theorization that when a particular socio-cultural ensemble within which first world feminism is placed, meets a different socio-cultural ensemble such as that of third world feminism, both ought to undergo an equal reconfiguration.

Second, the diagrammatic representation in Fig. 2 of Kristeva’s idea about the interactions among different socio-cultural ensembles brings another problem to light. According to Kristeva in “Women’s Time”, within all socio-cultural conglomerates, there are additional formations that are not a part of the mainstream ensemble owing to their place in its production, re-production and representation. Hence, they are attached to the periphery of their respective socio-cultural ensemble. In this way, they are not only participants of the “cursive time” (Kristeva, 1981: 14) of their respective region, they also go beyond its boundaries to become participants of the global “monumental time” (Ibid.) since they become linked (as shown through the dotted lines in Fig. 2) with the socio-cultural groups of other sociocultural ensembles. In this way, all marginal socio-cultural groups equally become participants of a global ensemble. As a third world woman, I question whether this supra-cultural global ensemble includes both the remembered histories and the forgotten memories of all the groups involved since all groups must undergo a reciprocal, discursive osmosis. However, what is observed with reference to first world feminist discourses is that while supposedly functioning as supra-cultural ensembles, they practically co-opt third world feminist discourses within their own ideological framework. Hence, from a third world woman’s perspective, the supra-cultural ensembles are not as democratic as suggested by Kristeva. Moreover, despite being based on the notion of exchange, Kristeva’s argument does not focus on the boundaries around these ensembles nor the modalities of their functioning. As a matter of fact, her argument does not question the relationship of first world and third world feminisms, as she elucidates the culture of the Chinese women. In short, her arguments replicate the Western center and non-Western periphery structure, wherein she gives voice to the supposedly mute Chinese women.

On the other hand, Spivak (1981) correctly argues against the homogenization imposed on third world women by a first world feminist theorist like Kristeva saying that it is “always about her own identity” (158), thus resulting in the stereotyping of both categories of women as agentive or passive respectively. While Spivak identifies inconsistencies in Kristeva’s treatment of Chinese women, my contention against both is that in their arguments, the margin remains uncontroversial and unproblematic, particularly in Kristeva’s argument as she continues to stamp it as a stationary space wherein a third world woman is glaciated in a mute alterity. The central socio-cultural ensemble has always been seen as agentive, thus prescribing the role of the margin in terms of passivity. The margin functions merely as a line separating the regional socio-cultural ensembles from the secondary formations peripherally attached to them (Fig. 2).

However, in Derridean terms, if the inside and outside are arbitrary and constituted through mutual negotiation, the margin functions as a fluctuant plane of negotiation. This idea leads to a dynamic shift within Fig. 2. If the circumferences of all the ensembles in this diagram are seen as limitrophic, then not only does the central socio-cultural ensemble lose its hierarchal prestige, the idea of a subaltern woman also experiences a shift and leads to a re-thinking of the questions of whether the subaltern can speak (Spivak, 1988 [1994]: 66) and whether it can be heard (Maggio, 2007: 419). This is because the subaltern woman’s agentive act of speaking is no longer to be defined by the Western feminist center’s ability to hear as this speaking-hearing modality experiences a multi-tiered variation. The subaltern may speak without any need to be heard by a Western listener and vice versa. Thus, the agentive/passive binary would be in a state of constant displacement as multiple patterns of agentive manoeuvrings would continue to influence the inter-ensemble interactions. Thus, a subaltern would not strictly remain a subaltern. In the context of first and third world feminisms, this reconfiguration of Kristeva’s idea leads to the notion that both ensembles enjoy a certain degree of freedom to continually constitute themselves and each other while interacting across limitrophic boundaries. This interaction extracts the ideas of the subaltern and the margin out of a monolithic closure.

Since the margin is located both within and without the inside and the outside, it blurs the binary between the two planes as shown in Fig. 1. As a result, this blurring conjures up “a relationship that can no longer be thought within the simple difference and the uncompromising exteriority of ‘image’ and ‘reality’, of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, of ‘appearance’ and ‘essence’, with the entire system of oppositions which necessarily follows from it”. (Derrida, 1967: 33). In the context of a third world woman, the tenuousness of her orbit around a central first world feminism becomes the foundation of her empowerment since she herself stands within the plane of mediation between the so-called interiority and exteriority. This allows her to defy any theoretical confinement, since she functions within “the contentious internal liminality” to speak of herself as the actively heterogeneous “emergent” (Bhabha, 1994: 149; author’s italics). This heterogeneity constantly undermines the reification of a third world woman as a constant category. This argument further becomes the corner stone in dismantling the center’s gaze dynamics which I shall elucidate in the ensuing section.

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman's body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as "legitimate rape." One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women's rights. Sadly though, the marginalization of women has been going on for a long time. Some 2,000 years ago, a Hebrew sage named Ben Sira wrote "the birth of a daughter is a loss" and "better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good." Modern readers rightly label such words misogynistic. But they're part of the historical record and Ben Sira wasn't alone. From Mesopotamia to Egypt, women in the ancient world were considered property -- valuable property, but property nonetheless. And it's true of the Bible's view as well. Yes, there were biblical women who flourished in spite of the patriarchy, women like Ruth, Esther, Lydia and Priscilla. But women in the Bible were normally viewed as second class, if even that.

The Decalogue is a case in point. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male slave, his female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything which belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). Because the Ten Commandments are so well known, it's quite easy to miss the assumptions in them about gender. But the marginalization of women is clear. The wife is classified as her husband's property, and so she's listed with the slaves and work-animals. There's also a striking omission in this commandment: never does it say "You shall not covet your neighbor's husband." The Ten Commandments were written to men, not women. There's even more evidence, linguistic in nature. Hebrew has four distinct forms of the word "you" and these are gender and number specific. The form of "you" in every single commandment is masculine singular. The text assumes its readers are men. True, mothers are mentioned in the Decalogue as deserving of honor, but even here the Hebrew grammar assumes a male readership: the Hebrew verb for "honor" is masculine singular (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). The Ten Commandments embody much that is foundational for modern society, but egalitarian they aren't.

Women are marginalized in the book of Proverbs as well. Quite a number of times Proverbs uses the phrase "my son." The phrase "my daughter" does not occur. And the commands in Proverbs are consistently second person masculine, never second person feminine. And the readership of the book of Proverbs is warned to beware of the evil seductress (e.g., Proverbs 5), but the reverse doesn't occur: never does the book warn women to beware of a male seducer. The authors say living with a contentious woman is terrible, but never say the same about a contentious man (Proverbs 25:24). The book was written to men, not women. True, there is a famous text in Proverbs which praises a "noble wife" (Proverbs 31:10-31). She is wise, benevolent, hard-working, an entrepreneur, and loved by her sons and husband (daughters are not mentioned). Readers are encouraged to find such a wife. But there is a subtle problem: there is no counterpart to the "noble wife" text, nothing in the book that encourages young women to find a noble husband. After all, men were the intended readers, not women.

The New Testament contains texts that marginalize women as well. Among the harshest of these texts is 1 Timothy 2. The author is discussing worship and begins by stating that "men should pray" and then says "women should dress themselves modestly and decently." So men are to pray and women are to dress modestly. That's quite a contrast. But there's more: "Let a woman learn in silence and full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to be silent." The author's rationale: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Timothy 2:8-14). So, according to this text, women were to be silent in worship because they were created second and sinned first. And the final blow is this: a woman "will be saved through childbirth, if she remains in faith and love and sanctification with modesty" (1 Timothy 2:15). This text is not too different from a Saying in the Gospel of Thomas (114) that says women can be saved once they become males. In any case, for the author of 1 Timothy, eternal salvation comes obstetrically.

Of course, there are even more difficult texts, with men said to be willing to surrender women to horrendous violence. For example, Genesis says the patriarch Lot was willing to force his two daughters out the door to be raped, and the book of Judges says a Levite actually did force his concubine out the door to be gang raped, and after she died he cut her corpse into twelve pieces (Genesis 34; Judges 19-21). And an unmarried woman could be compelled to marry her rapist, as long as the rapist could pay the standard bride price and the woman's father was comfortable with the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Exodus 22:16-17). And some fathers were comfortable, if Jacob is any indication (Genesis 34). And polygyny (a man having multiple wives) was approved of (Genesis 4:19-24; Deuteronomy 21:15; 2 Samuel 3:2-5). Some narratives even have wives referring to their husbands as "lord," such as Sarah in Genesis 18:12. And a woman's religious vow could be nullified by her father or her husband (Numbers 30:3-15). Within the "Household Codes" of the New Testament, husbands are commanded to "love their wives" and to avoid treating them "harshly," but women are commanded to "submit to" their husbands (Colossians 3:18-19; Ephesians 5:22-25). And the custom of a marital "bride price" (money given by the groom's family to the bride's family) reveals that marriage was, at least in some respects, a property transfer, as payment had been made to acquire the bride (Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16; 1 Samuel 18:25; Genesis 24:53).

Thankfully, some biblical authors who pushed back against the marginalization of women. For example, according to the Bible, Job had seven sons and three daughters and the writer of the book of Job actually names those daughters but not the sons, a reversal of standard practice. Also, these daughters "received an inheritance along with their brothers," wonderfully subverting the standard legal practice of not giving daughters a share of the family land (Job 42). And the ancients who penned the stunning narratives about Deborah (Judges 4-5) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20) were pushing back against patriarchy as well. The New Testament Paul was quite progressive for his time, as he considered Phoebe to be a "deacon" and Junia to be "preeminent among the apostles" (Romans 16:1, 7). He also wrote: "there is no longer male nor female" (Galatians 3:27). But these voices were the exception, not the rule.

People today often wish to turn to sacred literature for timeless trues about social norms. This impulse is certainly understandable. But that impulse can be fraught with certain difficulties. After all, to embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women. And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong. Gender equality may not have been the norm two or three millennia ago, but it is essential. So, the next time someone refers to "biblical values," it's worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women and that's not something anyone should value.

PHOTO GALLERY

Badass Women in the Bible

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