on not becoming a woman

During my usual Sunday morning browsing of the feminist interwebs, I came across this article by Jack Halberstam that takes issue with the semi-popular notion that young feminists today have rejected their mother feminists (because that is apparently the scheme of mother-daughter relationships) and thereby threaten the future of feminism. I’m not really in tune with the generational conflicts within feminism, so I was mostly thinking, Yeah, you sound sensible!

What really made me jump up and down, metaphorically speaking, was a fairly sidenoted comment Halberstam made in this conference presentation (around minute 9:55):

“In my new work on negative feminisms or what I call shadow feminisms I […] advocate for a feminism built around unbecoming rather than becoming– instead of becoming women we should be unbecoming women. That category itself seems vexed and problematic– we are all quoting Butler all the time and yet the stability of ‘woman’ is remarkable. Even in the kinds of things people have had to say at this conference, ‘woman’ seems so obvious to people. It doesn’t seem obvious to me. I think that we should be really destroying this category, refusing the definitions of womanhood as they have been proposed.”

As I’ve possibly said before on this blog, what I like about the ‘one is not born but becomes a woman’ quote is that it can mean so many different things to different people at different stages of thinking about womanhood. What it means to me is basically the point Halberstam is making in this quote– whatever I think of when I think ‘woman’ is not inherent to me as a human being. There’s the freedom to do gender playacting, but not the predestined attitude of having to ‘be’ a certain way because of one’s gender. But like Halberstam implies, it’s a project to unbecome a woman. It’s not something we’re born doing.

Did you catch what I just did there? Bam!


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