A Gen/Sex assignment. Yay feminism!
Only read on if you’re in the mood for deep, dense feminist shit bound into meta travelogue humor.
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Q: On page 11, Wittig refers to “appropriated consciousness” and on page 13 to “false consciousness.” Unpack.
I saw the words “appropriated consciousness” and “false consciousness” and I got all set to pack my suitcase and go. But no, it’s time to unpack…
(LOL, Noah’s pathetic attempt at late night humor WOW much impressive.)
(Wait what did I really write that in an academic discussion forum?)
(I recant those last two sentences but I am too lazy to delete them.)
Let us define this “unpacking”—what are our objectives in this non-trip? Well, before we can go anywhere, we have to stall and ponder the definitions. So detour one involves deconstructing what Wittig refers to as “appropriated consciousness” and “false consciousness,” respectively and independently. Then we get to the fun part, which is when we explore the ways in which these terms are related. Once that’s all clear, we can hop into the car and go off on a magical mystery tour into the land of lesbians! Hurrah! Now that the objectives are clear, let us commence our not-starting/unpacking!
You’re driving along the road and you see a sign that says “appropriated consciousness.” What do you do? Do you stop, drop, and roll? Heavens no! The proper response would be to roar SUBJUGATION! On lovely page 13 of Wittig, we encounter the species in its natural habitat: “A materialist feminist approach shows that what we take for the cause or origin of oppression is in fact only the mark imposed by the oppressor: the ‘myth of woman,’ plus its material affects and manifestations in the *appropriated consciousness* and Waldo bodies of women.” Did you see the term? I asterisked/bolded/underlined it, so it’s a little easier to find than Waldo (who, by the way, is hiding in size one font between “and” and “bodies”. You’re welcome for the hint. You found him!). Sounds dense. Unpack, shall we? Wittig here differentiates, a la Beauvoir, between “woman” (with an a) as a societal construct and “women” (with an e) as the actual bodies. Wittig, a social constructionist, problematizes the “myth of woman,” that is, the traditionally defined expectations of women to be passive, to be objectified, to bear children and to be generally inferior to men. This horrifyingly negative stereotype has been projected onto females by the patriarchy. As a social construction, they by no means reflect an essential truth, but they reflect a male-imposed viewpoint that has sunk many a female ship. The “myth of woman” appropriates (synonyms: seize, hijack, take over) the female consciousness and scripts their experience in very non-women (read: MALE) terms. She calls for women to break the yokes of this oppression and scream SUBJUGATION! Run away from this evil, oppressive myth of “woman”!
While you’re running, you might stop to catch your breath and notice a big billboard that reads “Alert: false consciousness ahead.” What next? Cry? No! Pull out your handy Marxist pocket dictionary and there it is, in its lovely form: “False Consciousness refers to ideology dominating the consciousness of exploited groups and classes which at the same time justifies and perpetuates their exploitation” (Encyclopedia of Marxism, http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/f/a.htm). Clearly this is related to that whole appropriated consciousness thing. It’s pretty much that with an extra step thrown in, which is that all the while the subject is being appropriated, they think they want something which actually is not in their own best interest but only continues to feed the exploitative system. In Wittig, it refers specifically to the feminist solution of “Woman is wonderful,” which, according to Wittig, translates to “selecting among the features of the myth (that women are different from men) those which look good and using them as a definition for women.” On the surface, this seems fine: women is no longer negatively defined, only positively! The problem with this tactic, however, as Wittig points out, is that it maintains and perpetuates the male-written system of men/women difference. It doesn’t destroy anything, it only reinforces and reinscribes the system of male-dominated gender politics. In other words, when feminists try to react to male subjugation using the “women are wonderful,” they are acting in false consciousness and act against their interests. Try to step forward, only to take three steps back.
So, what is a feminist to do? It seems the problem here is the male defined categories and scripts. What if we radically question the terms and stop trying to define women in terms of men? As we’ve seen, “woman” fails (“it is only an imaginary formation”)…but so too does “women” (as “the product of a social relationship”); if both are myths, it seems like we need a new term (15). Enter the wonderful world of… THE LESBIAN! Just to remind ourselves: the goal is to change power dynamics using language to redefine the female experience without resorting to the patriarch’s scripts. Keeping the word “women” will not do because the survival of the female depends on the “destruction of the class of women within which men appropriate women” (20). The word “lesbian” designates a subject who is both not a man but also not a woman, as defined by the patriarchal myth and social relation. Instead, the “lesbian” is an escapee—a runaway who, by unpacking the gender oppression justified by a heterosexual and male-defined social system and correcting for it, has successfully packed her bag from the world of men to live freely.
Lesbian, consider yourself unpacked and packed.