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Monday, 26. September 2005


Emma Hedditch - additional Reading Material


BELONGING/PERTAINING DWF EDITORIAL BOARD, 1986

the 1st of 3 Texts from DonnaWomanfemme from the 80's. Its about productivity of language and ideas, suggested by Emma for collective reading during the workshop: "the content is the context. lets meet there!"

Over a years ago, we began the new DWF series with a presumption: that the need to resume a discussion on ourselves as collective subject was real and widespread; with an observation: that, in representing themselves, women often leave unsaid the cultural and political hypotheses which are being implicitly proposed; with an intention: that our journal should be the site of expression of individualities who yet do not elude the fact of belonging to their own sex, to the history of their gender, to a political history.

The continuous effort to adhere to the (always male-produced) models of maleness and femaleness, the continuous withdrawal from them because of an unrestrainable perception of their lack of authenticity, have both been read as permanent elements in the history of our gender. Between the effort and the withdrawal there lies a space which must be interpreted because it is the space of our lives; which can be interpreted because our political history makes us aware of the sexed nature of this oscillation, and of the perversion of a mechanism which condemns us to be alien either to our sex or to the world. Both kinds of alienation are easier to declare than to live through, and often lead to alienation from ourselves.

But if our lives are contained in that space - as we know they are in that same space is also a subjectivity which makes choices, measures coherences and evaluates its interests. In the editorial of our first issue, 'I like it, I don't like it' was proposed, not as a well-wishing attempt at self-legitimation, but rather as a cognitive category which would allow us to name the meanings of what we already do and want. That is to say, the meaning of our projects, the relationship between their construction and outcome and the sense of belonging to a political female gender: for this reason our second issue was entitled 'Projects/ projectuality'.

Neither site of two geometrically related lacks, nor condemnation of the gender's accepting its being itself a sign, nor metaphor of a femaleness posited as an ethical petition/reservation: the space between adhesion and reserve is for us the dimension of a woman's life. a dimension significant for its implicit sexed connotation and for the

idea of oneself and of one's own sex to which such a space lends existence.

Our third issue, 'Biographies. The feedback effect', identified in the relationship between female subjects the possibility of making explicit - finally - the wish for an advantage. In the case of biographies, this lay in uncovering and signifying all aspects of a life; we said that 'When it is not presented and perceived as misery and meaninglessness, the hidden side of another woman's exceptional life becomes knowledge of the self and of one's own sex.'

The intention to reflect on the concept of 'belonging' tends to explicate the problem of the connection between individual life and collective thought on the issue of sexual difference. Those who identify themselves in a political practice which is more an area of thought and an experience of research than a given institutional structure, such as a political party or a union, usually find it particularly difficult to define the form of their participation and collocation. In fact, it is not always enough to say that one belongs to a woman's group or that one is engaged in political work with other women. It is not enough especially if one wants to account for the experience shaped by the relationship between the individual and the collective, for the intertwinings of personal and social history, even when by 'social' one refers to the small group of women who am on& s ideal and concrete reference. Talking of belonging in these terms is an enterprise fraught with obstacles; it may actually appear impossible.

We have identified at least three types of impossibility (1) the impossibility of defining a clear and assertive form which would translate into life the statement that claiming one's belonging to the female sex is the will to draw an advantage from the fact of being a woman; (2) the impossibility of renouncing, to take into account those parts of the self which resist belonging as a political line-up, those 'nomadic' and obstinate parts which cannot be fully represented by the fact of belonging to a group; (3) the impossibility of ignoring the phantasms of belonging as a 'being part of, a being possessed, a dispossessment of the self. With some degree of simplification, it could be said that these three difficulties concern respectively the issues of women's subjectivity, individuality and identity. Knowing that these three areas of discourse are tightly interrelated has often turned out to be a further obstacle. Not by chance, analyses focused on only one of these three perspectives are countered by emphasizing the needs descending from the others. Mediating the problems connected to these discursive areas is a task which still needs much discussion.

With regard to belonging as a relationship between the individual and the collective in the shape of the problem of individual emancipation, the fact of having met with serious difficulties has not prevented an analysis of the way in which this problem works for most of us. For my part, I can contribute an example from my recent experience. For those women who, like myself, have begun their process of emancipation after feminist criticism of emancipation had already taken place and become established, entering the labour market has implied a series of difficult questions. How should 1 face in a sexed fashion the mediations with society required of those who have to cut their own path to emancipation starting from now? Here the problem of claiming one's belonging to the female sex as an advantage clashes with most empirical evidence, which still confirms that it is an obstacle or at best an inconvenience. Here, however, the usefulness of a political gesture of recognition becomes clearer; here a form of belonging as relationship between the individual and the collective can be realized. Let us go back to my personal example. In the strict system of rules commanding socialization in the work place and defining professionalism, it would have been very alienating to put up with the strain of fitting in and finding a collocation there, if I had not had the desire to give expression to the advantage of being a woman. In some way I took upon myself a 'political mandate' as a motivation: namely, the responsibility of the social representation of a female human being who expresses her desire to work and live freely. Claiming my belonging to feminist political practice has therefore two functions: it reveals oppression and it is a drive to change. This simple mechanism has different implications for the kind of relationships which I establish with my female and male colleagues, and with the object itself of my profession. But its most interesting effects are in the relationships with the women who are my political and affective interlocutors, and who are not necessarily my colleagues. 1 demand from them a critical ability and a research on themselves which should be similar to mine and open to continuous verification. I demand from them a verification - or is it a supervision? - of the proceedings and the outcomes of my 'political mandate'. In our relationship it is essential that we accept the risk of losing one another; that is, that we do not prefer affective reassurance to intelligence, the meta-world of consolation to the ability to express curiosity about the world and the self. This risk is the main guarantee to prevent belonging - as the symbolic and real tie to other women - from becoming a 'family' tie, which is not chosen, but rather compulsory and indulgent: the sort of tie which the recognition and uncritical acceptance of individual needs and shortcomings tend to produce. The forced and dull intimacy which often results from and in spite of the new habits of socialization among women is not an advantage for any of them.

The research for a structure which would no longer be only the expression of a unity among the oppressed is nowadays shared by many women and many groups. The presence of so many formations in itself bears witness to the will to escape the alienation of notbelonging and the solitary effort of giving political status to one's own autonomy as a subject, that is, of being each time and time after time the living proof of a sexed existence. However, the unwillingness of many women and groups to name their political practices (as well as their tendency to avoid the exemplary assumption of authority of groups with a great emphasis on political proposals) invites us to question the nature of the bond on which common projects are founded, and which underlies the painful and conscious loyalty to one's own individual life story.

This has been a starting point. We could not consider belonging a 'category', either of a cognitive or of an ethical nature. Yet investigating the concept of belonging meant for us proposing an itinerary of knowledge, at the same time pointing out some needs which we defined as ethical. For they imply the necessity of renovating our politics and its procedures, in order to reassess our goals, which cannot nowadays be completely identical with the proposals supported in the past by the women's movement.

Thence the hypothesis - to be verified - that belonging might be read as a 'measure', a measure of ourselves in relation to everything else; therefore a measure of the presence of the subject in any process which she enacts. It is also a measure of the individuality of the self, which can be a stage preceding the constitution of the subject; not an inevitable stage, but one which - in certain moments of women's history - is the premise or the alternative for the subjectivity under discussion here.

It seemed to us that belonging Yes also a measure of the degree of adherence posited - and perhaps experienced - by the subject with regard to her presence in the social sphere and in all the aspects of private life; the latter being a sphere connotated as the domain of emotions, where the possible failure in the passage from individual to subject in social life (with all the sufferings it entails) is more clearly recorded. If these premises were accepted, belonging would then become also the measure of the relationship which the women's movement may have, choose or endure with the spheres of culture and politics, both when belonging is defined in terms external to the movement itself, and when its properties are part of a research within the movement.

But once again, this is a hypothesis, a starting point. A hypothesis and a starting point which defer the possibility of a definition, even though they uncover grounds for intervention: factors, elements, areas which on the contrary can be defined, if they are seen and measured in terms of belonging. It is a 'negative' approach, which neglects the main object of the analysis and turns it into a tool. It can, however, be a valid approach, since a definition may still come from the results which, as a tool, it uncovers or causes. Belonging, as a measure of the degree of intimacy which the subject has with the representation of herself, in the relationships she establishes within women's society, in the confrontations she sets up with the social structure, has a historical precedent in 'belonging to the movement', to a feminist culture which is not only knowledge and writing, but also models, forms of behaviour, neuroses. The oscillation between memory and nostalgia characterizes many present political actions. It is the memory of a symbolical structure which has created a sense of belonging in the comparative reading of our lives, and has produced intelligence through conflict. When it is not simply nostalgia for a dream, it is nostalgia for that intelligence.

As is the case for all political structures, and actually more, the movement has been, bekwe and besides a political structure, a symbolical one.The recognition which each woman offered and demanded, the being and the belonging, took different forms, which were all marked by the knowledge of that recognition and of that belonging. These forms were implicit for many women, who experienced them, as it were, in the corners of their lives, without a statement or a continuous presence. But these corners became the cipher of life, they were the meaning of existence. For all women, belonging was a choice but also a necessity, and it could therefore take over a nuance of imposition. Loyalty to the movement - be it loyalty to a specific group, to a person, or to an uncertain feeling of inner collocation - demanded betrayal. The strength of unsaid commands marked the adhesion and provoked the refusal. The strength of a bond woven of words and persons fed the rebellion also to that discovery of the self and of other women which had nurtured rebellion. Especially for those women who had overcome the more evident forms of oppression, for the emancipated or half-emancipated women who already took part in cultural and political activities, for women who were no longer constrained to only a domestic role, who studied, worked, sometimes held posts involving responsibility, for women who had achieved an identity as 'persons'; especially for them seeing the oppression, accepting its existence, claiming it as their own together with all women, meant the separation from those rules which had dictated - transgression is recognition -their process of growth and their assertion of their right to exist. Suffering this separation, not only individually but as a gender, has been our first entry into the symbolic.

An insufficient entry - perhaps we must face other separations.  

Every hypothesis of political structure suffers an excess - ef dependence, sublimation, voluntarism, imitation - because it mimes, even before investigating it, the sense of belonging. It assumes, without interpreting the evasions, the differences and the divisions among women, that a unity of interests is possible, before evaluating what sense of belonging can determine for each woman that strate~y of interests which signifies a life. Faced with a life which imposes its daily routine, the inevitable banality of existence, each woman - in the impossibility of choosing both a total belonging to her sex/gender and a total alienation - mediates according to her untenability. The phantasm of loneliness - the reverse of the assumption of authority by the female subject when she moves in the world as an individual -shows that the sense of belonging demands its visibility, its history, its political forms.  

When the self becomes passionate for self-knowledge, longs for its image and therefore chooses to identify its own intensity - its inner sense - then this bond to the self is a sign of belonging. This bond, so painful for the female being, has involved in the dimension of experience the impossibility to do without a singular identity, while always submitting it to a process of subjectivation in order to trace its style, to outline and name its forms. Between the thought of a feeling of the self, and an organization of life, this investigation finds in the sense of self-belonging a measure of reality and of the relationships with what is other than the self.

The need to belong to a political female gender has introduced in history this relationship with the self, it has given it form, placed it within a production and circulation of knowledge, within power relations.

One cannot be the solitary witness of oneself, unless as a melancholy desire to exist. Belonging to a gender relieves the solitary witness of the unconsolable pain of having to repropose a story and an image in order to fill the lack she experiences in being the only proof of her own existence. Taking risks, and belonging to one's own chosen risk, means moving oat of what is recognizable and reassuring because it changes emsting relationships and reveals their degree of alienation. Escaping alienation - not-belonging - also implies considering one's own social self, therefore striving to win what one can name.

Separatism is a form of belonging; it is the social visible aspect of our unshakable resistance to a 'moral' code against which the feminist movement opened a conflict in the field of politics. In fact, the movement began a reflection about power, hence about that knowledge which decrees the statutory inexistence of a female subjective truth and the impossibility for a woman of being the agent of her own actions.

An idea of the self as conception of one's own sex/ gender creates nets of relationships which not only involve persons - that is, female subjects - but also concern the sexed events belonging to those subjects.The female subject-event bond outlines a dimension of belonging.Imagining and trying to enact the idea and the practice of one's own belonging means learning to recognize the peculiar and specific signs of the self, without considering them ex-centric with regard to the given code; nor with regard to the political female gender, for it can be named and it can name its internal differences. The emotion of self-belonging, of belonging to one's own sex/ gender, can also be fear and loneliness; but they are a form of wonder, not the pain of a missed happiness.'Necessarily having to' face and represent oneself finds in the necessity itself the silent part of belonging, as the sexed pleasure of existence. Perhaps even the irony of 'having to be' a subject belongs to the will to win through.



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