Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

A Feminist Pioneer Summarily Dismisses a Core Tenet of Black Feminist Thought

December 15th, 2015 by Ajuan Mance

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The December 13, 2015 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education features a reexamination of the concept of the “Male Gaze,” 40 years after the term was first introduced by avant-garde filmmaker Laura Mulvey . In this special report, the Chronicle invites four scholars to comment on Mulvey’s relevance today.

Though no scholars of color are included in this report, issues of race and other forms of difference do make their way into the discussion, and it was Susan Bordo’s engagement with the concept of intersectionality that I found most troubling. Bordo writes:

Nowadays “intersectionality” is all the rage, and we sometimes forget that without the first cuts into the undifferentiated Subject, there would be no “sections” to re-theorize. Mulvey and other gender-centered theorists offered the first critiques of the abstract (but covertly male) “human” that philosophers such as Sartre had assumed in analyzing the meaning of the Look of the Other. As such, they opened the door to further challenges — for example, coming from race studies and disability studies, which have produced powerful accounts of what it feels like to move through the social world marked by one’s skin color or one’s wheelchair, and from lesbian film studies (and female directors) who have offered a whole new vocabulary of variations, visual as well as intellectual, on the female gaze.

Bordo’s erroneous assertion that Mulvey “opened the door” for challenges to the lens through which white supremacy views non-white individuals and communities (when many such challenges predate Mulvey) isn’t even the most disturbing of her assertions. It’s very interesting to me that, even in 2015, Bordo writes dismissively of the idea of “intersectionality,” which she refers to as “all the rage.” Indeed, it’s the tone of her comment that points to the reason feminists of color, beginning around the same time Mulvey first published her essay, began to call for an acknowledgement of the ways race (and often class) impact women’s experiences of sexism. Apparently, even 40 years later, Bordo sees intersectionality as trendy, an assessment that overlooks the fact that for many of us, the idea of inhabiting marginalized racial and gender identities simultaneously is a simple reality of life, just as it was for our mothers and fathers, for generations prior, and for generations to come. That, to me, is anything but trendy.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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