Women’s Liberation With Respect to the Self, Sexuality and Family or Personal Relationships
This paper explores the concepts of self, sexuality, and relationships referencing Gloria Wekker’s work, the Politics of Passion, to explain how important women’s notions of self, sexuality, and relationships are to understanding women’s liberation, resistance, and domination in society.
Self, Sexuality and Relationships
Women’s ability to resist domination and subordination, and her experiences of liberation, are contingent on her sense of self or self-perception, the way she embraces her sexuality and the manner in which she relates to and converses with others. In her work, the Politics of Passion, Wekker quotes Alexander (1991:148), indirectly stating that women’s “agency” and “subjectivities and collective consciousness” are all central to one’s understanding of power and resistance (Wekker, p. 171).
Wekker describes through narrative example how kinship ties among women of a specific culture, a group she refers to as “mati,” may influence a woman’s power and status within their culture and society. For example, Wekker refers to Mis’ Juliette’s life (a mati life) history in the first chapter of her work, describing her as a woman who rejected marriage even though culturally, Caribbean women viewed marriage as, “highly desirable” because marriage to Mis’ Juliette meant the equivalent of giving up one’s autonomy (Wekker, p. 171).
Wekker’s observations suggest that women lose power and control when they view the “core of sexuality” as something akin to reproduction, rather than as something a woman might use to experience joy and power (Wekker, p. 172). A woman’s joy could be, according to Wekker, in the presence of other women, directly related to her sexuality as revealed through a woman’s connection with other women.
Wekker suggests that while many people associate women’s “mati work” or kinship as negative, in part because it produces an “unequal sex ratio and unpleasant experiences and disappointments with men,” (p. 172) there are many upsides to these relationships for women, none the least of which is not having to worry about getting pregnant (although mati women freely engage in heterosexual relations to produce children if they want). Overall Wekker demonstrates that the dominant paradigms that exist about women and their kinship do not take into consideration the number of women who make positive choices and decisions in their lives that empower them emotionally, “sexually and economically” when they are involved most intimately with other women rather than with men (Wekker, p. 172).
Most people might argue that women would choose to be with others through default; Wekker proves just the opposite suggesting these choices are positive demonstrations that allow for women’s liberation. Women willingly and eagerly in this context speak openly about their sexuality and fulfillment.
Wekker argues in chapter two that all women of the working class regardless of their sexuality or sexual status are embedded in a pre-existing gender “ideology” that focuses on stressing self-worth, self-preservation and respect, along with independence (p. 173).
Traditionally society “at large” and people living within other cultures might conclude the objects of Wekker’s study engaged in acts of disgrace, sexual behaviors that one might consider deviant or wrong. However, following feminist theories one may argue that this new paradigm, demonstrated by the behavior of mati women, allow greater liberation. This is evidenced by the “unabashedly” manner in which women enjoy their sexuality and independence, regardless of whether they are with men or with women, and their ability to talk freely and openly about their sexuality, love and their power as sexual, autonomous human beings (Wekker, p. 174).
Unlike other parts of the world where such behaviors may be described as bi-sexuality or homosexuality and thus limiting, quite the opposite is true in the mati culture, where “selfhood” as described by Wekker is constructed because of these relationships, and this notion of self leads to greater power among the Afro-Surinamese working class women.
Western idealisms of marriage, gender, identity and sexuality conflict with much of what Wekker suggests through her work. However, embedded within this work is the fact that through passion, the passion of mati women, women become politically free, independent and self-aware to the point where they have the ability to overpower their male counterpoints.
Passion Leads to Liberation
Typically one’s sexuality is limited and based on dominant paradigms of what is “right” or “normal” and what is “deviant” or wrong. Interestingly, the Politics of Passion proves that just the opposite is true. Women who reject traditional paradigms also reject Western idealisms about sexuality, marriage, families, desire and identity. Through their sexual activities, the mati women described by Wekker embody each of these elements, and liberate themselves sexuality, which in turn leads to greater power, greater autonomy and greater independence. Women are encouraged in this environment to rely on their own instincts, knowledge and expertise to do what they feel is best for them. They are encouraged, contrary to what most women experience, to do what makes them feel good. In this way they escape the chains that bind and subordinate many women living in other cultures who are brought up to believe gender distinctions exist and women have certain responsibilities and places.
If one were to adopt the mati perspective and apply it to their life, they would find that women are more dominate than subordinate, capable of fulfilling all their needs, including their need for love, for a sexual partner, for a family and for children should they choose. They can take up office and work as they please. So powerful is this force it shapes the lives of the women who adopt this paradigm for living.
Since the dawn of time women in many other cultures have suppressed their sexuality. This in turn leads to suppression or subordination of women in other respects, including in their relationships, their careers and their lives. Women, by taking charge and reveling in their sexuality, or their passion, realize true power. They learn more about their self, by discovering what they find pleasing, and what they find displeasing, and act accordingly to satisfy their most basic needs.
Paradigm of Power
Within Wekker’s work one realizes the paradigm for power among women rests largely in their perceptions of gender and sexuality. Women are liberated when they become sexually free and when they blur the distinctions between gender, race and ethnicity. Society has for so long focused on gender and identity it has created a paradigm that subordinates women in all ways, including in work, in relationships and in life.
Beagan (2001) claims that “micro inequalities construct a climate that marginalizes and alienates some groups” which in turn reinforces hierarchies of inequality despite efforts one might make toward liberation or equality (p.583). In her studies, Beagan refers specifically to blatant forms of discrimination evident in medical schools, where students are often “heterogeneous” when one considers a student’s “gender, race, class and sexual orientation” (p. 583). A social construct exists not only within this environment but within society at large that indirectly subordinates women despite said “claims” to encourage greater equality. Key to overcoming inequalities and liberating women as Wekker suggests, is exploring cultural norms and encouraging women like the mati to overcome social constructs that classify women as subordinate or inadequate when they do not follow social or cultural norms.
The mati are the idea example of how liberated women can be when they embrace their gender, sexuality and passion rather than shy away from it, or rely on traditional social constructs that may serve no real purpose in modern society.
Women’s liberation leads to power. To achieve power women must learn to adopt a new paradigm of self, one that encourages women to explore their sexuality and independence, and pay attention to their need for joy, sexual fulfillment and prosperity.
The most important point to take away from Wekker’s analysis is that women’s notions of self, sexuality, and gender directly link with the power and autonomy she has within society. To liberate women, to encourage women to resist against social constructs that would subordinate them, one must first encourage women to explore their sexuality and learn ways to find pleasure in their sexuality. To feel liberated, women must not view the object of sex as reproduction, but rather as a means of self-fulfillment and pleasure. By understanding this concept, anthropologists and women’s rights leaders can provide women a better paradigm for achieving success and upward mobility regardless of the social constructs they live within.
Beagan, Brenda. (2001). Micro inequities and everyday inequalities: “Race,” gender, sexuality and class in medical school. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 26(4): 583.
Wekker, Gloria. (2006). Politics of Passion. New York: Columbia University Press.
Power of Passion
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