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Getting Specific

Getting Specific: Postmodern Lesbian Politics

Shane Phelan
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Getting Specific
    Book Description:

    Phelan examines lesbian political theory and points out the pitfalls of a lesbian feminism that ignores the specificities of race. As she searches for a democratic identity politics, she explores the possibilities for lesbian community and for alliances with other groups, as well as the political goals of lesbian action.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8447-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    What do lesbians want?

    Feminists have debated for years over the nature of women’s oppression and the aims of feminism. Should our aims be conceived in terms of equality with men, or should they be understood as the valorization of our differences from them? Are these mutually exclusive aims? Further, what should we do with differences among women? Are differences obstacles to solidarity, or are they resources? Is there a sort of equality we need, and another that must be rejected?

    Among lesbians, these debates have a certain inflection. Do we want equality with heterosexual women? Or do we want...

  6. Chapter 1 Specificity: Beyond Equality and Difference
    (pp. 1-15)

    InThus Spake Zarathustra,Zarathustra replies to a hunchback’s demand for a “cure” by suggesting that such a cure would take away his “spirit”—what makes him distinctively him. William Connolly elaborates on the meaning of this passage when he says that the deformity is not to be pitied or to be remedied: both pity and the “insistence that the hunchback must be helped to reach the plateau of normality” are based in “repugnance to difference and the drive to regularize everyone according to some fictive model of normality.”¹ Nietzsche’s hunchback lives in a world that assumes that salvation takes...

  7. Chapter 2 Building a Specific Theory
    (pp. 16-31)

    Getting specific does not simply mean pointing to details. It means calling into question the field(s) that organize experience and meaning, problematizing the identities and allegiances that we have come to take for granted. It means coming to see the effects of power and the possibilities for democratic negotiations of that power. To do so requires a social ontology or landscape that can see and address contemporary modes of power.

    The problems faced by white feminist theorists are the result of being colonized by global theory: the expectations of white feminists for a theory have been set largely by the...

  8. Interlude I: Getting Specific
    (pp. 32-40)

    In practice, getting specific is a process of weaving threads. It is conceptually possible to separate out one thread and say “This is class” and find another that is labeled “gender” or “race” or “sexuality,” but that separation alone will never do justice to the way that the whole fabric is lived. Getting specific therefore is more like storytelling than like analysis, though both are required. I will illustrate this weaving by picking up the thread of class in my life; picking up this thread forces me to carry the whole cloth, and eventually to describe it as well.


  9. Chapter 3 (Be)Coming Out: Lesbian Identity and Politics
    (pp. 41-56)

    Having made general claims for specificity, I would like to move on to consider what can be gained for lesbian identity politics from such a shift in perspective. Because identity is currently so tightly bound to questions of truth, identity politics is tugged along in the wake of modern assumptions about the nature of sexual identity as something that can be known. Postmodernism enables us to challenge the status and nature of truth (and of nature) and so helps us to rethink sexual identity as a process of becoming. Through the concept of (be)coming out, I will suggest a model...

  10. Chapter 4 Lesbians and Mestizas: Appropriation and Equivalence
    (pp. 57-75)

    Early models of oppressions as additive have increasingly given way to an understanding that oppression and resistance are lived as unities, and that another way of understanding the cumulative effects of multiple oppressions must be formulated. The Combahee River Collective described oppressions as “interlocking,” stating that “the synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.”¹ More recently, Gloria Anzaldúa’s concept of the “new mestiza” illuminates a view of multiple oppression as the site of a new consciousness, a consciousness with a heightened appreciation of ambiguity and multiplicity. The effect of interlocking systems of power is to prevent a...

  11. Chapter 5 Getting Specific about Community
    (pp. 76-97)

    Mestiza consciousness rests simultaneously on two ideas that might seem contradictory. On the one hand, mestiza consciousness refuses the unity of identity, urging us to explore the constructions that would purport to tell us who “we” are and therefore where our allegiance lies. On the other hand, this consciousness provides the ground for common action by denaturalizing fixed identities. To minds used to identitarian politics (not to be confused with “identity politics”), this combination might seem impossible. Identitarian politics presumes that common action must be based on an identity among partners; for example, the belief that only lesbians can be...

  12. Chapter 6 The Space of Justice: Lesbians and Democratic Interests
    (pp. 98-113)

    In the face of the diversity and dispersion of lesbians the question of a common social or political agenda is greatly problematic. There are, in the United States, many publications focusing on lesbian concerns. There are local and national organizations aimed at securing legal change, protection from violence, education about lesbians and lesbianism, promoting pride, and the like. Very often, however, these organizations have few members, with little outreach to lesbians. They purport to speak for lesbians, but it is not clear how many lesbians are listening or agreeing with them. The recent rise of lesbian and gay studies has...

  13. Chapter 7 Oppression, Liberation, and Power
    (pp. 114-130)

    As a result both of AIDS and the heightened attacks by fundamentalist Christians and conservative bigots, the past ten years have witnessed broader coalition building among and between gays, lesbians, and others. These new coalitions have focused on legislative battles for civil rights for lesbians and gays and on anticensorship struggles as well as on AIDS—and have raised new problems. Lesbians have been divided by analyses that either placed rights at the center of a lesbian agenda or those that eschewed such a focus, labeling it narrow and reformist. As the New Right increases pressure to deny us the...

  14. Interlude II: Lost in the Land of Enchantment
    (pp. 131-138)

    The early months of 1993 were exhausting for many lesbians and gays, and certainly for me. Between Clinton’s blunted attack on military exclusion and the fight for civil rights in New Mexico, a fight lost, it was an exhilarating, terrifying, hopeful, and anguish-filled winter. An article about the defeat of Senate Bill 91, the New Mexico “gay rights” bill, quoted a local legislator expressing his relief that the fight was over and hoping to get back to normal and “enjoy life in the Land of Enchantment.” I share his exhaustion and a certain relief that the legislative session is over,...

  15. Chapter 8 Alliances and Coalitions: Nonidentity Politics
    (pp. 139-160)

    The vertiginous appeal of poststructuralist theories is due precisely to the rejection of the move in which philosophy is separated from and privileged over politics. As Gayatri Spivak puts it, “deconstruction teaches one to question all transcendental idealisms.” In so doing, it does not provide a new idealism, a new metanarrative, but “is always different from itself, always defers itself. It is neither a constitutive nor, of course, a regulative norm.”¹ The space once occupied by the metanarratives that regulate our knowledge becomes an open field for politics, a politics that knows itself to be such and so empowers its...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 161-186)
  17. Index
    (pp. 187-190)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-191)