goto Appendx main menu The Places of
Feminist Criticism
Kim Anne Savelson
text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | works cited
previous page 
If subjects of color, as socially constructed, enforce the invention and implications of gender categories by failing to project ideal masculinity and femininity, this failure does more than highlight gender ideals: it allows for a dramatic representation of otherness (in color) that is fundamental to a hegemonic cultural order. By asking how black subjectivities function in relation to defining masculinity and femininity, I mean to illuminate how gender—in referring to the difference between men and women by employing these categories as blueprints for male and female identity—constructs the violable body necessary for colonization beyond the female "other."13 

In the context of this discussion, gender difference, constructed through sexual domination/violation, indicates the presence of sexuality in the enterprise of domination overall. When Catherine MacKinnon points out that "To be rapable, a position that is social not biological, defines what a woman is" (178), she implies the importance of gender identity as a concept that goes beyond the male and female body in its labeling of subjects as either masculine or feminine. Although MacKinnon does not develop the implications of this statement in terms of a politics of intersectionality, it nonetheless stands on its own as a theoretical point of departure for investigations into how discourses on gender implicitly construct race. In addition, as a discourse on gender itself, MacKinnon's statement also exemplifies this kind of implicit construction. Issues of race are invisible in her explication of this statement although people of color, as constructed, are subjected by and to a violable social position. To address the construction of woman's identity in the context of feminist theory without acknowledging how race figures into and is constructed by/in gender ideology is to replicate that very ideology: I am arguing that dominant discourses that construct gender invisibly construct race. A feminist critique of these dominant discourses that does not address race only re-invisibilizes and therefore re-constructs race. Crenshaw is expressing the effects of this problem when she says that "feminist theory remains white" (67). 

In extending Crenshaw's observation, we need to ask how the whiteness of feminist theory recovers the dominant sexual ideologies that oppress people of color: the absence of black women's experience in feminist theory indicates this experience as marginal while constructing its expression, or its presence, as an invasion or a threat merely by excluding it. This is similar to the dominant culture's construction of black sexuality as a threat, in both female and male forms, to a "civilized," "moral" social order. Just as the construction of black sexuality as invasive is a stunning reversal "as it is black women and black men who are invaded, threatened, and marginalized by white culture's invention of their sexuality" the way in which feminist theAppendx 1 page break 131 | 132ory represents black presence (by making it absent) 

constitutes this presence as an invasion of sorts, which is distinctly sexual if we consider how black women in particular are invaded and colonized by such discourses of erasure and elimination.  

Returning to the feminist notion that being rapable, as a social position, defines what a woman is, perhaps an anecdote in the October 1992 feature article of Esquire magazine can help elucidate the implications of this knowledge for sexualized constructions of racial otherness. In the article, an interview with Spike Lee conducted by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Harrison, a white woman, reminisces over her experiences with black women. Hailing sisterhood across racial boundaries, she recalls this story:  

    Like the sister Billie Holiday had been to me, when a black man in Minton's jazz club on 118th Street accused me of being a white devil-woman: "She's a nigger," Billie Holiday said. "She can be raped. Anybody who can be raped is a nigger." (134) 
In Holiday's remarks, we find a different consideration of the theory that being rapable is a social position rather than a biological one. Whereas MacKinnon notes that being rapable socially defines the woman's identity as such, Holiday suggests that being rapable socially defines the black subjective experience of white racism; in her view, race defines the subject positions, but is not relevant in terms of who occupies these positions. In MacKinnon's view, gender defines the subject positions, but is also irrelevant when it comes to the occupation of these positions. Without collapsing race and gender into each other, both views suggest that gender and race are biologically and separately relevant to the establishment of their hierarchies and to the construction of the rapable identity; but that neither gender nor race are biologically relevant to the subjective experience of this identity as a social position. Both views then present gender and racial hierarchy as systems articulating a dominant/subordinate split through sexual domination/violation. Together with MacKinnon's comments, Holiday's remarks thus offer a startling view of an intersectional site of gender and race. This site manifests one way in which the differences between masculine and feminine identities function relative to race, and how these differences are spatially located in and circumscribed by sexual ideologies and practices.  

Above all, I want to emphasize the fact that underclass experiences of both gender and racial hierarchy are presented, in these formulations, as experiences informed by notions of sexual domination. In focusing on the sexual violation of 

the body as a primary issue in identity construction, Holiday offers a sexualized interpretation of Appendx 1 page break 132 | 133racial domination, alluding to the sexual terrorism embedded in racial terrorism by indicating the use of (and the idea of) rape as a weapon of racial terror/domination. Holiday's shrewd critique of the dominant/subordinate split therefore suggests the rapable category as the subordinate category ("anybody"), despite gender and race.14  Of course, I do not mean to suggest that being "rapable" in any sense can adequately describe the experience of racism in the United States. The body can be abused and violated in many different ways. Understanding the black subjective experience of white racism in terms of rape (or rape tropes) does not sufficiently address, for instance, the experience of being denied food and shelter. This discussion, however, seeks to explore the interactive dynamics of dominant sexual ideologies, race, and gender. 

To this specific inquiry, the role of rape is thus important and instructive. After all, the argument could be made that participating fully within patriarchy means  having the power to be the rapist, and perhaps more important, to control the discourse of rape. The power to be the rapist would include the power to deflect this identity while constructing all aspects of the cultural function of rape. In the United States, for instance, the pretense of rape as an impropriety is used in conjunction with the construction of the racial "other" as rapist in order to justify the terrorism of the male racial "other." Or, in terms of female racial "others," to understand the "use of rape as a weapon of racial terror" (Crenshaw, 68) is to know that women of color are raped "not as women generally" but as women of color specifically. The experience of rape for women of color "is as deeply rooted in color as in gender" (Harris, 246). And because of the mythical sexualization of women of color, rape is not acknowledged as such when women of color experience it; it becomes, if we recall Tawana Brawley and the women of color who were raped during the week of the Central Park crime, "simply life" (Harris, 247). The importance of rape for this analysis then seems to be its ability, in literal and trope form, to indicate the colonization of the body as a sexual enterprise. In any case, my analysis up until this point should show how discourses on gender, in invoking masculinity and femininity, in being saturated with sexual ideology, implicitly contain discourses on race. With this thought in mind, I would like to turn to the proceedings of "Sexuality and Space." next page

text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | works cited
appendx inc.©1997