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Problematic or Illuminating: A Look at Feminist Theory Essay

In the context of feminist theory, it is quite easy to deem an article illuminating or problematic based on reading critiques others have made upon it; however, how does one go about deciding whether an article retains illuminating or problematic characteristics? In this paper, the articles “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power”, by Marilyn Frye and “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” , by Adrienne Rich, are scrutinized and the question of the nature of each article is presented. One must ask which article is problematic. Which is illuminating?

Does a mixture of both characteristics emanate from either article? In order to take an analytical look into articles that contain theory and further deem them of one of the previously mentioned natures, one must analyze the theoretical frameworks presented in each article and the methodology in which this framework goes about responding to and explaining concepts of feminist theory. Then one must further decide using each article’s framework if the article entails a practical and clear answer to the centrally posed questions of feminist theory.

The question that will be posed is which article’s theoretical framework best answers questions of gender, specifically gender relations conflicts that entail feminist separatist acts. By the conclusion of the paper, one will be justified, from points made throughout it, in making the statement that Frye’s article is much more illuminating, due to the facts that it can be more easily understood by more readers in both literary and practical aspects, and helps to simplify feminist theory concepts in the light of separatism.

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Conversely, Rich’s article does not help to clarify ideas within feminist theory, but rather, she uses intellectually advanced phrases and concepts to further create ambiguity without offering any practical plan of action; therefore making her article problematic concerning its usefulness in an analytic sense. To start off, let us look at what we mean by the descriptive and evaluative terms illuminating and problematic.

For any given person to read something that they find illuminating is an action in which that person encounters within that literary material a concept, theory, or basic idea that they can absorb into their mind find it to shed light on matters that otherwise would have been left in a shroud of ambiguity and one’s own ignorance, either subconsciously or otherwise. Many of those who are able to read theory may comment on some sort of illuminating ideas that theory contains, however not all theory can be considered to elucidate concepts that are unclear, inexplicit, or generally without much practical use.

These problematic theory articles do not clarify matters in the sense that illuminating articles do, but rather help to further shroud concepts in ambiguity and everyday uselessness. To begin our venture into the justification of describing the nature of articles as illuminating or problematic, one must first look at the perspective of each author, and analyze how they came up with their theoretical frameworks and what kind of generalizations and assumptions each author is utilizing.

From there, one will be able to further make claims and give examples of which frameworks is most useful in analyzing the question of gender and gender relations. At first glance Frye and Rich seem to have much in common. Frye and Rich’s articles give theoretical frameworks that are derived from both their own experiences and knowledge derived from other literature or the experiences of others. Both authors also take on the task of describing and endorsing feminist separatism as a way for women to “undo the power men everywhere wield over women” by “creating new roles and relationships” in the societal context (Rich 355) (Frye 337).

They also make some sort of connection with separatism to lesbianism. Yet as much as they have in common, they differ much more greatly. In her article, Frye tries to clearly define exactly what feminist separatism is, as is apparent to her, in its “multitude variations”, how it can be practiced, what the negative and positive effects of feminist separatism concerning gender relations are, and lastly where feminist separatism may possibly lead.

Rich, on the other hand, instead of narrowing down and clearly defining the very broad scope of conlflict that is being analyzed in resepect to gender relations and separatism, is broadening the concepts of feminist theory and making them more ambiguous. She redefines words such as lesbian to not only define “consciously desired sexual experience with another woman”, but rather she says one must, “expand it to embrace many forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support… “(Rich 347, 349).

This very ambiguous definition of the word lesbian, or of the idea of a “lesbian existence”, allows one to be able to arbitrarily draw connections between women in any sort of relationship in order to deem them a lesbian, which is ludicrous based on the fact that almost all women will have some contact or relationship with another female at one point in time or another. Along with broadening the “taboo definitions” of words such as “lesbian”, Rich also broadens the location in which we are viewing feminist separatism (Rich 349). She tries to expand her theoretical framework by relating and gender relation conflicts all over the world.

Frye on the other hand, instead of exploring the infinitely various faces of feminist separatism all over the world, takes her own tacit theory and simplifies gender relation conflicts and separatism in order to give a clear conceptualization of her framework and viewpoint rather than getting lost in Rich’s more detailed examples that get lost in ambiguity by trying to relate the differences of women in different locations, yet will never be satiated and is innately flawed as no theorist can propose a framework that will work for all women throughout the world, in all different situations.

Rather, it seems that Frye’s way of simplistic and clear cut perspectives, generalizations, and her realization that she is writing from her own point of view as taken note of by words phrases and words such as “It is clear to me, in my own case at least… “, “it seems to me… ” and “most feminists, probably all… ” (Frye 333-335). The differences between the conceptual assumptions and research analysis that both authors start out with do not differ greatly.

However, it seems that as each author starts to elaborate upon this theoretical framework in order to supply the reader with information about the problem with gender relations and further sway the reader that separatism will end positively, they go about it very differently. Accordingly, Frye’s method is much more clear, concise, and simplified while Rich’s ideas are ambiguous and her central theme is lost by trying to cure more individualized cases.

When analyzing gender questions, such as gender relations and the effects of feminist separatism, it most logical to try to appeal to a large audience if the author wants to get his/her point across in order to perpetuate change. Gender is something that all humans share, whether one is male, female, both or neither. Accordingly, when writing on an issue that effects all humankind, it is most effective to use the easiest terms and clearest methodology in trying to get points across.

When reading the articles by Frye and Rich, one is able to clearly note the fact that Frye is writing to a much larger audience, as her terminology is much less technical and her methodology is simplistic and generalizing. She provides the groundwork and footing for one to look into feminist separatism and its effects; yet, she leaves many terms matters and aspects open for interpretation so the reader is able to easily understand her work and then mold her theory in order for it to fit his/her life.

An example of this is her explanation of the word separatism and the act of a feminist separatist. She writes that the separation of woman from man is one that retains a varied existence which is dependent upon the actions of the beholder, along with several other aspects of the life of a woman partaking in separatist activities (Frye 333). The actual acts of a feminist separatist range from “divorce to exclusive lesbian separatist communities”, as well as avoidance of intimate relations with a male including the act of loving a male as well as ceasing to be loyal (333).

Here she leaves the interpretation of what separatism is open, but does not leave room for it to be completely arbitrary, or allows one to draw lines between things that must be subject to one’s own ingenuity to pinpoint (as one could do with the idea of the word “lesbian” in Rich’s article). Accordingly, almost anyone is able to grasp some type of separatism in their mind that they may have practiced themselves or witnessed.

Rich’s writing style is much more academic. It is aimed at the more educationally elite, using technical terms and laying out concepts that are much harder to grasp, such as “the double life”, “lesbian continuum”, and “woman identified” (Rich 350-353). Furthermore she also alludes and takes exerts out of other different literary works that are aimed at the more educated of audiences.

Moreover, it seems paradoxical that while Rich is seemingly concerned with creating a working theory in order to incite global separatism, as she tries to intertwine so many different culture’s gender relations, that she would use such large technical terms that would create a language barrier for those in which English was their native language, let alone those who may be trying to interpret her writings when English is foreign to them. Therefore, it seems Frye’s work helps to be able to attract more varied an audience and Rich’s audience is made up of the more intellectually elite due to their writing styles and frameworks.

Practicality, not only in the choice of words for an audience, but also in the plan of action that Frye and Rich lay out are also a very large issue. Frye defines separatism so it can be used in a pliable manner, then she lays out how women are able to go about separating from their husbands. She lists simplistic and easy ways to catalyze the more radical. She states that women can “separate (withdraw, break out, regroup, transcend , shove aside, step outside, migrate, say no) … ” to men as a form of separatism (Frye 337).

They can partake in the “all-women organizations” and “all-women” classes (Frye 338). These forms of separatism are easy beginnings in order to allow women to start to re-pattern and create the gender roles and relationships; allowing them to come out from the fist of subordination that holds them down (Frye 337). The suggestions as to how one should go about to start separatist action, even in an infancy stage, is very important. Frye’s suggestions give the reader a starting line and an idea of how to begin to go about perpetuating a change.

Conversely, in Rich’s article once you get passed the exceedingly technical language there is still a question of practicality of her theory concerning gender roles and feminist separatism. She makes demands as far as what the audiences needs, giving the reader a glimpse of the end, but no place to being. Rich writes, “The lesbian continuum, I suggest, needs delineation in light of the ‘double life’ of women, not only women self-described as heterosexual but also of self-described lesbians” (Rich 354). However, Rich never goes on to elaborate on how the lesbian continuum can be delineated in such a manner, she merely suggests that it should.

Furthermore she states, “We need an economics which comprehends the institution of heterosexuality, with its doubled workload for women and its sexual divisions of labor, as the most idealized economic relations” (354). She goes further to talk about the nature of the work that lay ahead of the feminist separatist, stating that it will “require a courageous grasp of politics and economics… ” , it will be “liberating for all women”, and “move beyond the limits of the white and middle-class Western Women’s Studies to examine women’s lives, work, and groupings within every racial, ethnic, and political structure” (Rich 354-355).

However, the question must be posed by the reader here as to how one moves “beyond the limits of middle-class Western Women’s studies” when authors such as Rich are writing in styles that innately set boundaries as they give no practical plan of action and more importantly only middle-class Western Women’s studies professors and student can comprehend the incitation and justification for such work in the way that they are meant to be understood?

Rich’s level of practicality in her writing is very low. She gives no real plan of action for the masses to grasp in order to create a means to the ends that she states in her article of women’s equality in society. To conclude, one can now derive from the standards that were delineated for a piece of literature to be of illuminating or problematic nature, that Frye’s piece, “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power”, is undoubtedly more illuminating.

Frye’s article is able to unravel the jargon and technical concepts of complicated feminist theory, especially feminist separatism, and open it up for the masses to comprehend. Frye also is able to set up a practical plan of action in which her reader’s could partake in, or even just visualize separatist action more clearly. Rich’s article, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” , seemingly only serves to further shroud feminist theory concepts in ambiguity and practical uselessness, deeming it problematic and less useful in analyzing any questions of gender.

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