Welcome back from the holiday weekend folks (if you live in one of those places where this weekend was a holiday weekend of one sort or another. I can’t say we did much in my house by way of U.S.ian independence day celebrating, but we did watch (once again) the end of Dr. Who season five which was — as it has been the previous two times we saw it — in all ways awesome. (We haven’t seen any of season six yet, so no spoilers please.
Anyway. To the business at hand … live-blogging part five of Feminism For Real: Louis Esme Cruz’s essay “Medicine Bundle of Contradictions: Female-man, Mi’kmaq/Acadian/Irish Diasporas, Invisible disAbilities, masculine-Feminist.” In this piece, Cruz tackles gender and racial identity in all of its complexity, thinking out loud (or on paper) about what it means to embody all of the aspects of self that his essay title lays out before us.
MEDICINE BUNDLE OF CONTRADICTIONS: FEMALE-MAN, MI’KMAQ/ACADIAN/IRISH DIASPORAS, INVISIBLE DISABILITIES, MASCULINE-FEMINIST by Louis Esme Cruz (pp. 49-60).
p. 49 – “words that might assist you (and me) to comprehend the world of complexities we live in.” I love it when essays, or any type of non-fiction writing, starts out with an acknowledgement of how damn complicated human experience is. And how imperfect language — any language! — is when we are struggling to communicate how we understand those complexities.
p. 49 – “I have learned to survive above living.” I circled this sentence with the question “what does it mean to distinguish ‘survival’ from ‘live’ … aren’t the two on some level the same thing?” I was hoping Cruz would unpack what he meant by this, and he did on the following page!
p. 50 – Survival makes things like pleasure and enjoyment difficult to experience, whereas life includes them. “I write this [essay] to you, making something beautiful in this shared space between us, making it difficult for invasion to take root here. When we recognize each other, it is easier for both of us to relax.” Writing as communication FOR THE WIN! I love this image of writing as an act of bridge-building, the act of constructing a shared space in which writer and reader alike may be able to better recognize one another and relax. Since this essay is, in part, about the effects of colonization on indigenous culture(s) I also like the idea that writing and communication and recognition — even if in a colonizer’s language (English) can be an act of togetherness that will make “it difficult for invasion to take root.”
p. 50-51 – Cruz writes about colonizers religious beliefs overtaking native understandings of creation, and the negative effect these messages of condemnation have upon us. “While I understand that nothing in the universe is without ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ forces, things are way off balance when humans are telling each other that Kisulk (Creator) wants us to hate what we are.” This makes me think about the difference between pushing back the negative, anti-feminist forces in what is essentially one’s own culture — that is, as a white woman of Anglo-American descent, when I push back against Christianity I push back against the heritage of virtually all my ancestors — and what is identified as a colonizing culture. What are the positive and negative effects of being able to name anti-feminist ideas not only anti-feminist, but also non-indigenous or otherwise “Other” … as something imported, rather than native, to one’s culture of primary identification? I can see how this would be a source of strength, but also something that might make it difficult to identify hostile ideas within one’s own culture of origin, since the impulse would be to identify all that was negative with the Other.
p. 52 – ” ‘Women-only’ spaces say that only people who experience misogyny and sexism are people born female and that this means being a woman … I am greatly uncomfortable with how I have seen settler feminists claim space and each others’ bodies: it seems a lot like how land is manhandled as a resource that only some get to benefit from.” Again, we see the parallels between a critique of (certain types of) feminist thought and a critique of colonization. There is ambiguity throughout this essay — I imagine, intentionally — with the status of feminist ideas as originating from non-indigenous, colonizing sources and/or as being a source of strength and support for Cruz. While the dynamics are different for each one of us, I imagine most of us could name a time when “feminism” was used to exclude us and as a way to dominate / have power over us.
P. 53 – “When people say that a space is ‘women-only’ they are assuming that women are always sensitive to each others’ needs, are always about to understand each others’ experiences, these experiences are always the same and that women are not violent.” While I think this is true to a large extent, I just want to insert here that I know a number of women (ages 20s-80s) who have done a lot of thinking about what “women’s” space means, and whether it is important to maintain … and why. Their answers have run the gamut. I, personally, discourage gender-segregated space while encouraging spaces that are very clear about the ground-rules for respect and civil discourse. In that way, “safer” spaces are created not through peoples’ identities but through their expected behavior. However, I understand the struggle that people used to the gender binary have over conceiving of a world in which gender segregation is no longer assumed or supported.
p. 57 – Cruz begins several paragraphs describing his identit(ies) and it strikes me that not all of his heritage is indigenous. That by framing his essay in terms of native/colonizer experience he is privileging some aspects of personal history over others. I understand there’s a lot at play here, and not all emphasis is of Cruz’s own choosing. While I’m not as tuned into race and ethnic dynamics in Canada as I am in the United States, I know that to be Acadian is not the same as being of Anglo descent … that being from the Irish diaspora involves a history of colonization and forced immigration all of its own … and that being even partially native in origin often means wrestling directly with race in a way that White folks don’t have to deal with on a daily basis. So … it’s complicated! But it is also interesting to think about the way that we take our heritage … so often a conglomerate of ethnic and national origins … and construct our own identities by emphasizing some and minimizing others.
p. 58 – “I graduated from Emily Carr University with a BFA … It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my self-esteem.” Since the last few essays I’ve read in this volume wrestle in more fraught ways with academia, I was struck that in Cruz’s personal narrative, formal studies were described in positive terms. In Cruz’s experience, formal studies and obtaining a degree (and being one of the first in his family to do so) are understood as positive activities.
And that’s what I have for this week. Join me next Tuesday for a reflection on Nimikii Couchie’s contribution of four poems: “Internal War,” “Woven Basket Shaking,” “A Purple and Green Line Moving in Opposite Directions,” and “Crisp Early Morning.”