Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature

By Leslie Bow | Go to book overview

One

Introduction

THEORIZING GENDERED CONSTRUCTIONS OF ETHNIC AND NATIONAL COLLECTIVITY

Notes on the Notorious

A betrayal is a breach of trust. Its threat lies precisely in its rupturing the invisible cohesion of community. The charge of women's betrayal, of infidelity, has been represented as intrinsic to feminine nature; women have long been invested with both fickleness and the power to beguile. As agents and embodiments of inconstancy, women bear the blame for the dissolution of bonds between men. Allegations of feminine perfidy thus offer ready instances for understanding both the homosocial nature of collective associations, including ethnic and national ties, and the role of women in securing and maintaining these associations. As symbolic boundary markers for ethnic and national affiliations, women embody ethnic authenticity, patriotism, and class solidarity—and their repudiation. For Asian American women, these symbolic boundary markers are especially fraught.

Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion examines Asian American women's putative betrayals to bring to light the very terms of collective identification, subjectivity, and belonging. This book investigates implicit and explicit charges of disloyalty in Asian American women's writing in order to explore the gendered nature of literary rhetoric. How are Americanized gender norms deployed to understand, for example, the terms of U.S. citizenship, Asian ethnic solidarity, or postcolonial nationalisms? In examining the gendered discourse of political appeal in literature, this study reveals how mechanisms of affiliation are constituted and analyzes the stakes of their maintenance, particularly for women who transgress borders drawn by multiple loyalties. In doing so, I suggest that “betrayal” can constitute subversion of another kind, a subversion of repressive authority that depends on upholding strict borders between groups and individuals.

I begin with two exemplary female “traitors,” the first charged with undoing a popular icon, and the second with betraying a nation. Both

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