Academic journal article Lilith: A Feminist History Journal

Women, Water and Whiteness

Academic journal article Lilith: A Feminist History Journal

Women, Water and Whiteness

Article excerpt

In Western culture in general, and in Apartheid South Africa in particular, women are caught up in structures of language and power. In the South African politics of Apartheid, women and water were manipulated to serve the interests of the white male elite. I will show here how women, water and whiteness are positioned within metaphorical twists. These metaphors are complicated by race and patriarchal ontology. They include: women as water, women as blood, women as sex, women as darkness/blackness and women as life giving Metaphors of men are starkly different: as Apartheid power and high dry ground. This article reviews women as water in the Apartheid context and points to the fear and anger that men suffer as a result of not confronting and assimilating the qualities of women and water.

Subject position and methodology

My subject position as a white woman, and especially one who writes here as the remembering white subject, is problematic and so it should be. For me to take on the role of both narrator and interpreter could be regarded as a radical departure from academic objectivity. I realise that I step into a zone of fire as a result and can only say that I do so as nakedly as possible. Aileen-Moreton Robinson cautions against assuming knowing is racially neutral: '[white people] have produced knowledge about Indigenous people but their way of knowing is never thought of by white people as being racialised despite whiteness being exercised epistemologically'. (1) I hope that my choice of methodology does not read as possessive of the historical moments I recall, nor give offence to the very people I wish to recognise. It is not my intention that these accounts to be read as knowledge that is fixed or owned or as romanticised visions. They are stories that need to be shared. I attend to both historical and contemporary perspectives, aware of my responsibility to those I write about. In attempting to represent people and context I aim for what Donna Haraway calls 'situated knowledges' and 'shared conversations in epistemology' (2) The above is not a simple resolution to the dilemma I face as a white woman in a position of power over her historical subject. As Harraway puts it, 'no insider's perspective is privileged, because all drawings of inside-outside boundaries in knowledge are theorised as power moves, not moves towards truth'. (3)

I can only tell you who I am and put the stories here in the hope that this methodological explanation does not read simply as a self-satisfying justification. The 'remembering' text should be read as a different type of writing, one which is illustrative as opposed to scholarly. There are three sections to this article: the theoretical introductory section, 'the remembering' section and the commentary section. I take the remembering text from an auto-biographical book that I am working on. Rather than break up the creative writing/ remembering text, and risk it losing its thread, I have situated it in the middle of the article. It is then re-incorporated in the subsequent theoretical discussions.

Women and water

Mythological narratives that dichotomise women as water (nature) and men as air (intellect) have been harmful to interpretations of the 'feminine'. However, in Luce Irigaray's work the negative connotations of water are reversed. Water, in Luce Irigaray's response to Friedrich Nietzsche, is the element where there is no differentiation, where man and woman merge, despite men's desire to remain separate. Fearing the sea, man does his utmost to stay on the earth or in the sky, anything but a return to the deep. She notes the need that man has for bridges, legs, even wings, 'and never gills'. (4) Irigaray represents the sea as a positive and embracing metaphor for the fluids of woman and creation. Water, then, is woman and man is the air and earth. As earth, it is the high altitudes of rocky ground that 'man' metaphorically dwells upon. …

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