Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Mirror, Mirror on the All, Who's the Fairest One of All": Troubling Gendered Identities. (Research Articles/Rapports De Recherche)

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

"Mirror, Mirror on the All, Who's the Fairest One of All": Troubling Gendered Identities. (Research Articles/Rapports De Recherche)

Article excerpt

This paper playfully uses text, photographs, participant interviews, autobiographical stories and the metaphor of a mirror to explore the power and limitations of three strategies for troubling gender. Firstly, look to the outdoors as an escape, investigating what it means to break out" into the outdoors, in effect, breaking away from media/cultural influences that lure us to invest in hegemonic femininity. Secondly, I discuss changing the face of those media/cultural influences through creating counter-representations of femininities. Thirdly, I explore the notion of performativity and other post-structural theories of identity and the body as a way to expose the artifice of gender and play with the male/female dualism.

Cet article emploie de facon enjouee des photos, des entretiens participatifs ainsi que du texte en cojonction avec la metaphore du miroir afin de sonder le pouvoir et les limites emanant de trois strategies contestatrices du genre. Dans un premier temps, je me penche sur l'exterieur comme vole de sortie, examinant l'idee d'une 'fugue' vers la nature, rompant, effectivement, avec les influences mediatiques et culturelles nous convoitant investir dans l'hegemonie feminine. Ensuite, je propose la transformation de 'image de ces intluences mediatiques et culturelles en creant des contre-representations de la feminite. Dans un troisieme temps, je sonde la notion de la performativite et d'autres theories identitaires et corporelles post-structurelles afin d'exposer l'artifice du genre et de jouer avec le dualisme male/femelle.

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I ambivalently desire to be her, the fairest one, despite the racist subtexts in the "fairness" of beauty. The mirror is alluring. It is a magnifying glass where I might glimpse the surface of the cultural text that is myself. A device that measures "beauty" to be reflected back and judged by the viewer? That measures the achievement of a feminine identity? A measure of control, through which we discipline our own bodies? Or a porthole to another place? How do we see in mirrors? The reflection(s), I find, are not merely reflection(s) but are somehow intricately tied to who I am, influencing me as I influence them. Most troubling to me is that lingering desire to be the "fairest" one of all while at the same time desiring nothing of the sort. Simply put, why do I take part in the practices of hegemonic femininity which I recognize as subordinating, specifically raced and classed, and completely contrary to my feminist beliefs? Teasing out the threads of this desire and following them to see where they go and w here they have come from might somehow show me a way to unlearn the desire that I have so painfully learned. Because this desire is so tightly bound up with gendered identity, my approach will be to look at several ways of troubling gender (after Butler, 1990), exploring different paths leading out of disabling comers of feminine identities.

I begin in a place where there are no mirrors; that contradictory and complex space variously known as "wilderness," "the outdoors," and "nature." Drawing from my own background as an outdoor instructor, I became interested in how gender is performed in this traditionally male domain. In the fall of 1999 and spring of 2000, I conducted ongoing interviews with several other women who work for the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School' in order to tease out a more complex picture of gendered outdoor space. This research also involved a focus group interview, a collective art project, and individual reflective journals from all participants as other means of exploring and recording insights and perspectives. Simultaneously I undertook a photographic exploration of gender identity and urban/nature dualisms, enacting various readings and interweavings of femininity, wilderness, and culture. The body, the canoe, the mirror, clothing, background and foreground are all performing in this project that attempts to t rouble hegemonic femininity. …

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