restricted access Literary Transvestism: Inviting Male Participation in Feminist Discourse
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LITERARY TRANSVESTISM: INVITING MALE PARTICIPATION IN FEMINIST DISCOURSE LISA ROBSON University of Saskatchewan Last year, for die first time in my academic career as student and English teacher, I participated in a class — on eighteenth-century domestic fiction by female writers — peopled entirely by women. Each day I found die material inviting, die discourse invigorating, and die innovation and collaboration stimulating. Nevertheless, the sex-specific constituency of diis seminar was a troubling symptom of a trend I see in die larger academic experience, and one that leads me to ponder issues of sexual distinction, feminism, and pedagogy. Over die past few years, I have leap-frogged across die professorial lectern on several occasions, setting down first as a master's student with no teaching responsibilities, then landing as a sessional lecturer and full-time sabbatical replacement, and now, precariously straddling die podium as teaching assistant and doctoral student. From diese various positions, I have witnessed some male students in my first-year classes write on feminist topics; I have seen various male colleagues listen and respond with interest and insight to feminist discussions (although I can recall having heard few if any deliver tiieir own feminist seminars); and I have, in my own research, made use of much provocative feminist scholarship written by men. Yet, although, as Elaine Showalter points out, die 1980s witnessed a relative surge of interest in feminism among male dieorists (1 18-19),1 the current feminist discursive terrain seems to me to be dominated by disparate and competing female voices. I recognize tiiat die distinction I am attempting to draw — between male and female scholars broaching feminist discourse — is radier arbitrary and may seem divisive, even counter-productive. After all, many factors besides sexual distinction determine a scholar's interest in a particular theoretical perspective, and feminist discourse does not necessarily extend itself any more readily to die female tiian die male Victorian Review 22.1 (Summer 1996) 54Victorian Review critic. However, I assert this distinction between male and female feminist scholarship for the moment as a provisional, interim step toward considering pedagogical methods in feminist discourse. My concern is primarily as a teacher, an educator interested in, among other things, feminism. As a scholar, I attempt to fashion myself after Said's "oppositional" critic (29), striving to detach the self from the dominant culture and critical orthodoxies, to situate myself as critic between culture and "system,"2 so that this dislocation, however provisional, temporary, and imperfect, allows for a more adversarial and objective analysis of the social, political, and moral realities and judgements informing discourse (Said 220). Armed with a Derridean understanding of textuality and Foucaultian notions of authority and authorship, I encourage my students to interrogate themselves as they interrogate the text so that their own material conditions, tiieir gender, race, nationality, class, "filiative" and "afflliative" relationships (Said 16), categories tiiat inform their construction, become visible. Such intense self-positioning, however, can pose certain difficulties, especially for the novice scholar. It becomes the educator's task, then, as oppositional critic in the classroom, to teach the student not only how to develop critical self-awareness, but also how to find provisional entry into discourse, or how to find a contingent moment of stability from which to speak. While my concern extends to all areas of marginality, I speak of feminist discourse as a representative case because of my own experience and research interests. When one talks of "women's writing" or "women's literature," sexual distinction renders necessary the male critic's increased self-positioning and self-scrutiny as he attempts to discuss the sexual "other." Although feminist dialogue certainly does not exclude such male participation in theory or practice, all feminist discourse does not necessarily openly invite that critical engagement either. As educators, therefore, we need to find innovative methods to extend this invitation, to introduce and integrate feminism into the classroom in non-exclusive ways that encourage more male as well as female participation and constructive dialogue. As an example of the kind of inclusive gesture I envision, I propose literary transvestism as a pedagogical tool. I use the term to refer to works in which an author of one sex...