- “How Can I Be Too Loud and Still Not Be Heard?” Negotiating Heteromisogyny in the Academy while Confronting White Feminism
In her forthcoming article, “A Philo-Selfie Approach to German-Indian Studies,” Sai Bhatawadekar reflects on her journey as a person from India studying German philosophy who ends up teaching Hindi and Urdu at the University of Hawai’i. My journey somewhat mirrors hers, as a person from the Netherlands studying Indian philosophy and language who ends up teaching about South Asia at the University of Wisconsin. Bhatawadekar writes, “And now, here I am, born and raised in India, educated in the United States and Germany, working in Hawai’i, where I find myself literally and philosophically between East–West currents that rise and flow within me in turbulent and pacific waves.”1
In this insertion of herself into her writing, Bhatawadekar follows in the footsteps of Sara Ahmed, who writes in Queer Phenomenology, “My writing moves between conceptual analysis and personal digression. But why call the personal a digression? Why is it that the personal so often enters writing as if we are being led astray from a proper course?”2 In my case, the waves of my East–West currents threatened to drown my queer self, and my personal engagement with some of my research material was deemed too much of a digression from the “real” work of research. In this short article I explain how I have re-gressed to the work that was considered a di-gression, and how positioning myself as a queer scholar helped me, in Ahmed’s words, “orient” myself.
At the same time, an increasing awareness of how white privilege has at least afforded me the experience of finding that orientation often leaves me wondering [End Page 158] what the most appropriate expression of my queer voice is. When the singer Adele emoted in her speech at the 2017 Grammys that she could not possibly accept the award because her colleague Beyoncé was so clearly more deserving of it, and then accepted it anyway, we saw tokenist expressions of white privilege in action. In my excitement at finally finding my voice I want to be mindful that even the experience of that ownership is an experience of privilege. The journey I describe below is therefore ongoing, as probably every worthwhile scholarly journey should be.
Because I grew up in Amsterdam in the 1970s people always assume that I enjoyed and benefitted from the liberal values for which the Netherlands used to be—and to some extent still is—famous. And, of course, in many ways this was true, in terms of morality or lack thereof. Nobody thought that gay folks couldn’t go to heaven, or shouldn’t have the right to marry or access health care. Nobody had issues with people being gay, unless of course, those people were in your social circle. Then there would be an endless barrage of “jokes” about loose wrists, fat lesbians, never turning your back to a gay guy, ha ha ha yada yada. Lesbians were failed women, too ugly to get a guy. At the time, the Netherlands had a member of Parliament who was rather large with short hair, and who happened to be against pornography. She also had a husband. Oh, how everyone laughed at that poor man not realizing his wife was in fact a lesbian.
Otherness: Part I
As I was entering my teenage years, I was advised, like many young women, that if I would just lose some weight, boys would find me more beautiful. Whether I actually wanted to be found beautiful by those boys was never questioned: it was my feminine duty to make them want me and then be accessible to them.3 Such ongoing counsel triggered in me a history of eating disorders, as well as rampant denial of my queerness. Society taught us that lesbians were deeply unattractive; as a quirky awkward teenager struggling to figure out her sexuality, I was hardly going to ally myself with them. And so, my love affair with the heteropatriarchy began. My childhood was already characterized by an otherness that was unusual in...