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COMPLICATIONS OF FEMINIST AND ETHNIC LITERARY THEORIES IN ASIAN AMERICAN LITERATURE Shirley Geok-lin Lim Johnnella Butler notes that Womens Studies scholars in their "task of changing the world . . . are cast with (Black Studies, AsianAmerican Studies, Latino Studies, and American Indian Studies) with whom in many ways we are uneasy." The tensions between Womens Studies and Ethnic Studies,according to Butler, rise from the fact that Womens Studies scholarship, theory, and pedagogy are being radically altered by the scholarship of women of color; that Womens Studies is being asked to be accountable also to race, class, and ethnicity ; and that, compared to Ethnic Studies, "Women's Studies is privileged because it is peopled largely by white women who move more freely than men or women of color throughout the academy."l Butlers candid account of the contested site within Womens Studies to accommodate the experiences and scholarship of women of color counters the usual attempts to gloss over the unease that she has characterized in Euro-Americanfeminist responses to ethnic scholarship. Butlers account recognizes the absence of symmetrical, like-minded relations between the two groups, one concerned with gender issues, especially the imbalance of power and the attempt to rectify these historical imbalances between men and women, and the other concerned with analysis of race and ethnicity, specificallythe imbalance of power between dominant white groups and people of color, and the attempt to change the unequal sets ofrelationships. The asymmetrical goals of feminist and ethnic scholars within the same institutional structures have given rise to conflict and hostility.2 The gender/ethnic split is mirrored, moreover, in both communities, among white feministswho, according to some women of color, have been defining feminism in narrow terms privileged by their positions as whites, and among men of color who, "desiring to maintain power over 'their women' at all costs, have been among 108 : SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM the most willing reinforcers of the fears and myths about the women's movement , attempting to scare us awayfrom figuring things out for ourselves/'3 Nevertheless, feministand ethnic literarydiscourses, although demonstrating this asymmetry, are often inextricably intertwined. Both practices have led to personally charged readings whose impetus and power relate critically suspect notions such as experience, the subjective, and the local to ideologies undergirding literaryevaluation. Feminist and ethnic literarycriticismsresistand interrogate the claim that aesthetic criteria form a dominant, autonomous, objective , privileged position.4 Both are said to lack a specifying theory. Although feminist literarycriticism is seen as more sociopoliticallydriven than literary by critics such as Ellen Messer-Davidow,5 other critics such as Hazel V.Carby have questioned the value of an essentially black theory and practice of criticism, noting of Henry Louis Gates's ethnic-based theory that "the exposition of uniquely black literary strategies is accomplished as much through the workof Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, Jacques Lacan and others as it is through the insights of a wide range of African American critics, including Houston Baker, Amiri Imamu Barakaand Sterling Brown/'6 Generally, feministand ethnic critics oppose hegemonic disciplines. Many have presented themselves as cultural pluralists and revisionistscalling attention to, among other things, neglected or omitted texts that, even by established standards, should be admitted into the canon.7 They operate as interventionists disrupting the totalizing naturalization of white male culture. These common purposes, however, do not imply that feminist and ethnic criticisms share inherently sympathetic identities or areas of overlap that allow them to synthesize critical orientations. Even when, bound together in a common cause of revising the canon, both feminist and ethnic critics select similar ethnic texts, one cannot assume that they share integral or identicaltraditions. My essay attempts to unpack textual instances in which ethnic and feminist issues have intersected to analyze how their diverging emphases necessitate an ethnic cultural nuancing of conventional Euro-American feminist positions on gender/power relations and a feministcritique ofethnic-specific identity. In the analysis of ethnic identity, politics, and feminist ideological conjunctions, I argue , first, that much of Asian American literature has been an active site of masculinist views and feminist resistance; and second, that these women'stexts are symptomatic of the struggle to refigure the subject between the often oppositional demands of ethnic and gender identity. In addition, I argue that the increased presence of Filipino Americans and the entry of immigrants from recently decolonized Asian countries to the United States after the 1965revision of the immigration laws, together with the introduction of postcolonial studies LITERARY THEORIES IN ASIAN AMERICAN LITERATURE : 109 into...


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