I have been finding, as this class progresses, that I have less and less to say. I have been trying to analyze this; perhaps it is due to my declining engagement in school, or my neutral attitude to much of my coursework. However, I feel deeply engaged by our readings and discussions, instead, I think it is this: I find it very hard to articulate much of my perspective on the issues raised this week. The readings and discussion disturb something within me, but I find it very difficult to identify just what and voice a clarification of the issues. I know how I feel, politically and intuitively, but essentializing my perspective seems just as dangerous as the essentialist arguments that disrupt my sensibilities. This sort of inaction or voicelessness does not clarify the issues, it only seems to solidify their sort of impossibility.
I am really intrigued by the different ways in which identity has appeared in our texts and discussions (it always seems to be a distinguishing factor, and a complicating one). Existentialist questions of freedom and autonomy orbit around this concept – and personal identity creates a subject within whom histories, ideas, and creations are expressed. Identity is a naturalized concept, one that is for many people indistinguishable from things like sex, gender, race, age, and outward appearance. However, in the postmodern soup we live in, many identities are forcing us to question these foundations in so many dimensions.
Michael Jackson, for example. We debate these thoroughly post-modern questions: was he transcending gender? Race? Materiality? I realized during our Michael Jackson history lesson the other day in class that I had actually forgotten he was black. His race was not informing me either way, it just was not under consideration (there were so many other things going on…). Some argue in this case that identity is autonomy and freedom, others that it is constrained by what you look like and the conclusions people draw.
This leads me to this conflict: what kind of expression of identity is it to reconfigure your eyelids or nose to “pass” as someone else? How is identity expressed and communicated outwardly? More critical to our discussions of feminism, what kind of identity is expressed by women outwardly? How does fashion control, allow, or negate this?
This sort of conflict has plagued our conversations about makeup and discipline bodies, as it is sure to in our discussions of fashion. Is it a dishonoring of the feminine identity to dismiss it, or it is a service to patriarchy to participate? Probably neither. How do our identities (how much of them are truly ours?) reinforce and negate the power structure?
I find Groeneveld’s navigation of these questions is a fair illustration of the complexities of issues of identity and expression. She presents both sides, but I sense her conclusion lies to one side more than the other. I think her critique of BUST provides some insight into our conversations – in particular, it strikes a chord in me concerning consumerism and the male gaze. Granted, we are all asserting our identities in the way we present ourselves, but where does this creativity become preset? How is our autonomy and freedom molded? Can we ever dismiss fashion as “simple fun”? I fear that it might be an injustice to ourselves to do so. What I am asking is this: how can our identities serve as notions of freedom and autonomy, and conversely, how can individual choice be an answer to the patterns of oppression and differential expression we observe in society? How can we tell the difference?