AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 58

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Session 58: Gender and Modernity II

The Legacy of the Maoist Gender Project in Contemporary China
Xin Huang, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA

This paper analyzes Chinese women’s oral life stories, especially the various ways the Maoist gender idea manifests itself in Chinese women’s lives today. The research includes detailed analysis of four cases, including a rural migrant worker, an older urban woman who lived through the Mao era, a lesbian artist, and a woman who studied and lived in the West before returning to China. The analysis of content is complemented by a discussion of the structure and language of each narrative, including an innovative interviewing method of “telling and retelling”, hybrid narrative language—various mixtures of official dialect, regional dialects, and imported terms, and visual representations (photographs, artwork). This paper demonstrates that the Maoist funü, class-encoded as represented by women workers and peasants, have become stigmatized as “non-women” in the post-Mao reformulation of “women” as consumer-oriented, urban, middle-or upper-class nüxing. The status of the Maoist funü as the new “abjected other” is reflected in the ambivalent and complex relationships many of the women interviewed have with the Maoist gender legacy. Nonetheless, the Maoist gender legacy still presents in many women’s gender projects, and is sometimes strategically mobilized in their negotiation with post-Mao gender constructions. This paper argues that the persistent existence of this legacy sheds light on how to formulate subversive strategies to challenge the narrowly defined, class-encoded, normative gender model of the post-Mao nüxing, and create a more diverse and democratic gender landscape in China.

Women's Destiny in Divakaruni's Novels
Sri Ram V. Bakshi, State University of New York, Brockport, USA

Women’s Destiny in Divakaruni’s Novels Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a well-known novelist, believes that the women have an important role to play: first, they have to achieve self-identity and self reliance, and then work for the betterment of the humanity. A few characters from her novels will be analyzed to demonstrate the author’s convictions. The character of Mrs. Pritchett in One Amazing Thing is an example where women can change from despair to hope. She felt “squeezed into a cramped, loveless cell,” and took pills to kill herself. In the hospital an Indian nurse appeared in her room like an angel and changed her outlook on life. The nurse persuaded her: “work on your heart … if you change inside, outer change will follow.” In the novel, Queen of Dreams, Mrs. Gupta sacrificed her life to help people by interpreting their dreams. “My work is to dream. … I dream the dreams of other people … so I can help them live their lives.” She also has some idiosyncrasies as Rakhi pointed out: “My mother--secretive, stubborn, unreliable—couldn’t hold a tune to save her life,” and ironically Rakhi wanted to be like her mother. The Palace of Illusions, based on Mahabharata, presents a powerful woman character, Panchaali, at whose birth the mysterious voices prophesized that “she will change the course of history.” . Krishna showed her place in the world as a woman and a princess, and challenged her traditional beliefs. Panchaali played a great role in the war of Kurukshetra.

Gender Violence and Conflict in Afghanistan
Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, San Diego State University, USA

This paper investigates the multiplicity of Afghan women’s oppressions and exploitation in Afghanistan’s recent history of internal and international socio-political struggles through constant construction and reconstruction of masculinities. My intent is to trace the history of such contestations with reference to Afghan women’s bodies as “globalized property,” over which women have limited control, despite their efforts to resist and challenge oppressive discourses and conditions. These constructions play out against a range of multi-leveled social and political factors, including control by local patriarchies, expansionist policies of communist states, Cold War rivalries of the two superpowers, symbols for fundamentalist regimes, western rhetoric of women’s rights, the quest for oil pipelines, and finally, revenge for 9/11. Interestingly, in all these struggles, women and their lives were subjected to censures and gendered violence to justify and claim masculinist hegemony and to express strongmanship in the global context between warring masculinities.

Guided Sentiments. Romantic Passion and Prescriptive Marriage in an East Indonesian Community
Karl-Heinz Kohl, Goethe University, Germany

For a long time, romantic passion was regarded as an invention of Western Culture, a refined and subtle outcome of what Norbert Elias called the “Process of Civilization”. According to recent cross-cultural studies, however, it can be found in almost every culture. If romantic love is a kind of universal human phenomenon, the question arises how this disturbing element of social life is coped with in societies practicing so-called prescriptive marriage rules. In my paper, I shall examine this question by using the example of an East Flores Lamaholot community in which more than eighty percent of marriages follow the rule of asymmetric matrimonial exchange. Education as well as fairy tales and myths seem to guide the romantic sentiments to choose one of the spouses prescribed by tradition. Eventually, the restrictive marriage pattern of Lamaholot culture shall be compared to our own marriage practices. Are we really as free as we believe in choosing our future life partners or are we also following some hidden rules?