This semester, I am teaching WGS2225, Women in Popular Culture, or “Intersectional Feminism and Pop Culture.” The students have kept a lively blog all semester, which is now coming to a close. The blog itself is private (the class made this decision), but I wanted to share a post I published there last night. Above is the image we’ve used for our blog.
Some kaleidoscopic thoughts at the end of the semester…
I want to begin this post with some reflections on the name that this community chose for our blog, “Hot Sauce Kaleidoscope.” The name comes from the second week of the semester when we were interrogating the standing models of feminist history. The class rigorously decided that “waves” was not an appropriate way to describe feminist thought—either at present or historically—because it erases people outside the hegemonic feminist mission of any given moment, enforces division, and insists on a progress model. I challenged you to come up with new models for feminist history in small groups, and there were some exciting suggestions: spider webs, magnetic poles, and concentric circles overlapping into infinity. Your models suggested flexibility, durability, community, and an organic or changing ethos. These models made us gleeful.
The blog itself is named after a passage in Linda Nicholson’s 2010 essay “Feminism in ‘Waves’: Useful Metaphor or Not?” that I assigned that second week. Nicholson proposes the kaleidoscope model over the wave model, and when we discussed our “type” of intersectional feminism somewhere around week four or five, this idea stuck with the class and was unanimously voted in as part of the name for our blog. Nicholson explains the kaleidoscope model like this:
At any given moment in time, the view in a kaleidoscope is complex, showing distinct colors and patterns. With a turn of the kaleidoscope, some of these colors and patterns become more pronounced, others less so, and new patterns and colors have emerged. This kind of metaphor suggests a better way to think about the changes that have marked the history of gender activism in the United States than does one that likens such changes to an ocean’s ebbs and swells. (FTR 49)
The other part of the blog’s name comes from Beyoncé’s insistence in “Formation” that she has “hot sauce in [her] bag/ swag.” The hot sauce here reminds us of racial and ethnic difference among and within our feminism—long live the African American Southern United States tradition of smothering food with hot sauce—but also it reminds us to fight back. The name of the bat that Beyoncé uses to bust down the patriarchy in Lemonade’s “Hold Up” is called “HOT SAUCE” after all.
From the beginning, you, as a class, insisted that your intersectional feminism was nuanced and militant. Your feminism is colorful and beautiful, but not quiet. You’ve written hundreds of posts on this blog to that effect. Now my friends, as we near the end of the time we have together, I asked you to read about “outlaw emotions,” “feminist killjoys,” and other fluid epistemological models of feminist thought and contribution. I was struck today in class at how you seemed to take it as a given that emotions are a legitimate starting point for knowledge production, for change, or even for revolution. Perhaps intersectional feminism for many of you is an emotional experience as well as a rational one. I find this inspiring.
In our reading for Wednesday, Jasbir Puar will challenge intersectionality as a model for feminist thought. I thought twice about troubling the course’s central model for thought on the last day, but ultimately decided that we are ready for it. I decided that, in fact, you are doing this work already. For Puar, intersectionality as a model for feminism runs the risk of calibrating differences from a norm, or center, and by doing so possibly even “re-securing the centrality of the subject positioning of white women” (FTR 596). In other words, she worries that intersectionality as a model for thought makes us consider what we are different from. Puar wants to use the model of intersectionality but she wants to rethink its implicit and default subject position, which brings her to assemblage theory. We’ll discuss this more Wednesday, but for now I want to say that you are already doing this work. Puar suggests that helpful questions for analysis of problems that lead to their solutions—by “problems” here, I mean patriarchy, racism, homophobia—are not about who is at fault or what the crime might be, but rather we should ask, “…what are the affective conditions necessary for the event-space to unfold?” (FTR 604). These conditions come from systems of oppression, histories of struggle, and moments of release. We have been studying these sets of conditions through our conversations about pop culture every Monday and Wednesday. What world does Beyoncé’s Lemonade make possible? What feeling does Tangerine release? How does Maura in Transparent enable emotions that move or shape the world? How can we see Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign—even in its failure—as creating conditions of another possible world?
May you each always practice kaleidoscopic feminism with hot sauce in your bag. I know I will.