• Anna Hijmans

Linguistic Exclusions in Feminist Discourse

The three texts we have been asked to look at this week struck me in different ways. The writing by Donna Haraway was particularly interesting in the way it questioned objectivity, embodied identities, science, vision etc. But despite my deep interest in this text, for the purpose of this blog post I would like to focus on the two that got me thinking the most. These being the writings of Trinh T. Minh-ha, in relation to that of Claudia Mesch.

Trinh T. Minh-ha in her text “Difference: ‘A Special Third World Women Issue”discusses identity in feminist literature as something that is defined in its ‘specialness’ in relation to ‘the master’ (Trinh, 96). It remarks on the necessity for the male model as a source for comparison in order to give the ‘wo-man’ a role (any kind of role) to play. She goes on to describe how, like the linguistic exclusion of ‘woman’ in ‘man’, a similar issue takes place in describing the ‘third world woman’ or the ‘ethnic woman’.

A white woman, as defined by her sex must be seen as a woman in relation to the man (who is simply a human being). But what Trinh criticises is how ‘we’ have failed to recognize that women of colour were similarly not allowed to be seen as women. It was more convenient, to globalize ‘women's problems’ as one problem shared amongst all of that sex, regardless of race. But the moment a ‘non-white’ woman notes how the tools of suppression used against them differ from white female oppression, it has consistently been easier to deny non-white women the identity of ‘woman’ in its entirety. (Trinh, 99-100) [1]

This was an interesting portion of the text for me, especially as I was reminded of how often I dichotomise issues, contain them, in order to position my understanding of the world in a way that serves me. I have been aware of the exclusionary nature of (white) feminism for some time, and have given much thought on how to avoid the pitfalls of my own bias as a white feminist myself. In reading Trinh’s text I was prompted to think more about the content of these discussions and the use of exclusionary linguistics in order to talk about feminism. This became more important when I read Meschs’ text.

In her chapter Feminisms, Claudia Mesch does her usual round of case studies that focus primarily on the U.S canon. She starts off by noting the work of Judy Chicago within the history of feminism (Mesch, 99-105), follows this by discussing two artists whose work emerged outside of the generally white dominated feminist critique (Mesch, 105-108), and goes on to focus once more on white female artists in the U.S.

Throughout the chapters by Mesch that we have been reading and discussing these past weeks, there seems to be an emerging trend, and each seems to structure itself in a similar way:

1) She gives a general overview.

2) Mentions a couple non U.S artists.

3) Spends most of the chapter only on the U.S.

4) Ends on another generalized series of global examples.

By placing the U.S and ‘global’ examples in opposition, or as accessory to an otherwise U.S centred canon, I might suggest that to some extent, Mesch performs what Trinh warns us of. The U.S (like the male subject) become indisputably defined as one dominant thing, and the global becomes something that can be anything. By placing these subjects in opposition to each-other, Mesch, probably unintentionally, implies that the U.S cannot be seen as a part of the ‘global identity’. After all, ‘global art’ implies the existence of art that is not global but central, this is a centrality claimed by the U.S, (or the ‘west’) in our case.

So the very method by which we discuss feminism in the canon alongside its exclusions generates a definition of ‘emancipated woman’ that can only exist by perpetuating the role of the dominant ‘He’. It’s ironic that Mesch does not mark this pitfall in her own text, given that she spends some time describing Trinh's work and writings near the end of the chapter (Mesch, 119-120)

That being said I don’t intend to be this harsh on Claudia Mesch. Her role is not an easy one. To attempt an entire overview of political art and its many facets requires some kind of thread that pulls it all together. She requires from herself simply to speak about political art and how it is understood to us (‘us’) today, and in that sense she succeeds.

Now there is much more that can be said about these texts, but I am already way over the word maximum. Perhaps I can continue this commentary Mesch’s methods of communication and research (her inclusions and exclusions) next week.

Thank you for reading,

Anna Hijmans

[1] I want to note my own hypocrisy in using the terms ‘white’ and ‘non-white’. It is easier for me to use this language to bring my point across, but it also entitles the ‘white woman’ a space of narrative dominance in this section. I regret that I have not yet found a way to continue discussing this equally concisely without using these exclusionary linguistics.


Claudia Mesch, “Feminisms.” Art and Politics. A Small History of Art for Social Change Since 1945. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013. 99-124

Donna Haraway. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. 1988. 575-599.

Trinh T. Minh-Ha. “Difference: ‘A Special Third World Women Issue.” Woman, Native, Other. Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989. 95-102.

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