As a white woman, Cixous draws upon the oppression placed upon her black “sisters” (to steal a term from popular culture), expressing the double negative placed upon black women because they are both black and women. On page 887 of “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Cixous speaks of women “from afar, from always,” returning to reclaim and write their selves. She describes the condemnation of these women by men (interpreted as the patriarchy in general) as well as “the sex cops [who] bar their threatening return” as follows:

You can incarcerate them, slow them down, get away with the old Apartheid routine, but for a time only. [Sidenote: I was reminded of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” while reading this sentence.] As soon as they begin to speak, at the same time as they’re taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black.

This essentializing viewpoint describes the process of colonization, segregation (and the “old Apartheid routine”) as well as other ways in which “whiteness” has powered over – in fact has written over – “blackness” and other racial and ethnic differences. She continues to give the reasoning behind the atrocities:

[These women are taught] Your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark.

After pointing out the stereotypes surrounding this racialized other (and this is my favorite part), Cixous decides to vocally reject these notions of fear, repression, and ignorance. She does not avoid the dark forest, unafraid of the difference constructed by our cultures. She speaks up against other-ization by attempting to embody the voice of the oppressed, which, as a(n angry) woman, she can do with some ease:

We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces, the bevies – we are black and we are beautiful.

We’re stormy, and that which is ours breaks loose from us without our fearing any deliberation. Our glances, our smiles, are spent; laughs exude from our mouths; our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing; and we’re not afraid of lacking.

…From now on, who, if we say so, can say no to us? We’ve come back from always.

As I read this, I think about bell hooks and her notions of talking back and speaking out, of spreading black female voices and infiltrating a world of writing which is still male- and white-centered. There is also an obvious Freudian allusion in the passage where she states, “we’re not afraid of lacking,” of being seen as inferior, of being ostracized for who “we” are. The intersection of race and gender (as well as sexuality because each is inseparable, especially when looking at Cixous’s texts) is present here and is being deconstructed to produce a new and transgressing viewpoint of blackness as beautiful and as something to be embraced rather than avoided. Cixous is stating that there is not a lack in oppression; there is no inherent fault or flaw in the individuals or in the race itself, but rather in the institution causing the fear of darkness.

Daphne Gottlieb’s poem “haircut” reminded me of a discussion we had in class yesterday about gendered appearance and stereotypes about butch/femme. (I’m including the entire poem this time)

My baby keeps her hair
short.
Number 2 guard, 1/4 inch white oster clippers short
short hair.

Not I’m-depressed-and-I’m-going-to-shave-my-head short,
just short.

She’s got beautiful baby-short hair.
Baby short, not basketball-player short
or concentration camp short or
or military short or militant short:
not monk short
or cancer short.
Just
short.

Her gray hairs shine like
flashbulb filaments,
one for each brilliant
idea she has.

She’s getting more and more
gray. She says it’s my
fault.

My baby keeps her hair
short:
Nothing to cling to desperately,
nothing to get tangled up in.
My baby keeps her hair short–
she likes it that way
and so
do I.

I feel like Gottlieb is using hair, an aspect of the body, as a marker of an identity. She makes sure to distance her lover’s hair from both “military short” and “militant short,” images often tied to women with short hair, but does not create a hierarchy between the concepts; she just points out what Is (reminding me of the reading Safe Trip in which calling the narrator’s lover a bull dyke is like yelling “Trees!” at a forest).

Because hair (specifically long hair) is so closely tied to what could be considered hegemonic femininity, rejecting the ideal is a way of subverting gender norms. Although Daphne herself has long hair (from any pictures I’ve seen), which could lend itself at first glance to the butch/femme sexual stereotype, Daphne rejects that as well with her language usage. In other poems in which she is the first-person narrator, she uses strong and sometimes masculine language, which would tend to conflict with her outward appearance. Likewise, she refers to her short-haired lover as “my baby” repeatedly, calling her hair “beautiful” and “Baby short,” also conflicting with norms relating to such short of hair.

On a personal level, I love this poem because it deals with short hair as an identity marker. Although this may seem silly, as soon as I chopped my own hair off (which seems slightly longer than the subject’s in this poem) I immediately felt more connected to the “queer” label that I claim as an act of moving outside of the gender binary.

Just wanted to insert this little footnote from my original paper proposal:

The word “woman” is used in Cixous’s The Laugh of the Medusa (1976) inclusively to mean both woman-as-woman and woman-as-person. She states that man must write him self as well: “it’s up to him to say where his masculinity and femininity are at,” which in turn will cause them to “[open] their eyes and see themselves clearly” (877).  Cixous sees men as victims of the oppressive patriarchal state just as women are: “the way man has of getting out of himself and into her whom he takes not for the other but for his own, deprives him, he knows, of his own bodily territory” (877). However, because language and speech are explained and seen to be “governed by the phallus,” the concept of femininity remains the default in her essay as well as my own (881).

Also: In class, we discussed the gendering of pronouns and using gender-neutral language, and while I can recognize that using woman-as-person (with the disclaimer about men) excludes individuals who do not subscribe to or fit into the neat little boy/girl gender boxes that we have socially constructed, I do appreciate her early use of the female pronoun as opposed to the typical male default.