Feminizing Fanon: A review of ‘Conflicts & Feminisms’

By Mlamuli Hlatswayo (@MlamuliSA)

In celebration of what would have been Fanon’s 90th birthday, Mlamuli provides a critical analysis of T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s ‘Frantz Fanons: Conflicts and Feminisms’. In it, he argues that one of the strengths of Sharpley-Whiting’s paper lies in the manner in which she seeks to critically engage with the Feminist scholarship on Fanon, and her attempt to debunk some of the canon and their misinterpretation of him.

This post was originally published here on The Frantz Fanon Blog

Sharpley-Whiting’s text attempts to critically engage with Frantz Fanon’s work and contextualize it within the discourse of Feminism. The text rejects simplistic and binary interpretations of Fanon’s canon, and offers an alternative perspective in not only arguing about a comprehensive Feminist understanding of Fanon, but in also positioning him as a feminist intellectual (Sharpley-Whiting, 1998: 24). Perhaps what is interesting about Sharpley-Whiting’s text is the manner in which she complicates the narrative of Feminism by showing us the different “Feminisms” that are there, and the various modes of interpretation that they adopt when engaging with Fanon. This, one could argue, is significant in helping us understand not only the actual critique they level at Fanon, but also shows us the importance of one’s social position in society and where they are located as being key to the kind of critique they level (and to the Feminist theory they subscribe to), especially regarding their focus, issue and how they engage with it. This is especially seen, and Sharpley-Whiting engages well with this, on how Radical Black Feminist is largely concerned with the material and daily lived experiences of Black women, due largely to the institutionalized marginalization of minorities in America, especially African American and Latino communities. This critical review will focus on the chapter, “Fanon, Conflicts, Feminisms”, especially in showing the various ways in which Feminist scholars have misread Fanon. The review will also be grappling with the idea of white women, sexual violence and Negrophobia in context to the Black male body as a signifier of illicit sex and illogical, irrational violence – and the consequences of that colonial understanding on the contemporary.

One could argue that one of the strengths of Sharpley-Whiting’s paper lies in the manner in which she seeks to critically engage with the Feminist scholarship on Fanon, and her attempt to debunk some of the canon and their misinterpretation of him. What this shows is the skillful manner in which she is able to engage with a significant amount of Fanonian literature on Feminism by trying to bring them in conversation with each other, while being able to portray her alternative interpretation. This ensures that we are able to not only understand but also locate Fanon within the Feminist school of thought, and be able to think and appreciate his commitment to an emancipatory political project that was inclusive of women.  This is especially seen in how Sharpley-Whiting critically engages through a comparative analysis with the Feminist scholarships of Liberal Euro-American Lit-Crit, Algerian Nationalist Feminism and also the Radical US Black Feminism in context to Fanon, in not only showing their ideological underpinnings, but also their limitations and structural challenges that they are all facing. In this comparative analysis, what stood out for me was the manner in which for the Nationalist Feminists in Algeria, women and the veil became symbols and signifiers of resistance who were active in the liberation war, and played an instrument role in the independence of Algeria (Sharpley-Whiting, 1998: 20). However post independence, the actional women were rendered silent and submissive to not only culture and religion, but also to the new nationalist state that needed women to perform the role of transmitters of national culture, and the de facto representatives of national identity. Thus the postcolonial Algerian nation, which the women played an active role in decolonizing, became an oppressive machinery which subjugated and rendered them subalterns again, this time under the new political dispensation – sacrificing them and their Rights at the altar of “progress” for the new nation.
In addition, what is interesting about Sharpley-Whiting’s text, and Fanon deals well with this in A Dying Colonialism, is the manner in which the Algerian veil changes its meaning and significance during and after the independence. The veil, like the Palestinian scarf (the Kuffiyeh) which post World War II, was seeing as a symbol of terror, violence and malice (especially during the leadership of Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization), and now is universally perceived as symbol of international solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians, one could argue that the same paradigm shift was seeing in perception in how the Algerian veil (and Women) were symbols of liberation and resistance during the colonial period in Algeria, however postcolonial – the new state – the veil is now being used as a signifier of culture and ethics that the nation wants to uphold, thus women are forced to reverse the gains made in the revolution, and the veil transforms (in meaning and significance) again and become the symbol of oppression, conformity, and national sacrilege. Thus this relationship of signifiers and signified entraps women and ensures that their position not only remains challenging, but actually becomes attached to culture and religion so as to ensure its sustainability.

Sharpley-Whiting grapples well with the notion of white women, sexual violence and Negrophobia, especially in tying it all together as a colonial construct, serving the function of not only sustaining the colonial project, but also in ensuring the paranoid subjugation and oppression of female (and male) bodies. This is seeing in Fanon and Sharpley-Whiting’s argument that the Black body was depersonalized and portrayed as an instrument of lust and uncontrolled sexual exploitations which sought to rape and violate the female White body. This ensured that White women were paranoid of black men, with novelists like Toni Morrison arguing that this paranoia bordered on lust (Sharpley-Whiting, 1998: 13). Perhaps what is excellent about Sharpley-Whiting’s analysis of Bodies (both Black and white) as spaces of colonial representations and its stereotypes, is the manner in which she engages with the colonial project itself as a conquest over and penetration into bodies and lands, indicates Feminist consciousness in how the colonization of the land itself, is shown to be connected to the use, misuse and abuse of black (and white female) bodies as performance spaces of the colonial project to entrench itself and leave its mark.

Bibliography

Sharpley-WhitingTD., 1998, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts & Feminisms, Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

61 Comments
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