Monday, 13 June 2011

Duppy feminism

Male feminist geographers, David Butz and Lawrence D. Berg explain their term 'duppy feminism',

"The notion of the duppy helps us to think about the malicious ghosts of masculinism in ways that resonate with our own experiences of both contesting and unwittingly reproducing masculinism and sexism within geography."* 

This is very apt for myself, as I said in a previous post, I occupy the position of being a female geographer who both likes and dislikes masculinist ways of working- depending on various factors, or, more honestly, on my mood that day. Butz and Berg venture that the term 'duppy feminists' might be a useful one for male feminist geographers to think around and through... I find myself wondering whether I could appropriate the term for myself. 

So, why duppy feminism? What has inspired them so? Well, a duppy is a particular type of malicious ghost or spirit, the word itself probably originating from West Africa.  Bob Marley supposedly had a duppy set on him, which he had to fend off, night after night. According to the book, Catch a Fire- The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White, one night, Rita Marley stayed over and Bob's duppy threw her out of bed! Eventually though, Bob sussed the duppy out and banished it for good.... thus the song,  Duppy Conqueror. Butz and Berg don't recount the duppy story as I remember reading it, they have a more complex, clever, political and subtle explanation. They say that The Wailers' song, Duppy Conqueror refers to the ability of the Rastafarians to conquer the duppy-like ghosts of colonialism (and Babylon System), and thus transform themselves from 'sufferers' to conquerors. My hesitant mention of Babylon System of course encourages further enquiry:- where do the ideas of Babylon System and masculinist culture meet and where do they diverge? [Are Rastas fighting the same battle as feminists - or a different one?] Additionally, Brutz and Berg reckon that Marley and The Wailers saw themselves as using duppy-like tactics to go about their conquering. Thus, they existed in a ephemeral space, they conducted a guerrilla-type warfare on the oppression:- they were spectral-like, ever present, yet not fully visible fighters. To add to these interpretations,  I swear I remember something on You Tube with Lee 'Scratch' Perry explaining as to why he had to get rid of the duppies, this time the duppies were hangers on, vampiric people who followed others around, hoping to feed from their success. (If I can validate this I'll be sure to post the video).  With varying ideas of a duppy conqueror, there is confusion yet more importantly, I think, there is a richness of interpretation and a multi-layered approach possible... a lack of clarity, yet a useful bunch of possibilities. I don't see a problem with this as the feminist discourse is rather convoluted in the first place.

This whole idea of duppy feminism has grabbed me and I've been agitating around these ideas for the past while now. The goals of academic feminist analysis are to analyse and understand the patriarchal system, to actively practice resistance to patriarchy and to be transformative, particularly to women's lives. Butz and Berg reckon that most male feminist geographers succeed in undertaking a good feminists analysis, which adds to our understanding of masculinist culture. However, they observe that as a rule, male privilege is not spent (more about this later), cognitive authority is never relinquished, patriarchy is not actively resisted and nothing transformative comes about. Thus the research is another academic exercise, with little impact at ground level. Of course, female feminists are known to 'fail' in the very same manner. The reason being is that deep masculinism serves us very well in the establishment and is good for furthering careers. Deep masculinism would be characterised as a desire to penetrate the space of another, yet to defend ones own space or territory. So, a feminist who is still deeply masculinist would ask the participants many probing questions yet stop short at revealing any insights into their own life, for example. Additionally, Butz and Berg think that the majority of men do not recognise (or perhaps, do not wish to recognise) their own male privilege and are rather fond of it; again, it has served them well. If male feminists do recognise their own male privilege, this is not the end of the problem, however, since, according to Butz and Berg, one cannot rid oneself of male privilege and, even if one did decide to berate oneself for simply being male, this is not a productive mode in which to put oneself! Guilt never really seemed the best of tactics.

In their essay, they are at pains to explain how most male feminists fail to be really good feminists and as a result, Butz and Berg propose a stance which might be adopted, as a theoretical hanger on which to drape ones practical working methods. They propose that the inbuilt ghosts of patriarchy and male privilege be acknowledged, rather than denied, and that one occupies a more liminal space, an ephemeral space, where one practices feminism from a duppy-like stance. One is ever present yet not fully physical, in some way. At the same time, one has a ghost within, a bundle of contradiction which they see as the duppy. They also encourage a guerrilla-type practice.... a subversive feminism, if you will, whereby the duppy feminist will try to 'spend' some of their male privilege. They could do this by listening rather than talking, by being more receptive and less impressive, by standing slightly on the sidelines. They could also make themselves more porous and less well defended, they could, in effect, make themselves more penetrable, so that, by osmosis, their masculinist territory might be accessed by a feminist world.

I am fascinated by their ideas. I too have great 'head mash' from trying to work out just what sort (if any) of feminist I am, or I shall become. I know I have a whole load of contradictions running and that one could easily accuse me of being hypocritical- I personally tend to pick and choose just when I like and when I dislike masculinist structure and working methods. Surely that is not being a good feminist in the first place? Yet, I would be lying were I to try to deny my feminist ideals, strops and leanings. I often like things with a bit more liminality than hegemony and I have always been taken with the term, duppy, ever since I first heard it way back in 1990 or so. So yes, I am wondering whether I too might position myself as a duppy feminist...

* Butz, D. and Berg, L.D. (2002), 'Paradoxical Space: Geography, Men, and Duppy Feminism'. In Feminist Geography in Practice Research and Methods, edited by Pamela Moss, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

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