Minh-ha, Woman Native Other

Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism:Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. (173 pages)

“’For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.’ The more one depends on the master’s house for support, the less one hears what he doesn’t want to hear” (80). This is worth comparing to Gates’ signifyin which explicitly uses the ‘masters’ tools’ as a means of word play. For Minh-ha, the master’s house is akin to the ways the master sets the boundaries for autonomy: “you may keep your traditional law and tribal customs among yourselves, as long as you and your own kind are careful not to step beyond the assigned limits…I (not you) will give you freedom. I will grant you autonomy—not complete autonomy” (80). In this sense, the discourse or structure of the master’s language provides an illusion of freedom, but not quite. In this sense, “it also means that I am tolerated in my difference as long as I conform with the established rules” (87).

Minh-ha also confronts the ways in which identity is constructed within the master’s house. As she notes, discussing feminine identity in the context of difference “undermines the very idea of identity, deferring to infinity the layers whose totality forms” (96). As she writes, the female identity “does not, obviously, allows us to radically depart from the master’s logic. Such a formulation endeavors to ‘reach a theory of female identity…that varies from the male model” (96). As such, Minh-ha writes, “Woman can never be defined” (96). Though she does question “what is woman?”, noting particular the way the body has become “the most visible difference between men and women; the only one to offer a secure ground for those who seek the permanent, the feminine ‘nature’ and ‘essence,’ remains thereby the safest basis for racist and sexist ideologies” (100). But as she notes, sexual differences has no real value; “gender simply does not exist otherwise than grammatically in language” (114).

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