Agata Siniarska - City of Women. Gender Trouble

the international festival of contemporary arts in lubljana or how to do things with feminism


this year city of women was celebrating 20th anniversary. for a week lubljana became a real city of women. quoting mara vujic, the artistic director of this edition, the festival: “has significantly contributed that the equality of women in art and society in general, as well as different feminist theories and practices have become and still remain, relevant premises for social discourse”. what brought me to lubljana – an urgency! i deal with the f word since more than two years, having many contradictory relations to it. from the beginning i knew i will not be interested in analysis of particular performances. i put myself a task to look not only via close ups but first and foremost at the whole event as a feminist proposition, what does this feminism can do.

i ended up thinking and rethinking my own own practice-based research inviting all my materials, associations, narratives, methodologies to dance.

i came to lubljana with all my critical apparatus. what I mean here with criticality are the irit rogoff's words that “criticality is a recognition that we may be fully armed with theoretical knowledge, we may be capable of the most sophisticated modes of analysis but we nevertheless are also living out the very conditions we are trying to analyse and come to terms with. therefore, criticality, is a state of duality in which one is at one and the same time, both empowered and disempowered, knowing and unknowing. (...) so it would seem that criticality is in itself a mode of embodiment, a state from which one cannot exit or gain a critical distance but which rather marries our knowledge and our experience in ways that are not complimentary. unlike ‘wisdom’ in which we supposedly learn from our experience, criticality is a state of profound frustration in which the knowledge and insights we have amassed do very little to alleviate the conditions we live through. so, you might well ask, what is the point then? well, I would answer, the point of any form of critical, theoretical activity was never resolution but rather heightened awareness and the point of criticality is not to find an answer but rather to access a different mode of inhabitation”. with this “profound frustarion” i arrived at the airport of lubljana.

festival city of women was a definitely feminist festival, where all the works there presented we can name feminist without any objections. performances that especially brought my attention were the once by bryony kimmings, alexis o'hara, leja jurisic & teja reba, ursula martinez. all these performances were dealing with so called “women's subject” or larger: “gender subject” as well as women's problematics. none of these projects was dramatic, pathetic, heavy, full of tears, sad, serious, tragic, full of blood, full of menstrual blood, loud, hysteric, tremulous, repressed, romantic, anegdotic, long, too long, obviously too long - which all those mentioned as many other components are generally inscribed into a domain of women's work, building “inevitable” part of a definition of what is assumed as a women's art. because how can woman have a sense of humour if she needs to survive within this men's world.

that week in lubljana brought me once again to the questions about gender/s ( these wanted and unwanted ), feminism and feminist work, especially feminism in dance and choreography since this is my modus operandi. why these words are still so problematic. why there is still a need to underline the binary women's art - men's art. “i find i can't even have this conversation about equality in the art world because so many people think it's already been achieved”...has it?

i would like here to make a space to think through these few issues, as well as ask following questions: is there a difference between woman artist and man artist? do we need ( and if yes, then why ) festival for women's art?

lets start this story from the beginning. once upon a time... 


once upon a time...gender appeared. gender. the magic word that brought many discourses to the ground. gender. a space that regulates identity, desire and, especially – power. to possess gender is to enter into heterosexual relationships subordination. to be possessed by gender is to be assigned to heterosexual relationships subordination.

first and foremost, gender represents itself as a binary. a binary is a space that contains only two elements ( ! ). these elements are equal ( ! ) and opposite to each other in every aspect. and they are the only two choices in that universe ( ! ). in gender, the binary is male or female, in other words: man-and-woman, boy-and-girl, crone-and-curmudgeon, lady-and-gentelman, cinderella-and-prince of charming, the pill-and-viagra, romance-and-horror movies, cooking-and- gastronomy, breast cancer-and-prostate cancer, small hands-and-dirty hands, love before sex-and-sex for the sex’s sake, not knowing much or knowing a lot but not being able to say it-and-encyclopedic knowledge, not making any noise-and-knowing how to raise your voice, being left by your partner for a younger woman-and-leaving your partner for a younger woman, letting yourself be fucked in the ass when it’s needed-and-the desire and fear to get fucked in the ass, gossips-and-the big narratives....the binary is clean like a rain water in the spring pond with a whole family of ducklings swimming and quacking in yellow – quack quack quack. the binary elements are equal. really? “is there anywhere the world where men and women are equal and opposite in all three spaces of identity, desire and power? really, can you name me a town where that’s the way life is...”. where is the town where the small particular problems are equal to the universal ones and where the manicure is equal to callused hands.

everything what is masculine is not masculine, but universal. everything what is feminine is feminine or is nowhere.

not only that gender is a binary, it is a cultural construct, defining the boundaries of imaginary meanings and creating phantasmatic body. this phantasmatic body is compared to something that is “real” - a different set of fantasy. the boundaries of what is “real”, are produced in the framework of the “natural heterosexuality”, where the physical facts serve for the cause ( no none! one here does not appreciate a huge variability of human anatomies ), and desires are a reflection of the inexorable effects of that physicality.

the two heterosexual laws: gender is real and gender is an equal binary, had regulated, still regulates social power relations. feminism was one of the movements fighting against gender inequality ( even though in 60-ties the category

was still not in use, one could speak about social roles ). when during 90-ties the queer discourse manifests itself, homosexuality started to fight for their identities, trying to reject the omnipresent perfect gender. a perfect gender, this powerful oppressive force: women call it MAN, homosexual and bisexual call it STRAIGHT, transgender call it CISGENDER. and in this perfect gender there are white men and black men, and because of the racial component, these are seen and treated by the dominant culture as two different and unequal genders. a rich woman who owns everything, a poor woman who works three job – these are different unequal and “natural” genders in our society.

i am going to rethink my thinking how can i deal with the gender problems. i will try not to put myself in the victim position that i used to do in uncomfortable situations and only because in western society i am perceived as a woman category and as this category i can and i cannot take some positions ( explicitly speaking ). am i a woman? totally, definitely, endlessly? being completely honest - i am not. i am not a woman. that is my secret that you know now. i am not a woman and i am not a man, and i am a part of gender binarism. that is why i am a woman ( sometimes i want that so much and who does not want to... ) but i am not a woman and i am a woman. and surely i am a woman also “because it is nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it is only a matter of speaking”. what i can say about myself – i am transgressing gender. “i think anyone who wants to question or study gender is transgressing gender. i think anyone who has either the desire or the courage to own their transgressions against gender is transgender”. i am transgressing gender and i am transgendering myself but only some days in a week. my eagerness is not to put a blame on anybody and definitely not to blame men – it is not their fault to be socialized in a different way ( different towards who? ), it is not their fault they were taught to laugh at good-natured jokes ( little smile with a mischief on the lips – and how can i claim not to be a woman. but that is just me...lets talk about you, baby...! ).

following judith butler and assuming gender as being performative, in this sense of understanding - a gender is not a noun as well as not a series of free-floating attributes, because substantial effect of gender is produced performatively. therefore - using the legacy handed down to us in the discourse of metaphysics substances – one can say this: gender turns out performative - that is, constituting the identity in the sense that "gender is always activity but not activity of the subject”, which would precedes her/his act. “if you take the attempt of framing gender, exiting beyond the metaphysics of substance, you have to take into account nietzsche's thesis the wording in "the genealogy of morality": "there is no existence outside-doing, action, becoming; do-er is just a fabrication added to deal – doing is everything". nietzsche could not predict of course such use of his thoughts, and he would never forgive us. we can tell the following: behind the expressions of gender lies not gender identity, identity is performativity by only "expressions", which are supposedly its result”.

by constructing gender as -ING action and speaking forth of myself not as an "i" but "i am doing" with the accent on “doing”, certainly it changes the perception of gender ( and hopefully a gender binarism ) as well as the idea of subject.

judith butler, already in the 90’s doubted whether feminism has still the need to construct the subject of feminism appearance. from the viewpoint of feminist political practice it seems necessary to consider a new approach to ontological constructs of identity - to find such formulas of politics of representation, which would reinvigorate feminism, built on other grounds to which extend women's category owes its stability and cohesion within the heterosexual matrix.

if a stable notion of gender ceases to be a fundamental premise of feminist politics, it can to undermine the cultural reification of gender and identity, the need for a new kind of feminist politics: its methodological and normative starting point - if not political goal - would then be variable construction of identity.

this is a departure from the humanist concept of entity based primarily on the assumption that there is a substantial person, which has a number of relevant and irrelevant attributes. foucault, writing diaries of herkulina barbin, considering that gender links together the functions and meaning of the body that doesn’t need to or even shouldn’t be linked, comes to the conclusion that the disappearance of "sex/gender" would entail positive effects of dispersion of these different functions, meanings, tools, somatic and physiological processes, and also multiply the pleasures, which will come out beyond the framework set by gender intelligibility considered unambiguous and remaining in a binary relation. the physical pleasures will not be automatically relate to "gender" as their first cause and ultimate meaning. this would be a world, in which "smiles wander without a cat".