The Question of Difference: Girl/Woman and the Colonial Modern

Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:50 AM
Room 201 (Hynes Convention Center)
Ruby Lal , Emory University, Atlanta, GA
The Question of Difference: girl-child/woman and the colonial modern

 My paper considers a ‘doubly subalternized’ figure, a concept that several scholars have articulated in diverse investigations of subalternity and difference. This is the figure of the girl-child and woman, which become the center of wide-ranging literary materials, and the debates on civilization, reform, and education in colonial India - a moment in the history of India that is obsessive about the so called ‘woman question’. Yet, in the arguments about women as victims, objects of reform, or sites of male contestation, only particular subject-positions emerge: the individual woman disappears in the sediments of recovery, history and disciplinary orientations. I propose to reconceptualize the ‘woman question’ as the girl-child/woman question and foreground ‘playfulness' as an exclusive domain of women's/girls' lives to consider spontaneity and discovery as befits the stage of girlhood, or the exercise of critical reason and self-governance that the ‘new woman’ is expected to possess. Playfulness, in keeping with a tradition in feminist theory, as a feminine/feminist conceptualization of enjoyment that binds the social and the sexual without asserting authority, or disciplining forms of self-expression and social interaction that depend on a masculinist definition of pleasure.