EVENT Mar 23
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Filth, Dirt, (Im)Purity, and the Woman (NeMLA)

Organization: 54th Annual NeMLA Convention
Event: NeMLA
Categories: Graduate Conference, Gender & Sexuality, Literary Theory, Women's Studies
Event Date: 2023-03-23 to 2023-03-26 Abstract Due: 2022-09-30

Women share a close and unavoidable connection with (im)purity, filth, and dirt in their routines of care and caring. Words like filth, and dirt are loaded with colonial meanings and can become extremely complicated when understood from the socio-cultural-political lens. Through the postcolonial appropriations, these meanings have subsequently contributed to the patriarchal assumptions and gendered ideas about women’s roles, especially, in handling filth and dirt, within their daily duties of selfless care, nursing, cooking, cleaning, and mothering. These ideas still remain strong in our contemporary public discourses especially when they get further entwined within the intersectional politics of age class, caste, race, and religion. Tronto’s work (1993; 2010) for example, has consistently argued that care is disproportionately the work of the marginalized in society and as such, distributed along intersectional social axes encouraging a power hierarchy between who is more experienced in handling filth.

Furthermore, care, like gender, is also a performance, that has been represented through media, where women’s efficiency at filth and dirt management has always been glorified within hegemonic gender norms. Popular culture, especially, has portrayed images of how ideal women should give up their desires and aspirations to selflessly perform their care as wives, mothers, and grandmothers, adopting duties of the household and beyond, in their routine dealings with filth and dirt, without any grudge or cringe. These images have seen an unquestioned internalization by both male and female spectators, which has further led to the normalization of these expectations even today despite the abundant presence of feminist movements, and ideologies (especially transnational feminism) that have challenged dominant ideas of caregiving. At the same time, some recent subversive renditions have been able to radicalize this internalization.

This panel welcomes papers on culture and media from the Global South focussing on the portrayals, racialization, essentialization, and internalizations, along with subversions or radicalizations of the accepted association of filth, dirt, and impurities within the essentialized gender assumptions of women's care duties and ideal womanhood, that will expand our knowledge about this underexplored domain of caring and care performance and exploitation.