Archive for the 'Feminism' Category

Beauvoir on “Halfway between revolt and slavery”

Writing on forms of logic, ethics, and actions in a male-centered and shaped society Beauvoir speaks of the existentialist position and phenomenological experience of women in that society:

It is understandable why, from this perspective, woman objects to masculine logic.  Not only does it have no bearing on her experience, but she also knows that in men’s hands reason becomes an insidious form of violence; their peremptory affirmations are intended to mystify her.  They want to confiner her in a dilemma: either you agree or you don’t; she has to agree in name of the whole system of accepted principles: in refusing to agree, she rejects the whole system; she cannot allow herself such a dramatic move; she does not have the means to create another society: yet she does not agree with this one.  Halfway between revolt and slavery, she unwillingly resigns herself to masculine authority.  He continuously uses force to make her shoulder the consequences of her reluctant submission…

The woman does not positively think that the truth is other than what men claim: rather, she holds that there is no truth.  It is not only life’s becoming that makes her suspicious of the principle of identity, nor the magic phenomenon surrounding her that ruin the notion of causality: it is at the heart of the masculine world itself, it is in her as belonging to this world, that she grasps the ambiguity of all principles, of all values, of all that exists.  She knows that when it comes to her, masculine morality is a vast mystification.  The man pompously drums his code of virtue and honor into her; but secretly he invites her to disobey it: he even counts on this disobedience; the whole lovely facade he hides behind would collapse without it.

His relations with woman thus lie in a contingent region where morality no longer applies, where conduct is inconsequential.  His relations with other men are based on certain values; he is freedom confronting other freedoms according to laws universally recognized by all; but with woman–she was invented for this reason–he ceases to assume his existence, he abandons himself to the mirage of the in-itself, he situates himself on an inauthentic plane; he is tyrannical, sadistic, violent or puerile, masochistic or querulous, he tries to satisfy his obsessions, his manias; he “relaxes,” he “lets go” in the name of rights he has acquired in his public life (651-2, emphasis in bold is mine).

Reference

de Beauvoir, Simone.  2010.  The Second Sex.  Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovancy-Chevallier.  New York: Alfred A Knopf.

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The Popular Front and Feminism

Report on Congress of American Women (LexusNexus).

James R. Barrett writes about the Communist Party USA’s strategy of the Popular Front during the Great Depression and the Second World War:

[M]any of the roots of modern feminist movement are located in the Popular Front organizations of the postwar period. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, as women poured into the Party, they organized national and state commissions on the status of women, raised the issue of women’s rights, and joined with liberal middle- and working-class women in consumer and feminist organizations. The creative thinking of Mary Inman, a theorist whom the feminists of the 1970s often invoked as a mother of the new movement, outlived her 1943 expulsion from the CPUSA. Communist women built on her ideas regarding the special exploitation of women, going beyond the Party’s usual language of class. By the late 1940s, such activity had pushed the CPUSA beyond its narrowly economic interpretation of women’s oppression and produced a campaign within the Party against what came to be called “male chauvinism.” The Party launched the Congress of American Women (CAW) in 1947, which was deeply influenced by Communists but also included many prominent and many anonymous early feminists. Born in the midst of political reaction, the organization was short-lived, but what survived of Popular Front-era women’s activism brought the issues of feminism into the labor movement and a variety of consumer and community groups. The Party’s activities also drew African American women to feminism, highlighting their tripple oppression, and laid the roots for Black feminist theory…The tragedy of these Popular Front women activists, as Landon Storrs (2003) has shown, was that while the Communist party provoked and to some degree nurtured this early feminism this same political link, in the context of postwar political repression and CPUSA sectarianism, helped to isolate them and limit their potential to create a mass feminist movement. The effect of such repression was severe enough that left-wing feminists covered up their close contacts with the CPUSA and their early feminist work in unions, consumer groups, and other Popular Front organizations even as they pioneered “second-wave feminism” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Barrett, 544)

Source:

Barrett, James R. “Rethinking the Popular Front.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 4 (Oct. 2009): 531-550.

Simone de Beauvoir and Phenomenology

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Barbara S. Andrew writes about Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and her phenomenology and views of what it is to be a woman in a male-supremacist society:

For phenomenologists, “the world” usually denotes a combination of the natural world and human relationships.  A key aspect of phenomenology is the interaction between self and world, and The Second Sex may be best understood as a work of phenomenlogy in which Beauvior examines the interaction between the gendered self and the gendered world.  The Second Sex looks at how social ideas of femininity shape women’s experiences of self.  One of the most significant aspects of The Second Sex is its encyclopedic indexing of women’s lived experience: biology, psychology, the experience of living in a female body and developing and living with a feminine mind-set.  Many contemporary women’s first reaction to reading it is that they do not experience themselves in the way Beauvior describes.  But this is to miss the point.  Most of The Second Sex is a phenomenological, descriptive analysis.  Beauvoir is not claiming that there is one way that we who are women experience ourselves, our bodies or our minds.  Instead, she describes, and argues against taking as perspective, literary representations of femininity, biological sciences’ accounts of femininity, psychoanalytic theories about femininity, and so on.  It is easy, initially, to confuse her work as participating in negative stereotypes of femininity, rather than cataloging them and analyzing their effect.  Although Beauvoir’s descriptions of women’s bodies may seem negative, Arp argues that she is describing women’s experience of bodily alienation in understanding their social bodies, that is, the body as known through the experience of a sexist world. (Andrew, 30)

Source

Barbara S. Andrew.  “Beauvior’s place in philosophical thought.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir edited by Claudia Card, 24-44.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


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