Wednesday, May 11, 2005

l'ecriture feminine

Back in the old days, when we were stupid, we sat in college class after college class listening to professors as they tried to explain the tenets of French feminism. Basically, all I took from it was that these French philosophers thought/think that women and men are intrinsically different and that women, when freed from or indeed in order to be freed from patriarchal oppression, would learn to write in specific womanly ways. What these ways were was and is the source of continual argument and, though I believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women, I don't know how one can say for certain which differences between people are based on sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, religion, education, etc. (The Shill and I heard Michael Bertrand from TSU say "I don't know how to separate a discussion of gender from one of race and class." I'm going to write about that, soon. I just haven't yet. But I think it's a wise admission to make.) But anyway, listen to Helene Cixous, from her essay "The Laugh of the Medusa":
I shall speak about women's writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies -- for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Women must put herself into the text -- as into the world and into history -- by her own movement.
There's been a lot of discussion about whether this kind of writing, here in cyberspace, linked to other writers, commented on and come back to, is l'ecriture feminine realized. I don't know, since I barely know what l'ecriture feminine means. But I think I get what Cixous is up to in this paragraph, what she hopes for from women's writing, that it will value our experiences and make space for others to join us. And she also is not waiting around for permission or validation from hierarchies already in place. You can see why blogging brings Cixous to my mind. Anyway, this post is actually about abortion, I think. I've only rarely posted on abortion, though I think it's obvious that I'm rabidly pro-choice. Today, I was reading Bitch. Ph.D. which led me here to Nyarlathotep's post about her abortion. That made me think again about l'ecriture feminine, about what it's like when women write themselves into history, and what it means that the best, most thoughtful writing about women's experiences isn't being done at colleges and universities, at least not sanctioned by those colleges and universities, but hidden (in the sense that it's anonymous and that it hasn't occurred to most of the "right" people to look here) in plain sight on the internet. All our bravest writing... When we were in college, when I was less rabidly pro-choice (still, pro-choice, but less inclined to have to stab you in the eye if you disagreed with me), I used to say that I could live with any legal status of abortion if that legal status were decided by women, if we all got together, heard each other out, and took a vote. I even imagined something like this: But with less smirking, since we'd be well-aware of the gravity of our decision, and more actual women present. I should stop being bitter about this picture, but I'm just not able. Anyway, I think I'm trying to juggle too many things that are very closely linked in my mind, and so this post is wandering and making me bitter. For those of you who made it this far but can't figure out what the hell I'm trying to get at, here are the main points: 1. The traditional intellectual structures still can't figure out (or be bothered with trying to figure out) how to incorporate the wise and insightful female thinkers in their midsts, and so 1a. these wise and insightful female thinkers take their training from these traditional structures and head out here on the web to do their own things, which 1b. are brilliant and more meaningful than traditionally recognized forms of scholarship, even though this writing 1c. has a solid theoretical base in French feminism and l'ecriture feminine and 1d. should be in the classroom and in the discourse. 2. It still, years later, grosses me out that a bunch of men stood around smirking while they signed a law that will never directly affect them and 2a. I can't even articulate it because it makes me 2b. so angry I start to feel violent and it makes me 2c. feel very alienated from my country and so, 2d. I should just leave it alone.


Blogger bitchphd said...

Actually I think this is an awesome (and complimentary) post. Thanks.

5/11/2005 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger jenniebee said...

What bitch said. Nice work (and I love the concept of Tiny Cat Pants).

5/12/2005 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Well, thanks to you guys for coming by. If I'd known there were going to be so many people visiting Tiny Cat Pants today, I would have picked up a little.

For instance, I would have figured out why a picture of President Bush makes everything on the right side of the screen cower at the bottom (hee, maybe I just answered my own question!) and fixed it.

But I appreciate the attention. For the record, I'm a waffling essentialist. I assume there are differences between men and women, but that assuming we know (or even can know) what they are is stupid and usually just serves to reinforce power structures already in place. Someday, I'll work up a post about that.

5/12/2005 09:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad the smart chicks showed up to comment. I really thought this post deserved it, but didn't think I was the person to do it.


5/12/2005 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Andygrrl said...

Great post. I remember having similar discussions in my Feminist Crit class over Cixous. I think part of the problem Americans (or Anglophones, anyway) have with the concept of l'ecriture feminine is that the concept doesn't translate very well. French is more rigorously gendered than English (not that English isn't gendered, but it's more subtle). They don't have any neuter third person pronouns, for instance (I always use "they" for gender neutrality, abritrary grammar rules be damned). My class had three men in it. It was taught by a woman. We were reading a woman writer. But if I want to say in French, "They read Helene Cixous," I have to use the word ils. Masculine. It refers to a group of men, or a group of mixed gender. All the women in the room disappear. Without any context, you could safely assume the sentence Ils ont lu Helene Cixous means only a group of men were reading Cixous. I can only use the feminine, elles, if there are no men present. Anyway my point is that French women are immasculized by their very language when they write. So I think when Cixous is urging women to write as women, she wants them to do so conciously, to use and change words to show that they are women. Because usually when women write they have to sound "like men", with that authoritarian, disembodied voice that's supposed to be objective but is really speaking the perspective of a white guy.
Well, that's my interpretation at least. Sorry for the French lesson!

5/12/2005 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger marjorie said...

Sorry for the ignorance - but could you tell me exactly what bill Bush is signing in this picture? thanks!

5/12/2005 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Andygrrrl, thanks for the insight into how French works; that shines a great deal of light onto how high the stakes are for Cixous.

Marjorie, that testosterone-fest is the 2003 signing of the partial birth abortion ban act. Here, I hope (since I never get these links to work right), is a useful link to the press release.

5/12/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

1. Woo hoo, the link works!
2. Whoops, it's to the transcript of the President's remarks, not the actual press release. Still, you can find interesting things here.

5/12/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger bitchphd said...

that authoritarian, disembodied voice that's supposed to be objective but is really speaking the perspective of a white guy.

YES. EXACTLY. Though I'd argue that what's happening is that the voice isn't just a voice--it's also content. The easy dismissal of, say, abortion as a "women's issue," a statement that, while factually true, consciously uses the fact that "women" means "unimportant" to dismiss it without actually doing so. So that when you get all mad, they can say, what? What did I say? I diidn't say your issues aren't important; I said they were women's issues. Surely you agree?

And then you want to strangle them.

5/12/2005 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys don't use near enough cuss words to be the voice of THIS white guy. Dammit.


5/12/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Yankee T said...

Excellent post! And yeah, aside from me, you are attracting the intelligent crowd over here.

5/12/2005 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... about cixous' (i think it was hers, maybe irigaray..?) word 'illes'? ils and elles both?

5/16/2005 04:20:00 AM  

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