Presentation on theme: "Freedom, Justice & Morality After the War Poli 119DA 17 What is a woman?"— Presentation transcript:
Freedom, Justice & Morality After the War Poli 119DA 17 What is a woman?
Simone de Beauvoir 1908-1986 Novelist Ethicist Philosopher Foundational in 2 nd & 3 rd wave feminism
3 Waves of Feminism First wave: 1848 ~ 1915 – Equality before the law: Vote, contract, property, legal recognition Second wave: ~1960 ~ 1990 – Equality in economy, society, & politics: Jobs, pay, reproductive rights, representation, rape, image, misogyny, affirmation of womanhood Third wave: ~1990 – present – Postmodern critiques of gender as such. Emphasis on cultural, sexual diversity, queer rights.
Existentialist Vocabulary Fun The Situation/he practico-inert – The conditions within which one exists The outcome of human effort, projects Something the individual had nothing to do with creating. As far as the individual is concerned, the situation is arbitrary, absurd. Project – A series of actions designed to change the situation in which one finds ones self in order to create a new situation. – An exercise of freedom Transcendence – To recognize oneself as standing out from (existing) the situation The individual is not a part of the practico-inert, but its judge and participant
Existentialist Vocabulary Fun Authenticity – To think and act in a way that acknowledges your own absolute freedom (not unlimited freedom) and that of all other humans. Immanence – To exist within, as part of, rather than above and apart from en-soi – in itself, as an object or thing por-soi – for itself, as a consciousness
What is a woman? The core question of the text – Dont lose sight of this Tota mulier in utero (xviv) But woman is not a biological category – Become/stay a woman It is a thing that a female human may or may not be Is it a matter of some kind of essence? – No: Science regards any characteristic as a reaction dependent in part upon a situation. (xx)
The Situation The conditions within which one exists – The practico-inert The outcome of human effort, projects Something the individual had nothing to do with creating. As far as the individual is concerned, the situation is arbitrary, absurd.
Arent we all really the same? If its all a matter of essentially arbitrary conditions, perhaps woman is a meaningless category, a label arbitrary applied to certain human beings. Perhaps there are no women, only humans? Arent we all just humans, really?
Of course not. Obviously, women are humans, but to go for a walk with ones eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests and occupations are different. (xx)
What is the relationship between the categories man and woman? Not polar opposites: male both positive and neutral, women only negatively defined – Grammatically the case: mankind – Men are objective, women subjective due to station, biology Womans body as prison (xxii) – Women defined in reference to men, men not defined in reference to women
For man, woman is the Other The Other: the not-You (the One, the subject) (xxiii) When an individual or group sets itself up as the One, other individuals or groups take on the category of the Other, defined by being not-the One (objectified).
But the Othering of women is unique Usually, when the One (A) encounters the Other (B), it learns that the Other (B) thinks of itself as the One, and the One (A) as the Other – Manichean identity in Fanons The Wretched of the Earth – This is true of nations, religions, races – But it is not true of women, who see men as the One and themselves as the Other – Jews, African-Americans, proletarians all say we, but women do not (except possibly at feminist gatherings) Like men, they say women
Historically, woman has always been mans dependent, if not his slave, but even now that things have begun to improve legally, custom (the influence of past over present) prevents full equality in business & politics (xxvi) – A matter of respect and prestige
Why have women not moved toward equality more quickly? Women lack the means to organize themselves as a unit – They see themselves as the Other – Unlike any other oppressed group, women live scattered among their oppressors – They require their oppressors in a way that blacks do not require whites It is possible to imagine an all-black humanity in a way that it is not possible to imagine an all-woman humanity
To decline to be the Other, to refuse to be party to the dealthis would be for women to renounce all the advantages conferred on them by their alliance with the superior caste… (xxvii)
Being & Oppression The Othering of women is a project of bad faith (inauthenticity, denial of freedom of self and/or others) – It attributes to them a being (you could say an essence) that is different and inferior At best, equality in difference. But what equality is it that says I am good at politics, business, and art, while you are good at babies and housekeeping, and these are equal things? Separate but equal – Limiting American blacks to menial work and then concluding menial work is what they are good at.
Defined as inferior Mauriac: We listen on tone of polite indifference... to the most brilliant among them, well knowing that her wit reflects more or less luminously ideas that come from us. – Us? Mauriac here puts himself in company with St. Paul, Hegel, Lenin, and Nietzsche in asserting the inferiority of women (xxxi) – But who the hell is Mauriac? How can he possibly share the credit of these other men?
This remains true even in democratic societies There, men do not postulate woman as inferior, for today they are too thoroughly imbed with the ideal of democracy not to recognize all human beings as equals. (xxxi) – Valuing the role of wife, mother, & partner, a man can feel that social subordination between the sexes no longer exists When he notices that women are excluded from positions of power, he attributes this to biology, nature, being.
What is the goal for Beauvoir? NOT TO MAKE WOMEN HAPPY Liberation =/= happiness! – Are not women of the harem more happy than women voters? – It is not too clear just what the word happy really means and still less what true values it may mask. (xxxiv, my emphasis) – I am interested in the fortunes of the individual as defined not in terms of happiness but in terms of liberty. (xxxv)
In particular, those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists of being at rest. This notion we reject, for our perspective is that of existentialist ethics…. (xxxiv) A women finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as an object… (xxxv)
Biology Male & female are facts of biology, but man and woman are socially constructed categories, part of the situation in which we find ourselves. What is woman? – The womb & the egg? Is man the sperm? Passivity vs. activity – But nature shows us that reproduction is much more complicated and varied than this. (16)
But it is doubtless true that reproduction is very different for males and females (and men and women) The body itself means that men and women experience the world in different ways – Their situations differ at the biological level
Sex for men external, for women internal For a man, puberty is (relatively) mild, and his reproductive system works essentially the same from then until he dies – Thus, a man can feel unity with his body, he is his body (26)
But for women, sex & reproduction are entirely different – Menstruation often painful, affects moods – Sex is invasive, the Other within the One – Reproduction is painful and can be deadly, as the interests of the species and of the individual diverge – Pregnancy is literally the presence of another creature within the body – Menopause another strange & uncomfortable change, but only after it does a woman have roughly the same relationship w/her body that a man does
Thus, woman, like man, is her body, but her body is something other than herself. (29) – This point runs throughout Beauvoirs analysis
But these and other biological conditions (for example, the generally smaller size and lesser muscular strength of women compared to men) tell us nothing about why women have become the Other – Man not a natural species, but a historical idea – Under other conditions, these material conditions could have different meanings A taboo against striking women would mean that the male advantage in violence is neutralized. A matter of society & culture.
Biology cannot explain why women have been othered. It offers only facts, but what matters here is the interpretation of facts. – These facts in turn can be changed.
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