I’m posting an (incredibly) late post from the first cluster. But I’m hoping that my lack of timeliness can be useful so that we can look back at our first readings and think about how that has bearing on this last section on cultural production.
I think the “Introduction” in The Second Sex by Simon de Beauvoir presents a conflict that we’ve been looking at all quarter—if and how to identify women. Specifically, I think we can see how this conflict has played out in the cultural productions we’ve been looking at the last few weeks.
In the text, de Beauvoir quotes Dorothy Parker as an example of the group of people who suggest that we should do away with gender distinctions and that “men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings” (de Beauvoir, pp 4). Quickly, I want to connect this to Judith Butler. Butler describes the confining nature of declaring one’s homosexuality: “I ‘come out’ only to produce a new and different ‘closet’” (Butler, 17). I think we can think of Butler’s example as similar to this conflict of identifying womanhood. If we accept that ‘womanhood’ is a distinction from men what type of cage are we putting ourselves in? How can we move past these confines of the term ‘woman’? Virginia Woolf argues similarly and cites the fact that women writers are confined to ‘women’s fiction’ because of their gender. In Woolf’s view women cannot be read outside of their woman-ness. This even connects to de Beauvoir’s comment about men’s dismissal of women’s opinions by stating, “You think thus and so because you are a woman” (de Beauvoir, pp 5). It seems in this way that women are simply fighting for the ability to be seen as neutral.
Despite this however, Beauvoir argues in opposition of Parker, and Woolf stating that the feminine experience definitely exists: “To decline to accept such notions as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that Jews, Negroes, women exist today – this denial does not represent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality” (de Beauvoir, pp 4). Several, other authors we’ve read point to this fact, as well. Alice Walker essays suggest that women writers in some way belong to all women connected through their womanhood. Walker also argues that activities that are traditionally considered women’s work (weaving, gardening, sewing) should be considered a form of women’s art. Cixous, as well, argues that women should be writing to create a history of women’s authors for future female authors to build upon. In this way I think both acknowledge that women have experiences specific to the fact that they are female.
In the end I wonder how we reconcile these two points of de Beauvoir’s work? How can we allow women to express themselves outside of being women (neutrally as men do) while also understanding that others view of them as women does affect their experience? I wonder if over the course of the quarter if individuals’ feel like we’ve come to any sort of conclusion or if we’re any closer to answering this question?
**Side Note: White middle-class males are frequently considered neutral. How is this affected by the fact that men are also expected to behave in a particular manner and are limited in various ways by this expectation. Why is their experience then not relegated to being specifically male?