Hello class! First and foremost, please remember that the first Reading Response is due this coming Wednesday! Although this post came up late, if any of you have questions or need to run by something regarding your assignment, please do not hesitate to email me.
Many of you were asking about the Thelma and Louise extra credit assignment. If you wish to complete this, please answer the following prompt:
When Thelma and Louise first came out in 1991 it was hailed by some as one of the first mainstream American films to challenge gender representations. Make an argument for or against this claim by examining the protagonists’ roles and circumstances within the context of gender conventions.
Also, this Friday is the date for the Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis Conversation on Revolution at the UC Berkeley campus.
Many students did make it, and it was a very inspirational talk. There were many wonderful points made, but I will just share a couple. What I liked the most, and what perhaps is relative to much of the conversations we have in class, is that Boggs suggested (and Davis concurred) that we need to stop thinking dialectically and think biologically. The binaries do not help us advance, our own biology is giving us clues and demonstrating to us how we should think. To me, I understood this as the fluidity of biology–intersex people exist (of human beings being outside of just male or female), etc.–and how this manifests in our concept of gender. Within our own biology we see the possibilities and the inadequacy of binary labeling. I found this such an obvious observation but so profound because the human mind and society is so accustomed to thinking in white/black, evil/good, man/woman. Both Boggs and Davis suggested we start imagining how we want our new world to be, because the way things are aren’t working and it may no longer be able to be fixed. We must think beyond them. This goes with everything, not just gender (and gender actually was less spoken of than you might think), but in class, work, school, etc.
If you made it to the event, there is also an extra credit possibility. If you wish to complete this assignment, the question you must prompt goes as follows:
Write a response to the event, articulating what was worthy and critiquing what was not.
Now it’s time for lecture!
Week 6: For this week’s lecture, we covered Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and her introduction and conclusion of The Second Sex. De Beavoir is considered one of the leading figures of post-1968 feminism, and her work has been highly influential particularly after her death. She was the youngest student ever to pass the exam to receive the philosophy degree in France at the age of 21. In this exam, she was second only to Jean-Paul Sartre. Both met in 1929. Sarte would become a popularly known philosopher and existentialist, as well as de Beauvoir life-long partner. De Beauvoir would also become a novelist, as well as an editor, essayist and professor. Sartre began Modern Times, a political journal, which de Beauvoir would edit until her death in 1986.
Below is a YouTube video that is a short 10-minute biography on de Beauvoir. There are some points that are not covered in class (some of which are highly controversial) and others that contrast with what was said in class. De Beauvoir did have the nickname castor meaning beaver, which in class was suggested as a play on her name, but in the video refers to it as a nickname regarding how hard of worker de Beauvoir was. The play on her name sounds more adequate, however I did not fact check. Also, Sartre and de Beauvoir did participate in ménage à trois with younger female students, many of whom were de Beauvoir’s students. (De Beauvoir was uninhibitedly bisexual, and often her and Sartre shared lovers.) In the video, they refer to this in a very interesting way. Just watch!
- In existentialism, existence precedes essence.
- Existentialism values individual subjectivity over objectivity.
- There is a focus on self-awareness.
- Existentialism was a movement that took off in the 1940s and 1950s, after WWII, as a direct philosophical response to how the mode of thinking changes after surviving trauma.
- It is about individual responsibility.
- There is a focus upon responsibility. Existentialists believe in action, freedom, decision, as fundamental to human existence. It is about creating meaning for ourselves without harming others.
In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir offers us her treatise to the position women are in and what to do about it. Like Virginia Woolf, she reminds us how there are lots of people who write about women, about what is the problem, about what is women. She eventually poses us a very profound statement to consider:
One is not born, but becomes one.
She is telling us that this gender, woman, that we all know is in fact a re)production, one that has existed for a very long time. De Beauvoir quickly poses the question to us: what is a woman? She argues that there is no “eternal feminine” as the essentialists, such as Plato, Aristotle, etc., believed. These essentialists believed that there are certain characteristics that are inherent, essential to woman. De Beauvoir wants to know what these must be, because women are still told “you are not a woman” or men say “there were once real women here, or there, or then.” There is a contradiction, a paradox elemental to all this.
So, what is a woman?
De Beauvoir discusses that the feminine is immutable. Immutable means that it is unchanging. She also goes on to argue that women are plagued by immanence, which is the state of being inherent, or existing or operating within. Women do not change, while men are accomplices with transcendence. Men are able to be distinct, to go beyond, to change, while women are constant, immutable. This has to do with how men and women are viewed. Men are seen as the positive, the model of humanity. In a sense, they are the neutral, the default setting. Women, who are only discussed in relation to men, are the negative, the other. Man has always been considered the essence of being (human). There is a problem here, and it has to with the binary of genders. Gender is a social construction, and it is a edifice man has built that none of us seem able to escape, particularly when The Second Sex was written.
Although de Beauvoir makes quite an argument for the issue with gender, she looks over issues of sex, of women of different classes and different races. Although she references the struggles of African-American slaves in the US and Jewish communities in Europe and abroad, there links are there for the argument considering all women. Regardless, what is important to come out of reading de Beauvoir is this concept of the Other.
Woman is Other. She is Other because she lacks power, agency. She is what man is not. De Beauvoir relates this to the position of woman in psychoanalysis. According to psychoanalysis, which is very man-oriented, woman represents lack. To understand this, you need to refer to Freud’s (father of psychoanalysis) ideas on the Oedipal Complex.
What is the Oedipal Complex? Watch below:
To summarize, the Oedipal Complex happens between a father, son, and mother. Unconsciously, as an infant, the son realizes the power and authority that the father has. The father is the phallus (not the penis) because of this authority. The son, who has love and desires the mother, who at this age tends and nourishes him, realizes that the father and his power dominates the mother. The mother lacks power, lacks the phallus. The son wants that authority and his mother for himself, so he has a desire to kill his father in order to have power and be with the mother. This all occurs unconsciously, and it is a developmental stage we all go through according to Freud. For girls, there is the Electra Complex. The daughter also wants power and authority (phallus) and she sees that the father has this but she (and her mother) lacks this. She wants to take place of her mother in order to be with the father. Remember, this all happens unconsciously.
Aside from psychoanalysis, other arguments that de Beauvoir utilizes to support the concept of Woman as Other includes the master-slave dialectic of Hegel. To explain this, here is another video:
All in all, aside from the introduction, Freud, and Hegel, we did not go much deeper into de Beauvoir. In the midst of discussing her, Sartre, existentialism, nihilism, social status, Freud, France, feminism, for the remainder of the class we got into a hearty discussion that eventually focused on the important topic of issues with gender. We discussed the difference between social constructions of gender and the biological categories of sex. We also discussed the difference and importance of intentional and coercive communities, the invisibility of privilege, the power of naming and who gets to name. Although you may consider this a tangent, it is in fact related to the concepts that de Beauvoir writes of and to what we will further dive into in our class. There are not many opportunities for a group of people, especially students, to discuss such topics and I thank everyone for participating and respecting one another.
Next week: As you may know, we did not have time to go over the Cixous reading in class. We will go over this in the future, however, because of time, we may not be able to do so this coming Wednesday. For this coming Wednesday, we will be reviewing John Berger as well as watch ! Women Art Revolution.
In addition to reading the excerpt from Ways of Seeing, try watching the BBC Television Series on Ways of Seeing. This series was actually the basis for his book. Here are the links to watch the episode on the “nude”:
Ways of Seeing; Episode 2, Part1
Ways of Seeing; Episode 2, Part 2
Ways of Seeing: Episode 2, Part 3
Ways of Seeing: Episode 2, part 4
Here is also a little study guide on the chapter on the nude: https://bccfeministphilosophy.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/john-berger-nude.pdf
We will also be watching ! Women Art Revolution in class on Wednesday. It sounds very exciting! Below is the trailer:
See you next class!