by Kaydian Campbell
Hélène Cixous begins her article, “Laugh of the Medusa”, with the declaration that women must write… for women, about women and to women (my emphasis). Though she asserts that there is no such this as a universal woman, she explains that the differences in women are what make them creative, and limitlessly so, but that they can inspire other women by being bold in expressing their own desires: “I wished that that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women, might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard of songs” (876). The narrator expresses her own fear in producing beauty, when feeling the inspiration that would “burst” into something wonderful, “[She] said nothing, showed nothing… [She] was ashamed. [She] was afraid, and [she] swallowed [her] shame and [her] fear” (876). Cixous attributes this fear to the inculcation of proper feminine behavior and thoughts, and of course a phallocentrism that has taught her to be “ashamed of her own strength” (876). Woman has been taught to despise and fear her desires, her drives, and taught that “a well-adjusted normal woman has a… divine composure” (876).
Cixous strikes a parallel between women’s writing and female masturbation to highlight, not only the shame associated with female writing, but the surprising beauty a woman holds within her, that she fears displaying to the world. The woman who writes in secret, but feels guilty, either for a feeling of inadequacy, the volume, or perceived depth of her work. This idea is reminiscent Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper”, who only writes to make herself feel better, or as Cixous puts it, “to take the edge off”, but who begins to physically embody the opinions of her husband and his sister who believe her writing is only exhausting her (877). But this is exactly the kind of opposition Cixous encourages women to write in spite of. Despite the men who will count her work as frivolous, and the publishers who will not endorse women’s writing, but who ironically make money on texts about women. “Woman must write woman. And man, man” , Cixous asserts, because man can only write from his own point of view, which is in terms of his fear and opposition to woman (877). Man’s point of view rests in the concept of “the power relation between a fantasized obligatory virility ment to invvade, to colonize, and the consequential phantasm of woman as a “dark continent” to penetrate and to “pacify” (877). Subsequently, this is the narrative that has been taught to women;to the little girls who, “as soon as they begin to speak, at the same time as they are taught their name, they can be taught that their territory is black… Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark… And so we have internalized this horror of the dark” (877-8). This dark is not only representative of woman’s knowledge of herself, but the stigma associated with being herself. Women learn to hate themselves, to hate anything woman, “They have made for women an antinarcissism! … which loves itself only to be loved for what women haven’t got!” (878). This is a major issue in the reluctance of some women to “write woman”, because she seeks, not only to dissociate herself from women, but from “women’s writing”, as the narrator learns in Chapter 5 of A Room of one’s Own. She peruses a book by Mary Carmichael to find that the author[ess] deliberately tries to avoid the style of women’s writing.
Therefore, while Cixous encourages women to “write woman”, she acknowledges that various works written by women seem to in no way differ from men’s writing, “and which either obscures women or reproduces the classic representations of women (as sensitive- intuitive-dreamy, etc)”, in other words “the eternal feminine” (to which end I should add: chaste-nurturing- fertile, etc) (878). De Beauvoir depicts a similar separation in woman that causes her to think the “obsession” with embracing womaness. In her Introduction to The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir advocates that a woman may more truthfully depict woman because, “[women] know the feminine world more intimately than do men because we have our roots in it, we grasp more immediately than do men what it means to a human being to be feminine; and we are more concerned with such knowledge.” As for my interpretation of Cixous’ solution to this problem, she encourages women to no longer function “within” the discourse of a man, but instead, “it is time for her to dislocate this “within”, to explode it, turn it around, and seize it; to make it hers, containing it, taking it into her mouth, biting that tongue with her very own teeth to invent for herself a language to get inside of” (887). Here Cixous implies that woman must not only surpass this “lack”, this “darkness” that has been attributed to her, but that she must use them to reveal herself and her writing.