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Archive for February, 2012

Woman’s Erogenous Zones: from Discovery to Escaping Proletarization

written by Tiffany McFadden

In my reading of Luce Irigaray’s From This Sex Which Is Not One (1977), I realized that there is much that I did not know about the male and female body and how it relates to the society we live in.  Irigaray makes a strong case that in order for the woman to change her social status in society she must begin by taking “a long detour by way of the analysis of the various systems of oppression”. Irigaray gives her reader some starting points in order to begin this analyzing process such as examining the discourse on women and or exploring a woman’s understanding of her own body.

Irigaray makes it clear from the beginning that “the female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters.”  It is concepts such as a woman’s “lot is that of lack and atrophy and penis envy” where she should begin to analyze in order to understand this difference in value between man’s sex organ and woman’s sex organ(s). It was pertinent for me to do a little research in order to have a better understanding of Irigaray’s argument and to comprehend such words as “penis-clitoris” or “erogenous zones”.  In my research, I found that the male sex organ (the penis) and the female sex organ (the clitoris) are homologous. This means that the two sex organs are similar in structure and evolutionary origin, but not necessarily in function or value.

According to Irigaray, “the penis …the only sexual organ of recognized value” takes more of a precedence over the vagina that “is valued for the lodging it offers the male organ when the forbidden hand has to find a replacement for pleasure giving”. In “a society that privileges phallomorphism”, man’s sex organ is superior to the woman’s sex organ that is considered “a nothing to show for itself”; a form that “lacks a form of its own.” I believe that Irigaray is trying to make an argument that the difference in value of the two sex organs derives from a difference between the forms of man’s penis and woman’s vagina. As a woman, what I took from Irigaray’s argument is that all that occurs in Western culture is created and arranged for the continuity of patriarchy.

 

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This Sex Which is Not One

By Amber Laraque

 Reading Luce Irigaray’s excerpt from This Sex Which Is Not One sparked questions in my head, regarding male sexuality versus female sexuality. As Irigaray describes it, “Woman touches herself all the time, and more over no one can forbid her to do so, for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself she is already two – but not divisible into one (s)– that caress each other.”

 She describes this as autoeroticism and says that this autoeroticism is interrupted by a “violent break-in”—the penis entering the vagina.

 The questions that arose after reading this were, 1. how can one believe that because a woman’s lips touch all the time, that it could be a form of pleasure?; and 2. Why she describes the penis as “violating?”

 Reading further, my second question was answered, and it is understood that Irigaray believes that women have been put in the position to serve the purpose of pleasuring a man, what she describes as a “use- value for man,” or a “commodity.” Thus the penis would be violating a woman, seeking pleasure for only himself, while a woman doesn’t need a penis, nor a tool to pleasure herself.

 This takes me back to my first question. While I understand the points that Irigaray makes about a woman, self pleasure, and rediscovering herself, I don’t agree that women get pleasure because she “touches herself all the time.” Or is it because I have not rediscovered myself yet? Perhaps Irigaray’s point is that a woman needs to discover herself out side of “man” in order to understand herself, her pleasure, and her sexual organs.

    The concept of auto eroticism as described by Irigaray left me puzzled, and uncertain as to whether or not I agree with her argumement. “Woman ‘touches herself’ all the time…for her genitals are formed of two lips on continuous contact.” I must say, woman opposed, in denial or have never experimented with any form of (self) masturbation might find that concept hard to digest. The mere thought of my lips (not sure which pair Irigaray is referring to but I’ll assume the labia minora) caressing each other as a form of masturbation is absurd. After all, isn’t self pleasure the primary purpose of masturbation? In the case of women, doesn’t it allow her to get in touch(literally) with herself, and discover new and better ways of obtaining pleasure. If as a woman, I involuntary masturbate, why do I not feel pleasure? Why, as I sit on this chair, typing away am I not turned?

    In digression, I can’t help but wonder if autoeroticism exists for male. If woman experiences it, why not her male counterpart? Maybe I’m wrong, or over thinking Irigaray’s argument, but I believe males do. I’m picturing the male anatomy and if I’m correct, the testis rub against each other. Also, the penis rests on top of or between the testis. All three, in some way, caress each other. With that being said, don’t males experience auto eroticism. He doesn’t need “an instrument” to touch himself.

The Voiceless Woman

    “A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter” (217)

On the first day of class we tried to define the word feminist while we shared our own personal experience with feminism.  As I read, “The Laugh of the  Medusa” by Helene Cixous  I was brought back to that day and questioned if all women are feminists but because of scrutiny are to afraid to associate themselves with the word.  Cixous states that women face an “inevitable struggle against conventional man”  and it is because of this censorship that women have felt a “shameful sickness”.

Throughout history women have been censored and oppressed, but have the opportunity through writing to  “aim to break up, to destroy, and to foresee the  unforeseeable, to project” (215) their own chains of oppression.  Cixous elaborates on the idea of the “woman  writer”  who will “proclaim this unique empire” that has been “driven  away…violently” with emphasis on the truth of the body. By intertwining the body with writing Cixous expresses the female writing through voice. She intertwines writing with the body claiming that “writing is for you…your body is yours, take it”. If writing is the body then if you “censor the body and you censor breath and  speech at the same time”.(217) Cixous urges women to end this censorship by  writing. Interestingly she develops her argument by writing and directly speaking to women. In this way Cixous is bringing strength to her own voice and connecting  that voice and strength to her body.

Now the question is, why writing? Why does Cixous put so much  emphasis on writing? History has taught us the importance of writing. In the past history, music, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, and fairy tales were all told orally, causing loss of information and changing of tales; for example the tale of Medusa. Writing changed  all that. Now there is a written account of every event, every story and every  joke. Through writing women can make their own history or remake oppressionary tales like the Medusa to reflect their own truth. They can voice their own opinions and experiences like men have for centuries because women can write about women like men can write about men. Neither sex knows what it is to be the other sex. Without women  writers; women are left vulnerable, weak and at the mercy of male writers, continuing in ” a world of  searching, the elaboration of a knowledge, on the basis of a systematic  experimentation with the bodily functions, a passionate and precise  interrogation of her erotogeneity”. (215)

Cixous shows that writing is a powerful tool in the fight for equality among the sexes since it allows women to be uncensored.

Cixous’s Two Levels of Transformation From Female Writing

In Helene Cixous’s Essay “The Laugh of Medusa” she addresses the importance of woman’s writing. She talks about the importance of women’s writing on “two levels that cannot be separated”. On one level she addresses women’s writing as an individual act of woman taking ownership of her body and identity, and on another level she sees women’s writing as a shattering of the oppressive bounds historically imposed on women and their expression.

I was particularly interested in the first level, because I personally think I have been more interested in addressing this level of feminist identity. Unlike the other theories we have looked at so far, this essay specifically addresses the individual empowerment of women instead of just the larger societal scope. I enjoyed looking at feminism on the level of the individual, particularly because I personally think that it is more empowering to women and more likely to rectify past injustices if women take ownership of their femininity rather than create a world that is “gender neutral” as Gayle Rubin suggests. Cixous emphasizes gender difference and sees this as the vehicle through which women will reassert themselves, and I agree with her.

Cixous expresses how women being connected to their femaleness would empower them in a very beautiful passage,

To write. An act which will not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal (FT 217).

This description of women taking ownership of their “native strength” is a sentiment I find powerful, honest, and inspiring, view of how to repair the oppression of women. I really believe that I need to consider this more however. What exactly is the feminist dream we are trying to create? Gayle Rubin says she finds an androgynous and sexless society to be the ideal, but Helene Cixous seems to be advocating an active embracing of the uniquely feminine experience. It is a complicated question which best serves the level of feminist problem that exists as an institutionalized problem.

Though there might not be a conclusive answer to which ideal is better for feminism, I still would like to complicate my own thinking since I seem to be strongly biased towards a vision of celebrating and emphasizing a uniquely female culture of sorts. I thought of two examples of drama that are used consistently as feminist touchstone texts. First, I thought of Eve Ensler’s celebration of feminity, The Vagina Monologues. This is a representation that aligns itself with Cixous’s vision. I particularly thought of a woman who discovered her vagina and masturbation and was brought to tears through this experience because of the power of personal expression and self-discovery. I also contextualized Rubin’s view with Lady Macbeth, who is a strong, ambitious female, who longs to be unsexed. Maybe this is part of why I have an unfavorable view of an androgynous society, since Lady Macbeth hardly is empowered by forsaking her gender, instead it feeds into a string of events that lead to painful guilt. Shakespeare was hardly a feminist though, and Lady Macbeth is nonetheless one of his most powerful female characters. I know that powerful androgynous women who encapsulate this vision of the future of feminism exist, however, I still need to find some more modern examples of this type of feminist ideal.

Through this course, I hope to explore this more through the various texts we have explored. I definitely think that Edna Pontellier is more aligned with Cixous’s ideals, but I wonder if she (and myself) have become too culturally wedded to the female gender being a good role to inhabit. Maybe Edna Pontellier would have seen a future in New Orleans if she had been able to embrace “native strength”, but then again she might have also been able to adopt a more androgynous role and still have been empowered and happy. I will continue to look at how empowered women who are serving this second level that Cixous talks about of breaking societal suppression, whether they are actively focusing on their femininity or they are regarding it as irrelevant.

This Sex Which is Not One

In Luce Irigaray’s excerpt This Sex Which Is Not One, I came to find the very same argument I have been contemplating for years. Women seem to always be signified as people of various roles and various titles where as, with men, they come to serve one purpose. This can go back to the old argument of double standards, where if woman really feel one way they must conform to ask another way in order to fulfill the esteem of being a “women.” Why is this such a dominant topic of conversation, I used to think to myself?

 

Now I can sit here and re-read this excerpt to find that the opening of The Sex Which Is Not One, describes women genitalia to be the emulation of men’s and only serves a purpose to pleasure and keep the men the way they’d like to be kept. More over she describes the disruption of the two lips by a “violating” penis. I feel as though this statement could be taken any way. Though I see the point, I feel distinguishing the penis, as something violating is radical. Though a woman can feel pleasure on her own, the warmth of the two joining together as creations of the world is not a violation but a mere embracement of longed feeling. I may come off as the radical one here, but that’s just my thought on that.

 

She moves on to describe the fact that male pleasure defines a woman’s. With the harsh discourse, I came to understand that women seek to find their sense of entitlement through what they can give someone of the opposite sex. I am not completely sure if what Irigaray is saying is valid or not, but the idea that we revolve a lot of our sexual needs around what our partner can offer our erogenous zones, could quite possibly be true. However, if I understood correctly, the idea that we have defective male bodies is insane. This can be referred back to science that the reason why our bodies are formed the way they are is for the purpose of reproduction.

 

Though all very complex and somewhat challenging, I got a lot from this reading. There is actual psychosis around the idea of women being the fixation of men. This reading has challenged me to really think about how I perceive my body and my genitals. How there is a complex definition and thought process behind this all. Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Woman embracing herself as woman

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.