The Official Blog for ENGL 41416.

Of the readings this week, I found Helene Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa extremely powerful and the most demanding of some analytical commentary. Cixous made it her business to address women directly in her piece, and not just in name or direct address, but in defining what woman writing is, and then clearly writing it. Woman must take up her own pen and write to create a new history and world that is not restricted by the past just because it was the past. History, as Cixous urges, has no right to mandate destiny(256). By writing honest projections of their minds and bodies, women can shape the world into something completely different from the man dominated paradigm to which it is warped. This is woman writing.

Why writing? Cixous addresses the oppression of women as a violent separation from the body. It is this separation that perpetuates woman’s seemingly unfounded fear of expression. Their body is not their own, they cannot fully grasp or understand it, and therefor can not express it. Cixous encourages women, “Write! Writing is for you, you are for your body is yours, take it.(257)” Writing will heal woman’s division from her body because what they will create will come from “beyond ‘culture'” and from underneath frigidity imposed upon them in childhood by man.(257) They will write from a place apart from “man’s” world and therefor purely woman. Writing then, will unite woman with her strength, pleasures, and mind.

“I write woman, woman must write woman. And man, man.”(257)Cixous states this simple, but very clear statement. A man cannot write woman writing. But why? Why cannot man understand and empathize enough to express for woman? The answer, to put it simply and direct as I can from my understanding of Cixous, is that men have their own problems in the world that they have created. By defining a woman by their lack of a phallus, a man is “reduced to a single idol with clay balls.”(260) Man has placed so much importance on this symbol that he fears losing it above all else. In his view, woman, who has no phallus, has literally with her “lacking” body, embodied this fear. It is from this label that woman lose control of their own physical form. She does not possess a woman’s body, but the body of man’s worst nightmare. Cixous responds to man’s terror, “Too bad for them if they fall apart upon discovering that women aren’t men, or that the mother doesn’t have one.(260)” Lack of a phallus is man’s fear and therefor man’s concern. A woman cannot lack a phallus because she is not a man, so she should not concern herself or be infected by with man’s sickness. “It’s up to (man) to say where his femininity and masculinity are at.”(257) Let man sort out himself because until he does, how could he possibly begin to understand woman?

It is here that Cixous so ingeniously interweaves the classic symbol of the Medusa, a gorgon who’s gaze could kill the mightiest of  Greek heroes. Cixous’s Medusa, the true embodiment of woman, who, when looked upon in the light of truth or “straight on”, is beautiful and intelligent.(260) She doesn’t kill, man looks upon her, sees his own greatest terror, and drops dead of fright.  The gorgon is a Greek myth, it is a story, but certainly one of power. Like history, these puissant stories influence the society and can blur fact into culture or habit. Woman, as Cixous demands, must write their own stories and use their own voice, but they must write from truth and of their body instead of fear.

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Comments on: "Rallying Women to the Cause of Woman" (1)

  1. Hey Kaitlyn,

    I liked your reading of the Medusa image. Other than the title, I was wondering why the reference was necessary other than to convey the idea that even the most reviled woman isn’t as evil as the culture believes her to be. But you articulated it much better. I’m glad we read Cixous when we did, because I feel she makes many connections to other theory pieces we’ve read, like Horney’s Dread of Women, for example. She also referenced, toward the beginning, the need for women to act a certain way to facilitate the gender economy, which of course brought back memories of Rubin and Butler.

    And I love the picture (goes without saying).

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