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.