By Frank Miller
For Professor Veeser’s Biography class “Feminist Theory and Biography” by Sharon O’Brien was assigned over the weekend. In the article O’Brien asks her audience why the feminist biographer has failed to write a form of what she calls the “anti-biography,” which for many offers an outlet from the traditional biography that is connected to a “patriarchal as well as Western humanist definition of the individual self – a self imagined, although frequently not admitted, to be male” (126). To answer this question, she proposes that a tension between strains of feminist theory that both support and contradict traditional biography prevent women from writing biographies. O’Brien suggests that “more biographies of women are [needed]” and that “Women’s lives have been erased, unrecorded, or represented by patriarchal stories, and biography can be a powerful means for reinscribing women in history” (128).
In forming her argument, O’Brien touches on Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering. She writes: “The psychoanalytic and literary theory derived from the work of Nancy Chodorow is opposed to deconstruction’s dismantling of the unified subject and the category ‘woman.’ This strain of feminist theory seeks to disrupt the equivalence of the masculine with the universal by defining women’s ‘different voice'” (127). O’Brien states that various forms of the “different voice” have gained popularity in the United States because “many American feminists resist abandoning the notion of the ‘real’ or authentic self, even when they modify the definition of individualism in contending that the female self is more defined in relationship than in separation” (127).
It seems as if Chodorow highlights O’Brien’s “resistance to abandon the real self” in The Reproduction of Mothering. Chodorow proposes that young girls “can begin to identify more directly and immediately with their mothers and their mothers’ familial roles than can boys with their fathers and men” (265) based on the more “nurturing” role that a woman takes on than that of a man. At first glance the constance presence of a mother guiding them may appear as a benefit to girls; however, it is not. Chodorow contends that femininity is established at birth for girls, and is an inherent quality that cannot be escaped. Masculinity on the other hand is not inherent, but rather achieved or learned through some process. Chodorow writes that boys: “develop a sense of what it is to be masculine through identification with cultural images of masculinity…[they] are taught to be masculine more consciously than girls are taught to be feminine” (266). These “cultural images” may take the form of figures such as the legendary Stanford standout and Broncos quarterback, John Elway (goodlooking, tall, athletic, rich) or maybe even Batman (my favorite superhero as a child). Nevertheless which figure a male child picks, Chodorow points out that males have the opportunity of choice to “define themselves in seperation” while girls must define their female self “in relation” to their mothers without question. It is through “the different voice” that the American feminist is allowed to establish her “authentic self” and in essence break from her maternal-bound feminine qualities and develop her own identity similar to that males. Such freedom to form identity is an extension of self independence and expression that so many have fought so hard for, why would American feminists, or any person for that matter give something so precious up?