What is the Duke's opposite sex?
"You are not born a woman, you will"
Bernadett Zsebik (University of Debrecen / Hungary)
The title is the core sentence of Simone de Beauvoir's book "The Other Sex". I would now like to highlight just a few main points of your book: the ethnological realities that have determined the situation of women, the causes of the changes in the situation of women, and the situation today.
In the pre-agricultural period, the woman was entrusted with difficult work, she also carried the burden. The reason for this was probably that the man had his hands free during the hikes in this way in order to defend humans and animals against possible attacks. Pregnancy, childbirth and menstruation also reduced the women's ability to work. Motherhood did not give women priority. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that humanity does not simply strive to maintain itself as a mere species, but to transcend itself.
In all creation myths, the woman appears as the inessential that never becomes the essential. In the legend of Genesis, Eve was not created at the same time as the man, she was taken from his ribs. God made them for man.
Neither men nor women today are satisfied with the opposite sex. The "fight" between them takes on a different shape: Instead of trying to lock the man up with her, the woman tries to escape her prison. But the man likes to remain the essential as a sovereign subject, he does not want to see women as equals. The dispute between them will continue as long as man and woman do not recognize each other as the same, that is, as long as femininity remains as such. The woman who frees herself from femininity still does not want to forego her advantages.
Simone de Beauvoir's book "The Other Sex" was published in 1949; it was her first important work. Her representations and diagnoses of the situation of women had a provocative and at the same time liberating effect. You have been criticized a lot.
The title is the core sentence of Simone de Beauvoir's book "The Other Sex". This phrase, which has now become a popular expression, actually means that the cultural and social production of gender has priority over the biological, psychological and economic determinants. Beauvoir's book "The Other Sex" is a huge work. I would now like to emphasize only a few main points of your book, the question of which ethnological conditions have determined the situation of women, how the situation of women has changed over the centuries and what "the path to liberation" looks like.
Which ethnological conditions have determined the situation of women?
What advantage has allowed men to dominate women? In order to get an answer to this question, according to Marion Henz, we would first have to examine the situation of women in the pre-arable period. During this period difficult work was imposed on the woman, she also carried the burden. The reason for this fact may be that in this way the man had his hands free during the walks in order to defend humans and animals against possible attacks. The women also took part in wars, but it is likely that the men then, as now, had the greater physical strength.
For normal women, pregnancy, childbirth and menstruation diminished their ability to work and condemned them to long periods of passivity. In any case, carrying to term and breastfeeding are not activities, but natural functions: women passively endured their biological fate. Only domestic work was compatible with motherhood, but this work recurs day after day in the same form, it does not produce anything new. In the absence of birth control, too many children were born relative to the resources available. As a result, they were unable to save their children's lives. The fertility of women prevented them from actively participating in the increase in resources. The balance between production and reproduction was maintained by the man.
One could assume that in times of excess food the protective and nourishing role of women has subordinated the man to her. But motherhood has not given women priority. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that humanity does not simply strive to maintain itself as a mere species, but to transcend itself. (1)
The life of the primitive hordes
Among the nomadic peoples, many newborns were killed or died amid general indifference due to a lack of hygiene. Children were a burden for them and not a wealth. Later, the child was given a higher value.
The community was fed by men. Homo faber was an inventor from the beginning of time, he used tools. Fishing trips and hunts were sacred. Their successful outcome was celebrated with festivals, and the man recognized his humanity in them. He exposed himself to danger on hunts in combat with wild animals. The warrior risked his life and thereby proved that for him life is not the highest value. The woman is excluded from military campaigns. Giving life was not as valuable as giving life. That is why the highest rank within humanity is not assigned to the sex that gives birth, that is, not to women, but to the sex that kills, to men. The woman's misfortune is that she is destined to repeat life.
Hegel's dialectic, in which he defines the relationship between master and servant, could also be applied to the relationship between man and woman. According to Hegel's dialectic, the privilege of the Lord arises from the fact that he puts his life at risk and thereby asserts the spirit against life. Hegel's definition can be applied excellently to women: "The other, the dependent, for whom life or being is there for another being" (2). But the relationship between man and woman differs from the master-servant relationship in that the woman also recognizes the values that are concretely achieved by men. In reality, women never opposed masculine values to feminine values; they were men who wanted to uphold masculine prerogatives.
What are women asking for today?
Women want to be recognized as existing with the same right as men. The biological and economic situation of the primordial hordes caused the predominance of men. The woman was handcuffed to her body by motherhood. Humanity values the reasons for life more highly than life itself, which is why the man has become master over the woman. Male action constituted the creation of values (3). It has subjugated nature and women.
How has the situation of women changed over the centuries?
So far I have spoken about the circumstances that have determined the situation of women. In the following it will be about how women appear in the various myths and which components of society determine how women are seen.
From the beginning, men have found it useful to keep women in a state of addiction. Her laws were introduced against women, in this way she was practically constituted as "the other". "The woman is not the man's useless repetition, but the desired place where the man's lively connection with nature takes place. If it disappears, the men are lonely, like strangers without a passport in an icy world ... Without it, the earth is mute and dead to man ". (4)
The woman appears as the inessential that never becomes the essential. All creation myths express this conviction, including the legend of Genesis: Eve was not created at the same time as the man, she was not formed from any other material or from the same material as Adam: she was taken from his ribs. According to this creation myth, not even their birth was autonomous: God did not spontaneously decide to create them for their own sake, but he made them for man.
The man claims that his existence in this world is an inevitable fact, whereas the woman is a mere coincidence. The woman is defined exclusively in her relationship with the man.
There is permissive sexuality in many matriarchal societies, but only in childhood and early adolescence, when coitus does not lead to procreation. The unmarried girl is considered incapable of childbearing, and the sexual act is a harmless, profane pleasure. When she is married, coitus becomes a sacred act. When sowing or planting, coitus is forbidden: one does not want fertilizing forces to be wasted in human relationships. When the man goes fishing or hunting, when he is preparing for war, abstinence is supposed to protect manhood. In union with the woman, the masculine principle is weakened.
According to Schopenhauer, the genitals are "the real focus of the will and the opposite pole of the brain" (5). Sexual shame is the shame we feel in the face of our stupid carnal tenacity. Schopenhauer sees the contrast between gender and brain as the expression of human duality.
"Woman is consecrated to magic. Magic is ... the mind wandering around in things. An action is magical when, instead of being brought about by an agent, it starts from a passivity." (6) When the woman has children produces, this does not happen through an act of will. She is not a subject, not a transcendence, not a creative power, but "an object filled with liquids." (7) In societies in which the man worships these mysteries, the woman is venerated as a priestess. But in societies where the man fights for the victory of society over nature, the woman is viewed as a witch. The difference between priest and magician: The priest rules and directs the forces in harmony with the gods and the laws, for the good of the community, on behalf of all members. The magician works according to his own preferences apart from society, against the gods and the laws. The woman makes use of the powers she has at her disposal to pull men into the solitude of isolation, into the darkness of immanence. The man who has succumbed to her will has no will, no more future.
What the man loves and hates primarily in the woman as a lover and as a mother is the fixed picture of his animal fate. He tries to tell mother and lover apart, but he finds the same evidence in both: that of his carnality.
Neither men nor women today are satisfied with the opposite sex. The question is whether an original curse doomed them to tear each other apart or whether the conflicts between them are temporary. Humanity is different from a species: it is a historical becoming. It is impossible to establish a purely psychological rivalry between men and women. Their rivalry is situated more in the field of psychoanalysis: the woman - it is said - envy the man his penis and she has the desire to castrate him. The child's desire for a penis only becomes important in the adult woman's life if she perceives her femininity as a mutilation: then she would like to appropriate the male member, which embodies all privileges. Society, ordered by male laws, declares women inferior. As a result, the woman tries by all means to maim and dominate the man, she negates his values.
"Today the struggle takes on a different shape. Instead of wanting to lock the man up with her, the woman tries to escape her prison. She no longer wants to drag the man down into the realm of immanence, but rather to appear herself in the light of transcendence." (8) But the man likes to remain the essential as a sovereign subject; he does not want to regard women as equals. The modern woman wants to acquire masculine values. She is excited to think, act, and work like a man. “Instead of belittling men, she claims to imitate them.” (9) In truth, the struggle between woman and man cannot take a clear form, since the nature of woman herself is opaque. She confronts the man as an object endowed with subjectivity. If she uses her strength and her weakness as weapons, it happens spontaneously, it is not a premeditated calculation. The dispute between man and woman will continue as long as they do not recognize each other as the same, that is, as long as femininity remains as such. The woman who frees herself from femininity still does not want to forego her advantages.
Simone de Beauvoir was one of the feminists. Your book "The Other Sex" was published in 1949, and it was of great political and theoretical importance for the so-called second wave of the women's movement in the 20th century. That was her first important work. Her representations and diagnoses of the situation of women had a provocative and at the same time liberating effect. You have been criticized a lot.
& COPY; Bernadett Zsebik (University of Debrecen / Hungary)
5.13. Gender and Nation: Narratives of Collective Identities
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