You are on page 1of 33

The Invention of French Feminism: An Essential Move Author(s): Christine Delphy Reviewed work(s): Source: Yale French Studies,

No. 87, Another Look, Another Woman: Retranslations of French Feminism (1995), pp. 190-221 Published by: Yale University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2930332 . Accessed: 26/11/2011 22:26
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Yale University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Yale French Studies.

http://www.jstor.org

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

The InventionofFrenchFeminism: An EssentialMove'

"French Feminism" is a baffling topicfor everybody, anditis no less so for from feminists from France thanfor feminists theUnitedStatesor Britain. Therearemanyaspectsto thistopicandfirst ofall, ofcourse: Feminism"? whatis "French Feminism" is notfeminism in France; "French thatmustbe saidat in Francedon'tneed to call theirfeminism the outset.Feminists a feminists nameanymorethanAmerican call theirs particular "American Feminism." from Francefind it extraordinary to be presented, Most feminists and theircountry of when abroad,witha versionof theirfeminism hadpreviously no idea.British andAmerican whichthey feminists are or irritated, eitherfascinated but alwaysintrigued, by what is preStudiesas "French Feminism" or "French sentedto themin Women's Theory." The very toattribute a specific content toa feminist moveattempt mentshowsthat withan outsider's we aredealing view.So,evenbefore we startlookingat this content, we know thatit cannotbe a selfThis raisesthe questionof the relationship definition. betweenthe Francesee themselves and thewayoutsiders from see wayfeminists bearsa resemblance tothatbetween them. observers Thisrelationship a problem and observed, and objects, raisedin between often subjects It raisesthequestionofwho has thepowerto feminist methodology. define whomto start with,who calls theshots.This is an important
1. I would liketothank Laura Armengaud, Cottingham, Judith Ezekiel, Frangoise for andtheir inthe of andAilbhe their their Smyth support, suggestions, help writing this paper.
YFS 87,Another ed. Huffer, Look,Another Woman, X 1995byYale University.

190

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

191

question,because that is what most irritates feminists in France: that a "FrenchFeminism"has been createdunbeknownst to them in English-speaking countries.The contentgiven to the category in thatrespect: for "French Feminism" is important thefact thatfemithemselves in thepicture nistsfrom Francecannotrecognize they are Butthesole factof presented withis a sourceofdeeply-felt irritation. creatinga category "FrenchFeminism"with a specificcontentfrom whatever the content-deprives feminists Franceof the right to name themselvesFrenchFeminists.An ideological contentnevermind which at this stage-has been givento a geographical specification. raisesa related issue: whyhas it beendeemednecesThis in turn in ideological feminists to specify, the sarybyAnglo-American terms, from actionsandthewritings offeminists France? to And,reciprocally, set ofideas orbrand offeminism? givea nationallabel to a particular boundaries tofeminism-orindeedto other How relevant arenational movements-andhowrelevant shouldthey social andideological be? beenasked,although I think it is central. Thatquestionhas never And how was what is now knownas "FrenchFeminism"confinally, structed? Who decidedwhatit was and whatit was not?Whatwent into the bag and whatdid not? Feminism" has in factlittleto do with as "French Whatis taught on thefeminist in France from a theowhatis happening scene,either reticalor from an activistpointof view.This has been pointedout severaltimes overthe yearsby Frenchand Americanscholarsand arebeing Moreandmoreprotests heardaboutthevoluntary activists.2 or involuntary distortions and omissionsoftheAnglo-American verFeminism." The aim ofthispaperis not,however, sion of "French to set therecord thatworkis already under straight: andalthough it way, will take as manyyearsprobably to set the record as it has straight takentogetitwrong, off itis already toa goodstart withClaireMoses's brilliant analysis.3 In constructing "French Feminism," Anglo-American authors favoreda certainovertly antifeminist called "Psychet politicaltrend
2. See my"La passionselonWittig," NouvellesQuestions Feministes 11-12 (Winter, 1985):151-56. See also,ClaireMoses,"French Feminism's TheWomen's Fortune," ReviewofBooks5/1(October, 1987):44. 3. See Moses,"'French Feminism' in U.S. Academic Discourse," a paper presented at theBerkshire Conference on Women's 12 June History, referred 1992(hereafter to as Moses 1992a).

192

Studies YaleFrench

as well byAnglo-American ofwhatis considered, po," tothedetriment movefeminist the core of the historians,4 to be feminist as French movetheFrench to weakening bias has contributed ment;and their ment(see Moses 1992a). havealso conFeminism" of"French proponents Anglo-American (see with"women'smovement" "womenwriters" conflated sistently theactivist ofthatmovedimension Moses 1992a),thuseliminating a "Holy as "majorFrench feminist theorists"5 ment.Theypromoted names womenwhohavebecomehousehold madeup ofthree Trinity" is inwhichitself Studies, worldofWomen's in theAnglo-American Cixous, Kristeva, from movement: the social divorced creasingly revealed to the whichwas never This was in spiteofthefact, Irigaray. outsidefeminist twoarecompletely public,thatthefirst non-French feminist can theorists, debatein France-and, not beingconsidered and in spiteof the theorists"; "majorfeminist hardly be considered andhas beendealtwithdiversely byAnglowhichis well-known fact, thatat least the first two not onlydo not call Americanexporters, but have been known to actuallydenounce themselves feminists, arewell-known, arenotseen as a problem. thefacts they Although to be thefignonfeminists proclaim Why?"NeverwouldAmericans Whatdo you call doingto someownmovement."6 oftheir ureheads "imperibodyelse whatyouwouldnothavedoneuntoyou?The term reached tothelips.Andthatis indeedtheconclusion by alism"springs at workin theAnglobothMoses and Ezekiel.Theysee imperialism and, moreover, of "FrenchFeminism," they Americanconstruction have as related to domestic see thatimperialism agendas:"Opponents thembuttheFrench notits American takenas their agents, targets, for(likeour selvesthatwe do notlike but do not takeresponsibility to denythe racismand ourclassism)"(Moses 1992a).It is impossible of indeedmade the construction ofimperialism: imperialism charge to denythatthe "French Feminism" possible.It is equallyimpossible one's theories is at workhere.I think for wish to evaderesponsibility of Feminism" wanted as Ezekielcallsthem, "French thatthe"agents,"
Seuil, LesAnnees-Mouvement desfemmes. Picq,Liberation 4. See Francoise (Paris: 1993). 1987), Blackwell, Thought Feminist toFrench Moi,"Introduction" 5. Toril (Oxford: 5. ofWomen History Berkshire on ClaireMoses'spaper, Comments Ezekiel, 6. Judith 12 June 1992. Conference,

feminism.

selves" (Ezekiel); and "the French . . . are blamed foraspects of our-

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

193

to presentcertaintheoriesas "French" in orderthatthe prestigeaccruing to what is foreignin intellectual circles, and especially to what is "French," would accrue to that position; and in order to be able to distance themselvesfrom, and not take fullresponsibility for, the ideas theywere defending, as theycould always take the stand thattheywere merelyintroducingAnglo-Americansto foreign ideas. An added benefit they could expect was that their pretension that these ideas are "feminist" would not be questioned. But although imperialism,and the motivations behind the imperialist stance, figureprominentlyin the constructionof "French Feminism," they are not the whole story.They are important,even essential, but as a means ratherthan the ultimate ends. The ultimate ends are domestic, but I contend that the domestic agenda is more ambitious than just hidingbehind the "French." Or,to put it differently, the real question is: why is it necessary to hide behind the "French"? I and to answerit, one has to thinkone has to answerthatquestion first, definethe ideological featuresthat are being proposed and promoted under the guise of "French Feminism." What does it say about feminism, and about the centralquestions ofoppressionand liberationthat feminismposes? My contention is that the manner in which "French Feminism" addresses these questions-often in an obscure and pedantic style which would requirean essay in its own right-is regressiveand detrimental to feminismin general,and not only to feminismin France,as noted by Eleni Varikas: To reduce"French" feminism to a fewparticular theoretical positions is not onlyto obscurethefactthatthemajority offeminist struggles werefought without ofand sometimes theseposiknowledge against tions;it is not onlyto obscurethemostinfluential theoretical posiinFrance; tionsoffeminist evenmore thanthat, itis toprevent thought on the conditions in which these manypositions further thought on whatmakes themsociallyand academically emerged, acceptable, and on their subversive dynamic.7 But beforeI come to that,I submitthat "FrenchFeminism" is not so much a "construction"-a biased and imperfect versionof the reality of feminism in France-as an invention: a theoretical statement or
7. Elni Varikas, "Fdminisme, post-modernisme. Pourun dialoguedes modemitd, deuxc6tds de1'ocdan," inFeminismes au present, specialissueofFuturAnteieur (Paris: L'Harmattan, 63. 1993),

194

Yale French Studies

seriesof statements thathave onlya spuriousrelationto any other "reality"; thatthesestatements arehighly contentious; and thatthis is thereasonwhythey had to try and be passedoff as French. I wantto establish First thatthethesesof"French Freminism," and therefore "FrenchFeminism" itself, cannotbe foundin the bodyof works thatitsagents ownwritings. In other refer to,butin their words, I mean that"French Feminism" is notan Anglo-American constructionsolely, orevenmainly, insofar as it selects, distorts, anddecontextualizesFrench writings. That wouldimplythatto find what "it" is, we wouldhave to engagein morecomments, and selecdistortions, tions;in brief, we wouldhavetoplaythegamebytheir rulesandchase our tails until doomsday. No, I mean thatit is an Anglo-American invention quiteliterally: Anglo-American writings thatare"about"it I will briefly try to characterize "French Feminism" as a political from and exposewhy, the pointofview ofits content, on an strand, analytical level,it is notcompatible withfeminist analysis.My contention is thattheproblems in thatapproach, mostapparent such as thereclaiming ofthe"feminine" ora definition ofsexuality that leaves I propose arenotthesourceofitsinadequacy. no roomfor lesbianism, fora feminist insteadthattheseclaims,whichare problematic politics, are a consequence of adoptingan outdated epistemological framework. theseproblematic comebackto thefore when However, positions one triesto understand whyfeminists-oranyone-would wantto I contend thatanxietiesaboutone's sexual adoptsuch a framework. threatened offeminism and andpersonal identity, bythedevelopment linesthatit promises, theblurring ofgender explainthelikingexhibthatrenegeon the ited by some womenforconceptualframeworks That leads me to examinehow social approachin termsof gender. in theUnitedStates-is todayoften constructionism-in particular and does or "discoursetheory," equatedwith "social conditioning" to essentialism. a realalternative not,therefore, present ofthepopularity an alternative of I moveontoconsider explanation in whichit is notseenas a response to a contem"French Feminism," ofa "difference" schoolwhichhas butas a continuation porary threat, sincetheturnofthecentury. withinfeminism existed like a conclusion(and indeedwas fora In what maylook at first the reason ofthat I that offered then time), suggest proponents position fortheinvention of "French and thereasontherefore it as "French,"
are it.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

195

the criticism Feminism," was to tryand deflect its creators thought foroffering theywould get-and thattheygot-fromfeminists, an I submit in my concluding essentialist theory. And lastly, remarks, thattheimperialism exhibited in theinvention of"French Feminism" was necessary bothto produce a particular ofessentialism, and brand in orderto pass off as feminist a "theory" in whichfeminism and feminists need notfigure anylonger. FRENCH FEMINISM AS AN ANGLO-AMERICAN FABRICATION To understand is in relation exactly whatthis"French Feminism" to topresent feminism is thebestwaytounderstand whyitwasnecessary it as "foreign." the particular Once thatis understood, selectionof makessense.Andinturn, thedistortions authors andwritings brought to the accountofthe feminist scene in Francemake sense,once we understand thattheparticular and writings selectionofauthors was dictated choice. byideological If,on theother hand,we start withthedistortions-that is, ifwe start theaccountgiven Feminism" withthe bycomparing by"French actual French scene-we are leftwiththe realization thatthereis a huge gap betweenthe two.But how are we to understand how that of "French if we take the proponents Feminism"at their happened, femithattheir aim was indeedto givean accountoftheFrench word, offifteen nistscene?Wewouldhavetoassumethat, over a period years, scholarafter scholarhas "misunderstood" theFrench politicalor intellectual scene.Inasmuch as we can assumeignorance ormisinformation on thepartofone or several we cannotassume thatall persons, have been blind,and indeedafflicted withthe same selectiveblindness; we cannotassume moreover thatno one triedat any time to thepicture, or to questionthedominant correct account.Therewere from questionsand corrections Anglo-American and there scholars;8 wereprotests from from feminists France.9 In thehypothesis oftheFrench thatthemisrepresentation feminist scene was a bona fidemistake, thesequestions, and correcprotests,
8. See Dorothy Kauffman McCall,"Politics ofDifference," Signs9/21(1983):283-

9. See Delphy 1985,Moses 1987,and Eliane Viennot, "ReviewArticle," Etudes Feministes 1(1987): 40-47.

93.

196

YaleFrench Studies

at all.'0 So the tions were treated with arrogance when mentioned wanted hypothesis thatthemainprotagonists of"French Feminism" to givean accountand thattheywereonly"mistaken"is untenable. thattheseprotagonists had an ideologicaland Only the hypothesis thediscrepancies "French Femipoliticalagendacan explain between in France, pernism" and feminism thefactthatthesediscrepancies are sistedovera periodofyears, and,finally, thatthesediscrepancies notrandom. a fabrication and morewidely, "French Feminism," ofAmerican, was created and English-speaking scholars, by a seriesofdistortions errors or involuntary aboutwhatwas happening in France voluntary from on.Thesedistortions havea pattern. Wedo not themid-seventies haveseveral competing viewsordefinitions whichshowthatthedistortions we didhavecompeting arenotrandom. On theother hand,Lf views,thenwe would not have "FrenchFeminism.""FrenchFeminism" is thusa highly consensualobjectin the sense thatthe only to Anglo-American debatesaboutit focuson its relevance concerns. to seems knowwhat Thereareno debatesaboutwhatitis. Everybody is. Atthesametime,it is never defined really and "French Feminism" togive, in anyobjective remains way, elusive.Itis therefore impossible and is peran ideologicaldefinition to whatis an ideological current, ceivedas such,in feminism. it is to say thatit is a bodyof The onlyobjectiveway to define on a selectionof Frenchand writers comments by Anglo-American non-French Cixous, Derrida,and writers:Lacan, Freud,Kristeva, are others. Butthere Irigaray are thecoregroup. This presents us withtwomainquestions:as I mentioned earlier, of and between this comments feminism of the thequestion gap body andI will concentrate insteadon in France willnotbe addressed here, it presents. Whatare thesuband ideological the theoretical pattern authors arepromoting orattackviewstheseAnglo-American stantive in their to thedebateon feminism respecing?Whatarethey bringing tivecountries? I wantto lookat itsformal that Butbefore definition, tackling this, Ifwe accept as a bodyofAnglo-American writings. is, its definition in the is an ideologicaland politicaltrend that "FrenchFeminism" has to it as an of it follows that it exists countries where object debate,
about Viennotin her Feminist Tong'sremarks 10. See, forexample,Rosemary Westview Press, 1989),223, or (Boulder: Introduction A Comprehensive Thought: Ezekiel.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

197

thenon, withoutquotationmarks.It be studiedas such-and from in the sum ofarticlesand also followsthatits messageis contained orbuildon French orother booksthat purport to comment material. It cannotbe said to consistofwhatits proponents claim: thecomplete comment listedabove. worksoftheauthors thatthey on,theauthors " butthey These arethereferents of"French Feminism, arenotit. First, do notagreeon thelistoftheir Anglo-American authors referents-so thatevenifwe accepted, have as they would us do, thatthecomplete as thatlistis infinite, Feminism," referents is "French worksoftheir andclearly delineated ofwritings. we stillwouldnothavea finite body text of"French Feminism" is a series thesupposedly Secondly, original takenfrom a heterogeneous ofbits and fragments universe. Theydo ofthecomments in whichthey notmakeup an ensemble independent That justifiesseeingthis bodyof commentsas a are incorporated. from itsreferents, seen as separate entity justas theTalmudis rightly from theTorah.We do notpossessanother text-an original distinct as in thecase oftheTorah. homogeneous text, a bodyofcomments is really more Butmoreimportantly, nothing orstatements in theend.Or,put statement norless thana theoretical betweena theoretical thereis no substantive difference differently, work workwhichis aboutsomething whichis about anda theoretical thedetours, Whatever about somebody. youendup saying something the world, so thatthereis no legitimate difference ofstatusbetween the textthatpresents itselfas a "mere" comment, and the textit on. These comments-including ofcoursethe to comment purports bits and fragments, the quotes-therefore make up the onlytextwe have of"French Feminism," and it is thisbodyofworkwhichconstitutes"French Feminism." Forall thesereasons,"FrenchFeminism" is an Anglo-American ofintellectual strand within production an Anglo-American context. From nowon,whenI speakofFrench Feminism andFrench Feminists withoutquotationmarks,I am referring exclusively to this AngloAmerican and its Anglo-American bodyofwritings authors. FRENCH FEMINISM AS AN IDEOLOGY OF DIFFERENCE: HOLISTIC VERSUS ADDITIVE EPISTEMOLOGIES To study andtoplacethisstrand each"national"feminism within and feminism at largewouldrequire a study well outsidethescopeofthis

198

Yale French Studies

ifI tried, essay. However, from mynecessarily partialand impressionisticperspective, ofit,I wouldsaythatthefeatures togivea description thatstrike me most-apart from itspretension to be French-are the following: the conflation of "women"and "the feminine" and conversely, of "men" and "themasculine"; the focuson the "feminine" and the "masculine,"the beliefthat such things exist-or shouldexist-and thattheyprovide or should provide a modelfor whatactualwomenand mendo and "are"; and "themasculine"are a universal thebeliefthat"thefeminine" oftraits; thatthisdivision division is found in all cultures becauseitis a trait oftheuniversal psyche; thebelief thatthepsyche is separate from andanterior tosociety and culture; -the beliefthat the contentof the psycheis both universal-not relatedto culture-and based on a commonconditionsharedby all humans; betweenwomen and men the positingof a "sexual difference" functional differences in which includesmorphological differences, and psychological reproduction, differences; the beliefthatsexual attraction betweenpeople is the desirefor "difference"; thattheonlysignificant difference between thebelief peopleis "sexual difference"; is andshouldbe thebasisofpsychic, thebelief thatsexualdifference and social organization, theword"soemotional, cultural, although cial" only gets through the pens of FrenchFeministswith some

difficulty."

from Paris:Women's Writing and the Women's 11. See Carolyn Burke,"Report theLooking Glass,"Femithrough Movement," Signs 3/4(1978):843-55 and"Irigaray in France(London: RoutnistStudies7/2(1981):287-306; ClaireDuchen,Feminism & Speaking(London:Routledge ledge & KeganPaul, 1986); Diana Fuss,Essentially ofEssence," in Speaking'/Luce Irigaray's Language KeganPaul,1989)and "'Essentially LeeBartky, French Feminism Indiana Revaluing NancyFraser andSandra (Bloomington: TheDaughter's Seduction Cornell Gallop, University Press, 1992), 94-112; Jane (Ithaca: and the Body: Subjectivity University Press, 1982); ElizabethGross, "Philosophy, in Feminist ed. CarolPateman andElizabeth Gross, Challenges, Kristeva andIrigaray,"

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

199

One need not go on to stressthe pointthatthisapproach to the problems raisedby feminism is veryproblematic on analyticaland politicallevels.On an analytical level,it turns its back on the main developments in feminist thinking; on a politicallevel,ithas implicafor tionsthatareunpalatable manyfeminists. ofdetail, orinterpretation, Whereas somehaggle over points I think it has to be recognizedthat any dealingwith "human nature"form ofmales,the"conwhatever it takes,be it the "aggressiveness" straints ofthesymbolic orthe"maternal-semiotic"-is bound order," to wieldvery disappointing results for anymovement benton changit. ingtheworldor evensimply on understanding Now,thequestionis understanding whyso many Anglo-American Andin asking have chosen the human nature commentators approach. thatquestion,we cannotsimplytalk about FrenchFeminismanymore:we mustincludenotonlythepeoplewhowrite aboutit,butthe but peoplewholistento it,notonlytheAnglo-American participants, feminists-whoall overthe Western the people-and in particular I andothers so enticing. havetackled find thatkindofapproach world
"Pre-Texts for the Northeastern University Press, 1986),125-43.AliceJardine, (Boston: YaleFrench Studies62 (1981):220-36, "Introduction Transatlantic Feminist," to Julia 'Women's Cornell Kirsteva's Time,"'Signs7/1(1981): 7-35, Gynesis University (Ithaca: de Route?" in Men Odordi UomoorCompagnons Press,1985), and"Menin Feminism: a specialissueofCritical 18(1985):23-3 1; AnnRosalind in Feminism, Exchange Jones, witha Difference: Poetsand Literary "Assimilation Renaissance Women Influence," theBody: YaleFrench Studies62(1981): 135-153,and"Writing Toward an Understandingofl'6criture feminine," Feminist Studies7/2(1981): 246-63; Peggy Kamuf, "Replac" in Conflicts in Feminism, ed.Marianne ingFeminist Criticism, Hirsch andEvelyn Fox & KeganPaul, 1990),104-11; Kamuf and NancyK. Miller, Keller(London:Routledge "Parisian Letters: Between Feminism and Deconstruction," in Hirschand FoxKeller, 120-33; Dorothy Leland,"LacanianPsychoanalysis and French Feminism: Toward an in Fraser Adequate PoliticalPsychology," andBartky, 113-35; Miller, Her"The Text's in Hirsch oine: A Feminist CriticandHerFictions," andFoxKeller, 11-120; Moi 1987 and Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics(London: Methuen, 1985),and The Kristeva Reader Blackwell, 1986);ArielSalleh,"Contribution totheCritique ofPolitical Episte(Oxford: " Thesis mology, Eleven8 (1984):23-44; NaomiSchor, "ThisEssentialism Which Is Not 1/2(1989):38-58; PaulSmith, theSubject(Minneapolis: One,"Differences Discerning ofMinnesota University Press,1988);Gayatri "French Chakravorty Spivak, Feminism in an International YaleFrench Frame," Studies62 (1981):154-84,and "French Feminism Revisited: Ethicsand Politics,"in Feminists Theorizethe Political,ed. Judith Butler andJoan Scott(London: & Kegan Routledge Paul,1992), 54-85; Domna Stanton, "The Fiction andtheFearofWomen," ofPreciosit6 YaleFrench Studies61(1981): 107The Franco-American in The 34, and "Languageand Revolution: Dis-Connection," Future ofDifference, ed. Hester andAliceJardine Eisenstein Rutgers (NewBrunswick: University 52-87. Press),

200

YaleFrench Studies

The appealremains, thatissue manytimesovertheyears.'2 and it is of "sexual difference." thatof "difference" and,moreprecisely, The reasonsfor thetheoretical andpoliticalflawsofthisapproach arealso thereasonsfor its appeal. is theoretically The "sexualdifference" approach flawed on a basic it incorporates, and whicharea throwback levelbythevery premises to epistemological posturesthatcannotbe taken seriouslytoday. I butthere havelistedsomeofthem above, is a deeper levelwhichmakes withthe modern thatapproach incompatible humanities and social theso-called sciences,including postmodern. one can tracebackto thenineteenth thedevelopBriefly, century for theworld thatI will call,for mentofa paradigm understanding the This approach, in thenaturalscitimebeing, to be found structural. thewholebefore ences as well as in thehumansciences,considers it theparts. Itis thewhole,theconfiguration, thatgivesmeanconsiders ingto each oftheparts.Indeed,it is thewhole thatgivesriseto the theparts. In other thewholeprecedes parts. words, in use in thenatural This approach, sciencesand in mathematics in manymodelsofthehuman formorethana century, can be found it is the still uncontested sciences.Forexample, basis of Saussurian latermodelshave been developed, the basic eventhough linguistics; thetotallanguage, modelremains: soundsdo notpre-exist Saussurian whichdetermines how the soundcontinuum it is the totallanguage will be cutup intodiscrete sounds.This modelinforms contemporary likethework anthropology (notonlythatwhichcalls itself structural, and sociology. This underofLevi-Strauss), contemporary psychology, in theworkofMarx:thetotal is already oftheworld standing present each class,and it is thewayit functions as a whole society pre-exists thedivision itself crewhichcreatesthedivision principle; principle of one anates each class. Classes cannotbe viewedindependently as tribeshavingled theirown lives and cominginto contact other, no morethanthe"a" soundin a given can almostbyaccident, language ofthenextsound. be seen as existing independently
StudiesInternational Forum Sex and Gender," Women's 12. See my"Rethinking to as Delphy1993a)and"Proto-feminism andAntireferred 16/1(1993):1-9 (hereafter in my Close to Home,trans. Diana Leonard Press, feminism," (London:Hutchinson Sexe,race etpratiquedu pouvoir (Paris: 1984),182-211; see also ColetteGuillaumin, c6tdfemmes,1992); Nicole-Claude Mathieu, L'Anatomiepolitique (Paris: c6tdMind (Boston: BeaconPress,1992). The Straight femmes, 1991);andMoniqueWittig,

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

201

to charForall thesereasons, I think holisticl3 is thebestadjective all modern and conacterize thestructural approach. Needlessto say, The structural or temporary developments build on that approach. schools of holistic approachis the matrixof all twentieth-century social construcmaterialist, thought, whether theycall themselves The so-called"post" (as in "poststructuraltionist,or structuralist. developments of this ist") trends are not contradictions but further moregeneral approach. ongender is part ofthat The contemporary development ofresearch thedividing is theconstiitconsiders that paradigm: gender, principle, To put it simply, this tutingforcebehindthe creationof genders. as a starting meanstaking pointthatyoucannotenvision"men" and and "the mas"women"'separately, any morethan "the feminine" andat thesametime. onebytheother culine";thatthetwoarecreated it impliesthatthe Now this stancehas revolutionary implications; the other;thatthe statusofthe one does not (indeed)movewithout the statusofthe category category "women"cannotchangewithout thattheir at the same time; it implies,moreover, "men"/ changing thatit respective statusand their content areone andthesame thing: without its changing is impossible to changethestatusofa category and vice-versa content (see Delphy1993). and the theories, such as psychoIn contrast, FrenchFeminism it remained to on which drawshave immune thesedevelopanalysis, ofone another ments. Theygoon considering theparts as independent thepointof their It uses,from and pre-existing comingintorelation. of the parts to the whole, an additive view of the relationship approach. the Now such a view impliesthatthe parts,which existbefore and indeeda nature-an essence-of their whole,have a meaning, own.It impliesfurthermore thattheparts thatmakeup anyrealityworld-are always thephysical, thesame,in number social,orpsychic andin content, andarethere to stay;therefore, thatwhichwe perceive is whatreality is madeup of:ifwe perceive twosexesfor it is instance, oritsinstances-language becausethere aretwosexes;thatsociety for one instance-intervene realities; that onlyto rankthesepre-existing these constituent aroundwithoutchanging the partscan be shifted
13. I do notuse theterm "holistic" inthesenseitwasgiven byQuine,although the twoarebyno meanscontradictory.

202

YaleFrench Studies

whole;and,conversely, thattheonlything thatcan be donewiththem is to shift themaround;thatinasmuchas one wantsto shiftthem around, one has tofind their "real"meaning, their "real"essence.The additiveapproach is thusnecessarily essentialist. Only on thatbasis is it possibleto imagine, as French Feminism does,thatthe onlywayto "up" the statusofwomenis to up thatof "thefeminine"; andthat, conversely, oneofthesestatuses-thatofthe "feminine"-can be "revalued"withoutaltering the statusof "the masculine."More importantly, that alteration takes place without thewholeand creating altering a newwhole,and,therefore, newdivisionsofwhich"thefeminine" and"themasculine"might notbe a part (see Delphy 1984 and Delphy1993). ofFrench This is wherefeatures Feminism whichI earlier considered as secondary play a centralrole, especiallythe insistenceon it talks about,and leavingit as not defining the "sexual difference" a mysticalobjectwhose mysteries mustremainobscure.In order to do that,French mustignore feminists the now considerable workempiricalas well as theoretical-thathas gone into cracking open the different that nut, and on studying thingsto which sexual difTo speak today,withoutfurther ferencerefers. ado, of undefined "sexual difference" sexuation amountsto elidingsex (anatomical), sex (gender identity and psychologicalsex-relateddifferences), All thesethings are supand sexualpreference. roles,sexualactivity, and in FrenchFeminism, to posed,bothin common-sense thinking or to be one and the same thing. This conderivefrom one another fusion is the basis of gender ideology.Psychoanalysis provided the "scientific"versionof this common sense ideology, putting under one formor another-the penis, "castrasexual difference bond-in the place of the ultimateprintion," or the mother-child ciple. Feminismstarted-a long time ago-deconstructingall these it has evenforged sexfrom sexroleandsexidentity; links;extricating to accountforthisdeconstrucwhole new concepts, such as gender, between sex and sex roles,it has protion.Fromtheearly distinction thesecondhalf ofthetwentieth tobreak down ceededthrough century intomoreand morecomponent "sexual difference" parts, onlyarbiand sociallyrelatedto one another, to the pointwhereeven trarily sexual desireshave been dissociated from the anatomicaldifference betweenfemalesand males,and heterosexuality has lost its aura of naturalness and necessity.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

203

GENDER THEORY AS A THREAT TO IDENTITY Thisis all very threatening, notonlytomen,buttowomenas well,and and sexualpreference-is therealmofsexuality-sexualpractice parwiththe ticularly sensitive, invested as it is in contemporary society capacity to fillsubjectivity: to provide a personal identity. Sexual activity bothdefines people as male or as femaleand defines themas people,in a societywhereyou are nobodyifyou are not one or the other. At thesame time,sexualactivity is imbuedwitha strong sense ofguiltandshame.Peopledo notrelish to think thatit is up to having them-theydon'treadily letgo oftheidea thatit has all beendecided for oftheir hormone-influenced cortex. themin somepart Theydo not like being,as theysee it, "free-floating," with no sound "natural" basis fortheirtastes,which theyexperience, rightly, as irresistible impulses. is that What has to be taken into account,too, or maybefirst, as Western societies create their own such gendered societies subjectohavean tivities andin particular, as mentioned above,theinability Ourvery individual identity thatis nota gendered identity. languages thatpossibility: preclude howlongcan youtalkaboutsomeonewithbutonlymarginout saying "she" or "he"? (It'sevenworsein French, ally.)Whatthelanguage imposeshas beenconfirmed bypsychosocial or studies:thenotionof"humanbeing"doesnotexistin oursocieties, aretwoideas of"humanbeing."Thereis a "malehuman there rather, being"and a "femalehumanbeing."'14 This is ourpsychological whatwe'veinherited not only make-up, from butfrom ourchildhood, every minute we'vespenton thisearth. offeminism aboutthe social This is beingshattered by thefindings Buthowarewe tointegrate thisnewly construction ofgender. acquired whichremains withour"immediate" knowledge, highly intellectual, perceptions? The two clash, and there'snothing we can do about it. We may to imagine-thatgender know-or, rather, try is sociallyconstructed, thatis, arbitrary in its form and its very Buthow arewe to existence. reconcile that withtheevidence ofoureyeswhichshowsa very sturdy, immovablegenderon which all realityseems to be all-pervasive, founded?
14. See Marie-Claude Hurtig andMarie-France Pichevin, "Masculine-Feminine: A " a paper New-Look Essentialism, presented tothefifth Conference oftheInternational Society for Theoretical Psychology, Bierville, France, April1993.

204

YaleFrench Studies IS SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION THE SAME THING AS "SOCIAL CONDITIONING"?

One ofthemanyshortcomings ofcontemporary theory, maybe particin theUnitedStates, ularly is thefalseperception thatwhatis socially constructed is somehowshallow,or superimposed, or easily overthrown. Thisperception showsa naivecontempt for theworkings ofsociety and is grounded in an implicit belief thatsomehowunderlying social and cultural there structures, existsa "humannature"thatcouldsurfaceifgiven thechance.Butthere is no humannature, andwe haveno otherperception or possibility ofactionthanthosegivenby society. Thereis no "beyond" (orindeed"before") social construction. inan individual-oruniversal-nature, Onlythiskindofbelief one thatsomehow "social conditioning," can explainthebelief pre-exists thatif we feel "male" or "female"it cannotbe "all social," or the oppositebut symmetrical beliefthatwe can opt out ofgender on an basis.'5 Ifthere is something individual thatis the mostparticularly American in French Feminism, it mustbe the beliefthatpresumes, evenwhen it does not say so, the existenceof a primalindividual, and reduces social constructionto "social conditioning" or "socialization." is notsomething that whenyou're Butsocialconstruction happens not looking-it is whathappensall the time,in all societies,and it started we wereborn.It is coterminous with happening longbefore beinghuman,because thisis theworldthatwe findand thereis no to whatso many is nothing else "underneath," other:there contrary seem to imply. American writings, especially postmodern, a belief in a "beyond" or "before" social and However, maintaining adherence to social cultural withan intellectual organization together not an it is a to is American trait: general inability constructionism, of social constructionism, come to termswith the implications an thatis bothan intellectual and an emotional inability shortcoming as we are in our reluctance. it is remarkable Actually, that,gendered we (atleastsomeofus) can evenenvisionthe psychological make-up, ofgender. non-necessity understand as sociallyconThe inability to correctly subjectivity butnot amenableto voluntaristic structed, behavior, putsfeminism
and theSubversion ofIdentity 15. See Judith Butler, GenderTrouble: Feminism & Kegan Routledge Paul,1990). (London:

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

205

between a rockand a hardplace,and thisis particularly visiblein the American intellectual scenetoday. On theonehand, thosewhoremain feelthattheonlyfoundaconvinced thatthecategory "women"exists in "Nature"-whereas tion forit must be essentialist-grounded thosewhosupposedly takea socialconstructionist viewargue thatthe implication is therefore thatthe category "women" does not really . .. whatcan we demand exist:"Ifgender is simply a social construct in thename ofwomenifwomendo not exist?"'16 I want to lingeron this "simplysocial." This understanding of withwhatis called "social" amountsto equatingsocial construction in everyday language"social conventions": thatyou can something take or leave-and if you leave it, at the worstyou will be seen as impolite. Alcoff and Butler have different thefirst positions, wanting to staywiththecategory "women,"thesecondnot.But theysharea ofhumanlifeandsubjecphilosophical "idealism"in their perception tivity. Either it is "real" andmustbe basedin "Nature"(not"simply" "unreal"and can be undoneby social),or it is "social" and therefore in theoutcomethey individual volition. Eventhough differ they favor, neither ofthemassumesa truly social constructionist view.BothAlordisappearance coff can envisionthenonexistence ofthe and Butler at anytimeconsidering theimplications category "women"without ofthatforthe category whichtherefore "men"-a category mustbe all byitself. andtobe abletostay Ina social construcpresumed tostay, tionistview,whichis necessarily holistic,eitherthe two categories exist,or neither. The factthatAlcoff and Butlercan imagineone of themsubsisting without theother reveals thatthey to an addiadhere tiveworld where theparts existindependently andcan change view, or ofone another. moveindependently Whatis still lackingis a notion thathumanarrangements are bothsocial-arbitrary-and material: external to theactionofanygivenindividual. It is difficult notto linkthisdefect in social constructionist thinking in the UnitedStatesto the wayin whichthe onlycontesting of essentialism comesfrom womenwhoaresteeped in "French Theory." FrenchFeminists and FrenchFeminismare being "reprocessed" as and even thoughsome, such as Linda Nicholson,'7 "postmodern," point out the incompatibility betweenthe essentialismof classic
16. Linda Alcoff, "CulturalFeminism versusPost-Structuralism," Signs 13/31 (1988):405-36. 17. LindaNicholson, ed.,Feminism/Postmodernism & Kegan Routledge (London: Paul,1990).

206

YaleFrench Studies

French Feminism and the structuralismof "poststructuralism,"the two are inextricably connected in the dozens of titles and mindblowing new appellations that seem to crop up everyday. ofincessant renamInasmuch as one can make sense ofthe frenzy ing thathas seized Anglo-Americanacademe, it appears thatthe heady mixture of Foucault and Derrida has given rise to something called "theory of discourse" or "deconstructionism." In this theory everythingis a text,and the old contestbetween "reality" and discourse has been done away with: better,it has been won by discourse, of which "the text" is the best incarnation. All other things-such as social practices, institutions, belief systems, and subjectivities-are only bad approximations of the text. Thus what seems to have happened is that as soon as it was rediscovered and used against essentialism,'8 social constructionismwas watered down: it was conceptualized as constructionismwithout the powerof society behind it; or,the powerofsociety was reduced to that ofan always interpretable multiple "discourse." Social and, moreover, constructionismis equated with male authors and with a nominalist versionofitselfwhich deprivesit ofany real content.Commenting on these developments as exemplified by Joan Scott's Gender and the Politics of History,'9JoannaRuss writes: To say that To say thatlanguageinfluences reality.. . is one thing. entirely.... One oftheadvannothing else exists... is another thing is thatthesecondtimeyousee thesamedamnnonsense tagesofaging ofthetimeittookyou around coming againyoucanspotitinone-tenth on itthefirst fifties' torecognize time.The nineteen literary emphasis oftextswas an escape intoa realmdivorced from the the autonomy werebeingkickedoutfor in whichprofessors world being"subnasty homosexuals werea regular feature versive," and witchhuntsagainst also how is nice it ofpubliclife.Current unpleasant; reality mighty and we could control it wouldbe ifit were by controlling onlylanguage elsewereimpossible oruseless. todo anything orifattempts language, thatwouldmakeus.20 Andlook howimportant
and Gender Nicholson;Jane Flax,"Post-modernism Butler; Fraser; 18. See Alcoff; W.Scott, "Deconstructin Feminist Signs12/4(1987):621-43; Joan Relations Theory," Feminist Studies14/1 Difference," ingEquality Versus )1988): 33-50. ofHistory Gender and thePolitics 19. Joan Scott, (NewYork:Columbia,1988). ofTheWomen's 4. ReviewofBooks LettertotheEditors 20. JoannaRuss, 6/4(1989): of Joan WallachScott'sGenderand the is about Claudia Koonz'sreview This letter PoliticsofHistory.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

207

ofsocialconstructionism, So theexplanatory power alongwiththe by fact thatitwas developed infeminism byfeminists, andparticularly and Italianmaterialist feminists2' French, British, is beingignored.22 do notwantto acceptthepoliticalimplicaMaybesomefeminists can change, tionsofunadulterated socialconstructionism: thatthings butthatitwillbe longandarduous, andthat we do nothavean infinite poweroverour own individual lives,nor,to start with,overour own things brains.Maybetheydo not wantto acceptthateventhough including our own thoughts-present themselves to us qua individuals as external constraints, theyare not imposedon us by God or ofsociety, in theresponsibility share Natureandthat we,qua members forchanging ornotchanging them. DIFFERENCE AS A PERMANENT FEATURE OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY FEMINISM In thisattempt frameworks based to explaintheappealofconceptual I have takenforgranted FemithatFrench on naturalistic premises, to a contemporary thatthe nismis a contemporary reaction problem: viewsis, on a personal level,threatprogress ofsocial constructionist a future letus envision wherewe eningto manypeople,becausethey to relyon as a basis forourpersonalidentity. not have gender might is not new. We findit this emphasison "difference" However, thehistory offeminism, throughout whichit has splitsince its very The debate thesetwocurrents offeminism is still between beginnings. alive and well, and its terms-"Difference" versus"Equality"-are a century anda half. stillamazingly similar after Thereis a tendency to
A New Analysis of Marriage in Contemporary WesternSocieties (Cambridge: Polity

21. See Delphy1984and 1993a;DelphyandDiana Leonard, Familiar Exploitation:

and Belief Press,1992);Guillaumin1992; Guillaumin, "The Practice ofPower in NaFeminist Issues 25 (1981):25-31; Hurtig and Pichevin, ture," "Masculine-Feminine"; "The Bodyas Support and Mediator Hurtigand Pichevin, of Sex Relations," in Lisa and Leonard, The OtherFrench Adkins and Pichevin, Feminism, forthcoming; Hurtig in Personal "SalienceoftheSex Category System Contextual Perception: Variations,"
Sex Roles 22/5-6 (1990): 369-95; Celia Kitzinger,The Social Constructionof Lesbian-

ism (London:Sage, 1987);Mathieu;MoniquePlaza, "'Phallomorphic Power'and the andLeonard; Psychology of'Woman,"' in Adkins PaolaTabet, les "Les mains, les outils, in L'ararmes,"L'Homme 19/3-4: 5-61, "Fertilit6 naturelle, reproduction forcee," raisonnement desfemmes, ed.Mathieu Editions E.H.E.S.S.), 61-146,"Du donau (Paris: tarif:les relationssexuellesimpliquant Les TempsModernes490 compensation," in Adkins andLeonard. Reproduction: MaimedSexuality," (1987): 1-53, and "Imposed "The Amazing 22. See SteviJackson, Trouble and Strife Deconstructing Woman," 25 (Winter andLeonard. 1992):25-3 1,andAdkins

208

YaleFrench Studies

pretend thatit is overorthatone can go "beyond" it.Butdespite their promising titles,23 articlesthatpurport to "transcend" thedebatealandI see several waysendup on one sideortheother, reasons whythis is so and,in fact, cannotbe otherwise. These two positionscannotbe reconciled at an analyticallevel. I have tentatively One relies eitheron the conceptualframework described as holistic/socialconstructionist, or on an additive/ essentialistframework. But positionsare ultimatelyexpressedby people,and although we often assumethatpeopleare coherent, they are not.Theytherefore come up withtheoretical positionsthatmix on different and contradictory elements resting premises. So thefact andsocialconstructionism thatessentialism arecombined in some,or evenmostpositions, does not make themlogicallycompatible. Furcan extend totheir thermore, people'sincoherence endorsing positions seemat oddswithwhatthey whichat theoutset think. Thishas might led activists such as Carol Anne Douglas to wonder whether theory mattered for feminism.24 really is a logicto conceptual In spiteofall this,there frameworks that to pursue a certain makeseclecticism impossible beyond pointthatis social constructionism and essentialreachedall too soon. Although in a pureform, for ism areseldompresented thereasons justoutlined, it is because they stillareirreconcilable. areseldomprethey Indeed, thatthey can be seen as notcompletely sentedin a pureform antagooftheir nistic.However, thatpureform existsandit consists intrinsic and limits-whethertheyare used or not at any given possibilities in socialconstructionism areconceivable time.Somethings butnotin the that we and vice-versa. And fact do not have essentialism to think themtomorthemnow does notmeanthatwe will notneedto think levelas well,there aremoments ofreckoning. row;on theanalytical social constructionism, becauseit is Wehavenotyetthought through and emerging precisely againstcommonsense,essentialist thinking, in theareaofgender becauseit is resisted bythosemenwho use it in other area. every thatusingone conceptual ortheother The impression framework is probably Stetdoes notmakemuchdifference misleading. Dorothy
posdu feminisme est-elle 23. See Scott.Also,see Louise Toupin,"Une histoire " Recherches 6/1(1993):25-53. sible? feministes " byLynne Our of"Is theFuture Female? Segal,Off 24. CarolAnneDouglas,Review Backs (January 1989):16.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

209

shown25 thatit was difference feminists in the son has convincingly Bureauwho defeated thepassageoftheE.R.A. MollyLaddWomen's and feminism Taylor makesthe same point:"Maternalism coexisted until the when the bitter debate over and at timesoverlapped 1920s, In otherwords, drovethemapart."26 the Equal RightsAmendment whenthese there aredifferent politicalagendas andtimesofreckoning over. can no longer be smoothed differences Even thoughthese different politicalagendasare not necessarily linkedin a one-to-one waywithdifferent analyses, justas one cannot it is equallyclear on thepartofindividuals, assume such coherence betweenanalyticalframeworks and that thereare correspondences in respectto feminism whether or in political agendasin general, respect to other politicalquestions. is due to an unrealistic The tendency to gloss overdivergences It is, or shouldbe, beliefthatbasicallywe all want the same thing. no morethan apparent bynowthatwe do notall wantthesamething, first-wave feminism orat anytime thesamething "we" wanted during notall womenconceive thetwowaves.Wehaveto acceptthat between in thesame way, oftheir interests and thattheir different wayscan be in the debate over the as was strikingly demonstrated conflictual, E.R.A. I have fora long time (see Delphy 1984 and 1993a),like others, believedthat only a faulty analysis,which could be sortedout by debate,led some Western womento arguethatthewayout ofoppression lay in specificrights of gender forwomenand the buttressing identity, whenso many womenin other countries, especially infundaMuslimcountries, aretrying togetridof"codes mentalist desperately of personalstatus" and otherspecific"rights" that are in realitya ofcitizenship for ButI believenowthatwe don't curtailing women.27 havethesame visionof"liberation." ofthisis presented Evidence by I call "radical"-that is, thehighly emotional rejection, byfeminists to eradicate the rootsofpatriarchy-of lookingforand wanting the of "difference"; and by the group-identity sought by proponents
25. Dorothy Stetson, Women's Rights in theU.S.A.(Belmont: Brooks/Cole, 1991). 26. MollyLadd-Taylor, "Toward Defining Maternalism in U.S. History," Journal of Women's History 5/2(1993):110-14. 27. See A.E.L.F.H.,"Les luttesde femmes en Algerie," and Marie-Aimee H6liedesfemmes a Pegard desfondamentalismes dansle monde Lucas,"Les strategies musulman,"NouvellesQuestionsFMministes 16-18 (1991): 17-29 and29-63.

210

YaleFrench Studies

equallyhighly emotional disgust expressed bythemat ourvisionofa worldthatwould make roomforall individual differences, and also all differences as individual.28 consider To continueinterpreting divergences withinfeminism as mere or as different misunderstandings, is to bury strategies, one's head in the sand: some divergences are not aboutdifferent waysofachieving thesamegoals,they areaboutdifferent goals.The moststriking illustration ofthisproposition I think, is found, in the very termsofthe debateabout "Difference" versus"Equality."Amongthe oppressed groups ofhumankind, onlywomenoppose"difference" to "equality," andthatformulation aloneis reflected in titlessuchas Beyond Equality and Difference. In the introduction to this paradigmatic book, the only"contextualiza"Contextualizing Equalityand Difference," tion" whichwouldindeedmake it possibleto go "beyond" the question of "Difference" versus"Equality"is neveronce mentioned.29 would be the preliminary Such a contextualization admissionthat "theoppositeof'equality'is 'inequality."'30 DESTABILIZING FEMINISM invented their brand offeminism The mainreasonthatitsinventors as forwhat "French"was thattheydid not wantto take responsibility to rescuepsychofor their they weresaying and,in particular, attempt it had incurred both in feminism and analysis fromthe discredit thatanother feminist thesocial sciences.Theypretended throughout it was great-thatin factit was all theother, admovement thought in. was interested movement mittedly strange, a process whichis excellently Thattooksomedoing, described and
I use theterm I think 28. For thesakeofbeing understood, "differences," although it of sex and gender, is a loaded termin the context ofthe discussion especially since "differences" arenever referred explicitly to their implicit referent, be it thedominant ordo notacquire, category, ortherealmofhumanactionwhere they acquire, relevance, and furthermore in that "differences" are,at the most,opposedto "sameness"(see Butlevelsofsameness-forexample, belonging to thehumanspecies-are the Scott). in thesamewayas unsaidbutnecessary context offinding differences within thatlevel, levelsofdifferences-for example thosebetween humansand other animals-are the unspoken basisfor finding sameness. inBeyond andDifference," andDifference, 29. "Contextualizing Equality Equality & KeganPaul,1992),1-13. ed. Gisela BockandSusanJames Routledge (London: in her"Questionsde differences" in FMminismes au present, 30. Christine Plant6, wonders whomakesthisclearin her1988article, does notapplythis whyJoan Scott, to heranalysis oftheSearsCase. insight

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

211

analyzed byClaireMoses (1992a).Moses pointsoutthatat thetimeof thefamous1978 Signs issue, "the Prefaces alwaysidentified Cixous, as French'writers' Kristeva, and Irigaray or 'intellectuals,' neveras 'feminists."' movement was conShe goeson to notethattheFrench sistently presented byElaineMarksandIsabellede Courtivron as "in discontinuity withhistorical thatDomna Stanton feminism"; (in the 1978Signs issue)identifies language as thesiteoffeminist in struggle France. Moses givesmanyexamples ofthewaytheFrench movement itwas a movement thatshared was misrepresented. that The fact many ofpreoccupations, withothermovements-in terms traits analyses, activism-was not onlyignored, campaigns, demands, but denied.It was a movement, buta movement who was said thatthere ofwriters the words'feminist' and 'feminism"' "problematized (Marksand de citedin Moses 1992a). Courtivron, in Anglo-American writOne couldgo on,taking errors up factual ingstothisdayandshowing thedistortions thattheFrench movement I wantto focus at thehandsofthesewriters. and stillsuffers, suffered, andthatis thepersonal andideological hereon one pointin particular, ofthe womenselectedby French Femiclosenessto psychoanalysis from nists,and their equal distance feminism. was equatedwith Ithas beennotedbyMoses that French Feminism in questionare antithattwo ofthe three writers "womenwriters," and that only one-who has only recently started feminist calling a feminist-hasbeenreadand commented herself upon byfeminists thattheyare Lacanian, fromFrance.But if it has been mentioned nowhere does it everappearthattwo ofthemare practicing psychoIn thewaythatCixous'sand Kristeva's analysts: Irigaray and Kristeva. declarations as nonrelevant, antifeminist treated the are,variously, in France fact thatthey arenotpart ofthefeminist debate is considered as so irrelevant as to be notevenworth It is impliedthat mentioning. actualfeminists from France lookup to thesewriters, whichis necesto the domesticreader. saryin order to make themlook significant in Franceis neverevaluated-forinstance, Theirreal importance by oftimesthey in feminist thenumber arequotedorappear discussions. Whatis impliedbyportraying thesewomenas important in feminismis thatwhether one calls oneself a feminist ornotis notrelevant; whatis further thatthey for areimportant femiimpliedbyasserting is thatfeminists nistsin France in France do notconsider thatrelevant either. The messageis thatin order to speak in or offeminism, one does not need to be a self-defined feminist. The impactthishad on

212

YaleFrench Studies

However, thisis not a consistent policy. At othertimes,Kristeva and Cixous are,on the contrary, reclaimedas feminists, in spite of themselves.This is a spectacularmanifestation of imperialism. Kristeva's or Cixous'soutspoken antifeminism can be dismissed in a waythatno Anglo-American's opinioncould be dismissed:"Despite it is difficult their disclaimers, not to classify Kristeva and Cixous as feminists" 223). (Tong, It is suggested thattheydo notknowtheir own minds.Thereis a levelofcontempt herethatis truly unbearable. Butifone managesto andforgive thecondescension, forget whatis themessage totheAngloAmerican reader? meantas antiAgain,it seems to be thatwritings feminist arejustas important tofeminism as feminist writings. Again, theline is blurred, andthefeminist debateopensup to welcomeantifeminist opinions,which are to be treatedon a par with feminist thewayfor Thatwas opening things yetto come: theintroduction ofFreud andLacan,first intofeminism as "French thenas Feminists," as "Founding Fathers." The redeemfeminists tout court, and finally and notonlythanksto ingofpsychoanalysis has now beenachieved; French sinceJuliet and Carol Feminism, Mitchell, NancyChodorow, albeitwitha soft Gilliganhave pavedthe wayforthisdevelopment, essentialism. of FrenchFemiversionofpsychoanalytic Proponents to offer nismwereable to use thisopening thereal hardstuff: unreAnd the Anglo-American constructed continental psychoanalysis. to the extentthat a book on psychoscene has been transformed in spiteofthe analysisis seen as intrinsically partoffeminist theory, offeminism totalabsenceofanydiscussion (see Gallop).Thatis somethe invention of French thingthatcould not have happenedbefore in and whichcould still not happen France, whoever the Feminism, author. (MarcelleMarinidid writea bookon Lacan,butthatwas not in factit was actuallyseen as seen as partof her feminist writing; slightly odd.) Feminism is thewayit feature ofFrench Butthemostinteresting Feminists Most French do notholdup essendealswithessentialism. Butthey often itbysaying itis tialismas a "GoodThing." that promote A gooddeal oftheirtimeis takenup "defending" not essentialism. Irigaray againstaccusationsofessentialism (see Schor1989 and Fuss Is it because theyare con1989,especially 55-83). But whyexactly?
opinions.

nonfeminists.

domesticfeminism was to blurthe frontiers betweenfeminists and

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

213

vincedthatIrigaray is not essentialist? They cannotbe, as Irigaray makes no bones about it, and nevertriesto defend herself against something she does notsee as an indictment. essenAnglo-American tialists arein a moredelicate position: wantthething they without the sting.And since ofcoursethisis not possible, whattheyare accomon their sceneis a regression. plishing domestic talksabout Everybody but nobodyknowswhat it is anymore, essentialism, as essentialist theories arepresented as nonessentialist. EvenFreud andLacan,whose essentialism was established a longtimeagoin all quarters, notonlyin arenow being"revalued" feminist and absolved. circles, in an apparently but really coherent Moreover, contradictory, movement,essentialism is increasingly presentedas something it cannotbe endorsed which,although outright, mightnot be "the it is supposedto be" (Smith, criticism damning 144).Paul Smithand withsuchsophistication it is implied, Diana Fuss credit Irigaray that, she can only"seem" essentialist; on theother if she werefound hand, to be (andnotjust seem to be) essentialist, it is implied, then, might she not have a good reason?Althoughtheycannot decide on the that"Irigaray matter-Fussevenwrites bothis andis notan essentialist" (Fuss1989,70)-they agree thatifsheis,itis a strategy, even"a key ... notan oversight" strategy theguiseof (Fuss1989,72).Thus,under tounderstand trying complex European authinking, Anglo-American a rehabilitation thorsare working their ofessentialism. waytowards CONCLUDING REMARKS: IMPERIALISM AS A TACTIC FOR ELIMINATING WITH ONE FELL SWOOP FEMINISM .. . AND WOMEN The invention ofFrench Feminism is contemporary withthe inventionof"French The twofollow Theory." thesamelinesandindeedare, to some extent, thesame thing. Whatis striking to theFrench reader, in thewritings oftheseventies as wellas inmore recent writings, is the mannerin whichall feminists from Franceare lumpedtogether, reoftheir orpoliticalorientation. gardless theoretical, esthetic, Wittig, for is citedearly on in thesamebreath instance, as Cixous,and sometimesshe is defined as belonging to thesame strand, "ecriture feminine." Thereis morethanignorance at workhere.Even when it is thatWittig cannotbe in thesame strand recognized since she is very vocal aboutrepudiating "ecriture feminine" and all thatit standsfor, she is stillalwaysquotedin conjunction withthe"HolyThree,"very

214

Yale French Studies

seldomby herself or in conjunction withAnglo-American feminists who aretheoretically andpolitically close to her.The same ofcourse holdstrueforCixous: herplight is exactly symmetrical, although for I feel reasons thatshouldbe clearbynow, for Wittig. MicheleLe Doeuff, who is not particularly bashfulabout her theoretical stand,is also lumpedtogether withthe essentialists, "despiteherdisclaimers," as Tongwouldputit (Tong, 223). Do the starsof "French Theory"-who are also the masterminds behindthe women,according to FrenchFeminists (see infra)-fare better? No. Lacan, Derrida,Foucault,and Barthes are all one in the to unify and homogenize Anglo-American compulsion the "French," thusdenying themanyindividuality. How is it possibleto lump together in the same article, never mindin the same sentence, writers such as Foucaultand Lacan,who come from totallyoppositetradiarevery tions,and who furthermore openabouttheir disagreements? havecreated wholenew schoolsofthought-or Anglo-Americans at leastacademictrends-bycomparing French writers whocannot be in dialogue"peoplewhohavenothing compared, by"putting to sayto each other, and by giving mix nameslike "poststructuralthisready " How will thatimprobable ism" and "postmodernism. mixture withwell: Foucault's standthetestoftime?Not very social constructionismwillnot,evenwiththehelpoftheMarines, ever blendwithLacan's And whyare French authors-male or female, feminist or notalmostnevercompared to their howAnglo-American counterparts, but onlyto otherFrench eversimilar, however different? Bewriters, aredifferences cause thatwouldshowthatthere on the amongthem, themand theircommentators one hand,and similarities between or in on the translators the Anglo-American other. hoInternal world, this is how groupsmogenizationand externaldifferentiation: In exactlythe same way, national,ethnic,sexual-are constituted. areseenas a group French authors whichis defined andonlyby, its by, to the groupwhichhas the powerto name; thustheyare difference constituted as an Other. can be interpreted, Ifone has to admitthattheworkofwriters and on hisorherownwork thattheword oftheauthor neednotbe thelast, different kettle ortheonlyone,it is an entirely offishto pretend that from theseworkscan be totally abstracted theirobjective, historical Andthisis precisely whatis beingdone,to femaleand male contexts. writers who werebornin France. ifAnglo-Americans have Moreover,
essentialism.

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

215

the rightto "take theirgood where theyfindit," as the Frenchsay,and to use quotations fromFrance-or any other part of the world-to create their own theories,the line must be drawn at calling that creative endeavor "FrenchTheory."Nobody owns theirown writing;but everybody deserves a fairhearing,and that is what the Frenchoftendo not get. They are entitled to be understood and appreciated, or dismissed, forwhat theydid or said, not hailed or damned forwhat some other French person did or said: "It all happens as if the word French erased or diminished the serious tension between the works of Cixous and Irigaray(or those of Lyotard and Derrida)" (Varikas, 64). Interestingly, Anglo-Americancommentatorswho do tryto put, say,Foucault or de Beauvoir in perspective,and to understandwhy they said what theysaid when theydid, do not call that "French Theory."31 Claire Moses writes eloquently about this: some one aspect of We . .. in the role ofimperial have expropriated withlittle for theFrench French culture, useditfor ourpurposes, regard or the Frenchcontext forthe people them. .. with littleinterest us is theleast characteristic but selves.... The aspectthatinterests ourfeminism; from themorecharacteristic themostdifferent aspects bore us. We have exoticizedFrenchFeminism, decontextualized it, in French withlittleinterest activists. In so used it forourpurposes, in we haveabusedourpower-involving doing, ourselves, unwittingly, a powerstruggle womenand conferring and amongFrench prestige et po group-whichproved statuson one side-the psych destructive ofFrench women.[Moses 1992a] to theinterests When I read Claire Moses's paper,I had a flashofrecognition-and, foryearsso clearly yes,gratitude-at seeing what I have been thinking and beautifullyexpressed.Then I had to writeanotherpaper,this time forNouvelles Questions FMministes, on the Hill-Thomas hearingsand its meaning forFrance and forfeminism.I read Claire's paper again, and was struckthis time by a sentence on the same page: "The French (and more generally 'Europeans') are blamed foraspects of ourselves that we do not like but do not take responsibility for(like our racism and classism); Europe or France is tainted; we are pure." And I rememberedhavingwrittenexactlythe same wordsjust a few days before,but about the French caricatureof the United States and Americans. The Hill-Thomas controversy was presentedin France as a
31. See SoniaKruks, "Gender deBeauvoir andSubjectivity: Simone andContemporary Feminism," Signs18/1(1992):89-111.

216

Studies YaleFrench

France?" threatening (citedin Ezekiel 1992).The mediause knee-jerk that it is everything butfillit witha newcontent: anti-Americanism, Kristeva's huscondemn. in theUnitedStatesthatthey is progressive a best-seller who has written abouthis womband,PhilippeSollers, ofthe battle.Therewas, too, a is in the forefront anizing(Femmes), byEurope,Francehad to domesticagenda:a yearlaterwhen,forced "Ameriwarned against all theofficials legislate on sexualharassment, we gotthemostrestrictive law on thebooksto canization";as a result ofsexualharassment.32 thisday, a law thatmakesa mockery in order to Feminism was invented I haveargued abovethatFrench on theAnglo-American feminist sceneofa theintroduction legitimate and in particular a rehabilitation of psychobrandof essentialism, thanthe nativekindexpressed by Sara analysis, whichgoes further orGilligan. The other feature ofthisintellectual Chodorow, Ruddick, not exhibited or Chodorow, whichis definitely by Ruddick, current, a feminist bases ofwhatdefines is thatit questionsthevery Gilligan, In the usual definition, a feminist theoretical theoretical approach. at effecta a movement to aimed is tied politicalmovement, approach ing actual change in actual society and in actual women's-and in thequestionsthat ofthistieresides men's-lives; themainfeature tie doesnotmean Thatnecessary areaskedoftheobjectsunder study. thetopicsto be studied, instancedictates activist thatsome abstract or not-should be able to arguethe but thatany feminist-scholar movement as a ofthe questionsshe raisesto thefeminist relevance I will turnto a case thathypothesis, to demonstrate whole.In order ofthewholeoperation: AliceJardine's ofoneofthekeymoments study Gynesis. as a "whole" by a In this work,"FrenchTheory"is constituted andgeneralization, thatuse distortion manoeuvres seriesofrhetorical is thefeminist movement in France and exoticism. First, imperialism cast as D.O.A. in the "socialist" era, aftera series of murderous from whichit is supposednot to have recovered. So, exit struggles,
National Identity," and French Controversy 32. See Delphy,"The Hill-Thomas 14/4(1993):3-13. NouvellesQuestionsFMministes

feminism and attacks on private life....

proofof Americanracism-to make theirpoint,the media simply There thefact that is African-American. Hill,likeThomas, overlooked on "sexual fundamenwereheadlineson "The New McCarthyism," lobby"; weeklies warned:"Puritanism, talism" and "the feminist
Is the American model

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

217

French Feminism in theusual senseof"feminist." Feminists are still of there,however. How is Jardine goingto dispose them?We have "thatword,""poses some serious alreadybeen told thatfeminism, problems." It does,indeed,if,like Jardine, one can thinkofonlyone place to look for it: thedictionaries! She thendismisses thefeminists as feminists in their lifeand work"(Jardine "who qualify themselves 1985,20),becausethatwouldbe too simple. what But hereplain factualdistortion giveswayto imperialism: countsis onlywhatI saycounts.It is notonlybecauseit wouldbe too from Francewill not be discussed,but simplethatactual feminists nisms, itis notthosewomenonehas inmind"(Jardine 1985,20).There in theargument: "I willnotinteris something circular ortautological estmyself in thosewomenbecausethey arenotofinterest to me." But of self-centeredand tautology, circularity as exemplary expressions ofimperialist ness,are essentialcomponents thinking. is whatconstitutes femiIn thenextsentence, American interest in an objective, or notimportant real nistsfrom Franceas important way: these womenare said to "have a majorimpacton theoriesof and reading" writing 1985,20). The place wherethat"major (Jardine it maybe the is notspecified: impact"is supposedto have happened itmaybe thewholeworld-isn'titthesamething? And UnitedStates, Monlists: Cixous, Kofman,Kristeva, Lemoine-Luccioni, Jardine in trelay.33 Then she moveson to saythat"the majornew directions
33. At the time Jardine's piece was published, and at the time it was written, theonlyperiod Women's Studiesand Feminist Studieswereundergoing ofexpansion in France. A research hadbeenlaunched they haveever known program in theNational in 1983whichlasteduntil1989.AtthetimeJardine Center for Scientific Research was " itwasunder in France writing aboutthe"Parisian scene, Itwasextremely varied in way. itsideological andtheoretical orientations, as itregrouped onitsboard theWho'sWhoof Studiesin France.Overa periodof six years, it examined Women's morethanthree hundred research projects andfunded eighty, in all disciplines andon all topics, including,ofcourse,literary criticism. Whyis it thatmostofthenamesJardine listsnever appear in the bibliographies of any of these projects, even of the few that were ifthey psychoanalytically-oriented, made such a "majorimpact"? Andwhyis it that does not mentionthis program, which was the talk of the-admittedly Jardine ofParisandwhichshe couldnothavehelpedhearing provincial-town about? Similartacticsare used by Moi: "The publishing of French in history feminism English-speaking the overwhelming countries confirms impactofthe three namesof and Kristeva" Cixous,Irigaray and evenperdisingenuous (Moi 1987,5). A somewhat versestatement on twoaccounts: thepublishing ofthesethree first, history writers in English is supposed to prove their popularity in France! Andsecondly, thatpublishing history is notso external toMoi as she,pretending to "discover" it,wouldhaveus think.

because: "When in the United States, one refersto . . . French femi-

218

Yale French Studies

whose names have been mentioned here are . .. in the best French

selvesas profoundly . .. antiand/or post-feminist" 1985,20). (Jardine This is a strategic movewhichoverturns all previous understandings aboutwhatkindofthinking is usefulfor feminism. Butthebestis yetto come: thissaid,she proceeds to explainthat she will deal withthemen,because "thewomentheorists in France tradition . . . directdisciplesof thosemen." And although she does "not mean this as a criticism," she comments thatthese women's

French theoryover the past two decades ... have . .. posited them-

dencesfrom thosemen" (Jardine 1985,21). We are givento understand thatthesewomen,who are antifeminist,are,however, theproducers ofthemostimportant work for femithattheir nistthinking; comesfrom thinking that men,to theextent themselves. neednotbe considered The reader be they may surprised. Butthisis wheretheexoticism comesin to confuse and guilt-trip us: thatis the French and eventhough brandoffeminism, it mayseem what if feminists Francelike it? As in all imperialist strange, from a mixture discourses, there's offakerespect for theculture andcondethe attention of the American scension.Enoughrespectto warrant we mustlistentowhatithas is important, reader: Feminism" "French to say.Butthatrespect for is reallycondescension: whatsortoffeministscan feminists from France be ifthey takeas their majortheorists womenwho not onlyare antifeminists butwho merely men? parrot mindis Jardine What On whatsortofclichesin thereader's counting? are necessary to believethatofFrench sortofstereotypes feminists, indeedofanyfeminists? tradition." So subservience Butshe insistsit is "in thebestFrench andnotso damnable to themenis seenas bothuniqueto theFrench34 it has beendeemed"French," themoment and as it might seem:from it cannot be condemned sincetheFrench arean interesting as culture, thecultural relativist extends easilyas all that.Jardine wingtoprotect
herSexual/Textual Politicswas decisivein starting thattrend. By all accounts, And feminist ofthatbook?To pit"Anglo-American whatwas thethrust criticism," which whatshe calls-coiningthephrase-"French she finds disappointing, against feminist " andwhosefirst " is entitled deBeauvoir theory, chapter "From Simone toJacques Lacan, thusestablishing Lacanas a "feminist theorist," a paradox noteventhemostpsychoin France analytically-oriented feminists wouldhavedreamed ofdefending. feminists on thewholehave been 34. Again,Moi uses thesame tactics:"French intellectual trends for feminist as for instance eagerto appropriate dominant purposes, in thecase ofthetheories ofJacques Derrida andJacques Lacan" (Moi 1987,1).

work consists of "rewritingsof the men . .. repetitions and dissi-

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

219

it. Could shehavesentthesamemessage usingan American example? is an important writer for Could shehavedecidedthatSo-and-so feminist issues even thoughthatpersondoes not addressthe topic,or worse, is against feminism? Could she saythattoday themostimportantAmerican writers for feminism areKatieRoife orCamillePaglia? Andifshe did,wherewouldit placeher? Butwhycouldshenotdo so? After all,opponents areimportant. Theydoneedtobe discussed. Butis it the same thing to say thatPatrick Moynihan's thesesmustbe disofand for cussedand to saythathe is themaintheorist feminism? Thereare threepointsthatneed to be made here.It is truethat, and antifeminists, it cresincethereexistsa continuum offeminists atesparticular problems, whichhavebeennotedbyJudith for Stacey,35 antifeminist "drawing theline,"especially whenwriters withclearly call themselves as they views,suchas Jean Elshtain orPaglia, feminist, the increasingly do in theUnitedStatestoday. As mentioned earlier, pointhas beenraisedregarding Irigaray byMaryseGuerlaisand Eleni in France, Varikas36 and it is a difficult one. Although Irigaray's work is notused in Women's herthesesarevery Studiesin France, popular in Italy, withimportant and smaller partsofthewomen'smovement inasbut still significant audiencesin Franceand Holland.However, for muchas there are,in feminism as elsewhere, definitional problems for borderline this cases,theseproblems arealwayssituated, precisely do nottouchon thecore. reason,at themargins; they feminist Writers who situatethemselves vis-a-vis questionsare partof the feminist debate-includingthosewho opposefeminism; but eventhough in the the latterare discussed, theyare not treated samecategory Feminists as writers whodefine themselves as feminist. havealwaysdiscussed antifeminists: one couldevensaythatthiscona major stitutes offeminist andanalyzing part writing. Exposing patriarchalideology has been on thefeminist agendafrom thevery beginnings of feminism. But antifeminists and feminists have distinct in places feminist analysis. Patriarchy anditsintellectual productions arean objectofstudy, arenotand cannotbe a means or a toolof they feminist analysis.
35. Judith "AreFeminists Afraid Stacey, to LeaveHome?The Challenge ofConservativePro-Family Feminism," in What is Feminism?, ed.Juliet Mitchell andAnnOakley,(Oxford: Blackwell, 219-49. 1986), 36. Maryse "Vers unenouvelle dudroit Guerlais, statuaire: Le temps de la ideologie difference de LuceIrigaray," NouvellesQuestions Feministes 16-18 (1991):63-93; and Varikas 1993.

220

YaleFrench Studies

withwriters who are not necessarily The case is quite different feminist issues.The queshostileto feminism butwho do notaddress to thediscustionis not: "Friend or foe?"It is: "Whatdo theybring " This is thecase in France the for Kristeva, whodoesnotaddress sion? because she does not knowwhatthey questionsraisedby feminism aboutfeminism is the kindofcaricatures are. Her onlyinformation women likeMontrelay circulated bythemedia.Thisis thecase also for and cannot or Lemoine-Luccioni, who are traditional psychoanalysts with evenbe described as "antifeminist," sincethatimpliesengaging as a not. Their position is best described feminist ideas,whichthey do or "prefeminist" view; and it is so traditional "male-supremacist" thatfeminists felt havenever widely heldin France bypsychoanalysts the need to discuss those threein particular.37 So herethe pointis decide feminist writer, rather: could Jardine, or anyothersupposedly whose workis not considered thatan Englishor Americanauthor, feminists berelevant and is not discussedbyEnglishand American whatis represents cause she orhedoesnotdiscussfeminist questions, in thefeminist sceneofthosecountries? mostinteresting and with her,most other This is, in fact,exactlywhat Jardine, French thatthere is no difference between femiFeminists aresaying: the of view of their from point thinking nistthinking and patriarchal use forfeminist questheyimplythataddressing analysis.Further, in for for feminism is irrelevant tionswhicharerelevant participating an irrelevant itself thefeminist Thatmakesfeminism position. debate. from a domestic This couldnotbe argued position, usingdomestic from who, supposedly examples:strawwomen had to be invented a feminist and invalidating withinfeminism, were questioning apthatthis so strange, so foreign, proach;but it had to be a feminism It had to be "French Femias it was improbable. wouldbe as credible nism." The secondpartofthe messageis: ifthe "French"can do it, did. whycan'twe? And they Femifrom withintheFrench Feminism could not be invalidated i.e. Anglo-American nists' own culture, culture;men could not be ofall knowledge, as thearbiters reinstated as themaininterlocutors, a domestic from Introducing feminist knowledge, position. including
whoknowwhatfeminism is, mustbe distin37. This is whyCixousandIrigaray, andthesecondbeing feminist thefirst by onefrom theother, being antifeminist, guished thesecond from bothmustbe sharply herowndefinition. distinguished Furthermore, do notknowwhatfeminism andLemoine-Luccioni-who group-Kristeva, Montrelay, butpre-feminist. is andwho areneither feminist norantifeminist,

CHRISTINE

DELPHY

221

"Frenchwomen" was the wayto introducethe idea thatto be antifeminist and to be partofthe feministdebate was acceptable; the next step was to do away with the women and to reveal the men behind them, accordingto the purported native women's wishes, so that men could be, once more, center stage, in feminismas well as everywhereelse. Promotingessentialism was the main motive behind the creation of French Feminism; but there was a further, and when one thinks about it, not vastly different, reason forthat invention; and that was putting Women's Studies scholars "in dialogue" again with male authors. EPILOGUE IN THE FORM OF AN (IMAGINARY) TRANSATLANTIC DIALOGUE feminism is no longer students assureme that necMyundergraduate andvarious female essary becausewe'vesolvedall that, and colleagues graduate derive students itfrom twowhite gentlemen, ignoring twenty I would say that feminist workand writing. yearsof extra-academic werenot such a remark we've been betrayed, one ofthebanalitiesof Andso heartbreaking. history. [Russ,4] I want to add: and academic. The pricepaid by resistant womenis literally incalculable(thatis, I knowofno currency in whichitscostcan be counted). It is thusnotat all surprising thatthetemptation to "dilute"thechallenge is not alwaysresistible, orresisted.38

38. AilbheSmyth, in MyMindorHow to StaySAFE(Sane,Angry "Haystacks and Feminist) in the1990s,"a paper presented at theWISEConference, October 1993,Paris.