18 September 2007

Redefinition and Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma

Since the inception of the liberal-democratic state, woman has found herself buried deep in the depths of the institution’s patriarchal structure. She is confined to a sphere outside the sphere where individuals are seen to interact economically, politically, and even socially, to a greater or lesser degree. We find her as an ideal in the kitchen, the nursery, the bedroom of our archetypal home, not living life as the free and social being she, like man, is. For well over two centuries now she has fought within the theoretical framework of the liberal-democracy – and especially within the framework of the welfare state – for her emancipation from this house arrest. Working within these bounds she has encountered many obstacles, but one of the greatest dilemmas she has faced is that the patriarchal, fraternal structure of the system precludes in its basic assumptions the possibility of her ever being something even so basic as an individual, let alone a full citizen. Each and every time women try to rise out of this culturally imposed role of the second-tier citizen and assert themselves as full citizens of the state they encounter the paradox that “women in civil society must disavow [their] bodies and act as part of the brotherhood [in order to be seen as citizens] – but since [they] are never regarded as other than women, [they] must simultaneously continue to affirm the patriarchal conception of femininity, or patriarchal subjection (Pateman 52).”

We must, first and foremost, keep in mind that liberal-democratic theory and, hence, the liberal-democratic welfare state have developed not in a vacuum but hand in hand with Western capitalist society (Pateman 145). This recognition is of vital importance because it allows us to realize, in a sense, that liberal theory is not solely revolutionary in nature (though one must also recognize that it is a reaction to the paternalistic governments of the time), but is, instead, a justification of the status quo of the capitalist market economy. The theory, in essence, provides the groundwork for the myth of the citizen through its championing of ‘universal’ enfranchisement. If all are provided the opportunity to vote, the idea goes, then the political elite will be held to the public will by the myth itself (Pateman 147). It is granted from the beginning that the elite will be the only true political actors in society, rotating in power, but never ceding it. Rawls goes so far as to say that while the well-to-do, active in political life have a “political obligation” to the state, the masses simply have a “natural duty to obey” (Pateman 67). Part of this natural duty is a resignation to the tedium of daily routine and political inactivity for the good of the state.

The idea presented here is that the majority of life unfolds in the private (with a lowercase “p” which will be discussed later) sphere. The masses are consumers above all else, paradoxically both the drivers and passengers of the market economy. They purchase and sell, work and play, sleep and eat in the private sphere with little regard for the politics of the state (the sphere of public life), but all the while, by virtue of simply ignoring the political and going about their business, the masses consent to this political realm and fulfill their civic duty. Locke referred to the acceptance of the institutions of the state as “tacit consent” in his voluntarist framework (Pateman 63). What is neglected in this picture is the fact that this private sphere, the home of the individual, of Homo economicus, all the while, through all these activities, resides to some great degree within the Public sphere.

We have created two dichotomies where theorists had once seen only one. The capital-P Public sphere, once the sphere of man, of the individual with political and productive power, has cleaved to reveal the little-p public and private spheres, the spheres of government and economy, which are found at the locus of most discussions of the public versus the private. Governments are asked to stand out of private matters such as the exchange of goods and the growth of business unless some grave concern should arise. This shift has left another conversation by the wayside. The capital-P Private sphere has all but been ignored. Yes, we hope the government respects our privacy by not listening to our phone calls, but this is as much a private (economic) concern as a Private concern. Only in discussions of child rearing and sexual relations does the Private sphere assert itself in the face of the Public.

The Private sphere is where we finally find women obscured deep within this liberal-democratic structure. Nestled here in this realm, women have all but been pushed out of the conversation since the time of Locke through the late 19th to early 20th century. Here in this realm is where we begin to see the depth of the questions facing feminism and the hurdles standing in front of women in doing something so seemingly simple as asserting themselves as individuals.

Throughout the history of the welfare state (named as such in 1939, but really throughout the history of liberal-democracy) the Private sphere has been largely ignored as relevant to the political state yet has also been the focus, paradoxically, of many of its policies (Pateman 179). Men have been seen as the breadwinners (citizens) and, hence, the contributors to the welfare state. They produce value through their labor in the private-Public sector and pay taxes for the public-Public good. By virtue of this contribution, men are also the seen as the rightful recipients of the welfare state’s goodwill. It is assumed that women benefit only through their benevolent husbands and fathers (Pateman 188). Women, hence, are not provided the opportunity to do that which is central to the idea of citizenship in the welfare state: work. Women are not seen to be owners of their own persons, and are not able to bring their persons to market in the form of labor (Pateman 186).

Women have, however, through various feminist movements, brought many of their needs to the attention of the state. They have taken the place of the majority in regards to the receipt of welfare (Pateman 180). In their place in the home, women are seen to provide, in some sense, welfare to the state as welfare to the family. They are caregivers of children, the elderly, and the infirm, and, as such, have asserted their rights as, at least, formal citizens of the welfare state and demanded some compensation for this work. But this, as we shall see, has only added to the paradoxical place of women as citizens.

Pateman, in her essay The Patriarchal Welfare State, provides us with a useful idea in what she terms as Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma. Women have sought, as was laid out by Wollstonecraft, two routes to citizenship which both turn out to be “incompatible” with the very structure and nature of the patriarchal welfare state. The first route is to insist that “the ideal of citizenship be extended” to include women as full members, full individuals, of the state (196-7). This can be best exemplified in the woman as worker ideas of Marxist revolutionaries, but it must necessarily fail both by virtue of the definition of the term citizen and by the fact that it fails to recognize that there are differences in capabilities (such as bearing a child) between men and women.

The second route is to demand that the currently unpaid work of the woman in the home be recognized as productive and, hence, contributive to the welfare state. In doing this work, women are fulfilling their duties within the role of citizen (Pateman 197). This maneuver fails to address the dual dichotomies of public and private, and relegates women, still, to the Private sphere of the home where, in spite of any laws or economic remuneration, they will continue to be seen as the perpetual second sex.

Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma and attempts by women to traverse the paths laid out by it have both highlighted and ignored the fundamental, underlying problems of the liberal-democratic welfare state. The current structure does not even allow us the language with which to conceive of a new arrangement of life within the state. A radical redefinition of the terms citizen, private, public, and welfare must accompany a move away from the ideal of full employment (of white men) and the wealth accumulating goal of profit-seeking.

A legitimate candidate for the next step in this process of redefinition is the restructuring of employment law and norms to both better recognize work outside of the confines of the office and the factory as valuable work and afford both men and women equal opportunity and incentive to take part in that work. Men are just as well suited as women to be caregivers to their children, to clean the house, to prepare the meals, and to do the laundry. In essence, such a restructuring is a redefinition of the current ideal of citizenship. Work on the open market (the masculine ideal) would no longer be the only valuable form of work. Breaking down the barriers between Private and Public, between work (as a physical place) and home, allows both men and women to readjust their positions in the state in a positive way.

Recently we have seen pushes toward the mandated availability of both maternity and paternity leave of equal lengths. While some progressive workplaces do offer this ideal, it is still very far from the norm and will not be accepted without a fight by industries. This type of legislation would stand in stark contrast to the business friendly norm that allows employers to be profit-seeking entities for the good of wealthy shareholders and to the detriment of employees. Legislating paternity and maternity leave, or even commanding it, would bring more equity into childrearing and the work of the home while allowing mothers and fathers both to have a job to come back to; allowing both to be breadwinners.

This type of sharing of labor across the Public-Private divide is a necessary step in redefining citizenship. The welfare state plays a crucial role, even while in question, in that state support would be necessary to relieve market pressures on businesses to release mothers and fathers from employment. While many obstacles stand in the way of measures like this, it seems as though we have no choice but to move forward, to persevere, in this project of redefinition.

--The source cited in this text is Carole Pateman's "The Disorder of Women" published in 1989 by Stanford University Press--

14 September 2007

The Means to Transcend Biology as Destiny

My first attempt at re-entering academia goes something like this (be forewarned, it's a weak attempt):

What is female and what has caused her always to be the second sex? These two fundamental questions are at the heart of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and provide the frame which we must consider in a reading of the first section of the text, Destiny. Three projects are laid before us, each of which provides a lens through which we can begin to discover some insights into these questions. Biology will provide us with the grounding idea of female as one of a pair necessary for the continuation of the species in many living beings, but not all. Psychoanalysis will offer the Electra complex as a mirror of the Oedipus in an attempt to parse down the description of woman to one essentially of sexuality. Historical materialism will place woman as the victim of the progress of the idea of private property.

While each of these projects will offer up some guidance, none alone can completely elucidate the situation of woman; however, of these three it is biology that today is still most often advanced as a reason, a justification for her Otherness. While the other two ideas have fallen out of fashion, biology remains a potent force entrenched in our mores and enshrined in our laws. Biology, though, finds its teeth only through perception, only by way of our existence as beings in the world. By virtue of this, biology is not a prison for woman but a project. Woman can transcend biology as we understand it today by resituating herself in the world, by redefining our common experience through a reworking of our laws, advancement of our tools, and a reexamination of our common goals.

In biology we find woman as the female of the human species. In this role she, as the female of all mammalian species and many others, is subjugated not only to the male by virtue of her muscular weakness and the prevailing social norms, but also to the species itself. She exists for biology as a body, a conglomeration of systems - more or less complex - that ingest, digest, respire, perspire, ambulate, and procreate. The body functions to maintain the individual in an effort to extend the species temporally. As such, woman is bound by biology to the reproductive role.

Where man transcends via his biology and reproductive organs, woman finds hers alienating. At puberty, her body changes to something she cannot immediately recognize as herself. From this point on to menopause (when nature returns her sovereign body to her) woman is at the service of the species. The ovarian cycle ties her to a monthly period that at times in history has been considered everything from unclean to vile to evil by man. Not by man’s perception alone is her period subjugating, though, as it can also be extremely painful and is accompanied by hormonal shifts. The monthly cycle may be interrupted by pregnancy which is the ultimate exertion of the species’ autonomy over woman. Not until the child is born and weaned do nature and society return to her small piece of her autonomy.

The trick played here by nature is that woman, as the most developed female in nature, both is bound most tightly to it and suffers it the most, as she alone among females has a nature of transcendence. This transcendent nature of the human being is in stark contrast to the subjugation by the species and makes woman feel this subjugation more strongly than any other female. As Beauvoir says, “The individuality of the female is opposed by the interest of the species; it is as if she were possessed by foreign forces – alienated (25).” But biology alone cannot explain fully the second sex for it ignores woman’s own perceptions of herself and her activity in the world outside of procreation.

The psychoanalytical view provides first for us the idea that the body exists not as the physical structure described by biology, but only in so much as it is a “body as lived in by the subject” (Beauvoir 38). Woman is not just the biological partner of the male of the human species; she is defined by her experience of the world and the objects she encounters in it. Not defined solely by biology, woman is also not bound only to her biological functions but also to her perceptions of the world and of herself as an emotional being. The psychoanalytic description of woman falls short, though, in that it is not one of woman as herself but, instead, a description of woman which mirrors its description of man. “He [Freud] declines,” Beauvoir states, “to regard the feminine libido as having its own original nature, and therefore it will necessarily seem to him like a complex deviation from the human [read male] libido in general (39).” Woman defines herself not as subject meeting the world but in relation to the sovereign subject immediately as Other. The Oedipus complex advances the idea that the boy defines himself in relation to his desire for his mother. He both fears and identifies with his father through this desire, and in doing so is able to define himself as a subject. The Electra complex, an inversion of this idea based still on the idea of a masculine libido, posits that the young girl’s desire shifts from mother to father. Her identity as a sexual being is bound up in this shift and manifests itself always as a desire to be dominated. So we find that while the ideas of body in the world are useful, psychoanalysis neglects to define woman as herself and as a subject.

The project of historical materialism presents for us a world in which the proletariat, the downtrodden masses, finds within its history the possibility for its own salvation. Only parallel to this greater drama is the manifestation of woman as subject able to unfold. Beauvoir elaborates that “the fate of woman and that of socialism are intimately bound up together” within the framework provided by Engels and others (55). Woman, like the proletariat, was bound to otherness by the advent of private property. Man seeks alienation, to see himself in something other than himself. In this quest he discovers himself in ownership of property, as the master of land, of slaves, of woman. Woman cannot, by virtue of her biology, carry the weight of man. She is not strong enough to wield his tools, the tools of subjugation. It is in light of this that she can only transcend her otherness through the realization of the socialist economy. As part of the force of production, as one of the many workers, she can come into her own being. But this ignores that woman is woman. Historical materialism focuses on the productive force of woman but ignores the reproductive force. When it must be reaffirmed, it is done so not as a project of woman, but forcefully by law and mores as in the Soviet Union’s paternalistic laws requiring femininity, banning abortion, birth control and divorce, and firming up the institution of marriage. The project of historical materialism provides us with a more concrete idea of the project of becoming. The existential framework of transcendence is devoloping, but woman is still not examined as such.

Looking back toward biology through the layered lenses of psychoanalysis and historical materialism, we can begin to recognize woman as the biological female who is transcendent in nature, capable of self definition, and in need of a means by which to realize transcendence and self definition. Woman is in need of economic freedom as pointed out by Engels’ project, of a means of self definition all her own not tied to man’s as Beauvoir’s critique of psychoanalysis elucidated, and in need of means of breaking free from her subjugation by the species. All three of these needs, it seems, are intricately intertwined within economics, politics, and science and technology. Woman is not confined by her femaleness, for it takes on meaning “only in light of the ends man proposes, the instruments he has available, and the laws he establishes (Beauvoir 34).” These needs constitute a project, a portion of the project of feminism, a project that can come and is coming to fruition today.

In the scope of changing laws, in economics, and in technology we have already seen great advancements for woman now defined as an equal in the eyes of the government from suffrage to employment law and beyond. She has entered the workforce with full force and taken up projects beside man. She has begun to break the economic grips of man on her autonomy. Woman has also begun breaking the grip of the species through advancements in birth control (now capable of allowing a woman even to forgo her period for a time) and women’s health in general.

So we see that there are hurdles being overcome in laws and in instruments that have allowed woman greater degrees of autonomy from both man and the species, yet she has still not been defined as herself and as a subject. Woman still is, at this time, defined and self-defined often in relation to the species and to man. One area where the project beginning to take shape in this early section of the text has not advanced is in a redefinition of “the ends man proposes.” It is in redefining these ends and taking equality and similarity over differentiation, social good over personal gain, accumulation in the public trust over personal wealth, humility over strength, and compassion over power that we can continue to further this project. By creating a living situation in which man and woman take equal responsibility for child care, care of the home, economic well being, and care of each other as well as a society which is willing to forgo miniscule losses in production and wealth for the good of its citizens woman can take another step toward defining herself as the One. She can stand face to face with man each One the others Other but on common and equal ground.

06 September 2007

Reading Beauvoir

We’re reading, in my Feminist Theory class, The Second Sex as our first text of the semester. Last night we discussed the Intro, the Independent Woman, and the Conclusion of the text. One paragraph elicited some heated discussion, and I want to take a bit of time to try to work through some of my thoughts on the following from page 712:

Woman is in any case deprived of the lessons of violence by her nature: I have shown how her muscular weakness disposes her to passivity. When a boy settles a dispute with his fists, he feels that he is capable of taking care of himself; at the least, the young girl should in compensation be permitted to know how it feels to take the initiative in sport and adventure, to taste the pride of obstacles overcome. But not at all. She may feel herself alone in the midst of the world, but she never stands up before it, unique and sovereign.

What we have here, at face value, is Beauvoir providing another example of how her situation prevents woman from transcending, from realizing herself wholly as Subject. In the final sentence she says woman “can feel herself alone” as an individual in the world. She can feel herself unique, but she cannot feel that she can take charge, that she can project herself onto the world, that she can change the current state of reality; she feels herself incapable of boldly standing up to the world as sovereign Subject. Beauvoir implies that woman’s lack of “lessons of violence” contributes to this position in relation to the world. She has not felt that she can “take care of” herself, and for that reason, she does not.

What’s interesting here is that throughout the Independent Woman Beauvoir is making the case that woman simply playing man is not sufficient, is not transcendence. Woman must succeed on her own terms and in her own right. She provides phenomenologies of women imitating man, but falling short or remaining unfulfilled. She is constantly aware that physical differences in the sexes do exist, and that this in itself is not a hindrance and to acknowledge it not a wrong. In this paragraph, however, the patriarchal value of violence seems to prevail. Why is it that Beauvoir neglects to tear down, here, the lofty place of physical force in our collective weltbild? She seems here to simply accept that physical force (be it in the form of violence, sport, adventure, etc) is in some way necessary to the realization of oneself as the One, and not that this is just another construct of the masculine weltbild of which we are heirs.

One could argue that physical force is such a thing; that it is a necessity in this realization because it is such a tangible and accessible representation of ones ability to transcend. If you can move the impediment from your path with physical force you can at once witness your ability to affect reality; you can at once realize your sovereignty.

I think that there is something much more subtle going on here, though. The distinction between masculine violence as the “boy settles a dispute with his fists” and the girl who “takes initiative in sport and adventure” is purposeful. This distinction is not solely in place to say that this might be what society would allow at this given point in time given the situation that woman finds herself in, for if that were the case then what would be the point of the entire text, the entire project? Beauvoir constantly pushes that line, why would she hold back here. I think the distinction is a subtle reminder, actually, of what I said earlier…that the author recognizes the real differences that exist and that woman, once again, must, even in physical force, find her own way and not the masculine way. Woman must learn from the outset to use the body she has to overcome physical obstacles, and in doing so the young girl, as the young boy using his fists, can feel herself to be in control, capable of affecting reality. She can feel herself “unique AND sovereign.”