Feminine Writing- Feminine Communication
13 December 2011
French feminists Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray call for the strategy of “ecriture feminine” to, instead of speak the same language and reproduce the same history, evoke a change in the understanding of female bodies, desires, and subjectivities. This method emphasizes the use of a feminine form of language through emphasizing both fluidity and disruption of language to call readers to action. It also seeks to express feminine content, revealing the subjective experiences of individuals united by their womanhood. In this sense, an ecriture feminine could be oversimplified and overgeneralized because of its basis on essentialism. In spite of these limitations, however, the ecriture feminine Cixous and Irigaray call for would have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the female because of its epistemology, focus on the literal and figurative fluidity of the body to threaten boundaries, and acknowledgment of the subjectivity of the body and thus of experience.
A main limitation of ecriture feminine is that it is based on a sense of essentiality of women. By assuming all women are the same, it inhibits the scope of the possible expressions of female subjectivity. Irigaray overlooks this pitfall by calling for solidarity among all women: “One is never separable from the other” (Irigaray 72) and thus individuality should not be emphasized or strived for. This perspective is extremely counterproductive to the goals of the ecriture feminine movement; by assuming all women possess and desire to utilize the same language form and content, Irigaray marginalizes the very individuals she hopes to gain solidarity with. On the other hand, Cixous argues that there is no universal concept of “woman”, and thus no universal way of communicating “woman”. Thus, because there is “no general woman, no one typical woman… [we] can’t talk about a female sexuality, homogenous, classifiable into codes” (Cixous 876). In spite of denying this essentiality that ecriture feminine assumes, Cixous desires communication, solidarity, unity, and community between women, regardless of their differences in subjectivity. This implies that to Cixous, identifying as a woman is enough of a reason to unite because “woman for woman- there always remains in woman that force that produces/is produce by the other…woman” (Cixous 881). This potential for production thus warrants unity between women, even if there is no universality among them.
Instead of jumping to conclusions about essentiality of women, ecriture feminine has the possibility of exposing the subjectivity of each individual woman’s experience through focus on the body itself. Language is thus epistemic in that it allows us to know of our subjectivity: “Time to liberate the New Woman from the Old by coming to know her” (Cixous 878). The body is the site of physical manifestations of experience- it is the site of doing and thus the site for potential change. Irigaray argues this by acknowledging “if we don’t invent a language, if we don’t find our body’s language, its gestures will be too few to accompany our story” (Irigaray 877). The subjectivity of each individual’s experience is too rich to be limited to any pre-existing language- especially language which is male-dominated. Cixous elaborates on this point by claiming that because of the male-orientation of language, “woman must write woman. And man, man” (Irigaray 877). Writing is an action inspired by thought, and the body informs the experiences the mind perceives and processes. Thus, writing has the potential to acknowledge the female body as a manifestation of the understanding of embodied experience.
In addition to manifesting the subjective lived experiences in each individual’s life, language has the capacity to express the subjective fantasies individuals desire- regardless of if they are based in an embodied reality or not. Lila in Lila dit ca demonstrates this by using sexualized language to control the projections of the male subjects onto her as an object. As an object of male desire, Lila uses language to take a universally accepted idea of what is sexy for a woman and applies it to her own subjective expression of sexuality. She draws upon ideas from pornography, assuming that what her male peers want from her is the glamorized version of sex they see in porn: threesomes, voyeurism, and lots of blowjobs. Her expressions of sex are also based on the romanticization of sex with “other”, sex overseas, and sex with foreigners; she fabricates stories of travels to America to appeal experienced not only sexually but ethnically and culturally as well. In this case, language emphasizes subjectivity of mental experience and not just realized or physical experience- which contributes to its potential for stimulating change. Lila’s fantasies themselves are based in essentiality, but the fact that she subjectively communicates these fantasies through language allows her to reach a status of subjecthood. Expressing her objectivity with sexualized language affords her the subjectivity- and thus the power- of an otherwise male subject character.
The outcome of Lila’s subjectified expression of her sexualized fantasies is the provocation of severe discomfort for her male counterparts. She epitomizes the very potential that language has to challenge the male/female subject/object relationship by making the male reader and male gaze uncomfortable. Cixous draws upon this potential by explaining that men “…don’t like true texts of women- female-sexed texts. That kind of scares them” (Cixous 877). It is because of this fear that men are provoked into responding and thus changing the context from which the ecriture feminine occurred. In regards to this, Irigaray explains “their strategy- deliberate or not- is to make us guilty” (Irigaray 74). Guilt is supposed to oppress, but by not accepting this guilt women can use the discomfort of men to their advantage: they can use it as leverage against them the way Lila in Lila dit ca uses the discomfort her male counterpart feels because of her sexualized language expression to force him to keep his distance from her. Lila knows that he is intimidated by her ability to embody her objecthood as a woman with such conviction, and the respect this uncomfortable intimidation yields makes her powerful. She resists objecthood by redefining it- and she redefines what it means to be an object by talking about her objectivity. Objects don’t have the authority- and thus the capacity- to speak. However, Lila’s act of utilizing language through sexualized speech is powerful because it validates her power to undermine male authority of the use and exchange of language.
In focusing on change, and on focusing on the subjective female body as a site of perpetual change, ecriture feminine is charged with potential to revolutionize the roles and portrayal of women in society. Fluidity of form as a style of writing, in conjunction with the strategic positioning of disruptive syntax, serves as a call to action through the threatening of boundaries: gender role boundaries, power relations, and the dynamics in language-based communication. Fluidity of content, the emphasis on female bodily fluids as a source of provocation, uses the female body as a site of power for women and discomfort for men. These elements of women’s writing not only challenge the male perspective by making it uncomfortable, but also call women to action as a class of individuals by focusing on the body as the site for and source of that action. Thus, ecriture feminine is most valuable because demonstrates the potential to use language to reveal that because it is a limited and male-oriented framework, language itself isn’t enough to revolutionize our understanding of female bodies, desires, and subjectivities. Rather, the communication of language, text-based and otherwise, has the potential to really provoke our thinking to inspire action- the real change French feminists call for.
Irigaray, Luce. “When Our Lips Speak Together.” This Sex Which Is Not One. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985. Print.
Lila Dit Ca. Dir. Ziad Doueiri. DVD.
Cixous, Helene, et. Al. “The Laughter of the Medusa.” Signs, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 875-893. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1976. Print.