Have you ever had to write an annotated bibliography? I have, once, and I hated it! Well, guess what I get to do for the Studies in Women’s Writing course I am taking this semester. You guessed it: an annotated bibliography! This assignment requires that I read and analyze a minimum of ten scholarly secondary sources on the subject of “women’s writing.” The annotated bib will be almost as long as my final paper!
After all these years of blogging, it seems like a waste of time to me to put so much effort into writing something that will result in nothing more than a grade. As with much of my other school writing, I am adapting this assignment to generate content for my blog. Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my individual annotated bibliography entries as blog posts.
So, without further ado, I present to you the very first entry in my annotated bibliography!
Amazons and Mothers? Monique Wittig, Helène Cixous and Theories of Women’s Writing
Griffin Crowder, Diane. “Amazons and Mothers? Monique Wittig, Helène Cixous and Theories of Women’s Writing.” Contemporary Literature L’Écriture Féminine 24.2 (1983): 117-44. JSTOR. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
This article explores the modern feminist notion that the oppression of women is a changeable social construct that does not depend on the fact that women are born with the potential to bear children. The article discusses the women’s writing theories of French feminists Monique Wittig and Helene Cixous. While “Cixous views motherhood as a primary trait of women” (132), Wittig views the tendency of women to identify primarily with the role of mother as oppressive.
Monique Wittig eliminates male culture from her text, Lesbian Peoples, in response to the elimination of female culture from the historically male-dominated discourse of mankind. According to Wittig, “woman” is a label of caste or political class rather than a state of being that is determined by biology. A child who is born with a female reproductive system is not born a “woman” but is only designated as such by society. Wittig would like to eradicate the man/woman dichotomy in order to stop automatically placing humans born with female parts in a lower social caste. As such, she does not believe in using the term, “women’s writing.”
In contrast, Cixous’ writing is dominated by “the vocabulary of motherhood.” She theorizes that the male-dominated culture’s repression of motherhood and pregnancy is what oppresses women. According to Griffin Crowder, “Cixous also says it is the maternal body that is the source of “woman’s writing”: “woman is always in a certain sense ‘mother’ for herself and for the other”” (137).
The texts analyzed within this article are a response to the “silence of women” (128) throughout the history of literature. Women’s bodies are typically described using the language of men via man-made metaphors, fragmentation of the body, and designations of various parts of the body as being regarded as either desirable or not desirable to men. Wittig argues against the embodiment of “women,” advocates for the reconstruction of a total female body, and posits that every part of the body should be treated as part of a desirable whole. Wittig’s writing is considered subversive because she views the family as an oppressive unit that should be eliminated. Wittig also attempts “to rewrite the myths of our culture in the female voice” (130).
Cixous appears to contradict her own dedication to the role of women as primarily mothers. According to her theory, “women’s writing” may be practiced only by a “feminine” person in a “non-power” (138) position, regardless of biological stature. I.e., a homosexual male, taking on a non-power role within a relationship might be said to practice women’s writing, while a lesbian female taking on a position of power within a relationship may not assume to engage in women’s writing. For Cixous, the position of non-power is what makes a person a woman.
“The rapport between women and language within an androcentric culture is especially problematic in the works of Monique Wittig. While she feels it is imperative to write female experience in order to bring it to consciousness and so insert it into symbolic discourse, she aims ultimately to eliminate the very notion of “woman.” To create a “woman’s writing” or “woman’s language” would perpetuate the very duality “man/woman” which maintains women as an oppressed class. Writing as a function of a female subject’s relation to language must confront the structures of masculine culture, including the very structure that defines humans in terms of two castes – “men” and “women.” In so doing, “political writing” must create the means to express a new culture not founded upon sexual difference” (118).
This article was a difficult read that took me several days to digest. The author throws around a lot of literary jargon that I am still struggling to learn since I got my undergraduate degree in business rather than English!
I wish I could provide a direct link, but I was unable to find one. However, if you click through to the Ebsco website, there is a button at the bottom of the page that indicates that you can “Read the article courtesy of your local library.” (I obtained it through the library databases at my school.)