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Feminitude et feminisme

‘Féminitude et féminisme’

in Le Feminisme pour quoi faire? Les Cahiers du GRIP, n° 1, Brussels, Nov., 1973.

Resumé by PROSPECTIVE (rue Cattoir 16, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgique) no LIB/ 400/75; Groupe de Recherches et d’Informations Feministes, Brussels, Belgium.

The feminist movements which are sprouting up almost everywhere in the industrialized world pointedly express that women are becoming aware of their condition of dependence and are willing to organize themselves and act to change this situation. These movements which prefer to speak of woman’s « liberation » rather than her « advancement» constitute a social phenomenon whose importance and meaning are beginning to be studied. What does the word « feminism » encompass ?

I. WOMANHOOD AND FEMINISM.

Womanhood is the name given to the situation of dependence which all women know, whatever their race or social class. To be a feminist is to become aware of this common condition and, in that way, acquire the experience of « sisterhood ». « It asserts that the discrimination of which women are the target is not necessitated by nature, and in particular, by their biological nature, but is built upon and tied to specific social forces. It strives to change this situation so that women can take over their own existence in the way they choose. Inevitably it is the desire for another society ». By making possible and expressing a collective awareness, feminism is also laying the ground for a would-be liberating activity. What is at stake ?

II. THE FACTS AND THEIR INTERPRETATION.

1. FIRST, THERE ARE THE FACTS. The woman remains at a disadvantage whether in education or in employment. Her training, and even the university degrees she earns, guide her toward the professions which are the most crowded, the least considered, the least well paid, and also the least apt to influence public life. This discrimination is historically tied to the secular division of labor which leaves woman with the housework and grants her the major profession of being wife and mother. She is the one charged with the education of the children and the household duties which assure the comfort of the home and family. And the whole female subculture broadcast by the mass media, women’s magazines, advertising, and even the masterpieces of literature and cinema, give the ideal woman an image defined by submission, self-sacrifice, feeling, the desire to please, and the limitation of her interests to private life.

2. WHEN WE ATTEMPT TO INTERPRET these facts, we have to ask whether this subordination is « natural » or « cultural », created by a society dominated by male interests.

It is certain that the difference between the sexes has a biological aspect. The woman presents certain irreducible caracteristics «which appear 1) in lesser physical strength, and 2) in one irreplaceable function : child-bearing ». But this biological difference in no way justifies the subordinate roles that have fallen upon women today.

a. First of all, it is important to note that the sexual role and what is called sex (masculinity and femininity) are more tied to culture and education than to biology.

b. As for the physical inferiority of women, it could not justify the household duties which monopolize her time, nor her inferior position in public life: «all of human history is the history of progress in winning independence from biological conditions ; the more advanced the civilization, the less determinant the role of physical strength. Access to positions of responsibility is in no way conditioned by the latter».

c. Finally, in reproduction, physical necessity limits the woman to nine months of child-bearing and bringing the child into the world. In a society which is no longer subject to biological presuppositions, we do not see how child-bearing could prevent women from having access to social functions equal to those of men. Furthermore, nothing prohibits us from thinking that the child’s training - including infant care - cannot be equitably shared by the father and that the parents themselves cannot be partially relieved of this function by collective services.

III. THE ESSENTIAL CONDITIONS FOR LIBERATION.

1. CONTROL REPRODUCTION.

a. « Human maternity» is something other than a physiological process fatally tied to sexuality. It must be the result of choice, of a freely made decision. This choice which is necessary for liberating the woman, for integrating her into social life, and humanizing her maternal role, is possible today thanks to modern methods of birth control.

b. Controlling reproduction is not only in the woman’s interest but also coincides with world-wide interests. The survival of humanity no longer requires, as it once did, an indefinite reproduction of the species, but a rational populating of the earth instead.

c. In order for the woman to develop her personality by other ways than maternity, it is not enough to break the circle of reproduction. It is still necessary for:

1) fathers to share the responsibilities of educating the children they choose to have;

2) the collectivity to socialize to the utmost the tasks that are there by developing satisfying community organizations : nurseries, family assistance, meal services, and as many functions that the family, and therefore the woman, can be relieved of by society.

2. CONTROL PRODUCTION.

Is equality between men and women feminism’s last word? The question cannot be avoided in a society which subordinates all values to the imperatives of production and the economy. As GRIP has observed : « Women’s liberation does not consist of sending a mass of women into the factories, the offices or even the universities and parliaments to experience the same deplorable conditions of existence that a good number of men experience today. » « Women’s liberation consists of demanding working and living conditions that correspond to human demands and not those of production taken as an end in itself; in short, a radical break with the economism and idolatry of the P.N.B. We feel that the conditions for this transformation, at least in the West, are favorable. But we are not really convinced that the capitalist system, dominated as it is by the particular interests governing it, is apt to profit from these conditions. It is at this point, it seems, that the feminist demands encounter general revolutionary demands. » Women’s liberation does not only involve abolishing the sexual domination practiced at her expense and winning the fight for her biological independence ; it also requires an end to economic exploitation and, more widely, an end to economism, that unconditional concern to increase productivity, the dogma in whose name certain classes and certain races dominate others.

IV. AN OTHER SOCIETY

If the control of production and reproduction are the conditions for women’s liberation, the action leading to it carries with it the seeds of a new society. Founded upon recognition of the other, this new society would reduce the gap between rich countries and poor countries and would give equal opportunity to each person in each country. No longer centered around production alone, this society would favor the quality of life over the quantity of materials produced and consumed; it would allow for reducing mandatory working hours, and putting the values of enjoyment back into all of life, thus rediscovering the meaning of eros which an industrial society has reduced to hurried consumption and only to those practices associated with reproduction. If feminism speaks of liberation, it is because the official entrance of women into history and social life requires something other than small adjustments which leave the present system intact. It involves radical change and implies that the life of societies, the fate of peoples, no longer be in the hands of private groups whose activity is based on the profit motive and that national interests no longer outweigh world-wide concerns.

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