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Week 7-- Becoming Monsters

Anne Dalke's picture
As we return from fall break, we will be moving from our discussion with Susan Stryker, through the "response" of Sor Juana, to the "second sex" of Simone de Beauvoir. Each of these theorists wrote about, and against, the condition of being a monster. Stryker spoke the rage of the monster Frankenstein; Sor Juana wrote a poem about being the monster that is the extraordinary woman, the female genius; and de Beauvoir prophesies that women "will become monsters." So...

what are you learning, from each of these theorists, or from the intersection of their thinking, about the female/human condition of alterity and otherness? How is it made? How is it apprehended? How might it be (might it be?) transcended? (Here's one hint, from de Beauvoir: "the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself.")
hslavitt's picture

I was so impressed by

I was so impressed by Stryker's calm elegance and poise. What she said spoke to me not only on the level of my feminism, but on the level of being a thoughtful, decent humna being. In terms of identifying as monster, I was truly surprised by the gap between the essay she wrote, a truly rageful and harsh indictment of society, and the soft spoken, zen-like speaker. Has Stryker lost the position of power found in the othered role of monster or was that role left behind in favor of a position of harmony. Which is more powerful; the irate monstrosity or the flexible, articulate member of society?
tbarryfigu's picture

Class Summary: Tuesday, Week 7

Class begin with a few concerns focusing on our "rules of engagement." How are we connecting in class? How can we work on interacting so that no one feels silenced or incapable of speaking for fear they will be judged or offend someone else? No conclusions were made...but we're working on it. I say: "So what! Offend someone! At least then we'll be talking!"

The next order of business was as such: Susan Stryker is a hero! Some didn't feel "worthy of what she had to say," which transitioned well with our Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz reading of competance. We deviated from the a conversation of worthiness to one of catergorization. Some felt the urge to "box" Susan into a definable category and want to understand what is causing them to do so or to feel as such. We then toyed with some difficult questions: What does it mean to be intensely purposeful? How can you probe someone with questions when it seems to be no longer appropriate?

We learned we cannot say "that is not how i interpreted your life story" to the author of the life story...We settled on the question "how would you like me to see you?" and debated whether this too was an intensely purposeful question. What does being trandsgendered mean for a women's college? seemed to be the question reeling on everybody's mind for a few minutes.

We read Sor Juana's poem: "Romance Epistolar" and Anne and I decided that she was our hero. She was very widely read and couldn't stop thinking! Almost obsessed with the activity of learning! Gee what a gal! In short, Anne thinks of herself as Sor Juana reincarnated...hopefully, she too, will not go silent, or else we all will!

gail's picture

Simone, Sculpture Subject, and Object


Thank you, again, for letting us listen to your class.

This is a general response to yours of Simone de Beauvoir and SUBJECT AND OBJECT.


I just created ( in clay) a sculpture LOVERS.  I loved the swooping line and form, BUT…

After reading our introduction, I realized that I was making women the object.  She is being protected by the cape form.  The taller figure ( usually “read” man) is indeed the subject.

Lovers ObjectLovers Object

Lovers Object BackLovers Object Back


I did create a prior LOVERS in which the woman was Subject.  She was loving- embracing.  The male figure had no arms and was the object accepting the affection.

Lovers Woman SubjectLovers Woman Subject


Collectors wanted her to be “hugged back” so a strong woman turned into a duo.

Lovers PartnerLovers Partner


The last image is Marriage Dance.  I love the form and it is a best seller.  However….

The woman is definitely object.  When I created this same image for a same sex union, the object/subject- non equality was nauseatingly and immediately apparent.  The second figure had to be bent down into a more normal “dancing” position to seem like partners.

Traditional Marriage Dance- Woman ObjectTraditional Marriage Dance- Woman Object


In our culture, it seems, a common woman sculptural SUBJECT is mother or nurture.  

How do we break/ modify / espand this sculptural tradition?


Ann Dixon's picture

sculpture of teachers and students?

I am blown away (again) by your art, Gail. But lest I fall into the category of women who are silenced by the awe inspiring acts of others... here's a comment. Isn't the sculpture you did of the teachers and students treating woman as a subject?


Rhapsodica's picture

Thursday's Class Summary : Transcending and Othering

On Thursday, we began class with a little bit of coursekeeping. One of the main things we discussed was the idea of having alums "adopt" each of us and read our final papers, and then converse with us about our thoughts/ideas via email, Skype, etc. Some of us expressed that we liked the idea of feedback, while others thought we should be able to choose whether we want to participate or not, or thought it was a little bit of an overload to add one more untraditional component to the course. Ultimately, we resolved to wait and decide at a later date when we've had more time to think about it.

As we transitioned into our discussion of Simone de Beauvoir's Introduction to The Second Sex, Anne presented us with two images (one of a knife/letter opener/half a pair of scissors, and one of a woman) and asked us what we saw, and then encouraged us to figure out why we saw what we saw. In doing so, we were able to visualize and begin discussing Sartre's quote (this is only the first part of it): "If one considers an article of manufacture--as, for example, a book or a paper-knife--one sees that it has been made by an artisan who had a conception of cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say then of the paper-knife that its essence...precedes its existence..." In contrast, we were also presented with his idea that humans are existences that precede their essences... which led us into our discussion on the idea of transcendence.

We spent a lot of time just trying to define the word transcendence and exactly what it means in the context of de Beauvoir's Introduction. Basically, we defined it as the constant, unending task of exceeding what we are... as something that requires us to always be moving and questioning... as something that sounds exhausting.

While still keeping the idea of transcendence in mind, we began looking at the idea of othering. We talked about the ideas of Delphy and Ortner, and whether or not we agreed with the female = nature, male = culture distinction. Throughout our conversation, we looked to our own postings, to Anzaldua's quote about refusing the binary, and to the Hegelian master -> slave idea (like the master, male is defined as what it's not). Essentially, we found ourselves asking the question of whether it's ever possible to not create others, since we seem to always define ourselves in terms of what we are not.

Towards the end of class, we found ourselves back at the idea of how to define transcendence... without as much clarity as we may have hoped to find through discussion. We talked about the role of agency in transcendence, and how transcendence is a relative thing -- we cannot, for example, judge a woman who does not transcend the same way or to the same extent that we may be able if she does not have the choice or ability to do so.

We ended class with a few more of de Beauvoir's quotes, in which she says that the differences between the sexes are not as important as the fact that we are all humans, as well as that the contradictions that challenge us will never be resolved. At the very end of class, Tamarinda presented us with the idea that transcendence seems to mean "denying the dictionary and writing a new language."


Calderon's picture

Simone de Beauvoir

CalderonSimone de Beauvoir was a complicated reading for me.  I began to read the “Second Sex” and loved the quote “enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism, and perhaps should say no more about” I think this the only sentence I like about the entire reading I did on her. I know this is not a class of likes or dislikes, but I have to say I have a big problem with what she proposes. From what I understood she says that one meaning a women (maybe I am wrong in the term women) has to always keep changing and that this other individual that all women must keep changing to constantly, is something that should never stop because to stop is to conform to the limits that have been set for us by men and society.  What about the limits that we ourselves set for us? How is transcending define? For instance, if the way in which one transcends is to be stable and finally have a solid belief on something that seems suitable for her/him wouldn’t this be a valid transition? Also, I think that maybe and just maybe the ones NOW setting limits are we, women?
kwheeler's picture

Can we transcend otherness?

It seems to me that the only way to transcend this notion of otherness is for us all to be the same so there is no other.

The way I see it is that the problem lies in the fact that each of us see ourselves as selves in relation to others. But we as women (and other subjugated minority groups) are also conscious of the reality that we are others to someone else's self. Maybe if men, in particular white men (the seemingly only unoppressed group of people on earth), began to also see themselves as others and not as the One we can begin to work as transcending this oppressive duality.

I guess implied in this is the idea that for us to transcend the notion of the self versus the other we all have to embrace our identities as selves and others.

Rhapsodica's picture

As I read Simone de

As I read Simone de Beauvoir's Introduction to The Second Sex, I couldn't help but be reminded of Kauffman's statement about how she thought feminism was about justice rather than happiness. I feel like I end up relating everything to that statement, but I think that the notion of transcending "othering" goes along with it quite well.

Susan Stryker talks about reclaiming words as a way of gaining power from one's otherness; yet de Beauvoir seems to be saying that one cannot really gain power unless one is no longer the other. She states that "those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest." To me, that statement provides some insight into Kauffman's statement (which, up until now, I have somewhat disagreed with). If women find happiness in a system that still subjugates them, will progress cease to be made? Is happiness the same thing as complicity (I suppose I never really thought of it that way)... as submitting to the way things are? I like EMaciolek's idea that reclaiming one's status as the other is a way to gain power and transcend otherness... but I'm still not sure what to think.

So when asked how "otherness" might be transcended, I honestly have no idea. In some ways, such as how Stryker talks about reclaiming words, it seems that "otherness"can become a source of power; yet de Beauvoir seems to think that "happiness" in the sense of accepting one's status isn't a means of transcendence at all.

... blah. I feel very confused by all of this right now.

Pemwrez2009's picture

monstering the other, or maybe othering the monster

So, Stryker, Sor Juana and de Beauvoir, all talk about this notion of the monster. Stryker implies that the monster, in a sense, is what she has been reduced to as her body is not conventional--no trans-body is. Sor Juana, as someone who breaks free from convention as an increadible brilliant and self-reliant thinker is labeled as “the monster”. The idea of the “monster” reminded me a lot of what Spivak said about the “male” and “female” as separate entities. (I’m stealing this from my paper) Spivak complicates these notions of the male and the female. In fact, she problematizes the creation of any such dichotomy because it can create a space in which one group is being defined by another group. This often results in the subjugation of this group under another because one becomes recognized as “the norm” and the one group becomes “the other”. The concept of the “other” is like the concept of the “monster”. I feel like Spivak and de Beauvoir really intersect on this idea because they are both complicating the idea of gender, in a sense.
matos's picture


Something that comes up in each of the articles is how being made into a monster, the “other”, causes a loss of one’s own identity, or maybe more appropriately, a loss of control over one’s identity. And I think de Beauvoir really hits this point well when, in her conclusion, she states “woman could not be other than what she was made”. Which makes me think that these monsters, these marginalized people, even though they are outside of the “norm”, they are still controlled by it. How does a monster break from their constructed identity and take control of it?

Besides, that I really liked de Beauvoir, and I wasn’t expecting to. I usually wary of works that held in high regard in the “canon”. One of the things I enjoyed the most was that, that I can remember, this is the first thing we’ve read that tries to tackle the meaning of “feminity” or what it means to be a woman. It seems really appropriate considering part of the discussion held on Tuesday.

I also thought it was interesting that de Beauvoir ended the article with “brotherhood”, not sisterhood or even “humanhood”.

YJ's picture

The Relationship of the Female to the Male

As much as I don't necessarily agree with or feel much of a connection with what de Beauvoir is saying in "The Second Sex," her point in the Introduction that female is always defined in relation to male is a really important and interesting point. I believe a similar point was also made by another author we read, (or I'm confusing this with another class...)- that we as humans are always defined by the dominant (or percieved dominant) standard (whether that standard is the male, heterosexuality, being Caucasian, etc.), and that we cannot even concieve of ourselves as individuals without the existence of an "other." Thus, men needed and need to "other" women in order to define thier own identities as "males."

It reminded me very much of Susan Stryker's point that we will never be without "marks of gender" precisely because we need them psychologically. Who would we be if we had no "other" by which we could compare and contrast outselves with? What has been most interesting in reading all three authors is that they all point out this close relationship between the notion of "other" and "monster" that exists in people's minds. It seems that in order to be "othered" (or perhaps because of the very process of "othering") one must also be turned into a "monster" or percieved to have monstrous elements. Otherwise, than they're just as "normal" as you-in fact, they are you without this constructed notion of "otherness."

But in the case of females, de Beauvoir seems to believe that there is a clear difference between men and women, that there is something fundamentally differet about women. If that's true, then it almost seems to validate the historical process by which women have been "othered" because women are different than men. I suppose the larger issue is to "transcend" this process of "othering" altogether, which I'm not sure I can even concieve of. How would we self-identify then? What would be the mechanism by which we would "know" who and what we were?

Finally, it's so interesting too that this early feminism aspired to "become men" ( according to de Beauvoir, anyway) whereas modern feminism has moved far beyond that in embracing and even celebrating that women are not men and do not want to simply become men but remain females entitled to all the rights and privileges men have.

EMaciolek's picture

It seems the only

It seems the only conclusion to be drawn from all three theorists is that there will always be an other. The point is to own the otherness and make it work for you, rather than against you.

What Hegel says about the other not coming fully into existence unless it becomes a self first, and recognizes itself as an other to a different self, seems to be how all these monsters are created. If the self identifies something as an other, the other doesn't necasarily recognize that fact until the other itself says that is an other. Thus, what I feel it really comes down to is the biology that de Beauvoir brought up. Since women are biologically inferior we became the other to men, and we've been attempting to make ammends and become equal. But, as de Beauvoir also pointed out, its ingrained in our psyche that women are inferior to men, and it is difficult to overcome that.

I agree with the differentiation jrizzo points out between de Beauvoir and Stryker's take on "otherness," however I don't believe that reclaiming the other will make it impossible for people to see the "other" as human beings first. I feel that reclaiming the other will give the other power so that it becomes a self and will not be objectified like an other is. Typically an "other" is in the minority, and even if it remains in the minority, as long as it gains power/authority it will stop being an "other" and become a "self".

jrizzo's picture

I chose to focus on Simone

I chose to focus on Simone de Beauvoir for my main project this semester, in part because of all the writers we've become acquainted with, I feel that she is the one who quibbles least over the very specific, debatable goals and conditions of the feminist.  The Second Sex is remarkably thorough and detailed in its cataloguing of the various factors that have shaped the "feminine" as we know it, but de Beauvoir's argument is really very simple, and very relevant to feminism, no matter how one looks at it.  Woman is charged with the impossible task of being both human and woman, two roles which are entirely incompatible. 

I find there to be so much overlap between The Second Sex and Susan Stryker's discussion of monstrousness.  To be the "other," means to exist as an object.  An object can only occupy a state of being-in-itself, self-contained, limited, lacking in all creative desire for transcendence.  Since the "other" does not construct her own identity as the other, she relies upon the men, or the heteronormative culture to tell her who she is.  She is thus absolved from the responsibility of creating a meaningful life for herself, and doomed to live a meaningless one, at best achieving the state of being-for-others.

Where Simone de Beauvoir wished to break women out of the "other" category, Susan Stryker wants reclaim the "other," and make it something powerful.  I see the appeal of Stryker's vision, but I also recall a statement Alexander made during yesterday's class, regarding the transgendered individual's need to constantly preface their ideas or experiences with the reminder that they too are human beings.  This comment highlights the uphill battle, or the added handicap that is imposed on anyone who chooses to remain the other. I wonder how limited we human beings are in our ability to see the other as being-for-itself?