To All "Feminists" Out There: [Please] Shhh!

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Sex and Gender

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To All "Feminists" Out There: [Please] Shhh!

Patricia Flaherty

I suggest a call for silence—a silencing of the cacophony that is too many quarreling women's voices. Simone de Beauvoir speaks of this need to "start fresh" and discard the quarrels since they are speaking about ideas that are useless to the fundamental steps toward independence for women. She says, "If we are to gain understanding, we must get out of these ruts; we must discard the vague notion of superiority, inferiority, equality which have hitherto corrupted every discussion of the subject and start afresh." (pp. 686) My quest for this new found "silence" connects me back to this idea of William Coleridge's "pleasure-dome" that I feel is an interesting idea in the realm of resisting the present discourse.

Similar to de Beauvoir, I want to discard the fighting against language, and rather utilize the language as an act of self-control. In my mind, "start afresh" is implemented through entering into this "pleasure-dome". Coleridge's lines, "Could I revive within me/ Her symphony and song,/To such a deep delight 'twould win me,/That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air,/That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !" (ln. 42-47) are playing with the notion of one's own ability to find that language and subsequently take it upon themselves to create this pleasure-dome. I think that using language to claim one's identity is similar to the ideas of de Beauvoir as well. She feels as though women can not define themselves without reference to men. She says, "Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man...She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not her with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other." (pp. 676) It is important that we free ourselves from these confines of relating ourselves to and against men, and rather focus on a way in which female identity can be formed in a new way—an entity free from the differentiation of men.

This breaking out of the confines of the relegated role of the "Other" for women is exactly what the "pleasure-dome" represents. It is a place where identity is formed from one's own accord. I think that the pleasure-dome that I speak of is created in Beauvoir's mind as well. She feels that if little girls were brought up with the same demands, severity, rewards as their brothers were, this damaging 'castration complex' would be modified. This modification of the castration process is a way of allowing for little girls to completely form their identity. The "pleasure-dome" idea is a resistance to the discourse because the discourse is imbued with notions of what women are supposed to be. Similar to this modification of the castration complex, the pleasure-dome allows for a creation of one's identity that is entirely of one's own accord. There is choice involved—women's choice as to how to claim herself. Simone feels that this modification of the castration complex would allow the girl to view the world as androgynous rather than masculine! She says that if this castration/Oedipal complex was modified, than the girl's love for her father would be, "tinged with a will to emulation and not a feeling of powerlessness; she would not be oriented toward passivity. Authorized to test her powers in work and sports, competing actively with boys, she should not find the absence of the penis...enough to give rise to an inferiority complex...she would not take her fate for granted; she would be interested in what she was doing, she would throw herself without reserve into undertakings." (pp. 699)
The link that I find extremely important is what I think needs to be realized is between individual pleasure and language. The present discourse prevents us from our own pleasure, and therefore there needs to be some sort of change. This blatant blocking of pleasure is demonstrated by Moraga in her essay "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind" as she struggles with being labeled as something in ways that are based on this assumed sisterhood—this assumption that womanhood equates some sort of common ground for everyone in that category. She does not want to be owned by the outside—even if it is other women. She says, "Do not call me 'sister.' I am not yours." (pp. 237) . Moraga is comfortable with only a personal declaration of one's own identity. That claiming of one's own identity is what I am speaking about with the pleasure-dome. If one is able to claim one's own identity through her own language, then she is able to control it.
Not only does Moraga resonate with my own ideology, but I feel as though there is a fundamental connection between Moraga with Simone de Beauvoir as well. Moraga says, "And our liberation won't happen by some man leading the way and parting the Red Sea for us. We are the Red Sea, we women." (pp. 232) which is very in line with Beauvoir's notion to "start afresh" and break free of the confines of being define solely in reference to men. Moraga speaks of women's "lack of definitive shade and shape" and I think that is fundamental for Beauvoir as well. Beauvoir begins with asking the question, "What is a woman?" as a means to exhibit that men would never feel the need to ask that question because men do not think of presenting themselves of a certain sex. For men, there has always been this understanding of what they are so much so that it is already a part of the discourse therefore an explication of such would just be redundant. Man inherently encompasses the positive as well as the neutral as indicated by the common use of the word "man" to designate human beings in general, and therefore relegates woman to the only spot open on the spectrum—the negative. That being said, Beauvoir feels that women rely on men to dictate their existence. She says that women lack concrete means for organizing themselves and, as a result, that they have been always been man's dependent. This non-identity that women have adopted in relation to men is referenced to by Moraga when she says, "...we speak in a wordless code to each other. We are without nationality in the deepest sense..." (pp. 234).

The intersections of Beauvoir and Moraga only help to strengthen this idea of the pleasure-dome. There seems to be this ambiguity as well as determined relegation for what women should be. The identity of women is this paradoxical idea: they are without any true identity since they are created in reference to men, but at the same time they are identified as being confined to this negative and very limited realm of human. Moraga and Beauvoir both suggest, however, this kind of re-claiming of one's identity which is what the pleasure-dome actually is. Moraga claims that she is brown and her brother is white because she said that they had to choose who they are. My fundamental stance about being a woman is that one needs to make a claim about her identity. The passivity with which has been assumed to be a part of womanhood can not affect our claiming. Moraga says, "I think this is why I have always hated the terms "biracial" and "bisexual". They are passive terms, without political bite. They don't choose. They don't make a decision. They are a declaration not of identity, but of biology, of sexual practice. They say nothing about where one really stands. (236) Beauvoir also speaks of this by saying that women need to break free of the confines of being defined in relation to men. Beauvoir's recipe for independence insofar as it exists in this world for women is "to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue none the less to exist for him also: mutually recognizing each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other." (704) According to Beauvoir, Woman needs to be her own definer and, by doing so, will exist both as a Subject as well as an Other.

Pleasure-domes do not exist, but couldn't they? I think that a factor that has made me trust less in this idea of the pleasure-dome is the current debate surrounding prostitution and pornography. A very specific facet of the political action regarding these issues is FACT: Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force. Members of FACT say, "Even pornography which is problematic for women can be experienced as affirming of women's desires and of women's equality....Pornography can be psychic assault—but for women, as for men, it can also be a source of erotic pleasure...A woman who enjoys pornography, even if that means enjoying a rape fantasy is, in a sense, a rebel." As for what this woman is actually rebelling, they say, " aspect of her sexuality that has been defined as a male preserve." In this way, women are claiming their identity as "feminist" and subsequently deriving this notion of feminist power by being defined by something that women have been forced to be defined by as a way to assert their freedom. What does that do for the overall ideology of feminism? If the pleasure-dome is built upon this utilization of the present discourse as a way of resisting the discourse, what happens to the dome when people are now utilizing the forced roles as a way of resisting being forced into those roles. Does the dome come crumbling down? I don't know.

Works Cited

de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. 1949; rpt. The Feminist Papers. 672-705.

MacKinnon, Catharine. Women's Lives: Men's Laws. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2005.

Moraga, Cherrie. "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind." Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity. Ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi. New York: Routledge, 1996. 230-239.

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