Simone de Beauvior “Myth and Reality”
In the chapter “Myth and Reality,” from The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvior utilizes the female literary character to emphasize the gender inequality that is its basis. De Beauvior’s thesis is grounded in the contradictory categorizations of female power that are a part of patriarchal control. Women are held to an unrealistic standard, one that negates their biology, and can as easily be used to praise as to condemn. In literature, the poetics of the female form, and their use in objectification, are inherently problematic and constrictive. De Beauvior seeks to reveal the subjugation hidden in commonplace references to female character, such as the mysterious woman and the many binary oppositions used to narrowly categorize the female.
De Beauvior uses immanence alongside transcendence to draw distinct lines between the material and the abstract. For de Beauvior, immanence refers to the bondage, or lack of attainable freedom, that is the female’s lot beneath the patriarchy’s hegemony. The footnote on page 1408 gives a clear definition according to de Beauvior’s context; however, the standard definitions of both immanence and transcendence lack the positive and negative connotations. They even have a positive metaphysical association with religious belief. These distinctions are important in regard to de Beauvior’s message of pervasive patriarchal control through language and commonly accepted beliefs that function as limiting strictures.
Autonomy is synonymous with self-determination, another term de Beauvior uses to posit female subjugation and its primary causes. In most writing that addresses some form of oppression, autonomy appears. The term’s simple definition is freedom or independence. In the beliefs of many, each being on Earth is deserving of autonomy in decision making, if not total freedom in every facet of existence. The term seems deceptively simple, yet no one is truly autonomous. This idea provides philosophical debate with ample room to explore and is one reason de Beauvior uses the concept as it applies to patriarchal rule.
The concept of the ‘Other’ provides a basis for feminism, post-colonialism, and other critical cultural and literary theories. Within the context of “Myth and Reality,” the female is the alienated object, lacking true subjectivity. Definitions of the ‘Other,’ note phenomenology and the ‘real’ aspect of otherness. These definitions refer to the idea of the ‘Self’ as it differs from the dominant social identity of the hegemonic norm. De Beauvior posits the female as the original ‘Other’ in human society.
“Evidently it is not reality that dictates to society or to individuals their choice between the two opposed basic categories; in every period, in each case, society and the individual decide in accordance with their needs. Very often they project into the myth adopted institutions and values to which they adhere. Thus the paternalism that claims woman for hearth and home defines her as sentiment, inwardness, immanence. In fact every existent is at once immanence and transcendence; when one offers the existent no aim, or prevents him from attaining any, or robs him of victory, then his transcendence falls vainly into the past—that is to say, falls back into immanence. This is the lot assigned to woman in the patriarchate; but it is in no way a vocation, any more than slavery is the vocation of the slave…To identify Woman with Altruism is to guarantee to man absolute rights in her devotion, it is to impose on women a categorical imperative.” (de Beuavior 1408).
The role patriarchal society assigns women is not an inherent part of their existence, as commonly accepted belief would promote. The roles and behaviors are the result of the system’s control and its placement of woman in the role either the saintly figure or failure. These duties are in fact forcing woman into constrictive categories that rob them of the autonomous pursuit of personal goals.
Question 1: Are there pervasive structures that de Beauvior writes of that are present today on the level of the personal relationship? How can these be, at least, understood if not shown for their role in the dominant patriarchal hegemony?
Question 2: When de Beauvior says “it is easier to submit to blind enslavement that to work for liberation: the dead, for that matter, are better adapted to the earth than are the living,” wha6t does she mean? In this statement, is de Beauvior claiming that dominance and submission are part of human existence that can never really be transcended?
Lisa Lowe “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics”
In “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics,” Lisa Lowe uses the Asian Immigrant and Asian American woman to emphasize the intersection of cultural criticisms that serve to illuminate the exploitation of the female immigrant. Lowe elaborates upon the ways with which capitalist, colonialist power subjugates the non-white, immigrant female work force, and how the “differentiation” of this labor demographic must be understood by those within it so as to use this difference and not be disempowered in not possessing a common subjectivity. Lowe refers to this missing common element as a “singular identity” (Lowe 43).
Racialization is a large part of Lowe’s analysis. Lowe argues that delineation by gender and race is capitalized upon by industry and manufacturing entities, and that this same differentiation is also used to disrupt any possible political ideal that could be adopted by this heterogeneous group. Lowe asserts that certain forms of work, along with certain pay structures, are associated with certain ethnic groups. This racialization, these people being categorized by race and, in turn, held within certain boundaries, is a construct that serves to exploit them and their labor while maintaining the status quo. Lowe states that “it is apparent that labor is gendered, sexuality is racialized, and race is class-associated” (Lowe 39).
Transnationalism is used in relation to the U.S. economy, and the move to outsource manufacturing in the effort to keep production costs low, while doing the same in the U.S. through the use of immigrant labor. Lowe states, “[w]omen migrate from countries of origin formerly colonized by the United States , or currently neocolonized by U.S. corporate capital, and come to labor here as racialized women of color” (40). Transnationalism, in this context, refers to the extended reach of U.S. industry and the exploitative practices that coexist with it.
Interstitial may be the most important term in relation to Lowe’s argument. As with transnationalism, the identity of a group of people, in this case the immigrant female blue-collar worker, is not limited to one geographic location or nation of origin. Class and ethnicity, non-white specifically, do come into play, and this is the crux of Lowe’s thesis. Without being aware of this interstitial nature of the female immigrant group, they may lose or not fully understand the potential for political power they possess.
“Since transnational capitalism does not work through the homogenization of the mode of production, but instead operates through and because of the differentiations of culturally, racially, and gender-specific forms and operations of work, its “class subjects” are not homogeneous” (45).
Capitalism benefits from the many different identities that exist within this group. Less chance exists of any politically representative power forming within one or among these groups. Due to no “singular narrative” of the group’s past exists, the likelihood of a singular narrative of their future is extremely slim (44). Without an identity as its center, the female immigrant work force, as well as those in other countries, will find no common relatable injustice to combat together.
Question 1: Does this need for a “restructuring of capital” indicate the inevitable unsustainability of Capitalism?
Question 2: Can the literature that Lowe refers to, the ““literary and “evidential” forms of narrative,” affect the groups that are their subjects? Can they educate the very women within their narratives, or only those in educated, liberal higher classes?
de Beauvior, Simone. The Second Sex. New York: Bantam, 1964. Print.
Lowe, Lisa. “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics.” Social Justice 25.3 n.d., Print.