Gender Studies II
EN2012 – Winter 2011 – Terry Goldie
Reading – ‘One is Not Born a Woman’ By Monique Wittig – Jan 31
- A materialist feminist approach to women’s oppression destroys the idea that
women are a ‘natural group’: ‘a racial group of a special kind, a group perceived
as natural, a group of men considered as materially specific in their bodies.’
- By its very existence, lesbian society destroys the artificial (social) fact that
constituting women as a ‘natural group’.
- A lesbian society pragmatically reveals that the division from men of which
women have been the object is a political one and shows that we have been
ideologically rebuilt into a ‘natural group’.
- We have been compelled in our bodies and in our minds to correspond, feature
by feature, with the idea of nature that has been established for us.
- Distorted to such an extent that our deformed body is what they call ‘natural’,
what is supposed to exist as such before oppression.
- Distorted to such an extent that in the end oppression seems to be a
consequence of this ‘nature’ within ourselves (a natural which is only an idea).
- Not only is there no natural group ‘women’ (we lesbians are living proof of it) but
as individuals as well we question ‘woman’, which for us, as for Simone de
Beauvoir, is only a myth.
- ‘One is not both, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or
economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it
is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male
and eunuch, which is described as feminine.’
- Most of the feminist and lesbian-feminists in America and elsewhere still believe
that the basis of women’s oppression is biological as well as historical.
- The belief in mother right and in a ‘prehistory’ when women created civilization
(because of a biological predisposition) which the coarse and brutal men hunted
(because of a biological predisposition) is symmetrical with the biologizing
interpretation of history produced up to now by the class of men.
- This could never constitute a lesbian approach to women’s oppression, since it
assumes that the basis of society or the beginning of society lies in
- Matriarchy is no less heterosexual than patriarchy: it is only the sex of the
oppressor that changes.
- Not only is this conception still imprisoned in the categories of sex (woman and
man) but it holds onto the idea that the capacity to give birth (biology) is what
defines a woman.
- Although practical facts and ways of living contradict this theory in lesbian
society, there are lesbians who affirm that women and men are different species
or races (the words are used interchangeably): men are biologically inferior to
women; male violence is a biological inevitability…’
- By admitting that there is a ‘natural division between women and men, we
naturalize history, we assume that ‘men’ and ‘women’ have always existed and
will always exist. - Consequently we naturalize the social phenomena which express our
oppression, making change impossible.
- A materialist approach shows that what we take for the cause of origin of
oppression is in fact only the mark imposed by the oppressor: the ‘myth of
women,’ plus its material effects and manifestations in the appropriated
consciousness and bodies of women.
- This mark does not predate oppression: Colette Guillaumin has shown that
before the socioeconomic reality of black slavery, the concept of race did not
exist, at least not in its modern meaning, since it was applied to the lineage of
- Now, race, exactly like sex, is taken as an ‘immediate given’, a ‘sensible given,’
‘physical features’, belonging to a natural order.
- What we believe to be a physical and direct perception is only a sophisticated
and mythic construction, an ‘imaginary formation,’ which reinterprets physical
features (in themselves as neutral as any others by marked by the social system)
through the network of relationships in which they are perceived.
- Lesbians should always remember and acknowledge how ‘unnatural’,
compelling, totally oppressive, and destructive being ‘woman’ was for us in the
old days before the women’s liberation movement.
- Who resisted it was accused of not being ‘real women’.
- The avowal by the oppressor that ‘woman’ is not something that goes without
saying, since to be one, one has to be a ‘real’ one.
- Accused of wanting to be men.
- Today this double accusation has been taken up again with enthusiasm in the
context of the women’s liberation movement by some feminists and also, alas, by
some lesbians whose political goal seems somehow to be becoming more and
- For a woman, wanting to become a man proves that she has escaped her initial
- But even if she would like to, with all her strength, she cannot become a man.
- One feature of lesbian oppression consists precisely of making women out of
reach for us, since women belong to men.
- Thus a lesbian has to be something else, a not-woman, a not-man, a product of
society, nut a product of nature, for there is no nature in society.
- The refusal to become (or to maintain) heterosexual always meant to refuse to
become a man or a woman, consciously or not.
- For a lesbian this goes further than the refusal of the role ‘woman’.
- It is the refusal of the economic, ideological, and political power of a man.
- As Andrea Dworkin emphasizes, many lesbians recently ‘have increasingly tried
to transform the very ideology that has enslaved us into a dynamic, religious,
psychologically compelling celebration of female biological potential.’
- Some avenues of the feminist and lesbian movement lead us back to the myth of
women which was created by men especially for us, and with it we sink back into
a natural group. - Simone de Beauvoir underlined particularly the false consciousness which
consists of selecting among the features of the myth (that women are different
from men) those which look good and using them as a definition for women.
- The concept of ‘woman is wonderful’ accomplishes is that it retains for defining
women the best features (best according to whom?) which oppression has
granted us, and it does not radically question the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’
which are political categories and not natural givens.
- It puts us in a position of fighting within the class ‘women’ for the defense of
‘woman’ and its reinforcement.
- It leads us to develop with complacency ‘new’ theories about our specificity: thus,
we call our passivity ‘nonviolence’, when the main and emergent point of us is to
fight our passivity (our fear, rather, a justified one).
- Feminist is formed with the word ‘femme’ and ‘woman’ and means: someone who
fights for women.
- For many of us it means someone who fights for women.
- For many of us it means someone who fights for women as a class and for the
disappearance of this class.
- For many others it means someone who fights for woman and her defense – for
the myth, then, and its reinforcement.
- We choose to call ourselves ‘feminists’ then year ago, not in order to support or
reinforce the myth of woman, nor to identify ourselves with the oppressor’s
definition of us, but rather to affirm that our movement had a history and to
emphasize the political link with the old feminist movement.
- Feminism in the last century could never resolve its contradictions on the subject
of nature/culture, woman/society.
- Women s