Monthly Archives: May 2011

“The Other”

I am sitting here now contemplating the great and controversial figure of Simone de Beauvoir. If we all had the time and energy to read The Second Sex I believe women would be altogether more evolved, empowered and emancipated. I was reading  from the great oeuvre today and am compelled to share parts of it with you all now.

She draws on Aristotle’s quote that “the female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities”, that “we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness”. She also brings in St Thomas’ statement that woman is to be considered an “imperfect man”, an “incidental being”. De Beauvoir goes on to say:

“Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being. Michelet writes: “Woman, the relative being…” And Benda is most positive in his Rapport d’Uriel: “The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself… Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man.” And she is simply what man decrees; thus she is called “the sex”, by which is meant that she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex – absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he 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. “

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Interviews with Emancipated Women

I was captivated by the flash of colourful strength in her eyes, the giving, joyful smile, the long, expressive hair, at once vibrant and defiant, the luminescent complexion, and most of all the power emanating from her when she walks – her hips! A body in liberation. No coy, shy, rehearsed submission – eyes down, small and helpless – oh no! In place of that a real spirit, a vigour, something new and hitherto unseen! No sign of immitation, of adhering to the magazine codes and dressing up rules, rather a creative individual who looks truly feminine to me. I was compelled to communicate to this wordly goddess and ask how it is she manages to embody her own power like this.

 

Una is an artist who currently works in an office as a finance specialist. She will soon leave her job in order to pursue a career on the international stage.

Laurenne: When do you feel powerful?

Una: When I come off the stage. At these moments I feel full of everything, as though I am at my greatest. I feel as though I am shining and I glow with satisfaction. I feel very happy and very powerful. Before I go out onto the stage I feel physically weak. It is the conquering of the fear and the exposure of all my emotions before the audience that brings me to the experience of my own power. I have been completely true to myself and what I feel in front of an audience of people, and I have tried not to care about judgement.

Laurenne: What do you physically feel?

Una: I feel a boost of energy that needs to be released. I feel completely present in the moment and all my senses are heightened, I feel highly aware. At that moment any need I experience with regard to my desire to be fulfilled by a man has disappeared. I feel whole, and I feel part of the world.

Laurenne: Are there any instances in day-to-day life where you experience a similar state?

Una: When I am on my bike I feel a similar sensation of being at one with myself and not having excessive mental noise. Things seem to clear and I can witness myself. I think in general I am most powerful when I am not caring, when I press the f***-it button! When I cease worrying about acceptance. I feel most empowered when I am not seeking external validation and when I am relaxed in myself, just being at one with who I am and with the world.

Laurenne: Are you able to say no to a man?

Una: Yes, but every time I have it has meant the end of the relationship.

Laurenne: Do you feel power specifically as a woman, and if so where does it reside?

Una: I feel a lot of power in my hips. My hips and the area around my hips are the part of my body I truly appreciate. The men I have been together with have also loved this part of my body, I really feel my femininity resides there. I feel very free and able to express myself when I move my hips and this is a big reason for my love of dance.

 Conclusion

From Una’s words it seems there is something about being creative that empowers her. When Una embraces the creative impulse and follows it through she achieves a sense of oneness with herself, moreover with the world. As women there is often a yearning for connection, for relationship, perhaps even a sense of isolation and a feeling of needing to merge into the other. Embracing the creative impulse provides a way of being at one with something greater than youself  through expressing yourself. You are alone, yet you are not alone.

We should be creating opportunities for the self, that deepest part of us, to experience itself i.e. finding a space in which we can express our own freedom. In this way we will be able to explore the mystery and magnificence of who we are.

If we find ourselves feeling incomplete or alone, isolated or dissatisfied this is the beginning of the process. This can be a platform, a launching pad to throw ourselves into throw ouselves wholeheartedly into something that takes us out of ourselves. This dissatisfaction is often the voice of something that is an impetus towards wanting to evolve/ wanting to be liberated/ wanting to engage more deeply with life.

There will be clues in your life right now as to how that can manifest in your life. Just start by asking yourselves where you feel specially fulfilled in your own life, where you feel your power resides and where you feel connected to something that lies beyond your own epxerience. When you experience this feeling of wholeness that Una feels post performance and when she is on her bike it is possible to come into an awareness that alienation is an illusion.

Thank you ladies,

Laurenne 

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A poem to embody

 

PHENOMENAL WOMAN
by Maya Angelou

 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

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Love is a creative essence. Love is divine. Love is active. Love is feminine.

The concept of femininity

 The Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann represents the German voice in the quest for answers to questions about feminine identity and the feminine voice amid what both she and Luce Irigaray, her French contemporary[1], see as a dominant male discourse. Through an analysis of the interplay between their distinct discourses, it is possible to tease out a precise definition of the feminine essence.

 Bachmann rigorously challenges the idea of a precise and absolute definition or expression of the essence of the self. In this context, she dissects the concept of a literary self and traces its authenticity as a reflection of a true essence of the self; she considers the validity of a literary or perhaps artificial expression of an author’s “true” self by analysing the correlation between a true self and a literary expression of this self. Bachmann springs from this pool of questions to a more particular reflection on femininity, and thereby raises critical questions concerning the essence and the expression of the feminine self. She reflects on how this particular self may find expression in a world perceived as dominantly patriarchal.

 Ingeborg Bachmann’s discussion of the self as manifested in poetry, and of the relationship between the actual essence of the self and its literary representation, is to be found in her lecture entitled ‘Das schreibende Ich[2]’. (The writing Self)

 Bachmann begins by questioning to what extent the self, “Ich” (Self), is a direct and true representation of the author’s essence “ohne Verstellung[3]” (without displacement), and concludes that a literary manifestation of this “ich” (self), is not necessarily a direct expression of the nature of the creator of a text. She refers to “die Interferenzen zwischen Autor und ich[4]” (the interferences between the author and the self), which are sometimes present, and states that on the other hand with some authors, there is no “Trennungsstrich[5]” (hyphen) between the author and “das schreibende Ich” (the writing Self). By illustrating the problematic, multifaceted nature of interpretation of the literary representation of the self, Bachmann reveals the multiplicity of the voices and hence the differentiated authority inherent in this self: “meine ich, dass es da viele Ich gibt und über Ich keine Einigung—als sollte es keine Einigung geben über den Menschen, sondern nur immer neue Entwürfe[6].” (I believe, there are many selves and no unification – therefore, there should be unification amongst humans, in place of that there should always be new designs)

 Bachmann highlights the significance of the assertion of this self in the process of human development. She perceives words, and literary or poetic assertion, to be paramount in the growth and progression of human evolution, particularly in the definition and affirmation of the self. She describes speaking in paradoxical terms as: “ein Schritt zum Schweigen, zum Ende des Wahns, des Wahns, sprechen zu müssen und es nicht zu können[7].” (a step towards silence, towards the end of the delusion, the delusion that we have to speak and cannot speak)

 In order to move forwards, one must assert the voice. She sees assertion as instrumental to humanity. Transposing this network of ideas onto the gender debate, Bachmann hints that the masculine essence is dominant, as it has asserted itself in the public domain. In contradistinction to this, the feminine essence is in effect non-existent, as it has been ignored and subdued to the gain of the vocal masculine. According to Bachmann’s discourse, in order for the feminine to be defined and hence in order to the feminine to come into being, she must be given the microphone: she must be represented and allowed to assert and articulate herself.

 She quotes Beckett’s Mahood in intimating the necessity and the ultimate authority of words, as well as their power to define and, moreover, to create: “man muss Worte sagen, solange es welche gibt, man muss sie sagen, bis sie mich finden, bis sie mir sagen[8].” (one has to speak words, as long as there are words, one has to speak them, until they find me, until they speak me)

 Throughout her writing, she demonstrates the ultimate authority of the “Ich”, which, although described as a fragile concept, is shown to be essential in any attempt to pinpoint, and more importantly to shape identity: “Es ist das Wunder des Ichs, dass es, wo immer es spricht, lebt; es kann nicht sterben[9]…” (It is the miracle of the Self that it lives, wherever it speaks, it cannot die)

 and equally:

 “Und wenn keiner ihm glaubt, und wenn es sich selbst nicht glaubt, man muss ihm glauben, es muss sich glauben, sowie es einsetzt, sowie es zu Wort kommt[10]…” (And when noone believes in the Self, and when it doesn’t believe in itself, one has to believe in it, it has to believe in itself, as it asserts itself, as it comes to speech)

 In relating these thoughts to the feminine discourse, we deduce that, for Bachmann, in order for women to be able to discover their essence, to tap into their true feminine potential, this feminine must assert herself: her essence must be represented and authorised. The way in which this may come about is through literary representations of the feminine self, which will then attain true autonomy and creativity.

 The literary assertion of the self is closely bound up with the idea of creating a self, or controlling such a self. Bachmann asserts: “Ich spreche, also ich bin[11].” (I speak, therefore I am)

 The assumption here is that the more the feminine is articulated, the more autonomy she will acquire. In order to achieve emancipation, the feminine must speak out. Vocalising her nature is seen as the first stage in assuming control over it, the first stage in creating or determining its existence. By asserting or by performing the feminine, an idea of the feminine is produced, and subsequently, something of the feminine is born, or created. According to Bachmann, this will bring about a feminisation of the human “Ich” (Self), which is perceived by Bachmann to be the “Platzhalter der menschlichen Stimme[12]”. (the placeholder of the human voice)


[1] The period in question is the early 1970s.

[2] Bachmann, Frankfurter Vorlesungen.

[3] Bachmann, ‘Das schreibende Ich’, 219.

[4] Ibid., 220.

[5] Ibid., 210.

[6] Ibid., 219.

[7] Ibid., 235.

[8] Ibid., 236.

[9] Ibid., 237.

[10] Ibid., 237.

[11] Ibid., 235.

[12] Ibid., 238.

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