Social Injustice Social Issues

Feminism and anthropological change

Feminism caused an earthquake that changed the very organization of our world. Can you explain it to us?
The effects that feminist demands have had on our common life can never be appreciated too well. If equality between women and men is both the central point of conflict and the decisive success of feminism, the latter has gone much further in its effects, lastingly changing the conditions of living together. The crucial point is the questioning by second wave feminists (in the early 1970s) of the traditional division between a female private sphere and a male public sphere.By rejecting the hierarchy of roles, feminists have made the wall that separated the two spheres disappear and have inaugurated a new organization with three poles: the public-political one (power and State), the private-social one (world of work and civil society) and the intimate-emotional one (sentimental and family life).

What is absolutely new is that women and men possess the same legitimacy and have the same aspirations in each of these three poles. I’m not saying that this is always obvious and easy, but the fact remains that, on the level of principles, both are considered to have the same rights in these three areas of existence. This means that we have put an end to assigning women to private and subordinate roles. Claiming to be fully legitimated individuals in society, for all functions and at all levels, women have become “men like others”.

But, and this is a less easy point to grasp, we have also put an end to the exclusion of men from the sphere of intimate and family life. The latter are increasingly asking to participate, also aspiring to a better balance between private and professional life. To put it a little provocatively, I would say that men are becoming “women like any other”.

This is why I think we are experiencing a real anthropological change. The female condition is placed under the sign of duality: women are individuals by right, free and equal, but they also remain embodied and sexual subjects. Well, it so happens that this dual condition, abstract and concrete, is becoming the model for every condition. Men are also characterized by existential duality and it is women who show them the path, because they were the first to experiment with how to articulate the private and social dimensions in their lives. This is what I call gender convergence, that is, the advent of a generic human condition of which women are the model.

In our Western societies, this convergence of genders is already underway, with its positive and negative aspects. How can this anthropological revolution in the man-woman relationship lead to better relationships?
The convergence of genders must not be considered a leveling or disintegration of female and male conditions. In reverse. It indicates a mutual enrichment, through accumulation, of social roles and private aspirations. For a long time, women were only “private”, reduced to their domestic activities; today they are fully legitimized in the social sphere. This is undoubtedly a very positive progress, above all because it is the guarantee of women’s material independence. For their part, men today engage in the intimate sphere, after having only been “public”, they can aspire to the gratifications of family life. We must rejoice in this too. On the one hand because women no longer bear the burden of private commitments alone, on the other because this change indicates that personal fulfillment for men no longer occurs only in the professional field, but that they can now legitimately aspire to a private existence harmonious and rewarding.

We can therefore imagine a future world where both sexes take on the burdens and rewards of private and social life equally and serenely. But we must immediately add that this process must be placed under the sign of freedom. In other words, in my opinion there is no ideal model of existence: some individuals choose to dedicate themselves more to family life, others favor professional life. It doesn’t matter whether they are men or women, the important thing is to recognize their freedom of choice. A woman who stops working to dedicate herself to her children is no more criticizable than another who returns to work two weeks after giving birth or yet another who makes the choice not to have children. In other words, there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. This is precisely the incredible chance that we, Western women, have: that of choosing our destiny.

Today many women stifle their feminine nature. How and why?
Any Western woman today has to deal with a private life that is sometimes synonymous with motherhood and a very demanding social life. For some women, all this involves sacrifices in their intimate, marital and family life. In fact, it is not always easy to mediate between private and professional aspirations.

And above all because the age at which an individual is able to realize himself professionally is exactly the same age at which he should realize himself from a personal point of view. It is between the ages of thirty and forty that people move in as a couple and have children, projects that sometimes clash with the demands of the world of work. This creates sometimes very painful situations, women who wait too long for the “good moment” to become mothers and who never become mothers.

Advances in medical assistance for procreation have to do with this malaise that surrounds motherhood today. Since women have fewer children, since they generally choose the moment of their pregnancy, since they are offered increasingly sophisticated technologies, they come to think that wanting a child necessarily means having one. Well things are not that simple: often too late they discover that it is… too late! For my part, I am in favor of medically assisted procreation (excluding the issue of surrogate mothers which poses real ethical problems), but I observe, with regret, that it fuels the illusion of procreative omnipotence.

What happens today to the embodied dimension of female existence?
In its radical version, feminist thought has produced effects on the way we conceive the female condition today, to put it briefly, it has disembodied it. Gender studies, the materialist feminism inherited from the second wave and the tradition of republican egalitarianism have in common that they favor an abstract definition that makes women pure individuals of right. The contemporary female condition is defined in terms of equality and freedom, in a perspective that reduces the female body to nothing more than the site par excellence of male domination. This is why issues associated with female corporeality are too often considered vestiges of women’s submission to the patriarchal order.

I do not deny the sociological fruitfulness of the notion of gender. Gender studies allow us to highlight the mechanisms through which inequalities between women and men are perpetuated. But they also have theoretical implications that I don’t agree with. The refusal to reflect in terms of the feminine and the masculine and the rejection of the necessarily embodied and sexual dimension of existence have produced a curious ploy: the subject of feminism has lost all consistency, even all reality. Contemporary feminist thought has somehow made the female subject disappear.

For my part, I propose to reintroduce female corporeality and therefore also the female subject into feminist reflection, because it seems important to me to take into account that other aspect of emancipation constituted for women by presenting themselves to the world and to others in a body of female.

What does the singularity of the “feminine experience” consist of?
I like to define the experience of the feminine as an experience of incarnation in the relationship. Since women cannot live independently of their corporeity, and since they are endowed with a maternal capacity, they have a relationship with the world that I define as relational. This clearly has to do with motherhood, which is only a potential but which produces psychic effects, whether it materializes or not.

The simple fact of mentally projecting oneself into motherhood, a projection that no woman can avoid, whether she wants children or not, this simple fact implies a reflection on the relational dimension of female existence. Every woman knows that she has this ability to have and above all to raise children, that is, to enter with them into a process of humanization and socialization. This is why I maintain that women are never able to conceive the possibility of a purely individual existence, that is, of an existence that gives meaning to itself, which does not need any other existence to affirm itself and develop. In short, women are anti-individualistic individuals. To put it simply, women can’t pretend that others don’t exist, while men do it very well.

I’m not saying that all men are patently selfish nor that all women are altruistic. I simply think that we cannot pretend that women have not, for centuries, been relegated to the domestic sphere. This history has repercussions on what it means to be a woman today, that is, an individual who is both private and social, marked by the age-old responsibility of giving birth, caring for the elderly and the most vulnerable.

What difference do you make between “feminine” and “femininity”?
We must distinguish between what depends on the order of representations and what depends on the order of the lived experience of corporeity. When we think in terms of femininity and virility, we are in an essentialist perspective of projecting an ideal onto reality. Sexual availability, maternal dedication and material dependence on the one hand, carnal vigor, conquering autonomy and social sovereignty on the other. These representations belong to another time, the time in which the biological sex of individuals assigned them precise functions and roles.

I reject this register of femininity and virility and propose to identify everything that the feminine and masculine retain as singular as a modality of identity construction with which we must all deal. In a world where roles and functions are no longer assigned to one sex or the other, I believe that more than ever we must reflect on the meaning of the embodiment and sexuation of our existence. In fact, who can claim to live as an “anthrope”, that is, as a pure subject, outside of any incarnation? In our desexualized societies, on the contrary, it is the full mastery of one’s sexual singularity that is the very mark of subjectivity.

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