GWST 4113 Paper 2
“What is a woman?”
Many feminist scholars have theorized about gender and what defines a woman. Views vary from biological standpoints to socially constructed norms, to oppression and more. Irigaray argues that women do not exist and that ‘woman’ is based on unique attributes that separate them from men that should be acknowledged and celebrated. Wittig differs in her claim in that she views the term ‘woman’ based on heteronormativity and relation to men. Because of this, her argument is to eliminate the binary. Lastly, Lugones historically documents that gender did not exist before colonialism and therefore, women only possess gender if they are white, colonizing, civilized humans. In her view, the study of gender also needs to be the study of race, class, sexuality etc. All three of these feminist writers have different ideas of what defines a woman, but they do all agree that gender is socially constructed.
Irigaray finds that women are not inherently humans in a phallocentric society because ‘human’ is a synonym for man. Women lack an identity and are barred from subjectivity because they must become like men in order to be acknowledged. She argues that women have unique attributes that separate them from men and that these feminine attributes should be celebrated in a new culture for women by women. This would then transform the subject of one to a subject of two. The attributes that are currently celebrated in women are severely lacking. For example, she asserts that women are viewed as property and the only training that they are allowed is in motherhood. She states, “women must…situate themselves as women and not merely as mothers or as equals in their relations with men” (46). To Irigaray, making everyone ‘equal’ does not suffice for women because they then lack agency and recognition as women.
Wittig views women as a group that has been naturalized. It is a socially constructed concept that is used as a tool for domination in a hierarchy of power. This dichotomy is rooted in heteronormativity, and the patriarchy grounds gender in biology. Women are therefore those with female biology and feminine qualities. Wittig desires the destruction of this binary and claims that, “for what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man” (108). It is impossible to be a woman if one is not heterosexual because the role of a woman is constructed by the patriarchy in relation to males comparative to a master-slave relationship.
Like Wittig’s argument that lesbians are not women, Lugones argues that black women are not women. This notion is rooted in colonialism in which gender originated as a social construction. For Lugones, only white women are ‘allowed’ to possess gender while black women are deemed ‘sex’ and therefore not women by gendered standards in a Eurocentric society. Race, class, and status are what make a woman. Her five dualities exemplify that oppression and gender are intersectional rather than a simple dichotomy. Unlike Wittig, Lugones does not find solution in eliminating the categories. She instead argues for the extension of categories to include an intersectional and historical approach when studying gender.
Irigaray argues that women do not exist since their identities are stripped of them in a phallocentric society. Wittig demonstrates that heteronormativity and the social construction of gender as natural are what define women in relation to men, and Lugones claims that the term ‘woman’ is a racial and socioeconomic label attributed only to white, colonizing, civil human beings. I find the intersectionality of Lugones’ view as an important flaw with feminist theory. It is not inclusive to every group and the term ‘woman’ is a generalized category that erases the experiences of those who do not fit within the ‘positive’ column of her five dualities.