Category Archives: History

Civilization and Its Discontents

The following is an excerpt from Freud’s, Civilization and Its Discontents:

“During the last few generations mankind has made an extraordinary advance in the natural sciences and in their technical application and has established his control over nature in a way never before imagined. […] they seemed to have observed that this newly won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which they may expect from life and has not made them feel happier.  From the recognition of this fact we ought to be content to conclude that power over nature is not the only precondition of human happiness, just as it not the only goal of cultural endeavour; we ought not to infer form it that technical progress is without value for the economics of our happiness” (Freud 40)

Well, I guess Freud says it best – there is a desire for a power over nature so great that, while it is not the only way for humans to be happy, it’s a considerable part of it.

This kind of control which man has discovered he can have over nature creates a “pleasurable satisfaction”.  This kind of satisfaction, according to Freud, is necessary for human happiness through the domination or to have power over space, time and forces of nature. Power over nature is a considerable building block to the foundation of our human pleasure and contentedness. This kind of control has escalated from advances in natural sciences made fifty years ago, and the ones we have made in the last five. The power that human civilization searches for becomes exponentially greater as our society takes steps toward considerably more dangerous advances in the natural sciences, advances which threaten human life yet paradoxically bring satisfaction in having this kind of power. If we are to examine this quote by replacing “nature” with the word “woman” we can see how similar Freud’s observations about human nature’s ambitions to dominate nature, and man’s ambitions to dominate woman. Although man’s ultimately happiness is not determined solely by control of the other or unknown, there is a power dynamic to this control which satisfies a particular craving for power.

Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray

Here I have compared Judith Butler’s “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire” to Luce Irigaray’s  “This Sex Which is Not One” on each feminist’s views on sexuality and gender.

Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is interested in the historical construction of language through the domination of certain groups of people, which in turn, creates myths of gender. She focuses on the discursive methods of universalized heterosexuality and how these influence our scripts of femininity and masculinity. There is a history of politics that have helped to emplace the notion of woman, and the problematic here is only through this oppressive system can individuals liberate themselves:

[T]he feminist subject turns out to be discursively constituted by the very political system that is supposed to facilitate its emancipation […] becom[ing] politically problematic if that system can be shown to produce gendered subjects along a differential axis of domination or to produce subjects who are presumed to be masculine. (Butler 473)

Butler focuses on the difficulties of transcending female stereotypes within the society that has emplaced these limitations in the first place. The racialized, classed, sexual and ethnic body are all intricately tangled within a system gender (473).  These identities are founded through political and cultural productions.

Irigaray is interested in asserting the female body against the philosophical assumption of a universalized male body. Her ideas focus on female sexuality and how it has functions through the binary of masculine terms. She argues that woman is not missing some crucial aspect to their sexuality; she can fulfill her own desires without the need of a man. Irigaray bases her theory on the bias of female and male genitalia, where “the vagina is to serve […] to take over for the little boy’s hand in order to assure an articulation between autoeroticism and heteroeroticism in intercourse” (449).  Women are perceived as an object to be used by the opposite sex, the heterosexual male. Her identity is shaped through the other as a body for sex.

There is a process of uncovering this gender identity that goes beyond what we can do as a society.  We must venture  “very deep indeed to discover beneath the traces of this civilization that might give some clue to woman’s sexuality. [… ] Woman’s desire would not be expected to speak the same language as man’s: woman’s desire has doubtless been submerged by the logic that has dominated the West since the time of the Greeks” (450).  Here Irigaray is suggesting there is a suppressed female sexuality, one that has been hidden deeply under the history of language. To uncover this hidden sexuality would be to undo the social implications of sex and gender from before the Greeks, a task impossible to accomplish.

Both Irigaray and Butler challenge biologically essentialist views of gender and sexuality.  Butler not only theorizes gender, but challenges socially imposed notions of stereotyping and categorization upon the individual. While Butler looks at the cultural and political aspects of gender, Irigaray takes a much more psychoanalytical approach to sexuality and gender.  She focuses on how heterosexual norms have created a sex that is not valid; woman searches to find her sexuality separately from a dependency on a man. Irigaray challenges the biologic notion sexual binaries. There is an impossibility to differentiate between the social implications and intrinsic qualities when exploring a woman’s sexuality. Butler looks to the political structure of language to explain the binary of masculinity and femininity.  Both theorists look at gender from different discursive standpoints – Butler through gender performatives and Irigaray through the difference between male and female sexual activity – but their conclusions are founded in the same ideas regarding the implications of these naturalized classification systems.  These systems have been imprinted to function specifically to their cause, the end result has formulated naturalized concepts of gender and sexuality. To create a new space for these identities through liberation may not be possible, as it would remain founded within the power structures of the society that maintain these biological view of gender and sexuality presently.

Both can be found in Imre Szeman & Timothy Kaposy’s Cultural Theory: Anthology. 2011. Print.

What is Ecofeminism?

I’d like to start with a brief history of feminism. I know that you can get this information just as easily off a Wikipedia cite, but I think it’s important that if you’ve stumbled onto this blog, you have a grasp of what it is:

Three Waves of Feminism

The first wave of liberal feminism paved a space to challenge the inequalities of between the sexes, where women sought equal pay, voting rights and quite frankly, a lot more respect from the ‘macho’ male. It might remind you of the “We Can Do It” photo. Because of the First World War, women were forced to work outside the house to maintain their nation’s economy and were not willing to pacify themselves for men when they returned home from the war.

The second wave of feminism looked beyond the issues first wave feminists opened and branched between radical, social and cultural feminists who looked at issues of reproductive rights, racial equality, essentialist views of sex and gender, among a vast number of other issues. If you’re interested, check out the works of Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir, Donna Harraway and bell hooks to name a few influential second wave feminists.

Third Wave feminism was greatly influenced by the work of the social feminists, and can be looked at as a reaction against essentialist views of biological sex. These feminists looked at structures such as class and race and how they are naturalized in a society through epistemic language and how these can be deconstructed. Another few honorary mentions are the works of Eve Sedgwick, Vandana Shiva, Judith Butler, Margaret Atwood, Nancy Tuana, Carolyn Merchant, Catriona Sandilands; music talents Joan Jett and Peaches – just to name a few (I could keep going)

Ecofeminism is the intersection between third wave feminism and its’ relationship to nature. It is a type of feminism which focuses on environmental justice through reproduction, health, class, race and other social related issues. Ecofeminism speaks to the relationship between women and nature; the sensual, the wild, and the urge for man to dominate.