Friday, May 20, 2005

Daly vs. Beauvoir

Both Mary Daly, in her book Gyn/Ecology, and Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Second Sex, argue for the independence and transcendence of women. However, the two authors have different methods of bringing this change about. Daly does not involve males in her concept of transcendence, which I will argue is difficult and hard to imagine. Although I have found both Daly and Beauvoir incredibly inspiring, I will argue that Beauvoir’s concept of transcendence provides a way of dealing with males, whereas Daly’s concept seems exclusionary and somewhat impossible.
Beauvoir wants women to transcend immanence (or passivity) and create a new type of woman, which will inevitably change the current economic, social, and cultural situation of women. She believes the reason for the oppression of women is their inability to apply their energy to the world due to their social situation (Beauvoir 194). She says for men, “Every subject plays his part as such specifically through exploits or projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty only through a continual reaching out toward other liberties” (Beauvoir 193-194). Thus males are able to apply their energies to the world. Beauvoir claims that males deny women this opportunity (Beauvoir 194). She says, “They [men] propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign” (Beauvoir 194). Beauvoir suggests that women should form a new concept of the self in order to transcend immanence and apply their energies to the world in a similar fashion to males. She admits that women will have difficulties doing this, as they will be “torn between the past and the future” (Beauvoir 201). Therefore, Beauvoir says, “She must shed her old skin and cut her own new clothes” (Beauvoir 201). In other words, she must create a new identity, and a new image of woman. Beauvoir’s goal is for men and women to live together in an androgynous state, where both men and women are given the same opportunities, demands, and respect (Beauvoir 202). She believes this will happen if women transcend immanence and create a new identity.
Daly would argue against Beauvoir, claiming that she is perpetuating the patriarchy, and that true transcendence is creating a new self completely separate from this patriarchy. Daly speaks of “Token Torturers,” who are women who put on the male guise and perpetuate misogyny. Daly explains the Token Torturer as, “the woman who often unwittingly pleases her masters by . . . performing the acts which are less than gentlemanly, thus obscuring their role. She masks male responsibility and intent” (Daly 335). Daly goes on to remark that there are “token women doctors,” “token women senators,” and “token women professors” who are perpetuating the patriarchy by partaking in roles that are innately oppressive to women (Daly 335). Beauvoir encourages women to take up the same activities as men, as she sees the oppression of women due to the lack of opportunity rather than the innate oppressive nature of the activities themselves.
Daly’s concept of transcendence is quite different from Beauvoir’s in that women must create an entirely new situation (“time/space”) for themselves rather than rise to the level of men. Daly argues for the transcendence from the current patriarchy, rather than transcendence from immanence. She wants women to first recognize how the patriarchy oppresses women. She says,
“ . . . awareness of environment makes it possible to deflect both physical and semantic danger, to unspook the implicit messages coming from all sides . . . Such pattern discovery, or positive paranoia, functions also to dis-spell the power of prevailing myths and symbols, a power which depend partly upon their hiddenness” (Daly 341).
Daly believes unwrapping the myth is part of the process, but also requires women (or hags) to separate themselves physically through language, body language, dress, etc. by creating a new self identity (Daly 335). This sounds similar to Beauvoir’s desire to shed the old skin, and cut new cloths, but the difference here is Daly wants this time/space to exist outside of the patriarchy, whereas Beauvoir wants men and women to exist in cohesion.
Excluding men from the process, or the outcome, of transcendence is precisely where I diverge from Daly and steer toward Beauvoir, as I find it difficult for women to maintain a time/space for a long period of time without men. I am not entirely sure whether Daly is suggesting that this time/space should continue in isolation forever, or whether, at some point this time/space is no longer needed. But if this time/space were to maintain itself separately from males for a long period of time, I would have difficulty in imagining how males and females would interact, or if Daly would allow them to interact at all. Some women are attracted to men and will probably desire to intermingle with men at some point, although they may keep the patriarchy in mind while doing so. But perhaps Daly does believe that time/space is needed only until the patriarchy has been broken down. If this is what she intends, then I am unclear on whether she believes men will have changed when all is said and done. She shows how women will have changed when they have spun their own time/space, but she does not show how men will have changed from this process. I feel Daly is very unclear on the futuristic relation of men and women, and I feel she does not clarify how long the time/space is to exist separately from men. In other words, she appears exclusionary of men, which makes her theory seem somewhat impossible. Can we really escape men?
I believe Beauvoir provides a better example of how men and women are to exist together. She gives a somewhat detailed description of the mode of existence for men and women after transcendence has occurred for the majority of women. She says,
“If the little girl were brought up from the first with the same demands and rewards, the same severity and the same freedom, as her brothers, taking part in the same studies, the same games, promised the same future, surrounded with women and men who seemed to her undoubted equals . . . the child would perceive around her an androgynous world and not a masculine world” (Beauvoir 202).
Beauvoir also explains the attitude of men when equality has been achieved. She says, “ . . . the boy would not have a superiority complex if it were not instilled into him and if he looked up to women with as much respect as to men (Beauvoir 202). Beauvoir includes men in her futuristic outlook, whereas Daly fails to go into detail about her futuristic outlook once transcending is no longer necessary.
Feminism needs to include a way of dealing with men, as well as a way of redefining the constructs or doing away with the constructs of gender. I personally feel feminism is more about breaking down gender roles than it is about women’s issues alone. Men, too, face discrimination, and are constrained by their gender. Men are raped of their selves by other men in the patriarchy, just as women are. I believe Daly overlooks the damage the patriarchy has done to males, although she gives an excellent account of how the patriarchy effects women. Feminism cannot and should not exclude the experiences of men as they are in direct relation to and are a reflection of the experiences of women. I feel Daly’s analysis of the effects of patriarchal oppression can be extended to men and Beauvoir’s ideal, if set outside of the patriarchy, can be implemented as well. Together both Daly’s and Beauvoir’s ideas have the potential to form a new more comprehensive application of feminism.
I have shown the difference between Beauvoir’s concept of transcendence from immanence and Daly’s concept of transcendence from the patriarchy, as well as Daly’s inability to explain how time/space relates to men. I have also outlined my understanding of feminism, and the possible merger of both Daly and Beauvoir’s ideas, but I would like to raise one final question that I did not have a chance to address: Is Beauvoir’s ideal state for men and women within a patriarchy, or does she leave room for the possibility that her ideal state is something different than a patriarchy?


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