Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

40: Julia Kristeva part IV:
Modern Maternity & Feminism and Postmodern Feminism

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Abject and Individual Identity
         An abject object is usually disgusting and repulsive but still strangely attractive. Most people experience an abject reaction when contemplating eating insects but most of us are also secretly happy to watch other people eat insects on reality shows. The insects are disgusting but eating in general is good. By mixing good and bad categories in a single object we experience the abject. Our first reaction to a new abject object reveals the prejudges that our parents, school and society have taught us. We are then hit with a narcissistic crisis in which we (perhaps unconsciously) see the good and become confused. We can then accept what society has taught us uncritically (without any personal growth) or critically for our own reasons or reject it for our own reasons. Therefore every contact with the abject reveals what society has made and gives us the opportunity to become who we want to become (Q1).
         The Abject and Sexuality
         Before we develop language and categories the abject is still at work. We are all born. And from the baby's point of view its birthday is the most traumatic day of its entire life: the mother's body has forced it out of an ideal state. Then for the next several months this body that expelled it feeds it and takes care of the baby. All babies experience a pre-symbolic abject directed at their mother's body (Q2).
         In basic biological terms children whose abject experience of the mother's body causes them to focus on pleasurable and nutritive (ie. Good) aspects grow up to love women. Those whose abject experiences of the mother's body causes them to focus on the trauma of rejection from the mother grow up to love non-woman (that is men or children)(Q3)(Q4).
         Further, there are the cultural forces involved: we live in a heterosexist culture that encourages heterosexuality and condemns (or at least frowns on) homosexuality (Q5). However the first love object of all children is the mother's body. In a heterosexist culture boys are encourage to eroticize the female body; girls are not. The intermingling forces of biology and culture and in particular the repressive effects of a heterosexist culture are the main source of most psychological problems in people.(Q6)
         The Problem of Modern Maternity
         Women born in a heterosexist culture have (through repression) been deprived of their full capabilities to love and enjoy their bodies (Q7). Another source of feminine repression has been through the two discourses on maternity available in the west: Science and Christianity.
         The scientific discourse on maternity claims that pregnancy is natural, pre-social and biological. The problem is that there is no room for the fact that women are people with drives and a culture: a woman's (and by extension her child's) identity as a speaking subject is irrelevant. In other words to claim that women are only a natural/pre-social/biological process is missing a great deal (Q8).
         The other discourse: Christianity; claims that the Virgin Mary accepted the will of god in silence and pondered all these events in her heart. Again, Christianity has taken out the speaking body from the ideal woman and reduced her to a source of milk and tears as most Christian artwork shows (Q9).
         The Problem of Modern Feminism
         Kristeva divides the history of feminism into two eras pre-1968 and post-1968. Pre-1968 feminist struggled to make women like men. That is to have the vote, property rights, and to be able to do any job that men can do. In short the essence that makes the ideal woman is exactly the same as the essence that makes up the ideal man. Post-1968 feminists concerned themselves with the uniqueness of women and the differences between the genders and the sexes.
         Both eras were essential at their time but today they are more problematic than beneficial. The problem with pre-1968 feminism is universality. Women were not equal to men but thanks to the movement pre-1968 movement almost everyone agrees that women and men are equal.
         The problem with post-1968 feminism is homogeneity. Women are different from men. Thanks to this movement people generally recognize that women have different requirements than men (such as maternity leave). But Kirsteva's problem with this movement is that not all women are the same (Q10).
         A Postmodern Feminism
         A postmodern feminism must consider the particularity of the lived experience of each person (both male and female). The needs and requirements of a woman living in New York are different from the needs and requirements of a woman living in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact it is likely that the needs and requirements of men and women living in New York are closer than the needs and requirements of women on separate continents (assuming the first two feminist eras have run their course)(Q11).
         Q1 Kristeva claims that the uncomfortable and revolting feelings that the abject produces are the first motivators and opportunity for growth (spiritual, emotional, etc.) as a person. Do you agree or disagree? Is there any other motivation without the abject?
         Q2 Your mother's body is abject for you. How does this notion strike you?
         Q3 Do you believe that a person's sexual orientation is a choice or biologically hardwired? Or something else?
         Q4 For most people a choice is between 2 or more symbolic items (identified in language) but for Kristeva the choice of sexual orientation is pre-symbolic and is a solution to the feelings of objection aroused by the mother's body. Should this “choice” still be called choice or is there a better word?
         Q5 Do we really live in a heterosexist culture? What would a non-sexist culture be like? Will parents ever be equally receptive of homosexual and heterosexual children?
         Q6 Kristeva seems to imply that women would be better off psychologically in a homosexist culture? Do you agree or not? Why? Would me be worse off in a homosexist culture?
         Q7 Statistics show that more women suffer from depression more often and more intensely than men. Statistics also show that men enjoy their bodies (ie masturbate, play sports, workout etc.) and complain less about their bodies than women. Kristeva sees in these statistics evidence for her theory that women are forced to abject their bodies. Do you believe most women have had an abject reaction to their bodies?
         Q8 We are taught in science that men impregnate women. In other words that men are active and women passive. Science which is supposed to be value neutral is in fact depicting women as submissive and passive. Should we fix this or is Kristeva making up demons?
         Q9 Is the ideal Christian woman any better than the idea Science woman in terms of the psychological well-being of the subject (male and female)?
         Q10 Is it time to move into a post-feminist future or is the unfinished work of earlier feminist more important at this time.
         Q11 Should men be include as full-fledged members of a post-feminist movement? Or is feminism still a woman's movement?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren