Themes

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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

Feminism

One of the main feminist themes in this work is écriture fémininee , or "feminine writing." Cixous says that women must begin to write themselves. In order to do this, a woman must break free of the obvious and embedded oppression of women in culture and language. Cixous argues...

(The entire section contains 421 words.)

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Feminism

One of the main feminist themes in this work is écriture fémininee, or "feminine writing." Cixous says that women must begin to write themselves. In order to do this, a woman must break free of the obvious and embedded oppression of women in culture and language. Cixous argues that since culture has been historically phallocentric or patriarchal, women have been historically suppressed and even discouraged from talking or writing about their own experiences and desires—outside of those historically biased, phallocentric ways of thinking and writing.

Breaking Taboo

Cixous argues that men have placed themselves in a superior position to women in both culture and language. As part of this cultural structure, women's desires have been deemed taboo. Cixous notes that feminine writing would liberate women from that cultural suppression:

And why don't you write?
Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it's reserved for the great—that is, for "great men";
. . . or because you wrote, irresistibly, as when we would masturbate in secret, not to go further, but to attenuate the tension a bit, to take the edge off. And then as soon as we come, we go and make ourselves feel guilty,—so as to be forgiven; or to forget, to bury it until the next time.

Here, Cixous uses a real example of how women's writing (and desire) has been suppressed—and that includes the desire to write literature. Cixous adds that a "feminine writing" will not be a homogeneous, easily defined thing. Rather, it will represent a variety of styles and experiences of women. What unites all of these is the act of surpassing male bias, or as Cixous states, "It will be conceived of only by subjects who are breakers of automatisms, by peripheral figures that no authority can ever subjugate."

Refuting Phallocentrism

Cixous discusses psychoanalysis and the subconscious. She challenges Freud's ideas of phallocentrism and "penis envy," showing that the idea of women's "lack" is just another way of putting them in an inferior position. She challenges phallocentric metaphors, such as presence/absence, and she explains in a fundamental way that defining women by showing how they are unlike men is a strategy of suppression. Therefore, women must conceive themselves by themselves: not in opposition to men and not as the objects of men's thoughts.

All of these arguments are designed to encourage women to embrace new ways of thinking about themselves—ways that have previously been squashed. The added hope is that men will change their perceptions of women as well.

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