FEMININITY AS MARGINALITY
The French feminists maintain that it is a masculine rationality which has always privileged reason, order, and unity, and that it has done so by excluding and silencing the irrationality, chaos and fragmentation which they argue has come to represent femininity. Kristeva therefore refuses to define ‘woman’, as she maintains ‘To believe that one “is a woman” is almost as absurd and obscurantist as to believe that one “is a man”.’ She states, ‘I therefore understand by “woman”.. .that which cannot be represented, that which is not spoken, that which remains outside naming and ideologies’ (Kristeva, cited in Moi 1985a: 163). As Moi indicates, patriarchy defines women and oppresses them accordingly, making it necessary to campaign in the name of women. Moi paraphrasing Kristeva states that ‘it is important to recognize that in this struggle a woman cannot be: she can only exist negatively.’ (Moi 1985a:163).
Kristeva’s image of ‘woman’ has parallels with Irigaray’s. However, unlike Irigaray, Kristeva sees her ‘definition’ as strategic. Her deep suspicion of identity leads her to reject any idea of eariture feminine that would be inherently feminine or female. Thus, as Moi (1985a:165) observes, ‘Kristeva does not have a theory of “femininity” and even less of “femaleness”. What she does have is a theory of marginality, subversion and dissidence.’ In so far as women are defined as marginal by patriarchy, their struggle can be theorised in the same way as any other struggle against a centralised power structure. Moi proceeds to draw parallels in Kristeva’s work between ‘femininity’ and the semiotic. She argues that they ‘have one thing in common; their marginality. As the feminine is defined as marginal under patriarchy, so the semiotic is marginal to language’ (Moi 1985a:166). Moi’s analysis of Kristeva’s work is considered and powerful as she maintains
To posit all women as necessarily feminine and all men as necessarily masculine is precisely the move that enables patriarchal powers to define not femininity but all women as marginal to the symbolic order and society. Kristeva’s emphasis on marginality allows us to view this repression of the feminine in terms of positionality rather than of essences.
Kristeva refuses to define ‘femininity’ and prefers to see it as ‘a position’ which is related to the concept of ‘marginality’. As Moi (1989a:126) elucidates, ‘if femininity can be said to have any definition at all in Kristevian terms it is simply as that which is marginalised by the patriarchal symbolic order’. Moi states that from a patriarchal perspective, as women are seen to occupy a marginal position, they are seen as the ‘border line’ of that order. Moi (1989a:127) goes on to point out that from ‘a phallocentric point of view, women will then come to represent the necessary frontier between man and chaos’. The problem with Kristeva’s ‘positional perspective’ is that it does not address the political questions feminism raises. As Moi (ibid.) argues, ‘if we have deconstructed the female out of existence, it would seem that the very foundations of the feminist struggle have disappeared’.
Moi then considers how Kristeva’s deconstructive approach to sexual difference is developed in her essay ‘Women’s Time’. Belsey and Moore (1989) state that the essay
‘begins by arguing that people can be thought of as belonging to national units on the one hand, or to transnational or international groupings on the other (young people, for instance, or women). These distinct ways of classifying people correspond to two ways of thinking about time: one historical and linear, and the other cyclical (repetitive, according to the rhythms of nature) or monumental (eternal, timeless, mythic). The second of these ways of thinking, the cyclical or monumental, has been associated specifically with women, but this association, common to many cultures and especially to mystical ones, is not fundamentally incompatible with masculine values’.
(Belsey and Moore 1989:240).
Kristeva argues that the feminist struggle must be seen historically and politically as a three-tiered struggle. In the first phase, women demand equal access to the resources of society (Symbolic order) and this phase is represented in liberal feminism. In the second phase, women reject the male Symbolic order and assert the concept of difference; this second phase is characterised by radical feminism. The third phase, the position held by Kristeva, is one that has ‘deconstructed the opposition between masculinity and femininity and therefore challenges the very notion of identity’ (Moi 1989a:128).
Moi sums up Kristeva’s contribution to feminism and feminist theory. She maintains that ‘Kristeva’s deconstructed form of feminism’ in one sense leaves things unchanged in relation to feminist politics. However, as Moi (1989a:129) notes, in another sense it radically transforms our awareness of the nature of the struggle: ‘A feminist appropriation of deconstruction is therefore both possible and politically productive as long as it does not lead us to repress the necessity of incorporating Kristeva’s two first stages into our perspective.’