Friday, October 26, 2007

On French feminism and cultural diversity

Essentially, American-made "French Feminism" celebrates women's innate difference from men: neither combating nor submitting to the patriarchy, women are called to affirm their much-neglected values. The three canonical "French Feminists" (Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray) would not disagree with this idea, although it is not the center of their work. In France, these women are not grouped together as feminists, a term they don't even use themselves. Kristeva is a respected philosopher and Cixous an innovative novelist. Their writings can be applied to but not reduced to politics or revolutionary feminine visions.
Historically, France owes its existence to uniting diverse peoples under a common language and strong central government. In a nation structured on ideals of unity and equality, feminism connotes divisiveness. This is the opposite of the United States, founded on the ideal of independent states united only for defense and economic transactions. Whereas Americans glorify liberty and diversity, the French appreciate common ground (the State and its values) and interdependence (a socialist-type system). Feminism, which places gender and not nationality as the uniting force, subverts even progressive French thought, whereas it fits somewhat better with American values. Paradoxically, certain French policies imply that because equality has been legally achieved, professional inequalities exist simply because women have other priorities and interests. Thus the outward ideal of equality surreptitiously translates into "separate but equal," each sex maintaining its role for the sake of national cohesion.

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