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Ambiguity and Alienation in The Second Sex Author(s): Toril Moi Reviewed work(s): Source: boundary 2, Vol.

19, No. 2, Feminism and Postmodernism (Summer, 1992), pp. 96-112 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/303535 . Accessed: 26/02/2013 05:45
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Ambiguity and Alienation in The Second Sex

TorilMoi
Divided,torn,disadvantaged: for women the stakes are higher;there are more victories and more defeats for them than for men. The -Simone de Beauvoir, Forceof Circumstance (translation amended)

Note Preliminary
The article that follows is an excerpt from a much longer discussion of alienation and the body in The Second Sex, taken from chapter 6 of my forthcoming book on Simone de Beauvoir.'The excerpt printedhere is preceded by a discussion of the relationshipbetween The Second Sex and The
1. Page references to frequently appearin parentheses in the quotedtexts by Beauvoir SS text and notes. I use the followingabbreviations: = The Second Sex, trans. H.M. Penguin,1984);DSa = Le Deuxi6meSexe, Coll.Folio,vol. 1 Parshley(Harmondsworth: 1949);DSb = Le Deuxi6meSexe, vol. 2; FC = The Force of Circum(Paris:Gallimard, stance, trans. RichardHoward(Harmondsworth: Penguin,1987); FCa = La Force des choses, Coll. Folio,vol. 1 (Paris:Gallimard, 1963);FCb = La Force des choses, vol. 2; Amended.I providereferencesto the Englishtranslation TA = Translation first,followed by referencesto the Frenchoriginal. Press.CCC C 2 0190-3659/92/$1.50. boundary 19:2,1992.Copyright 1992byDukeUniversity

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in and Moi/ Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 97 Ethics of Ambiguity, and by an analysis of the rhetoric-the language-of philosophy in The Second Sex. It is followed by a detailed study of Beauvoir's analysis of female desire. Drawingthese threads together, the chapter concludes by examining the philosophicalimplicationsof Beauvoir's analysis of what I like to call patriarchalfemininity.One of my conclusions in this chapter is that Beauvoir actually succeeds in dismantling the patriarchal paradigmof universal masculinityin philosophy.I am afraidthat the excerpt published here only forms one of the steps on the way to that conclusion. I nevertheless hope that it can be read on its own as a close textual analysis of the concept of alienation in Beauvoir'stheory. As this excerpt makes clear, this concept is bound up with the idea of the body: it is imperative to integrate any discussion of alienation with an explorationof Beauvoir's understanding of the body. I should perhaps also say that in my own readings of Beauvoir I try to produce a dialectical understandingof her contradictions and ambiguities. Itfollows that I don't consider every contradiction to be unproductive. It also follows that any single concept, such as that of alienation, should be examined in its interactionwithother crucial concepts in Beauvoir's texts. This is why Beauvoir'saccount of female sexuality-or female psychosexual development-should not be taken to represent the whole of her analysis of women's oppression. In order to grasp the political implications of her epochal essay, it is also necessary to explore the strength and limitationsof her understandingof freedom. That is the task I try to carry out in chapter 7 of my book. Ambiguity In The Ethics of Ambiguity(1947) Beauvoir presents a general philosophy of existence.2 Herfundamentalassumptions in this book also form the starting point for her next essay, The Second Sex (1949). According to Beauvoir's 1947 essay, men and women share the same human condition. We are all split, all threatened by the "fall" into immanence, and we are all mortal. In this sense, no human being ever coincides with him- or herself: we are all lack of being. In order to escape from the tension and anguish (angoisse) of this ambiguity,we may all be tempted to take refuge in the havens of bad faith. Starting where The Ethics of Ambiguity ends,
2. Simone de Beauvoir,The Ethicsof Ambiguity, trans. BernardFrechtman (New York: Citadel Press, 1976). Pour une morale de I'ambiguite,Coll. Idees (Paris: Gallimard, 1947).

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2 1992 98 boundary / Summer The Second Sex launches its inquiryintowomen's conditionby focusing on the question of difference: Now, what specifically defines the situationof woman is that she-a free and autonomous being like all human creatures-nevertheless discovers and chooses herself in a worldwhere men compel her to assume the status of the Other.3They propose to turn her into an object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is for ever to be transcended by another consciousness which is essential and sovereign. The dramaof woman lies in this conflictbetween the fundamentalaspirationsof every subject-which always posits itself as essential-and the demands of a situationwhich constitutes her as inessential. (SS, 29; DSa, 31; TA) This is perhaps the single most importantpassage in The Second Sex, above all because Beauvoir here poses a radically new theory of sexual difference. Whilewe are all splitand ambiguous, she argues, women are more split and ambiguous than men. For Simone de Beauvoir, then, women are fundamentally characterized by ambiguity and conflict. The specific contradictionof women's situationis caused by the conflictbetween their status as free and autonomous human beings and the fact that they are socialized in a world in which men consistently cast them as Other to their One, as objects to their subjects. The effect is to produce women as subjects painfullytorn between freedom and alienation,transcendence and immanence, subject-being and object-being. This fundamental contradiction, or split, in which the general ontological ambiguityof human beings is repeated and reinforcedby the social pressures broughtto bear on women, there is specific to women under patriarchy. For Beauvoir,at least initially, is nothing ahistoricalabout this: when oppressive power relations cease to than men. As Iwillgo on exist, women willbe no more splitand contradictory Beauvoir's analysis implies that while the majorcontrato show, however, dictions of women's situation may disappear, women will in fact always remain somewhat more ambiguous than men. Again Beauvoir's theory is clearly metaphorical:the social oppression of women, she implies, mirrorsor repeats the ontological ambiguityof existence.4 Paradoxicallyenough, on this point Beauvoir'sanalysis gains in
3. In this crucial spot, the Folio edition reads "s'assumercontre I'Autre" (DSa, 31). a may give rise to many Introducing whollyerroneousidea of opposition,this misprint 6ditionBlanche correctly the prints"s'assumer Fortunately, original misunderstandings. comme I'Autre" (31). 4. At this point, one may well ask why it is not the other way around:could one not

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in and Moi/ Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 99 potentialstrength from its metaphoricalstructure:it is precisely the absence of any purely logical linkbetween the two levels of analysis that leaves us free to reject the one withouthaving to deny the other as well. In this way, Beauvoir's careful account of women torn between freedom and alienation under patriarchymay well be experienced as convincing, even by readers radicallyat odds with Sartre's theory of consciousness. The oppression of women, Beauvoirargues, is in some ways similar to the oppression of other social groups, such as that of Jews or American blacks. Members of such groups are also treated as objects by members of the rulingcaste or race. Yet women's situation remains fundamentallydifferent, above all because women are scattered across all social groups and thus have been unable to forma society of theirown: "Thebond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparableto any other,"Beauvoirinsists (SS, 19; DSa, 19).- The effect of this social situation is that women tend to feel solidaritywith men in theirown social group ratherthan withwomen in general. This is why, unlike every other oppressed group, women have been unable to cast themselves as historicalsubjects opposing their oppressors: under patriarchy,there are no female ghettos, no female compounds in Beauvoirwrites in 1949, which to organize a collective uprising:"Women,"
"do not say 'We' .
.

. they do not authentically posit themselves

as Sub-

ject" (SS, 19; DSa, 19). The specificity of women's oppression consists precisely in the absence of a female collectivitycapable of perceiving itself as a historicalsubject opposed to other social groups. This is why no other oppressed group experiences the same kindof contradictionbetween freedom and alienation. Beauvoir,in other words, is not interested in producing a competitive hierarchyof oppression. Her point is not that women necessarily are more, or more painfully, oppressed than every other group but simply that the oppression of women is a highlyspecific kind of oppression.
the mirrors social conditionsof existence? Taking argue that the ontologicalambiguity ontology-the general theoryof humanfreedom-as the startingpointfor her analysis, Beauvoirherself wouldclearlynot condone such a reversal.Givenwhat I call elsewhere the metaphorical of structure her argument-the fact thatshe neverspells out the exact between the two levels of the argument-nothing preventsthe readerfrom relationship such a readingto thatof Beauvoir herself. preferring 5. To argue, as ElisabethSpelmandoes in her InessentialWoman, that Beauvoir's comexcludes parisonof womenwithblacksandJews is sexist because itimpliesthatBeauvoir the existence of black and Jewish women fromher categories is to make the mistake of takinga statement about oppression (thatis, about powerrelations)for a statement aboutidentity.WhatBeauvoiris saying is thatthe relationship men to women may, in of some ways (not all), be seen as homologousto thatof whitesto blacks,anti-Semitesto class. Insuch a statementthereis absolutelyno implication Jews, bourgeoisieto working

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2 100 boundary / Summer 1992 Rich and varied, Beauvoir'sown vocabularyof ambiguityand conflict ranges from ambivalence, distance, divorce, and split to alienation, contradiction, and mutilation.But every ambiguityis not negative: as readers of The Second Sex, we must not make the paradoxicalmistake of taking the value of ambiguity to be given once and for all. For Beauvoir, the word and ambiguous often means "dialectical" describes a fundamentalcontradiction underpinningan apparently stable and coherent phenomenon. In The Second Sex, every conflict is potentiallyboth productiveand destructive: in some cases, one aspect wins out; in others, the tension remains unresolved. The advantage of Beauvoir's position is that it enables her to draw up a highly complex map of women's situation in the world, one that is never blindto the way in which women occasionally reap paradoxicaladvantages fromtheirvery powerlessness. As a whole, however, The Second Sex amply demonstrates that such spurious spin-offs remain precarious and unpredictable:for Beauvoir,the effects of sexism are overwhelmingly destructive for men as well as for women. Every one of the descriptions of women's "livedexperience" in The Second Sex serves to reinforceBeauvoir'stheory of the fundamental conthe tradictionof women's situation. Unfortunately, sheer mass of material makes it impossible to discuss the whole range of her analyses: her brilliant account of the antinomies of housework,or the absolutely stunningdefense Woman"and "The of abortionrights (see the chapters entitled"TheMarried for instance, ought still to be requiredreading for us all, yet they Mother"), will not be discussed here. Instead, I have chosen to explore the single most important-and by far the most complex-example of contradictions and ambiguity in The Second Sex: Beauvoir'saccount of female sexuality.
that these other groups do not containwomen, nor that all women are white and nonJewish: nothingpreventsus fromarguingthatthe positionof a blackJewish woman,for of powerrelations. instance, wouldforma particularly complexintersection contradictory In her chapteron Beauvoir,Spelmanalso confuses the idea of otherness and the idea and autre absolu). Spelman's between autre-sujet of objectification (Sartre'sdistinction the book,in general,is an excellentexampleof the consequences of treating wordidentity the as if it representeda simple logicalunitand of mistaking oppositionof inclusionand whilecriticizexclusion for a theoryof powerrelations.Such strategiestend to backfire: Spelmanherselfexcludes womenfromoutside the United ing Beauvoir's"exclusivism," differStates from her categories. Thus, her eminentlypedagogicalfigures illustrating ent categories of people all have the suffixAmericanappendedto them (Afro-American, and Asian-American, so on). See ElisabethSpelEuro-American, Hispanic-American, Problemsof Exclusionin FeministThought(Boston:Beacon, man, Inessential Woman: 1988), 144-46.

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in and Moi / Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 101 By sexuality I understand the psychosexual, as well as the biological, aspects of female sexual existence, or, in other words, the interactionbetween desire and the body.

Alienation
"One is not born a woman, one becomes one," Beauvoir writes 295; DSb, 13; TA). The question, of course, is how. How does the (SS, little girl become a woman? In her impressive history of psychoanalysis in France, Elisabeth Roudinesco credits Simone de Beauvoir with being the first French writerto linkthe question of sexuality to that of politicalemancipation.6Beauvoir's interest in the various psychoanalytic perspectives on femininitywas so great, Roudinesco tells us, that a year before finishingher book, she rang up Lacan in orderto ask his advice on the issue: "Flattered, Lacan announces that they would need five or six months of conversation in order to sort out the problem. Simone doesn't want to spend that much time listening to Lacan for a book which was already very well researched. She proposes four meetings. He refuses."7 It is not surprisingthat Lacan was flattered by Beauvoir's request: in Paris in 1948, Beauvoir possessed
6. ElisabethRoudinesco,LaBataille cent ans. Histoire la psychanalyse en France. de de 2: 1925-1985 (Paris: Seuil, 1986). The fact that Beauvoirexplicitlyrejects Freudian psychoanalysisin the firstpartof The Second Sex does not preventher fromproducaccountof women'spsychosexualdevelopment.As far ing a relatively psychoanalytical as I can see, her rejectionof psychoanalysisis based on the Sartreangrounds that the unconscious does not exist and that to claimthat humandreams and actions have sexual signification to posit the existence of essential meanings. When it comes to is the phenomenological of description women'sfantasies or behavior,however,Beauvoir is perfectlyhappyto accept psychoanalytical evidence. 7. Roudinesco,La Bataillede cent ans, 517. Beauvoir Lacanduring Occupation, met the at a series of rather wildpartiesorganizedby Picasso, Camus,and Leiris, among others. InSimone de Beauvoir: Biography(NewYork: A Bairclaimsthat Summit,1990), Deirdre when writingThe Second Sex, Beauvoir"wentsporadically hear Jacques Lacanlecto ture"(390), butthis is notverylikely. to Roudinesco,Lacan'searliest According Elisabeth seminars were held at Sylvia Bataille's from1951 to 1953 (see Roudinesco, apartment, La Bataillede cent ans, 306). In his essay "De nos ant6c6dents" (Aboutour antecedents), Lacanhimselfclaimsthat he startedhis teachingin 1951: "Norealteachingother than that routinely providedsaw the lightof day beforewe startedour own in 1951, in a purelyprivatecapacity"(Jacques Lacan,Ecrits[Paris:Seuil, 1966], 71). According to DavidMacey,the subjectof thatfirstseminarwas Freud's Dora(see DavidMacey,Lacan in Contexts [London: Verson, 1988], 223). If Beauvoirever attended Lacan'sseminars, The then, it must have been well afterfinishing Second Sex in 1949.

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102 boundary / Summer 2 1992 much more intellectualcapital than he; in other words, she was famous, he was not. Given this highly Lacaniandisagreement on timing,the tantalizingly transgressive fantasy of a LacanianSecond Sex has to remainin the imaginary. Althoughshe never sat at Lacan'sfeet, Beauvoirnevertheless quotes his early workon Les Complexes familiauxdans la formationde I'individu, and much of her account of early childhood and femininityreads as a kind of free elaborationon Lacan's notionof the alienationof the ego in the other in the mirror stage.8 The term alienation, in fact, turns up everywhere in The Second Sex. Mobilized to explain everything from female sexuality to narcissism and mysticism, the concept plays a key role in Beauvoir'stheory of sexual difference. Itis unfortunateindeed thatthis fact fails to come across in the English translation of The Second Sex. In Parshley's version, the word alienation tends to get translated as 'projection',except in passages with a certain anthropological flavor, where it remains 'alienation'.Alienation, however, also shows up as 'identification', and on one occasion it even masquerades as 'being beside herself'. As a result, English-language readers are the prevented fromtracing the philosophicallogic-in this case particularly Hegelian and/or Lacanian overtones-of Beauvoir's analysis. In my own aberrant text, I amend all relevant quotations, and I also signal particularly translations in footnotes.9 According to Beauvoir,the littlechild reacts to the crisis of weaning by experiencing "the originaldrama of every existent: that of his relationto
8. I don't mean to suggest that Lacan'sconcept of alienationis radically originalor that it is the only source of Beauvoir'sdevelopmentof the concept. Eva Lundgren-Gothlin in makes a plausiblecase forthe influenceof Kojeveon Beauvoir her Konoch existens: Studieri Simone de BeauvoirsLe Deuxi6meSexe (Gothenburg: Daidalos,1991), 8994. Beauvoirherself tells of a drunkenafternoonin 1945 spent discussing Kojevewith Queneau (FC, 43; FCa, 56-57). Giventhat Lacan'sconceptof the mirror stage also disown readingsof Hegel may well plays the traces of Kojeve'sreadingof Hegel, Beauvoir's affinities this aspect of Lacanian for have predisposedherto feelingparticular theory.Nor in thatLacanhimself-as everyotherintellectual postwarFranceshouldit be forgotten was influencedby Sartre. 9. 1 don'tthink,as some have argued,that this is an effect of conscious sexism on the with unfamiliar Rather,it demonstratesthe fact that he was utterly partof the translator. translation The of The existentialist philosophical vocabulary. generaleffectof Parshley's Second Sex is to divestthe bookof the philosophical rigorit has in French.When Beaucommesujet,forexample,Parshleytranslates voirconsistentlyuses the phrases'affirmer his or vaguely and variablyas "assume a subjectiveattitude," "affirm subjective exis-

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and in Moi/ Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 103 the Other"(SS, 296; DSb, 14; TA).This drama is characterized by existential anguish caused by the experience of delaissement, or what Heidegger would call Oberlassenheit, often translated as 'abandonment' in English. Already at this early stage, the littlechild dreams of escaping her freedom either by merging with the cosmic all or by becoming a thing, an in-itself: Incarnal form[the child]discovers finiteness, solitude, abandonment in a strange world. He endeavours to compensate for this catastrophe by alienating his existence in an image, the realityand value of which others willestablish. Itappears that he may begin to affirmhis identity at the time when he recognizes his reflection in a mirror-a His time which coincides with that of weaning.10 ego blends so completely into this reflected image that it is formed only through its own
alienation [il ne se forme qu'en s'ali6nant] .... He is already an au-

tonomous subject transcending himself towards the outer world,but he encounters himself only in an alienated form. (SS, 296-97; DSb, 15; TA). then, all childrenare equally alienated. This is not surprising, Initially, since the wish to alienate oneself in another person or thing, according to Beauvoir, is fundamental to all human beings: "Primitive people are alienated in mana, in the totem; civilized people in their individualsouls, in their egos, their names, their property,theirwork.Here is to be found the primary (SS, 79; DSa, 90). But sexual difference soon temptation to inauthenticity"
tence" (SS, 19, and SS, 21). The wordsituation,heavy withphilosophical connotations for Beauvoir,is not perceivedas philosophical all by Parshley,who translatescas as at and or and "situation" situationas "situation" "circumstances," so on. The same tendency to turn Beauvoir'sphilosophical prose into everydaylanguage is to be found in the Englishtranslations her memoirs,particularly Primeof Lifeand The Force of of The Circumstance.The effect is clearlyto divest her of philosophy thus to diminishher and as an intellectual. The sexism involvedin this process has moreto do withthe Englishof woman writer, language publishers'perceptionand marketing Beauvoiras a popular ratherthan as a serious intellectual, thanwiththe sexism of individual translators. 10. At this point,Beauvoirinserts a footnotequotingLacan'sComplexesfamiliaux.Itis to in the interesting note that Lacan'sessay introduces notionof alienation the other,not in relationto the motherbut in the contextof a discussionof jealousy as a fundamental social structure. oftenhappens,Beauvoir's As actualquotation slightly is inaccurate: "The ego retainsthe ambiguousaspect [figure]of a spectacle,"she quotes (SS, 297; DSb, structure the spectacle"(Lacan, of 15), whereas Lacanactuallyrefersto the "ambiguous Les Complexes familiaux dans la formation I'individu: de Essai d'analyse d'une fonction en psychologie [1938;reprint, Paris:Navarin, 1984],45); my emphasis.

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2 104 boundary / Summer 1992 transforms the situation. For littleboys, Beauvoir argues, it is much easier to find an object in which to alienate themselves than for littlegirls: admirably suited to the role as idealized alter ego, the penis quickly becomes every littleboy's very own totem pole: "The penis is singularlyadapted for playing this role of 'double' for the littleboy-it is for him at once a foreign object and himself,"Beauvoirclaims. Projectingthemselves into the penis, little boys invest it with the whole charge of their transcendence (SS, 79; DSa, 91).11For Beauvoir,then, phallic imagery represents transcendence, not sexuality.12 A littlegirl, however, has a more difficult time. Given that she has no penis, she has no tangible object in which to alienate herself: "Butthe little girl cannot incarnate herself in any part of herself," Beauvoir writes (SS, 306; DSb, 27). Similar in many respects to Freud's analysis of femininity, Beauvoir's account differs, as we shall see, in its explicitdenial of lack and in its emphasis on the tactile ratherthan the visual. For Freud, girls experience themselves as inferiorbecause they see the penis and conclude that they themselves are lacking;for Beauvoirthey are different(not necessarily inferior)because they have nothing to touch. Because her sex organs are impossible to grab hold of (empoigner), it is as if they do not exist: "in a sense she has no sex organ,"Beauvoirwrites: She does not experience this absence as a lack; evidently her body is, for her, quite complete; but she finds herself situated in the world differentlyfrom the boy; and a constellation of factors can transform this difference, in her eyes, into an inferiority. (SS, 300; DSb, 19) Deprived of an obvious object of alienation,the littlegirlends up alienating herself in herself: Not having that alter ego, the littlegirldoes not alienate herself in a materialthing and cannot retrieveher integrity[ne se recupere pas]. On this account she is led to make an object of her whole self, to set herself up as the Other.The question of whether she has or has
11. Beauvoiralso uses the termphallus. Ingeneral,she tends to use penis and phallus as interchangeable terms, mostlyin the sense of "penis." 12. This is true for Sartre,too. When I claimthat theirmetaphorsof transcendenceare not wouldclaimthatit is the phallusthatis transcendent, the phallic,Sartreand Beauvoir other way around.For my argument,however,it does not mattervery much whichway and roundthe comparisonis made: my pointis thatin theirtexts, projection erectionget involvedin extensive metaphorical exchanges.

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and in SecondSex 105 Moi/ Ambiguity AlienationThe not comparedherselfwithboys is secondary; important the pointis of that,even if she is unaware it,the absence of the penis prevents herfrombecoming consciousof herselfas a sexualbeing.From this flowmanyconsequences.(SS, 80; DSa, 91; TA) of they knowaboutthe penis's Objectsforthemselves,regardless whether existence or not,little are radically yet irredeemably split, girls caughtup in theirown alienatedself-image.Butthis is not all. On the evidenceof this to surprising passage, little girlsareforcedby their anatomy alienatethemselves in themselves. Furthermore, Beauvoir claims,they failto "recover" or "retrieve" themselves.Inmyview,these remarks offera con(r6cup6rer) densed versionof the whole of Beauvoir's As theoryof alienation. such, and that they have a series of wide-ranging compleximplications Iwillnow go on to explore. MuchlikeLacan,Beauvoir casts the moment alienation constiof as tutiveof the subject,but,unlikeLacan,she believesthatthe subjectonly comes into authenticbeing if it completesthe dialecticalmovementand or the goes on to recover(r6cup6rer), reintegrate, alienatedimageof itself on double,the alterego) back intoits own subjectivity. (the Drawing this Beauvoir insiststhatlittleboys easily achievethe required Hegelianlogic, themselves.Why, then, do little synthesis,whereaslittle girlsfailto recover their For the boys easily "recover" owntranscendence? Beauvoir, answer is to be foundin the anatomical physiological and of the penis. properties detachable,the penis is neverthelessnot quitedetachedfrom Eminently the body. Projecting transcendenceintothe penis, the boy projectsit his intoan objectthat is partof his bodyyet has a strangelifeof its own:"the functionof urination laterof erectionare processes midwaybetween and the voluntary involuntary," and Beauvoir the writes; penis is "a capricious
and as it were foreign source of pleasure that is felt subjectively. . . . The

and penis is regarded the subjectas at once himself otherthanhimself" by without (SS, 79; DSa, 90). Notso foreignand distantas to appearentirely connectionswiththe boy,yet notso close as to prevent clear-cut a distinction betweenthe boy'ssubjectivity his own projected and transcendence, the penis, according Beauvoir, to enables the boy to recognize himselfin his alterego: "Becausehe has an alterego in whomhe recognizeshimassume his subjectivity," writes,"thevery she self, the littleboy can boldly of object in whichhe alienates himselfbecomes a symbolof autonomy, of power" transcendence, (SS, 306; DSb, 27; TA).
In my view, the word recognition here must be taken to allude to the

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2 106 boundary / Summer1992 Hegelian Anerkennung. Loosely inspiredby Hegel, Beauvoirwould seem to implythat there can be no recognitionwithoutthe positing of a subject and an other. By being relativelyother (thus allowingthe positing of a subjectother distinction),yet not quite other (thus makingrecognitionof oneself in the other easier), the penis facilitates the recuperationof the boy's alienated transcendence back into his subjectivity.Recuperating his sense of transcendence for himself, the boy escapes his alienation:his penis totem becomes the very instrumentthat in the end allows him to "assume his subjectivity"and act authentically. To say that there is something Hegelian about Beauvoir's argument here is not to claim that she is being particularly orthodox or consistent. the themes of recognitionand the dialectical triad, BeauFreely developing voir entirely forgets that for Hegel recognitionpresupposes the reciprocal exchange between two subjects. As far as I can see, however, Beauvoir never actually claims that the penis speaks back. Confrontedwith the alluring idea that it is not only the little boy who must recognize himself in his penis, but the penis that must recognize itself in the boy, Hegel himself in might have had some difficulty recognizing his own theory.13 Whatever the vicissitudes of the penis may be, little girls have a harder time of it. As we have seen, Beauvoir holds that the girl's anatomy makes her alienate herself in her whole body, not just in a semi-detached object, such as the penis. Even if she is given a doll to play with, the situation doesn't change. Dolls are passive things representingthe whole body, and as such they encourage the littlegirl to "alienate herself in her whole person and to regard this as an inert given object," Beauvoir claims (SS, 306; DSb, 27; TA). In her alienated state, the littlegirl apparentlybecomes Why is this the outcome of the girl's alienation? The "passive" and "inert." "alienated"penis, after all, was perceived by the boy as a proud image of transcendence. Why does this not happen to the girl'swhole body? Where does her transcendence go? On this point, Beauvoir'stext is not particularly easy to follow. I take her to argue that the girl's alienation sets up an ambiguous split between herself and her alienated image of herself. "Woman,like man, is her body," Beauvoir writes about the adult woman, "buther body is something other than herself" (SS, 61; DSa, 67). This, one may remember,is an exact quotation of her description of the boy's alienated penis. The adult woman, then,
13. Vigdis Songe-Mollerhelped me fullyto appreciatethe comic aspects of Beauvoir's use of Hegel.

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in and Moi / Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 107 of has still not achieved the dialectical reintegration her transcendence. The reason why she fails to do so is that, paradoxically,she wasn't alienated enough in the first place. Precisely because her body is herself, one might say, it is difficultfor the girl to distinguish between the alienated body and her transcendent consciousness of that body. Or,in other words, the difference between the whole body and the penis is that the body can never be the considered simply an object in the worldfor its own "owner": body, after is our mode of existing in the world:"Tobe present in the world implies all, strictlythat there exists a body which is at once a materialthing in the world and a point of view towards this world,"Beauvoirwrites (SS, 39; DSa, 40). Alienating herself in her body, the littlegirl alienates her transcendence in a "thing" that remains ambiguously part of her own originaltranscendence. Her alienation, we might say, creates a murkymixtureof transcendence, thingness, and the alienated image of a body-ego. The very ambiguity of this amalgam of the in-itselfand the for-itself recalls Sartre's or horrifiedvision of the "sticky" "slimy," that which is eternally ambiguas ous and always threatening to engulf the for-itself.Permittingno clear-cut positing of a subject and an other, this ambivalent mixture prevents the girl from achieving the dialectical reintegrationof her alienated transcendence which, apparently, is so easy for the boy. For her, in other words, there is no unambiguous opposition between the two first moments of the dialectic: this is what makes it so hard for her to "recover"her alienated transcendence in a new synthesis. It does not follow from this that the littlegirl has no sense of herself as a transcendence at all. Ifthat were the case, she would be entirely alienated, which is precisely what she is not. Instead, Beauvoir appears to suggest that there is an ever present tension-or even struggle-between the little girl's transcendent subjectivityand her complicated and ambivalent alienation.14 this theory, the girl's psychological structures must be On as a complex and mobileprocess ratherthan as a static and fixed pictured image. But on this reading, Beauvoir'saccount of the girl'salienationtransforms and extends her own highlyreifiedinitialconcept of alienation:rather
14. Itfollows fromthis analysis that I cannot agree with Moira Gatens's claim in Feminism and Philosophy: and Equality Perspectives on Difference (Cambridge: Polity,1991) thatfor Simone de Beauvoir, "femalebodyand femininity the quitesimplyare absolutely Otherto the humansubject,irrespective the sex of that subject"(58). I also thinkit is of rathertoo easy simplyto assert, as Gatensdoes, thatthe inconsistenciesand difficulties in TheSecond Sex are the resultof Beauvoir's "intellectual (59). dishonesty"

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2 108 boundary / Summer 1992 I here managesto challengethe limitations of unwittingly,think,Beauvoir of departure. resultis thathertheoryof female subher original The point is and thanherrather neatandtidy too jectivity farmoreinteresting original accountof male psychological structures.15 Towards end of TheSecond Sex, Beauvoir the arguesthatthe process of alienationis constitutive narcissism.(On this point,one may of with is "Narcissism a add, herpositionis entirely compatible thatof Lacan.) well-defined whichthe ego is reBeauvoir writes,"in processof alienation," fromitselfinit"(SS, takes refuge gardedas an absoluteend andthe subject Forthe narcissistic herego or self is nothing 641; DSb, 525; TA). subject, butan alienatedand idealized alterego or double imageof herself,another indangerinthe world. faras Ican see, the difference As betweenthe narcissistic andthe non-narcissistic womanis thatthe latter conservesa sense of or contradiction, whereasthe former persuadesherselfthatshe ambiguity is the image projectedby her alienation. This is why narcissism,accordthe a to represents supremeeffort "accomplish impossible ingto Beauvoir, the narcissistreally synthesisof the en-soi andthe pour-soi": "successful" believes thatshe is God (SS, 644; DSb, 529). For Beauvoir for Sartre,alienation transcendenceattempting as is to turnitselfintoan object.Alienating ourselvesin another thingor person, of we depriveourselvesof the powerto act foror by ourselves.Deprived our alienatedtranscendenceis defenselesslydeliveredup to the agency, a thereis thus no need to mobilize speFor dangersof the world. Beauvoir, to cifictheoryof castration anxiety explain little why boysfeel thattheirpenis aboutthe safety of one's penis, howis constantlyendangered.To worry in to threatened one's whole ever, is infinitely preferable feelingobscurely do: as little girls person, felt The diffuseapprehension by the littlegirlin regardto her "insides" . . . willoften be retainedfor life. She is extremely concerned

that abouteverything happensinsideher,she is fromthe startmuch immersedin the more opaque to her own eyes, more profoundly of obscuremystery life,thanis the male.(SS, 305-6; DSb, 27) else Inthis passage, as everywhere in TheSecond Sex, Beauvoir's to is of subtle and incisiveexploration women'ssituation juxtaposed a far In too sanguineview of masculinity. the lightof herown beliefin the influhere. As I go on to 15. Beauvoirherselfwouldcertainly disagreewithmyvaluejudgment show, she idealizes the male configuration, perhapspreciselybecause she perceives it as more "neatly" philosophical.

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and in Moi/ Ambiguity Alienation TheSecond Sex 109

of she ence of social factorson the development sexualdifference, hugely instrument of overestimatesthe convenienceof the penis as a foolproof and reintegration. alienation Everylittleboy or everyadultmale does not, transcendent afterall, come across as an authentically subject.Beauvoir's of is admiration masculinity such thatshe even assumes thatgirlsbrought thanby women"very escape the defects of femilargely up by men rather (SS, ninity" 308; DSb, 30). on Whilethereare strongbiographical reasonsforhermisjudgment this point,rhetorically the mainsourceof Beauvoir's idealization speaking, of the penis wouldseem to be metaphorical. with Littered referencesto the froma standingrather than froma powerful symboliceffects of urination position,hertextrepeatedly emphasizesthe penis'scapacityfor crouching of motion,as well as for the projection liquidsover a quasi-independent certaindistance.Whatfascinatesher above all is the idea that the male in that mobile,particularly its organ moves and, moreover, it is upwardly of streamof waterinthe airseems likea "Every grandioseprojection urine: a to to miracle, defianceof gravity: direct, governit,is to wina smallvictory overthe laws of nature," Beauvoir to Sartreand Bachelard claims,quoting substantiate point(SS, 301-2; DSb, 22).16 her in in Beauvoir factsees sexualdifferStrikingly original herapproach, At ence as the resultof different modesof alienation. firstglance, however, it looks as if the development different of formsof alienation depends enon the anatomical or absence of the penis. The question tirely presence is whetherthis reallyis a correctreading Beauvoir's of position.Insisting thathers is a theoryof the social construction femininity masculinity, of and Beauvoirherself categorically refuses the idea of a biological"destiny." On the contrary, argues, it is the social contextthatgives meaningto she and psychological factors:"True humanprivilege based upon is biological anatomical saisie privilege only in virtueof the totalsituation situation [la dans sa totalite]" 80; DSa, 91). Itis onlywhenthe girldiscoversthat (SS, men have powerin the worldand womendo not thatshe risksmistaking herdifference inferiority: sees thatitis notthe women,butthe men for "She who control world.Itis this revelation-muchmorethanthe discovery the of the penis-which irresistibly altersher conception herself"(SS, 314; of
DSb, 38).

Giventhe rightsocial encouragement, Beauvoir argues, girls may


16. Interestingly enough, the same belief in the transcendentqualitiesof any form of movementmakes her recommendsports and otherformsof physicaltraining an exas cellent way to help girlsdevelop a sense of themselves as subjects.

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2 110 boundary / Summer 1992 still manage to recover their transcendence. While the penis is a privileged possession in early childhood, after the age of eight or nine it holds onto its prestige only because it is socially valorized. Social practices, not biology, encourage little girls to remain sunk in passivity and narcissism, and force little boys to become active subjects. It is because little boys are treated more harshly than girls, and not because they intrinsicallyare less self-indulgent,that they are better equipped to projectthemselves into the competitive world of concrete action (SS, 306-7; DSb, 28-29). In my view, Beauvoir'stheory of alienationactuallyimpliesthat social factors have greater influence on girls than on boys: precisely because girls' transcendence is precariouslybalanced between complete alienation and authentic subjectivity,itdoesn't take much to push the girlin either direction.Less pronounced in boys, one might argue, this ambiguitymakes girls particularly susceptible to social pressure: Along withthe authentic demand of the subject who wants sovereign freedom, there is inthe existent an inauthenticlongingfor resignation and escape; the delights of passivity are made to seem desirable to the young girlby parents and teachers, books and myths, women and men; she is taught to enjoy them from earliest childhood;the temptation becomes more and more insidious;and she is the more fatally bound to yield to those delights as the flightof her transcendence is dashed against harsher obstacles. (SS, 325; DSb, 53) I take her constant appeal to social factors to be one of the strongest points of Beauvoir's position. But when it comes to explaining exactly how we are to understand the relationship between the anatomical and the social, Beauvoir's discourse becomes curiouslyslippery. Not to have a penis, for instance, is not necessarily a handicap: "Ifwoman should succeed in establishing herself as subject, she would invent equivalents of the phallus; in fact, the doll, incarnatingthe promise of the baby that is to come in the future,can become a possession more precious than the penis" (SS, 80; DSa, 91). Dolls, it now appears, do not necessarily cause alienated passivity after all: "The boy, too, can cherish a teddy bear, or a puppet into which he projects himself [se projette];it is withinthe totalityof their lives that each factor-penis or doll-takes on its importance"(SS, 307; DSb, 29). There is something circularabout Beauvoir'sargument here. For if the very formof the littlegirl'sbody encourages a sticky and incomplete mode of alienation in the firstplace, the littlegirlwillfind it difficult, indeed, to "establish herself as a subject." If"equivalentsof the phallus"are what is needed

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in SecondSex 111 Moi/ Ambiguity AlienationThe and to in orderto becomean authentic subject,itis hard see whywomenwould wantthem afterthey have managedto becomesubjectsin theirown right hesitations overthe subjectof dolls signal anyway.Inmy view,Beauvoir's of her own uneasy feelingthat heroriginal formulation the girl'salienation morethan she wouldwish. Hercontradictory feelings privilegesanatomy about the role of dolls, then, reveala deeper theoretical that difficulty: of witha an and argument findinga way of linking anatomical psychological sociologicalone. to The fact that Beauvoir fails explicitly raise this problemcauses her to overlookan important in her own accountof alienation. Attengap tive readersmayalready have noticedthathertextmovesdirectly fromthe Lacanian idea of the alienation the childin the gaze of the otherto the of rather different thatboys andgirlsalienatethemselvesintheirbodies. idea Beauvoir makes no attempt relateLacan'stheoryto her to Unfortunately, own. For her, apparently, two simplycoexist. Failing perceivethis the to as a problem, Beauvoir to also misses out on a crucial opportunity bridge the gap in her own theory,for instanceby suggestingthat it is the gaze of the otherthatoriginally investsthe child'salienatedimageof itselfwith the phallocentric it then goes on to repeatin its own workof alienvalues ation.Bygivingherowntheorya slightly moreLacanian twiston this point, she wouldhave managed,at least in myview,to producea betteraccount of the relationship betweenthe biological the psychosocialthan she and does. actually It is unfortunate, say the least, that Beauvoir to makes her subtle function a foilto herrather sophisticated as less theoryof femininity theory of masculinity. is not difficult show that Beauvoir's It to idealization the of in fact contradicts Sartre'sown accountof masculinedesire and phallus Nowhereis she on a greatercollision course withSartre transcendence.17 than in her idealizedaccountof masculinity: thereis a nice paradox the in factthatinthe verypassages whereshe unconsciously seeks to paytribute to Sartre,she entirely betrayshis philosophical logic. In Beauvoir's I above all her effort theoryof alienation, appreciate to thinkdialectically, courageousattempt her fullyto graspthe contradictions of women'sposition.The strengthof Beauvoir's theoryof alienation as constitutive sexualdifference notonlythatitmanagesto suggestof is albeitsomewhatimperfectly-that are patriarchal powerstructures at work
17. I go on to demonstratethatthis is the case in the nextsection of the chapterof which this essay is an excerpt.

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112 boundary / Summer 2 1992 in the very construction of female subjectivitybut also that it attempts to show exactly how this process works. Emphasizing the social pressures broughtto bear on the littlegirl, Beauvoiralso indicates that differentpractices will yield differentresults: hers is not at all a theory of intrinsicsexual differences. Providingthe basis for a sophisticated analysis of women's difficulties in conceiving of themselves as social and sexual subjects under patriarchy,Beauvoir'stheory also impliesthat it is both unjustand unrealistic to underestimate the difficulty involvedin becoming a free woman. Given Beauvoir's logic, for a woman to be able to oppose the orderthat oppresses her is much harder than for a man to do so; under patriarchy,women's achievements therefore become rathermore impressive than comparable male feats. As she puts it in The Force of Circumstance: "Forwomen the stakes are higher;there are more victories and more defeats for them than for men" (FC, 203; FCa, 268; TA).

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