The Femininity by Levinas
The word ‘femininity’ has been construed in relation to the perception of women in terms of culture and the way society looks at women. Different from femaleness which is generally regarded as a biological and physiological classification related to the reproductive system, it is concerned with the certain traits, behavior patterns and features, which are more typical and best suited for women in their destined culture. According to the culture of the western world, feminism means patience, perseverance, gentleness, vanity, kindness and superficiality. Since the term originated in the eighteenth century, the word has been contrived in several ways. Emmanuel Levinas, a French Scholar was an “interlocutor, collaborator, and master superiorly intelligent” (Brody, 2001, p. 60) on the term ‘feminism’ and connected the term to empirical men and women.
Emmanuel Levinas discussed the concept of feminine through many points of philosophical research like through “time, dwelling and the description of the breach of infinity”. (Pazi, 2008, p.171) God has created women for the love of man and she is naturally made in the way she could please the man. His first discussion on femininity is in his ‘Existence and Existents’ published in 1947 with an attempt to bring forward the concept of sexual difference or difference between sexes in terms of ‘Eros’. He said, “it does not have some specific difference but sex is situated between the logical division into genera and species and the difference between the sexes is a formal structure, but one that curves up reality in another sense and conditions the very possibility of reality as multiple, against the unity of being proclaimed by Parmenides”. (Sanford, 2002, p.141)
In both the ‘Existence and Existents’ and ‘Time and the Other’, feminine is considered with “radical alterity”. Hereby Levinas posited his view that in feminine “the alterity of the other appears in its purity because alterity is here borne by a being in a positive sense, as essence.” (Perpich, 2001, p. 31) Femininity is the most ideal form of alterity in the sense that females could be easily modified showing a form of difference that in no way could be established between her original attitudinal behavior pattern and herself.
The femininity Levinas sees is through the eyes of male ego whereby his ego is formed because of his separated attitude as compared to female, his exertion for autonomy resulting in dominating self as compared to female who is submissive, nurturing, emphatic, emotional and care taker. In the society of ours where patriarchy dominates, women’s approach towards the morality is different than the males. Because of the ego that predominates, there is difference between the way man and women thinks on morality. Men think on the basis of justice while women think on the basis of definite relation, and put before the reasons considering compassion and sympathy instead of concept or idea. Females are more emotional and consider every aspect of life through emotional relationship between oneself and the other as distinct from those arising from several thought processes.
If we look at the term ‘feminism’, we would look it in the terms of the equal rights of women and a women in a relationship with the other but if we consider Levinas viewpoint, we would never think his view on feminism in relation to the other and would never consider it as regards to the other rights but for him there is a need to look at the society from different perception and concept, beginning not with equality but with the asymmetry of face to face relation. If we have to think feminism in relation of self to other, we have to think from different angle from the idea of subject, freedom and consciousness. (Chanter, 1998, p. 35) For him, females are brought into this world for the pleasure of male and so that male lover can fully enjoy himself and it is quite natural too. Feminist Luce Irigaray quite contradicts this view that the female is only brought into this world not because she is female but because male lover can enjoy himself and feels strong for moving towards the path of autistic transcendence. Irigaray posits the view that Levinas is totally unaware about ecstasy that lovers feel when they involve with each other. Irigaray argues that though Levinas feels caressing is most pleasurable yet ignores the other part of the feminine “when he leaves her to sink, especially amidst the darkness of a pseudoanimality, in order to return to his responsibilities in the world of men-amongst-themselves.” (Irigaray, 1991, p. 113)
Levinas says that two types of erotic relationship exist between males and females. One is atheistic where partners fulfill their selfish desire and whole feeling is based on the self interested desire while female erotic nudity is an “inverted signification and a clarity converted into ardor and night.” (Perpich, 2001, p. 38) He says that women reveal her nudity so that she can hide her femininity and this is an essence of womanhood, while on the other hand, the sex organs of females are inferior to males only existing with the main purpose to give pleasure to man and places women as already being divided into two but not as single entity or a human being. According to Irigaray, female speaks her own language with the words totally different than men, whereby she only has to get obliged. Women never openly declare this logic but she wants herself to be felt touched and is a source of her femininity, which is no doubt anticipated about her. Females find pleasure in almost every aspect of her life. De Beauvoir takes it further on the way by which Levinas writes on femininity. De Beauvoir noticed that Levinas views about ‘Other’ as alterity and feminine only raise the conception of patriarchy, which feminists have been challenging since years. De Beauvoir suggests that feminine as described by Levinas is from a viewpoint of male or to show the male in a superior position, which according to Levinas is an assertion of masculine privilege. (De Beauvoir, 1970, p. xvi) This aspect goes against the very concept of Beauvoir who asserts that how the concept of feminine came into existence, how and why woman has been considered as ‘Other’ and what consequences are felt by man? (De Beauvoir, 1970, p. xxix)
De Beauvoir states that woman should never be regarded as sexual organism and her awareness of herself should also not be defined only on the basis of her sexuality but shows her position as regards to the economic position of the society. She said that woman no doubt has to sink herself into the household world, which is insignificant as compared to man who has more of productive work to his credit. For a man, she is an equal partner, and along with that she is a reproducer, an erotic object and ‘Other’ through whom she identifies herself with. She threw light on the political limits female face and the different approaches, which had predominantly occurred on the issues of equality and feminism in 1970.
All of them were the second generation feminists who had not only raised the issue of social inequalities faced by women but delved into the several ideologies that were put before them as females as a segregated unit in the society and which allotted them the most disadvantaged position as compared to men. John Lechte observed that “taking inspiration from the psychoanalysis which shows that the consciousness or ego is not the center of subjectivity, second generation feminism challenges the gender bias in language, law and philosophy.” (Lechte, 1994, p. 182) These feminists wanted that women should not behave or act like men but should develop their new feminine identity, own language, laws and mythology.
Brody, Donna. “Levinas maternal method from “Time and Other” through Otherwise than Being No Woman’s Land.” Feminist Interpretations of Emmanuel Levinas. Ed. Tina Chanter.
University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2001. 53-77
Chanter, Tina. “Feminism and the Other” The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other Eds. Robert Bernasconi, David C. Wood. New York: Routledge, 1988. 32-56.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “The Second Sex.” London: Bantam Books, 1970.
Irigaray, Luce. “Questions to Emmanuel Levinas: On the Divinity of Love.” Re-reading Levinas. Eds. Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley. London: The Athlone Press, 1991. 109-118.
Pazi, Hanoch Ben. “Teaching as an Internationalization of feminine aspects”. Levinas in Jerusalem Ed. Joëlle Hansel. Springer, 2008. 171-200.
Perpich, Diane. “From the Caress to the Word.” Feminist Interpretations of Emmanuel Levinas. Ed. Tina Chanter. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 2001. 28-52
Sanford, Stella. “Levinas, feminism and the feminine” The Cambridge Companion to Levinas
Ed. Simon Critchley, Robert Bernasconi. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 139-160