Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Helene Cixous is a revolutionary French feminist theorist and experimental novelist and dramatist. Her work extols female homoeroticism and feminist solidarity.

Cixous was born in 1937 in Oran, Algeria to Jewish parents. Despite being a native German speaker, she writes in French and teaches English literature. Her identity as female, Jewish and a non-native Arab led to feelings of displacement and constriction in a society which contributed to her inspiration for later works.

Cixous studied English literature in her teens and later emigrated to France to pursue her studies. She became an English literature professor in 1968 and was appointed to the University of Paris VIII, an experimental and controversial movement to accommodate “nontraditional” students and provide an alternate to the hierarchical French academic world partly as a result of student uprisings.

During this time, Cixous started her creative writing career. Her first novel, an autobiography titled “Inside,” was published in 1969 and won the coveted Prix Medicis. The work explored issues of identity and introspection.

She founded the first Center for Women’s Studies at a European university in 1974. The year after, she published her most well-known work, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” that established her as one of the mothers of post-structuralist feminist theory. In this work she argues that women have been forced away from writing in the same way and by the same people who have forced them away from their own bodies and sexual desires and must reclaim both. “Woman must put herself into the text—as into the world and into history—by her own movement,” she wrote.

The piece celebrated female masturbation and sexuality and pushes women to love and support each other: “[Men] have led [women] to hate women, to be their own enemies, to mobilize their immense strength against themselves, to be the executants of their virile needs.” “The Laugh of the Medusa” is a call to action, a rallying cry for women, particularly writers.

In the article “Sorties” (published 1975), Cixous questions the entire binary of gender and explores issues of sexuality in depth. She argues that under the unequal binary system, sexual variety is only tolerated when repressed. She also advocates for the possibility of bisexuality, not just as a sexuality but a recognition of plurality and the presence of masculinity and femininity within the same individual.

Though Cixous has never described herself using LGBTQ+ terminology, she was among the first female writers to challenge the gender binary system. Her work remains highly influential and enlightening today.

Caroline Fritz is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in French and linguistics. ✉

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