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☛ Cette chronique est aussi disponible en français [➦].
Translated by Zoe Yarymowich
The concept of femininity has given rise to many writings that converge, for the most part, towards the systematization of gender equality. Few have dared to admit that women are different from men and should therefore not be treated in the same way by society. The defence of women’s rights is so popularized, that it is quickly accused of feminism, even though feminism does not respect, during a non-nuanced promotion of gender equality, the singularity of women.
The concept of gynility, a neologism created by Quebec philosopher Louky Bersianki, makes it possible to grasp the existence of sexual differences without ranking them. Gynility then allows us to consider that women are neither inferior nor equal to man, but that they are quite simply different. Gynility, therefore, comes to understand that the woman must be able to make known and recognize her differences through an identity of her own.
The implication of philosophy is here inevitable, to the extent that identity reveals what is most essential to their being; the philosophical lens is the only one able to understand the stakes of such a notion.
Standing up against the principles of gender equality when it denies the differences of women and perceives women as men, gynility, therefore, encourages the recognition of sexual difference.
Part I. The Woman As a Gynile Being
In her book, L'Euguélionne, Louky Bersianik (1976) very clearly understands the question of female identity. She invents a concept; gynility. But while it should have resounded like a thunderclap in feminist thinking, this book, however sagacious, was quickly forgotten.
It depicts the story of Euguélionne, an extraterrestrial who arrives on Earth to find her male alter ego, but instead discovers the supremacy of man, which rejects all otherness. This book imagines an ideal city where individuals are not equal, but different, and where patriarchy, which testifies to a real hold over women by men, has no place.
Indeed, living together does not require that the male sex have ascendancy over the female sex; women are not similar to men, they have their differences as women and this does not affect the harmony of the people.
Louky Bersianik (1990), in La main tranchante du symbole, defines the gynility of women as “their recognized feminine identity, their femininity observed from the inside and not imposed from the outside by men, their feminine and human differences without references to masculinity.” (translated from French)
The author does not confuse genders. She does not distinguish between them either, because that would amount to confronting them and she refuses to compare the incomparable. The philosopher goes even further than feminologist Antoinette Fouque, who considered the existence of two sexes. Bersianik considers that there is also an ontology of the woman.
An ontology represents the will to seek what is natural, “being as being” (Lalande, 2010, p. 714, translated from French), independent of any empiricism and all experience. It is the “before” of an external element that has influenced this “being” in its character or behaviour. Thus, ontology rejects gender and how gender shapes women according to social expectations. It also makes room for what is singular, and unique and in doing this, it responds to the need for identity.
The identity of the women, intrinsically linked to her nature, must flee from what comes under genericism, an egalitarian vision of individuals, which does not see their differences but considers them as a whole without recognizing their particularities. This vision of the female identity alienates the differences of women.
This need to singularize the female sex finds its echo in the l’universel-singulier [universal-singular], which sees differences and beyond them, to give back to the woman what belongs to her, her identity. According to Sergio Cotta, consideration of the female subject implies both respect for an intrinsically particularistic quality and an erga omnes conception, which the expression universel-singulier includes. It is about rethinking the equality of the sexes through equality in differences, both universal and singular, universally open to sexual differences, and respectful of female singularities (Cotta, 1996).
The feminine ontology, which is conveyed by gynility, makes it possible to see women substantially, that is to say in the relationship that she maintains with her nature and not that which she maintains with the other. Socrates’ “know thyself” takes on its full meaning here. The gynil identity is one who, without rejecting the other and who is different, first listens to her nature, her intimacy, before being in a relationship with the other.
Understanding and claiming one’s feminine identity means knowing oneself before being able to gain access to the knowledge of the other.
For Hegel, this self-awareness must go through the relation to the other. The philosopher Daniel Sibony, in his book De l'identité à l'existence, l'apport du peuple juif, explains that in the beginning there is the being and that awareness of one's identity makes it possible to consider the existence of the other, but not as an enemy. For the author, “the other is not outside of us, it is within us. We are plural, we just have to accept it and take advantage of it to combine singularity and universality” (Sibony, 2012, translated from French). In short, it is the awareness of the existence of one’s own identity that allows one to exist. It is therefore not the social environment that allows a person to claim their identity, contrary to what gender theorists advance by saying that the human being is conditioned by their social environment and that they are therefore not free.
By eliminating gender as a tool for understanding sexual differences, gynility goes beyond these biological presuppositions that could confine, in a radical perception, women to a procreative role. It challenges the inferiority of women by ontologizing it. It is not a question of either considering the woman through the role of a “minor”, in a patriarchal society or in a society defended by the tenants of the equality of the sexes, referring, again, to the concept of gender, but to consider her through her sexual identity. The concept of feminineness (féminitude in French), which gives spirit to gynility, allows us to understand that the woman does not play a role in society, but that she is in society. It “implies the feeling of belonging to the female sex” (Tourné, 2014, p.182, translated from French). Malek Chebel, an anthropologist of religions, in his book La Féminisation du monde, writes as such: “Feminineness is the deliberate and conscious use, and [...] of women and their femininity. Feminineness is the transcendent and controlled use that women make of their femininity and their status” (Chebel, 1996, translated from French).
The origin of the term feminineness denotes the desire to break free from this femininity in favour of gender equality. Forged by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex to characterize the liberation of women from the dominant patriarchal model, this concept, for her, is pejorative and signifies the social inferiority of women must give way to gender equality so that women have the same status as men (de Beauvoir, 2008).
By advocating the alignment of the status of women with that of men, Simone de Beauvoir denies the identity of women and therefore does not respect her in her deepest being, in her ontology.
Feminologist Benoîte Groult bluntly affirms the impossibility of gender equality that “stumbles at any time on the real rock that is gestation” (translated from French). Even if her reasoning particularly insists on female procreation, she recalls that the relationship with others does not materialize better than through gestation. Gestation alone can “give life, create, welcome the other in oneself” (Trécourt, 2009, translated from French). That is what renders the women essentially different from men, therefore, their treatment must necessarily be different, in particular when society submits her to gender equality that alienates these differences.
Advocates of gender equality must realize that feminineness “necessary to lead the fight for emancipation” (Tourné, 2014, p. 182, translated from French). Like that of gynility, it makes it possible to assert sexual differences for the benefit of a society in line with the needs of each individual.
It is precisely this sexual difference that must be preserved to establish the dual unity of women and men and, thus, prevent unjust inequalities from establishing and, where appropriate, from lasting. The difference does not mean the subordination of one person to another.
On the contrary, it is the rejection of the differences between the sexes which is at the origin of the inequalities between men and women.
The ideal to accomplish is a gynile society that sees feminine differences without breaking under the weight of gender equality, one which understands that the other feminine is not the other masculine and that they are strong in their differences, women must be empowered.
Bersianik, L. (1976). L'Euguélionne. La Presse.
Bersianik, L. (1990). La main tranchante du symbole. Éditions du remue-ménage.
Chebel, M. (1996). La féminisation du monde. Payot.
Cotta, S. (1996). Le droit dans l’existence. Bière.
De Beauvoir, S. (2008). La femme indépendante. Folio.
Lalande, A. (2010). Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie. PUF.
Sibony, D. (2012). De l'identité à l'existence, l'apport du peuple juin. Odile Jacob.
Tourné, C.-É. (2014). Féminisme, féminité, féminitude. L’Harmattan.
Trécourt, F. (2009, September 24). Et si on parlait de parité? Philosophie Magazine, 33. http://www.philomag.com/les-idees/et-si-on-parlait-de-parite-3403
To cite this article:
Farine, É. (2016, November 8). Gynile Identity: Treaty of Philosophy on Women’s Identity. Les 3 sex*. https://les3sex.com/en/news/249/chronique-l-identite-gynile-traite-de-philosophie-sur-l-identite-feminine-