Feminist Theory 22 (2):226-247 (2021)

This article returns to Simone de Beauvoir’s philosophical oeuvre in order to offer a way of thinking beyond contemporary feminist divisions created by ‘gender critical’ or trans-exclusionary feminists. The ‘gender critical’ feminist position returns to sex essentialism to argue for ‘abolishing’ gender, while opponents often appeal to proliferated gender self-identities. I argue that neither goes far enough and that they both circumscribe utopian visions for a world beyond both sex and gender. I chart how Beauvoir’s ontological, ethical and political positions can be used to overcome the material/cultural, sex/gender bind that the contemporary divide perpetuates. I outline Beauvoir’s ‘ambiguous’ non-foundational ontology that attends to both the cultural origins, and material effects, of both sex and gender, and to the extent that humyns are fundamentally social. After outlining Beauvoir’s definition of freedom as purposive action, I then outline how the existence of the humyn-made and intersubjectively-upheld ‘situations’ of both sex and gender delimit this, urging feminists to return to the lost question of eradicating both. I use the utopian impulse in Beauvoir to argue that an ethics of reciprocity is an alternative mode of understanding the self and others. Beauvoir also calls for a political strategy that I call a ‘utopian realism’ that I apply to the contemporary divide. A way forward that is attentive to the concerns of both positions is the pragmatic use of identity politics that is nonetheless mindful of identity’s limits, alongside Beauvoir’s proto-intersectional vision of solidarity politics based not on identity but on a position of alterity and shared political strategy. Ultimately, I use this to argue that feminism would do better to unite around a shared commitment to challenging alterity, rather than further contributing to it.
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DOI 10.1177/1464700120988641
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The Ethics of Ambiguity.Simone de Beauvoir - 1948 - New York: Philosophical Library.

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