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“War or Politics”

Notes on:
Sylviane Agacinski, Parity of the Sexes.

Citing Clausewitz’s dictum, “War is mere continuation of politics by other means….” and paraphrasing Foucault’s near reversal of the same, that politics is war in more civil guise, Agacinski rejects both: “Allow me this minor detail: war is a means men use, not women. Thus there is no ‘war of the sexes.’ ”

[Agacinski is right. He is always at war but not with her, as woman. The war is between himself and the cosmos, including himself to the extent he sees himself a part of it, and if she is caught in the cross-hairs, as so often happens, it is because she is, like it or not, its most vivid and present face. His violence toward her is never personal because he cannot but with the greatest imaginative effort see her as a person, a fact which never ceases to gall her—inflicting perhaps the deepest injury. Still, it is not war. In a war one can come to see it as an honor to be vanquished by a formidable enemy but against whom one stands a chance. Here there is no such possibility. He could kill her and she would triumph, because he would not have gotten himself to see her as person. His imagination is broken by her as mirror.]

I like to think that if man invented war, woman invented politics the day–mythical I admit–when she persuaded man to seduce her rather than take her by force as one attacks a citadel. Lacking power and the wish to fight, lacking a love for violence, I imagine that in her relations with the other sex, woman developed the art of persuading and governing through the spoken word. It is also most often through the word (le verbe) that women are violent, knowing how to manipulate insult, sarcasm, mockery, and humiliation.

She comments on the atrocities in Bosnia and the methodical raping of women, and the fathers and husbands who kill their raped daughters and wives as one might discard corrupted goods. “This way of violating women is inextricable from men’s war against themselves.”

There is a critical “absence of symmetry” in “the war of the sexes”.

To those who object that violence directed at women in war is merely a natural extension of the general cruelty and inhumanity of the situation, Agacinski points out the crime statistics in times of “peace” belie such a contention. It is always men doing violent, inhumane things; war is just a free-for-all of male inclination.

[Social and cultural institutions have always been shaped by sexual difference. They are what they are as much because women have fought by hook or crook for a say in that structure. It has been political struggle from the start. A man may have the power to impregnate a woman but a woman has had a near monopoly on shaping that new life in its most formative years. There is a limit on how much of his mere physical strength he can use to his own advantage without taking her into consideration.]

Women would have been truly cowardly if for centuries they had accepted being the passive victims of men.

The freedom women seek is a “situated” freedom:

Sartre was right in speaking freedom in terms of invention, but we do not invent out of nothing, and the situation out of which we invent our freedom includes a great number of determinants, including natural and historical givens. Thus ‘freedom’ is itself a modern concept, and it is forever transforming.

[But here is another difference, for men do seek to invent out of nothing. It is their aspiration and why they are so disrespectful of material somethings and historical givens, and, perforce, their embodiment in woman.]

…the two sexes are not a priori enemies.

…war between them is impossible.

[Anything like “war” would have ended the species long ago.]

…it is the impossibility of war that has condemned them to politics.

Posted by luno in political philosophy, parity, sex differences (Wednesday August 2, 2006 at 1:08 pm)

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