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Writing the Body

Write. Let no one hold you back. Let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which the publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs; not yourself. Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don’t like the true texts of women — female-sexed texts. That kind scares them.

Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”

I’ve rediscovered Hélène Cixous this week — that Jewish French feminist who encourages women to “write the body.” Since men have been writing their body into the logocentric language for millennia, the most assertive and powerful thing we women can do is write our own selves. The most assertive and powerful thing I can do is write my own self.

I read Cixous for the first time at IU and laughed out loud along with the rest of my female classmates. While the men just looked confused.

It’s nothing personal, gentlemen. While we adore you individually, we agree that as a group . . . well, there are some issues.


I always said that I would teach Cixous at BJU someday. With a class of all women — no men allowed. They have Preacher Boys class, right? Surely they’d let us do that, right?

Well, I never got that far, of course. Teaching Malcolm X as an exemplar rhetor at BJU still does give me some street cred, yes?

To write. An act which will not only “realize” the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal; it will tear her away from the superegoized structure in which she has always occupied the place reserved for the guilty (guilty of everything, guilty at every turn: for having desires, for not having any; for being frigid, for being “too hot”; for not being both at once; for being too motherly and not enough; for having children and for not having any; for nursing and for not nursing . . . ) — tear her away by means of this research, this job of analysis and illumination, this emancipation of the marvelous text of her self that she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter. She is reduced to being the servant of the militant male, his shadow. We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing. Inscribe the breath of the whole woman.

It’s taken me this long to read the entirety of the documents leading to and following our forced resignations from our former employer. The three-year-old emails and letters from our pastor especially. I just read them for the first time.

And now I get it. The best explanation for my boot from our church comes from Cixous.

An act that will also be marked by woman’s seizing the occasion to speak, hence her shattering entry into history, which has always been based on her suppression. To write and thus to forge for herself the antilogos weapon. To become at will the taker and initiator, for her own right, in every symbolic system, in every political process. It is time for women to start scoring their feats in written and oral language.

Every woman has known the torment of getting up to speak. Her heart racing, at times entirely lost for words, ground and language slipping away — that’s how daring a feat, how great a transgression it is for a woman to speak — even just open her mouth — in public. A double distress, for even if she transgresses, her words fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in language only that which speaks in the masculine.

I’ll never forget that final meeting with our pastor. I insisted that I join them. Grant, of course, didn’t mind. He’s a thorough egalitarian. He respects me. Like my dad and brother too. And here lies one of my blindspots. Because I’ve been surrounded by strong, intelligent, respectful men my whole life, I assume the same about other men. But my men are rare. Very rare. I know that now.

We were in Starbucks, and during the discussion, Grant sat on his car’s key fob and his trunk popped open. So he went to fix it, and Danny and I sat there waiting.

And there it was. That face. That same face that the glad-handing politician had at my front door. That same face that the man had who stole my parking place when he saw my belly swollen with life. He was scared. Terrified. Of me.

That look has haunted me for three years. I took it personally. No more. Now I understand what he was afraid of and why he tried so desperately and so illogically to get me to stop writing. Cixous explained it.

She must write her self, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which, when the moment of her liberation has come will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history, first two levels that cannot be separated.


10 thoughts on “Writing the Body

  1. It’s nothing personal, gentlemen. While we adore you individually, we agree that as a group . . . well, there are some issues.

    I have a hard time believing that you would think it acceptable for someone to replace “gentlemen” with “women,” “blacks,” or “Jews” in the above sentences. What’s the difference?

  2. Gee whiz, Austin. Get a sense of humor, would you? If her husband can see the humor, surely YOU can.


  3. If her husband can see the humor, surely YOU can.

    That’s a bit of a non sequitur, Grant. You have the advantage of being in the same room to see her chortle as she writes about being forced to resign, getting booted out of church, and sipping lattes with a pastor seething in sexist terror.

    Gallows humor, I guess.

    OK, actually the last one does seem kind of funny, if true—I mean, if Camille really is both participant and omniscient narrator in her anecdotes.

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