The Logical Consequence of the Feminine Attitude: A Response to Feminist Critiques of Georges Bataille
Georges Bataille has been subjected to feminist critique with a virulent hatred, comparable only to the hatred feminists have for de Sade. Eroticism and Bataille’s erotica are often held as misogynistic. So, it would be pertinent to start with Eroticism.
In Eroticism, Bataille says many remarks that could be taken as misogynistic but let’s analyze all of the “sexist” sentences, sentence by sentence, with the most nuance as possible:
“Theoretically a man may be just as much the object of a woman’s desire as a woman is of a man’s desire”. Bataille admits here that men can be the “object” (of transgression?) in a sexual relationship too. Thus, there is no sexism present, and it is because of this key admission that men and women have no inherent difference within the sexual realm that all feminist critiques of this section fall. He then says that “[t]he first step towards sexual intercourse, however, is usually the pursuit of a woman by a man” [emphasis added]. One must put emphasis on the usage of ‘usually’ because after they do this, they can begin to understand what Bataille is saying. Bataille wrote this in the late 1950s. So, of course Bataille is going to do general inductions when talking about society. But again, Bataille is not being sexist here, he is only doing general inductions based on the culture of which he lived in. He then says, operating off of the presuppositional logic that this latter general induction is true, that “[m]en have the initiative, and women have the power of exciting desire in men”. If we assume Bataille’s presuppositional logic to be true, then what he has just said is not sexist but a logical conclusion based on the evidence. Bataille is not being sexist, he is operating off his times and culture.
Bataille does not fetishize women. In fact, he says that “[i]t would be quite wrong to say that women are more beautiful or even more desirable than men”. Many feminists would see what follows Bataille’s latter words as sexist and misogynistic, but I would say otherwise. When Bataille says that women, “with their passive attitude[,] they try by exciting desire to bring about the conjunction that men achieve by pursuing them” [emphasis mine], one must remember that he is operating off the presupposition that “women have the power of exciting desire in men” and that he never claims this to be always true, but usually true (at least, in relation to the time he was living and the culture he was living in). It must be noted that this means that Bataille’s analysis in his work Eroticism is thus far not damaged as his analysis’ core argument is not dependent on these general inductions. Again, when Bataille says that women “put themselves forward as objects for the aggressive desire of men[,]” he is operating off the same presuppositional logic. Bataille is about to say something that is infamous with feminists and something that will require much nuanced analysis. Bataille says “[n]ot every women is a potential prostitute, but prostitution is the logic consequence of the feminine attitude”. How could one even claim this is not sexist? Quite simple: just hear Bataille out. Bataille claims that women aren’t inherently prostitutes but that the logic of the feminine attitude has prosititution as its logical consequence and this is based on a few presuppositions, premises, and conclusions: Presupposition 1. “[m]en have the initiative, and women have the power of exciting desire in men” and they excite desire by allowing men to pursue them as their object of desire. We have already gone over this presupposition above and how it is based upon the general induction that men, usually, are the pursuers and that women are the pursued. Thus, when Bataille says “[n]ot every woman is a potential prostitute, but prositution is the logical consequence of the feminine attitude[,]” we can realize that this claim is based upon something that he doesn’t hold to be completely true. In fact, he explicitly states that he does not hold this to be completely true, but rather generally true, when he says “[t]heoretically a man may be just as much the object of a woman’s desire as a woman is of a man’s desire”. It is because Bataille holds that a man can be equally the pursued as a woman is, that we can make the claim that if men are generally or usually submissive, “not every man is a potential prostitute, but prositiution is the logical consequence of the masculine attitude”. (From Presupposition 1:) Premise 1. “[i]n so far as she is attractive, a woman is prey to men’s desire”. It must be noted that Bataille does not claim this first premise to be completely true because some women may refuse completely because they are “determined to remain chaste”. (From Premise 1:) Conclusion 1. if women are desirable and thus prey to men’s desire, then “the question is at what price and under what circumstances will she yield”. This first conclusion must not be interpreted from a perspective of the restricted economy (interpreted in “economic terms”) because Bataille interprets from the perspective of the general economy. Analyzing the term ‘price’ from the perspective of the general economy, one realizes that when Bataille says ‘price,’ he does not mean that “a woman’s price” (for sex) is always monetary, as only “[p]rostitution proper” “brings in a commercial element”. Thus, a “woman’s price” could be symbolic, for fuck’s sake, a “woman’s price” (a “woman’s condition”) could be being her romantic partner, and I see nothing wrong with that — it must also be noted that Bataille is saying that a women can determine “her price” as well, again, something I think no feminist has an issue with. Analyzing the term ‘condition’ from the perspective of the general economy, one realizes that when Bataille says ‘circumstances,’ he literally just means circumstances in its conventional understanding i.e., as conditions that are pertinent to something — I question the “feminism” of any feminist who says women shouldn’t be able to determine the circumstances of when they have sex. (From Conclusion 1:) Conclusion 2. “if the conditions [(price and circumstances)] are fulfilled [(payed and met)] she always offers herself as an object”. I see no issue with the second conclusion because all it is saying is that if a woman wants to have sex with a man, and he wants to have sex with her, and both are able to do so, then they will have sex in which (assuming this woman is submissive, which Bataille does, but he never claims that all women are but rather generally women are submissive) the woman “offers herself as an object”. Are we not beginning to see a trend? This trend being that Bataille holds that there is no inherent difference between men and women, but generally or usually men and women act in certain ways. Look! The trend of general inductions continues when Bataille says that “[c]ertain women, it is true, never react by flight. They offer themselves unreservedly” [emphasis added]. I’m sure there are women who never react by flight, it is extremely probable that they exist. And if they do exist, then they are who Bataille is referring to. No sexism here! He then says that “[c]ertain women become objects in marriage”. This is also true. Certain women do become objects in marriage, but only certain women. Thus, once more, there is no sexism here!
When Bataille says that “[s]hame, real or pretended, is a woman’s way of accepting the taboo that makes a human being out of her[,]” the chance for radical misunderstanding arises. For Bataille, all humans, male, female, other, etc. gain their humanity out of taboo. Prohibition (taboo) is what causes humanity to differentiate itself from animality. Thus, taboo constituting the humanity of humans is not exclusive to women but rather is true for all humans regardless of sex and/or gender.
And that is Eroticism done with. Those are most of Bataille’s words in Eroticism which are taken out of context within feminist critique.
Bataille, Georges. Eroticism. Translated by Mary Dalwood. Penguin Group, 2012.
[1–3]: Georges Bataille, Eroticism, trans. Mary Dalwood (Penguin Group, 2012), 130.
: Ibid., 130–131.
: Ibid., 131.
: Ibid., 130.
[7–8]: Ibid., 131.
: Ibid., 130–131.
: Ibid., 131.
: Ibid., 130.
[12–17]: Ibid., 131.
[18–19]: Ibid., 132.
: Ibid., 134.