metro mama

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Calling All Philosophers!

*clarification below

Ladies, I’m looking for your thoughts for a paper I’m writing for my philosophy class. The paper is about Simone de Beauvoir’s theory that one is either in a state of transcendence (active being) or immanence (passivity) and that woman’s biology works against her transcendence.

As part of my research, I’d like the views of real women, particularly mothers, on the subject. Please let me know your thoughts! Comment here or email I’ll probably focus on pregnancy and motherhood but any ideas are welcome.

In case you’re wondering, my prof is quite open to unconventional research. Just to give you an idea, I had the option of doing a performance piece instead of the paper.

Hope to hear from you! If I’m happy with it, I’ll post the paper when it’s done.


Here is a little more about transcendence vs immanence:

Beauvoir maintains that human existence is an ambiguous interplay between transcendence and immanence, yet men have been privileged with expressing transcendence through projects, whereas women have been forced into the repetitive and uncreative life of immanence.



Blogger crazymumma said...

That theory is quite old I think. I do not remember the last time I was passive. Or any woman I know well for that matter.

Not what you are needing I know, so I will let the literary brains go to work on this one for you, but I will certainly enjoy hearing what comes of it.

2:08 PM  
Blogger penelopeto said...

you know that somehow i'm going to make this into a plug for the de-medicalization of childbirth, right?

3:09 PM  
Blogger Haley-O said...

I think women's biology can work for her transcendence....At least I prefer to look at it like that. Unless de Beauvoir is referring to women's biology in terms of its political limitations....Never actually studied de Beauvoir. Studied a bunch of other female philosophers, but not her. Studied Sartre, though, and therefore can understand what may have led her to thinkg that woman's biology words against her transcendence.... :| Love Sartre, though....

4:33 PM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

I need a definition of active being versus passive being. I'll poke around online to find one and then get back to you. I'm sure I have an opinion, I just need to know about what first! ;)

4:34 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Penelope: actually, that is going to form part of the paper.

Haley-o: that's what I'm going to argue. Any personal examples you want to share?

Mary-lue: I'll post more info on this...I just need to make Cakes' dinner first!

5:09 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

A performance piece... oh, go that route! That's funny, actually.

I'll think about this a bit, but I'm guessing HBM is your best guess.

5:23 PM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

I think HBM would be your ticket on this one too.

But I tend to agree with Haley-O. I beleive my biology infact works for my transendance. I can not be in a passive state of being when my identity shifted so dramatically because of pregnancy and parenthood. My biology sends me into highs and lows each month (ala hormones) that can fuel creativity during the highs and provide for active self reflection in the lows.

And the de-medicalization of childbirth ... yes. I'd love to read your take on this in the context of your paper.

I am waaaay out of my depth to give a philosphy-paper worthy answer to your question but I look forward to your take. Or do a performance piece ... that's SO what I would have done!

7:30 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Thanks for your comments ladies! Keep em coming! I've never written a philosophy paper before either, so don't be shy about the "quality" of the response. I'm looking for real women's experiences, not a thesis!

8:20 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

So, I just tried to leave a comment - a really loooong comment - but WB shut it down by closing my laptop. Which, I think, goes to support SdB's argument. Mothers are whipped.

Kidding. But I do think that the interesting argument is one that considers SdB's theory as more or less correct. I know - not fashionable. We all know that we are active beings as mothers. But she didn't mean simply active - she was thinking of the manly thinking life, public life. Obviously, women can live actively, but once they become mothers, at least for the first moments of their motherhood, they are consumed by their biological calling. This has been my experience, anyway - and I'm trained as a philosopher. Philosophy got left behind, if only temporarily - or perhaps more accurate to say that my philosophical energies were turned toward my biology, to my biological calling.

Anyhoo. Much of my current academic work focusses on this question - in what way mothers can be public, among other things. Let me know if you'd like to talk about it more.

8:55 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

I think the first thing I can do is challenge SdB's dichotomous way of thinking. I think biology does affect woman's being--she can be both immanent and transcendent at once. I'm thinking an interesting argument may be a woman is more subject to socio-economic factors.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have already had three coffees and I am so lost already.

At risk of sounding like someone who has absolutely no idea at all, I think that the terminology itself is frustrating for the modern woman. Everyone knows that it's better to be active rather than passive and so, we insist that passiveness has no place in the lives of mothers.

However, that being said, our biology as women allows us to create life. I think that at the moment of conception, a woman's thoughts instictively become introverted (ie, passive) because she becomes more in tune with the process of creating.

But then... I could be completely off my rocker.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous The Mentor Mom said...

Fascinating topic. I didn't do well in philosphy in college, but I do find it interesting. I share your assertation that women can be both immanent and transcendent at once. I do not feel that the contention that women have been "forced into the repetitive and uncreative life of immanence" holds true today. Society today affords women many more options, eg, to have a career, start a family, or both. Mothers express transcendence through the process or raising children! If that is active, I don't know what is. There are moments of immanence, however, these periods for me are times of reflection and introspection about how I can better use my periods of transcendence with my kids.

I am eager to read more about this I said, it is fascinating!

10:34 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

mentor mom: yes, I agree, immanence doesn't have to equal bad.

10:43 AM  
Blogger bubandpie said...

I guess housework would be the ultimate example of passive immanence? It's repetitive, with no permanent result - it's just maintenance, nothing else.

But then I'm reminded of Blog Antagonist's post awhile back on her grandmother's chicken soup. That post just glowed with the value of traditionally women's work - a heritage of it, a tradition of enormous value. Bonnie Burnard's novel A Good House is like that for me - the value of very ordinary kinds of women's work is very subtly woven through that novel. These kinds of writing recognize something spiritual and lasting in the mundane details of women's lives - and if that's not transcendent, I don't know what is.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Mamalooper said...

Here are my 2 cents, from a non philosopher....I find the dichotomous "either this or that" polarity a bit stale. Either immanence or transcendence. One, transcendence, being more valued than immanence.

What follows is quick and dirty. Use, toss, whatever.

What I am really curious about is how this argument is imbedded in a certain time and social class with respect to gender. Many men, even today, one could argue do not act in a transcendent way. They are no more a part of public life/influence than many women.

Also, this assumption that women have more of an experience of immanence is only true of a time and place where wealth would allow it. Think of the middle ages or later even where the entire family would be gathered around the fireplace making shoes. Pre-industrial revolution there was not such a split along gender lines between transendence and immanence.

And how is transcendence defined? Why are traditional male "out in the world" actions seen as being transcendent? I would argue that women have as much or as more influence.

Caveat on all of the above being it is off the top of my head, haven't read enough about transcendence and immanence, blah, blah, blah.

8:18 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Hey everyone: thanks so much for your responses. These are great.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Occidental Girl said...

I think that used to be more generally true, but I think that women have always asserted themselves in whatever way was available to them. Women used to get together in various ways: a quilting bee, French salons, afternoon tea, etc. in order to socialize and also to share ideas and learn new ways to cope with whatever they were dealing with. Women asserted their creativity in their homes with crafts and cooking, and it's certainly true that women were behind the household going on and decision-making, especially with regard to religion and child-rearing.

Now that it's acceptable for women to work outside the home, there is even more opportunity for women to assert their creativity and career prowess, just in different ways.

I think of Virginia Woolf who said that women have not been spoilt by the academic world, but have been at home and are therefore more capable of rendering an unsullied opinion on various topics. I paraphrase her, and I also agree.

Good luck on your research!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Occidental Girl said...

And furthermore, there's virtually nothing more life-changing and transcendent than motherhood! Going from a state of being yourself, to being responsible for another human being is completely mindblowing.

I remember bringing my daughter home and thinking, my god, if I died or couldn't nurse her, there is formula but what if there was an earthquake and we couldn't get to the store? She could starve! The responsibility that I was her sole source of food was staggering. Crazy.

Mind. Blowing.

To raise a child, nurture them in growth and learning, it makes you evolve as well.

There is nothing I can think of that will change you more quickly than motherhood.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

In conversations like these, I am always reminded of a professor who pounded into our pea-size brains, "Define your terms." What I consider active being might be different than Ms. de Beauvoir's definition. So, I did a little research on what SdB was saying and based on what I think I understand, here are my thoughts.

I disagree that a woman's biology works against her transcendence. I believe what has worked against the transcendence of women has been financial, societal, etc. And, even with those restraints, there have always been women determined enough to rise above the restrictions placed on them to contribute to the "thinking or public" life in a great way. This, I think, would fall in line more with her assertion that men have made women "Other" and in so doing, dismiss any contribution by women.

I believe that personality drives us more than "biology" although I believe wholeheartedly that there are fundamental differences between men and women in their thinking/behavior. Intuitive thinkers, artists, etc., who are driven will find a way to be involved and have a "transcendent" life.

Further thoughts, if you wanted them, would be more about how I disagree with SdB's definition of what it means to live an active life or a passive life.

Does that make sense?

10:10 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Mary-lue: makes perfect sense! Thanks for this.

Yes, I think SdB's definition is outdated.

8:14 AM  

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