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New Left Review I/199, May-June 1993

Michèle Le Doeuff

Harsh Times

Waves of male chauvinism roll along in history, one after the other, sometimes they resemble one another, sometimes not. [1] This article is based on a paper given at a conference on ‘The New Forms of Contemporary Anti-Feminism’ in December 1991 at the Pompidou Centre, though some new illustrations have been added. The most insidious of these at the moment is in the form of what I have called the denial of mixity: [2] A concept I have explored in a contribution to Nouvelles Questions Féministes, vol. 13, no. 1. See also my book, Hipparchia’s Choice, London 1991. the adoption of a language that symbolically ignores the existence of women where they work and exist, and in political structures where they should be. Of course a set of lexical choices only involves insinuation, something that operates on the margins of perception. But we know that, in advertising for example, the most effective manipulations are precisely those that operate outside the areas of clear awareness. So to describe the denial of mixity, one is obliged to pay attention to trivialities, to apparently insignificant choices of words which may nevertheless have far-reaching impact. To do this requires a certain resolution, because anyone who concentrates on minutiae always seems to be making a lot of fuss about nothing. But these fragile indices may be the warning signs of serious mutations to come.

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