Feminist Filmmakers and Ethics. A Psychoanalytic Approach. Ethics & Feminism.

In International Film Festival of Loulé (ed.), The Feminine Look: Women in Literature and Cinema (17-23, June, 2000), Camara Municipal de Loulé (Portugal), pp. 131-134.

The aim of this brief paper is to propose a feminist ethics for women filmmakers in relation to the role they can fulfil in the cultural construction of sexual difference. Since feminism is the ideological discourse that is most concerned with transforming the way in which sexual difference is constructed in social discourses and cultural textual spaces, so that intersubjective relations in contemporary social reality can be changed, it needs to rely on a theory that explains the way individuals are constituted as sexed subjects. It is at this point that feminism and psychoanalysis meet. For psychoanalysis has been interested in explaining not only psychical disorders (neurosis, psychosis) but also the psychical processes whereby individuals become sexed subjects of desire within a given culture.

Psychoanalysis understands that individuals are constituted as sexed subjects, as women and men, neither because individuals are born with a female or a male body (the essentialist position) nor because sexual identities are imposed on individuals by the social realm (the classical sociological notion of gender). For psychoanalysis sexual difference is in the middle ground between the biological and the social. For although in psychoanalysis it is considered that sexual difference is a cultural/external construction, it is also considered that this construction is based on a 'real'/physiological division between the sexes. It is precisely in order to offer an explanation to the enigma of the division between the sexes that culture constructs a symbolic order of sexual difference ('Woman'/'Man') through its discourses and texts. Since in psychoanalytic theory it is argued that a given individual acquires a social/sexual identity as long as he/she identifies both with this order and with one of the positions this order produces, psychoanalysis presupposes that the individual takes an active part in the acquisition of his/her sexual identity. It is because a given individual male or female identifies with the identity 'Woman' both as an 'image' and as a symbolic position within a fantasy scenario that he/she becomes a woman.

In psychoanalysis, however, the acquisition of a sexual identity not only helps the individual to give psychical expression to the real enigmatic division of the sexes but it also mediates the relationships between the sexes. For the acquisition of a sexual identity is simultaneous with the realisation that the other is not an other to whom the aggressive demand for satisfaction can be addressed but an Other whose desire is different and from whom nothing can be demanded. This construction of the other as an Other is one of the basic conditions for any society both to be constituted as such and to perdurate. For it is only by leading each individual to acquire a sexual identity that individuals can become social subjects of desire, that is, subjects able to share, despite their difference, a common social space.

However, the acquisition of a sexual identity is unstable. When the individual identifies with one of the positions of sexual difference he/she also identifies with the other position. Yet this identification with the other position remains unconscious (the subject is not aware of it). Also when the individual identifies with one of the positions of sexual difference, he/she is psychically divided between his/her identity and its 'being', that part of him/herself that escapes social recognition (the subject= I/Other). This instability of the subject's relationship with his/her sexual identity explains the fact that one of the functions of the cultural realm is to keep producing fictional scenarios in which the two sexually differentiated positions are displayed.

By highlighting the fundamental role that cultural texts, such as films, fulfil in the construction of sexual difference so that individuals can acquire a sexual identity psychoanalysis reminds feminism that it must be, not only a political discourse, but also an ethical one. Thinking about the ethical dimension of feminism is particularly relevant to feminist filmmaking. Contrary to the postmodern de-constructivist view that regards positively the obliteration of sexual difference in cultural discourses and texts, psychoanalysis reminds feminism that although sexual difference is a cultural construction or illusion it should not be destroyed inasmuch as individuals are constituted as social subjects through this fantasy. It is only by constructing sexual difference in cultural discourses and texts in such a way that individuals can identify with it that not only individuals are subjected to/by a sexual/social identity but also that the emergence of aggressivity in relation to the other sex is prevented.

To stress the value of the symbolic order of sexual difference does not imply, however, that there must be a return to the past in order to bring back everything that has been destroyed as a kind of sad restoration. On the contrary, it implies that a symbolic order of sexual difference can be constructed according to our present historical reality. For although it is indeed the case that the only way to mediate the relationships between the sexes is the construction of sexual difference, it is nonetheless possible to realise improvements in the way this order is constructed by symbolic apparatuses. It is precisely because psychoanalysis understands that the order of sexual difference is open to historical change, that it enters contemporary feminist political practice. However, by noting that the individuals' sexual identities can be changed through the transformation of the way sexual difference is constructed by cultural apparatuses, such as cinema, psychoanalysis also stresses the ethical dimension that such a political practice requires.

The psychoanalytic understanding of the role that sexual identities fulfil in the constitution of both subjectivity and the social realm, reveals that it is most crucial to produce contemporary symbolic fantasies that construct two ideal sexual identity positions. For it is only through this construction that women and men can symbolise their biological difference. It is only through a symbolic/cultural construction of sexual difference that subjects learn to see the members of the other sex not as others to whom the demand for satisfaction can be addressed but as Others, that is, as subjects who are not only different but also bound to remain an enigma. The paradox is, however, that it is only when subjects have learnt to take the otherness into account that a realistic path to communication and change is opened.

© 2000, Eva Parrondo Coppel. Se permite la copia y la distribución de este escrito en su totalidad a través de cualquier medio, siempre y cuando su circulación sea sin ánimo de lucro, se haga de forma literal y esta nota se mantenga

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