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«Plaisirs de femmes»

Women, Pleasure and Transgression in French Literature and Culture

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Edited By Maggie Allison, Elliot Evans and Carrie Tarr

Feminist approaches to questions of women, pleasure and transgression have generally been premised on the assumption that women’s pleasures are typically constrained – if not ignored, marginalized or forbidden – in patriarchal cultures. The naming, foregrounding and pursuit of women’s pleasures can therefore be deemed potentially transgressive and linked to women’s emancipation in other realms. The essays in this volume draw on a range of materials, from travel writing and the novel to film and stand-up comedy, addressing the specificity of French and Francophone approaches to women, pleasure and transgression across a range of historical contexts.

The volume is divided into three sections: intellectual and creative pleasures; normative pleasures, that is, pleasures conforming to women’s conventionally expected roles and status as well as to accepted views regarding race, national identity and sexuality; and perverse pleasures, that is, pleasures transgressive in their tendency to reject authority and norms, and often controversial in their «excessive» appetite for violence, sex, alcohol or food. In each case, questions are raised about how we approach such pleasures as feminist researchers, motivated in part by a desire to counter the notion of feminism and feminist research as something «dour» or joyless.

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9 Subverting Patriarchal Norms(?): Women, Pleasure and the Menopause in Michèle Sarde’s Constance et la cinquantaine (2003) (Maria Tomlinson)

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Maria Tomlinson

9 Subverting Patriarchal Norms(?): Women, Pleasure and the Menopause in Michèle Sarde’s Constance et la cinquantaine (2003)

Menopausal women have long been subject to negative patriarchal discourse characterizing them as ‘dry’, ‘sexually undesirable’, ‘decaying’, or as ‘aged crone[s]’ (Zita 1997). Conversely, there has also been limited representation of experiences of menopause in literature. Since Simone de Beauvoir approached the topic in Le Deuxième Sexe (1949), however, feminist writers have continued to explore why the menopause is a taboo subject and examine how menopausal women’s perceptions of themselves and their bodies are shaped by negative patriarchal attitudes. For Beauvoir, the menopausal woman loses ‘la justification de son existence’ because, in a society that valorizes fertility, she is no longer perceived as sexually desirable (1949: 399), an argument which has remained central to feminist explorations of menopausal experience. In Autrement dit (1977), Marie Cardinal associates the menopause with shame: the menopause ‘doit signifier la fin du désir’ because women believe their sexual desire becomes ‘indécent’ once they enter this stage in their lives (1977: 43). Such a view is also prevalent in twenty-first century anthropological studies examining contemporary menopausal experience: for example, Françoise Héritier argues that ‘pour les hommes, une femme ménopausée n’a généralement plus de valeur sur le plan de la séduction, car elle n’a plus ce pouvoir de faire des enfants. La ménopause met les femmes hors du désir...

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