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Creation and Criticism

ISSN: 2455-9687  

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

Vol. 06, Joint Issue 22 & 23: July-Oct 2021

Research Paper

Existentialism: A Tributary from Where Existentialist Feminist Thought Flows

Dharmendra Kumar Singh



This research paper aims at examining the time breaking ‘Existentialist Feminist Thought’ in detail while having a cursory glance at ‘Existentialism’ along with ‘Feminism’. It takes Existentialism into focus minutely and also its etymology, meaning and definition, its chief thinkers and the dominant concepts related to it. It also highlights feminism and discusses its etymology, meaning, definition, types and waves with its chief thinkers and their related major theories as well as correlation between existentialism and feminism. It chiefly presents the contribution of the major existentialist feminists thought while delving deep into their major works and theories which demonstrate the moot point of the predicament of woman living in the various society across the globe. What the concept of ‘Otherness’ is and what it explains about the women’s oppressions, what voices it raises against the sexual oppressions of the patriarchal society inter alia— these all targeted things  are also explored, besides having a cursory glance over the contribution of the existentialist feminist thought in the so- called civilized societies of this blue planet.


KeywordsExistentialism, Feminism, Otherness, Patriarchal Society, Hierophany, Consciousness, Angst


Etymologically, the word ‘existentialism’ (n.) comes from the French word ‘Lexistentialisme.’ ‘Existential’ (both in Latin and Danish languages) is its adverb. It is from a Latin word ‘Exsistere’ standing for ‘coming into being’. The word ‘Exsistere’ is the result of the combination of two Latin words ‘Ex’ (Pref.) standing forOut’ and ‘(s)istere’ (Lat. vb.) for ‘taking a stand’. The word ‘Existere’ (L.) belongs to ‘Existentia’ (Old French and Late Latin) that gives birth to English word ‘Existence’ (Late-mid-Eng.). Hence, Existence’ is the root word from which Existentialism has emerged. It stands for ‘the state or fact of existing, i.e., to be Human— ‘from man to human.’ In this way, it can be said that there is the confluence of the four languages—the Latin, Danish, French and English— in the root of this word. Prima facie, it stands for ‘coming into being of an individual with the help of his/her own choice.’


In philosophy, this term that is called existentialism denotes ‘something active rather than passive,’ but philosophically, it is now applied to a vision of the condition and existence of man, his/her place and position, and function in this world, and his/her relationship, or lack of faith in God, i.e., it assumes that man is entirely free and responsible for creating meaning out of life in this absurd universe interrogating what it means to be human when individuals have power to shape their lives without being absolutely sure of what is good or bad. Logically, it ‘predicates existence’ of an individual. Ontologically, it is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence in this absurd universe with the help of the concept ‘existence precedes essence’, and centers on the experience of thinking and feeling, acting and choosing. In the view of the existentialists, the individual’s starting point is called “the existential angst or crisis,” a negative term that denotes a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore the issues related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence. Generally, it is the study of the predicament of human existence concerning with the lived experiences of man opposing all the theories and the philosophies that tend to consider man as idea or thing vice versa.


It is called that it was Gabrial Honore Marcel (1889-1973), a French Catholic philosopher, who coined the term ‘Existentialism’ and applied to Jean Paul Sartre (1905-80). Blaise Pascal (1623-62), a French philosopher, mathematician, and theologian, was its forerunner. Titular and contemporary father of this school is Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish theologian, and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), a German Philosopher, is called its tutor. Although it was in its prime from about 1930 to the mid-20th century, but its traces are found in the preaching of Socrates, founder of the western philosophy & of Budhdha, the light of Asia. This is why Dr. S. Radhakrishnan remarks: ‘Existentialism is a new name for an ancient method. The Upnishads and Buddhism insist on knowledge of the self: atmanam viddhi (443)’ and this atmanam viddhi (knowledge of the self) is the core of this school. The main stars in the constellation of existentialism are Albert Camus, Karl Jaspers, Gabrial Marcel, Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Simon de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Jean Wahl. The amazing thing of this so called school is that this is no school but a train of thinkers & philosophers of distant countries of various ages besides being literary as well as philosopher.


What though they belong to the distant countries of the distant ages, the common things that they have, are the fundamental doctrines and concepts that constitute its theme in which the first noted thing is ‘existence precedes essence (295)’ that can be simply understand in the words of Sartre as he said that the being of man comes first and his knowing afterwards; The next thing of it is ‘the absurd or absurdity.’ As the existentialists believe that we are born purposelessly into a world that is absurd, i.e., meaningless— but each and every person has the ability to create his/her own sense of meaning - place & position- in this world. Then, come the ‘facticity’ and the ‘authenticity.’ As the former is the conditioned limitation of the freedom consisting unchosen things like birth and place or caste and class or color etc. of the past entailing angst, anxiety, dread and despair in the condition of curtailed freedom, the later is involved in the idea of creating and living (with) ‘oneself’ not with one’s action in accordance with one’s freedom. Here, the noted point is this that in relation to authenticity, facticity involves acting up/on one’s actual values when making a choice. After that come ‘the Other and the Look.’ ‘The Other’ stands for the experience of the world through the eyes of someone else that is observed by any other person, while ‘the Look,’ as a term, is the experience of the Other’s look. Finally comes the ‘existential anxiety’, the harbinger of alienation, angst, dread, and despair in the life of individual. It refers to the feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life caused by the thought of inherently pointless life, meaningless limited existence, and the thought of the approaching death. Knowledge of the self, role of God in the process of the formation of one’s being—affirmative/negative; and the truth— fact or fiction—are also the tongued terms related to the existentialism.


Having a bird’s eye view of existentialism— as it is the need of the present article— there is also a need to have a little glance over feminism to present the existentialist feminist thought well. As the term ‘Feminism’ comes from French word ‘Feminisme’ that is the combination of the two words ‘Femme’ (standing for woman) and ‘Isme’ ( standing for movement or ideology). Etymological study of the word feminism naturally clears that it is a/an movement/ideology related to women’s welfare. According to the Oxford Dictionary it was Alexander Dumas  (1802-1870), a French dramatist, who coined the term ‘feminism’ in 1872, but the term ‘feminist’ was coined by Charles Fourier (1772-1837), a French socialist, in the early decades of 19th century. Although the term feminism came into its existence, all was not good with it as a movement or an ideology. It was not gladly welcomed but condemned. It had to face severe criticism, for instance, the London Daily News that branded this term as ‘dangerous.’ Even though, in spite of being a lady, Queen Victoria had a bête noire for it. She too was a determined opponent of ‘the Right of Votes for Women, i.e., ‘women’s suffrage’ due to which she described it as a ‘mad wicked folly.’ What to say about it, when every good thing has always been on the horns of dilemma in its initio. How feminism as well as feminists (One who- male or female- believes in feminism) can escape from such a condition. To feel blue was destined for both, but a labor of love never ends in smoke is also common with feminism and its big guns.


Now coming to the root of feminism, it is to say that some other things related to it need clarity, i.e., the discourse of ‘feminism,’ besides itself, needs clarity of other two terms – the first one is ‘femaleness’ and the second one is ‘femininity’. The former centers on physical and biological differentiation between man and woman, that provides genetic variations necessary for the reproduction and continuity of humanity while the latter, related to social and cultural construction of women, is a quality of acting in a typically womanly, girlish, or feminine way based variously on various cultures and religions practices, i.e., they are both representative of body (biologically) and institutionalized (familial) role performer. But ‘feminism’ is the critique of those all patriarchal modes of thinking that  subordinates women to men in familial, religious, political, economic, social, legal, and artistic domains neglecting the hard boiled realities of life with the aim of focusing not only on the man (leaving woman) -made  concept of  gender, but also on the feminine subject matters in a distinctive feminine mode of experience ,i.e., Generally, to look the world through the glasses of  woman’s point of view  considering the woman’s position in society  in comparison to man and a desire to eradicate all the inequalities related to them is feminism. As it is stated in the Wikipedia of Feminism that:


Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.  Feminism incorporates the position societies prioritize the male point of view, and that women are treated unjustly within those societies. Efforts to change that include fighting against gender stereotypes and establishing educational, professional, and interpersonal opportunities and outcomes for women that are equal to those for men (web.)


While describing the feminism, the Webster Dictionary says that feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is an organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. It is noteworthy, here, what the famous French feminist critic Helene Cixous in the essay “The Laugh of the Medusa (1975-Trans.)”  writes:


I shall speak about women’s writing; about what it will do. Woman must write herself, must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies-for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Women must put herself into the text-as into the world and into the history-by her own movement (p. 295).


While Judith Astelarra Bonomi (born 1943), an Argentine sociologist and feminist, describing the feminism writes:


Feminism is a proposal for social transformation as well as a movement that strives to end the oppression of women….As a movement, femalainism has a long history of rebellion, more or less organized but always expression, oppression to the social instructions that made possible the inferiority of women (web.).


Ipso facto directly or indirectly, most of the definitions of feminism present the same things in the altered words so there seems no need to present any more. But, to present its kinds is mandatory. A theoretical glance over the historical journey of feminism reveals its three main types often called “Big Three”—Liberal Feminism, i.e., mainstream, that focuses on achieving gender equality through political and legal reform within the framework of liberal democracy, Radical Feminism that advocates a radical re-ordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all the social, political and economic context while recognizing the women’s experiences affected by other social divisions such as in race, class, and sexual orientation, but the Cultural Feminism, that ideologizes the ‘female essence or nature’ with an attempt to revalue and redefine all the attributes ascribed to femaleness, and four waves or surges (leaving Proto-feminism, conventionally, modern western feminist history as it is spilt into)— in which the first wave ( late19th century & early 20th century), coined as a term by journalist Maratha Lear, that arose with the efforts of Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, Dorothy Day and Virginia Wolf,  focuses on overturning of the existing legal inequalities, particularly addressing the issues of women’s suffrage for political power;  the second wave (1960s-1980s) that came into existence with Simon de Beauvoir’s Second Sex (1949), especially related to the women of bourgeoisie families, broadens debate to include cultural inequalities, gender-norms, and the role of women in society. The feminists like Simon de Beauvoir, Mary Daly, Kate Millet, and Dona Haraway played a significant role in it; while the third wave (1990s-2000s), known as ‘woman’s Libration’ refers to diverse the strain of the feminist activities and studies. It is seen by it itself as a contribution of the 2nd wave and as a response to its perceived failures. It was led to its apex by the feminists like Margaret Atwood, Judith Butler and Susie Bright, but the 4th wave of feminism (from 2005/6 with # Me Too/ around 2012 - till now) focuses on the empowerment of women, the use of internet tools, and intersectionality along with social justice and civil rights. Various gang rapes throughout the world along with ‘Heforshe’ &‘#MeToo’ movements are its indistinguishable part.


Prima facie, ‘a modern tradition of contemporary and polemic devoted to the analysis of women’s literary work, and of their representation in literature.The beginning of this movement are found in the journals of Rebbeca West from about 1910 (366). But with Mary Wollstonecraft’s magnum opus A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Feminism initiated its stormy voyage in 1791, while reporting the pains and pangs of its heart and psyche to the cruel and stony hearted male dominated oceanic world in 1929 through Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It revealed its strong alternative to identity politics in 1949 with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, clearing the ubiquity of male domination in culture analyzing the subjugation of women in prominent art and literature in 20th century. It tried to define a distinctively female literary tradition in 1979 with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Mad Woman in Attic, and finally presented all the taken and borne sufferings in 1989 with the help of Judith Butlar’s Gender Trouble. By now, it could not attain its willed goal of touching the land of peace, respect and dignity of the beyond shore. It’s continually crying # Me Too, # Me Too. Heforshe ? Heforshe ? Why, Why not Sheforhe? Many captains (feminists) came sometimes alone and sometimes in throng and tried their best sometimes in sailing this ship of feminism, and sometimes in pushing it to get it out of the marshy land of the shores of the oceanic societies with the help of the ores of theirs works, but ultimatum is rest to find.


Where the thing is related to the correlation between existentialism and existential feminism, there is a need to have a little glance on the related perspectives of the both schools. Since, the thinkers of the both schools pay attention to the same things with a little difference so there is a need to present the similarity and dissimilarity between the various related terms and aspects of their thoughts. Where existentialism deals with the individual, God, Being, and truth without making any difference between the both sexes—man and woman, there existential feminism also deals with individual but only with woman—neglecting man and his role in the society, there their ‘Being’ stands only for the being of Woman whether it is ‘being-in-itself’ or ‘being- for- itself,’ there their truth is the truth related to the predicament of woman—her suffering, her miserable condition, oppression & bias done to her, her place and position of  being projected as ‘Other’ in the cultural and political areas. About God and His/(Its) role in the moulding of individual’s essence, the existentialists are unanimous as they themselves are divided into two groups—Theistic/Christian Existentialism and Atheistic Existentialism—the former school believes in God and Christianity while the latter neglecting them advocates for reason, choice and will-power. But for the thinkers of the existential feminism God is a ‘verb’ rather than a ‘noun’. He is not ‘a great being’ but in ‘the process of being’ itself. It is He who traps the divine within the binary system of Subject and Object and does injustice to woman making her secondary or Object in the social strata.       


After having a glance over the historical development of the feminism, there is need to have a little glance over the chief theories annexed to it. These theories are the very/same pillars on which the dome of the skyscraping building of the feminism is shining brilliantly naturally spreading its light throughout the nooks and corners of the world for the well wishing of its subjects. The mosaic of various schools of feminist criticism as well as their dominant positions and practices are inscribed within its structure providing it everlasting crystal like clarity and iron like strength. The school of Black Feminist, Lesbian Feminist, Marxist/Socialist Feminist, Psychoanalytic Feminist, Radical Feminist, Indian Feminist, Eco Feminist etc. are supporting it to attain its goal and to maintain its ceaseless grandeur. One among these inscribed schools of feminist is of Existentialist Feminist (thought) that amply gives it a new direction along with dimension with its various vibrant thoughts.


When the thoughts and theories are the things of revival and revolt, how existential feminism can escape. The school of Existentialist Feminist Thought is also a little revival of the existential concepts, tenets and themes—existence precedes essence—along with other related terms such as anxiety, angst, alienation, facticity and authenticity etc. As a revolt, it is a revolt of the thought against the school of Marxist or Socialist Feminist, Radical Feminist—the division between Radical feminists and Marxist feminists should not be taken literally. They are ideal types rather than clear-cut divisions within feminism (229)—and Psychoanalytic Feminist and harbinger of existential tenets and themes in the field of feminism. As Marxist or Socialist feminist analyzes the ways in which women are exploited through capitalism and the individual ownership of private property; As Radical Feminist calls for a radical reordering of society demising patriarchy; As Psychoanalytic Feminist with a theory of oppression asserts that men have an inherent psychological need to subjugate women, Existentialist Feminist explains comprehensively women’s oppression embedded in ‘otherness’ as well as emphasizing  the concept of women’s situation, freedom, interpersonal relationships, and the experience of living as a human body, i.e., the sexual oppression of the patriarchal society. Simon de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau Ponty, Mary Daly, and Kathryn Allen Rabuzzi (opposed to De Beauvoir) are the chief contributors of this school of thought.


Now, there is need to see the key points of the Existentialist Feminists. About it what Wikipedia says is a thing of consideration. As it says:


Existentialist Feminists emphasize concepts such as freedom, interpersonal relationships, and the experience of living as a human body. They value the capacity for radical change, but recognize that factors such as self-deception and the anxiety caused by the possibility of change can limit it. Many are dedicated to exposing and undermining socially imposed gender roles and cultural constructs limiting women’s self-determination, and criticize PostStructuralist Feminists who deny the intrinsic freedom of women. A woman, who makes considered choices regarding her way of life and suffers the anxiety associated with that freedom, isolation, or nonconformity, yet remains free, demonstrates the tenets of existentialism (web.).


The noted lines of the noted paragraph disclose that the contributors of this school focus on the need of women’s freedom, ones inter-personal relationship, the experiences of  one/woman’s living body, radical change in the male dominated society, one’s self- deception, alienation, angst, anxiety, dreads, and despair. Besides it, their main focus is on the partiality done to ones (women), i.e., Otherness- woman’s subordinate role in the society. As in existentialism the Existentialists clear that individual and the experiences of the individual must be the starting point of the philosophical thinking because both the moral and the scientific thinking are unable to explain the human existence completely without facticity that is governed by the norms of authenticity, such is with Existentialist Feminists in feminism. All the literature of Existentialist Feminist Thought too clears that woman as individual and the experiences of such individuals must be paid attention without any bias- particularly based on sex and gender distinction. Woman must not be seen as a subordinating thing playing subordinate role as ‘Other’ in the social and cultural construction on the physical and biological grounds. They also must have their intrinsic freedom. They must have their own choice. Let them grow, flourish and become as they want because they too are capable to do all the deeds like the men without any distinction provided that they must be provided opportunities in social, cultural and political areas to maintain their status.


When the name of the chief Existentialist Feminist is mentioned, the first name that falls in this queue is of Simon de Beauvoir’s. Influenced chiefly by Camus and Sartre, She, a 20th century French writer, political activist, social theorist, chief existentialist philosopher, and ardent feminist, is famous for her notable ideas of ‘ethics of ambiguity’, ‘feminist ethics’, and, ‘existential feminism’. Her influence on both feminist existentialism and feminist theory can’t be neglected. It was her The Second Sex (1949), her seminal works that gave a new dimension and direction to feminism giving birth to its second wave with adding new demands of equality and discrimination related to cultural and political areas of the society. It is her book The Second Sex (1949) that turned the existentialist concept of existence precedes essence (p.295)—as this is the same concept due to which the Existentialist feminist thought survives—into a golden feminist mouthpiece one: One is not born but becomes a woman (p.15) standing for the notion related to women that is brought about by societal and physiological conditioning. This is the same ground where the vanes of the ‘sex-gender distinction’ germinated and, later on, that grasped the whole intellectual world into its lap with its fascinating flower of ‘Otherness’ challenging the pre and present cultural and political phenomenon. About the importance of this book M.H. Abrams writes:


A much more radical critical mode, sometimes called “second-wave feminism,” was launched in France by Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), a wide-ranging critique of the cultural identification of women as merely the negative object, or “Other” to man as the dominating “subject” who is assumed to represent humanity in general; the book dealt   also with the “great collective myths” of women in the works of many male writers (p. 124).


De Beauvoir’s thoughts related to Existentialist feminist can be summarized as—Firstly, raising a voice against the sexual oppression of the patriarchal society, she tells the world that women’s oppression is embedded in ‘Otherness’. According to her woman is defined and established as the ‘Other’ in our society— whether it is cultural or political— thinking that she is not man. This is why she writes: “The situation of woman is that she–in a free and autonomous being like all human creatures–nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other (295).” Her thought is that women, from time immemorial, have been defined as the ‘Other’ or as the ‘Second Sex’. The result is that she has been an aberration from the ‘normal’ male sex. As she writes: Men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them on every level as ‘other’, defined exclusively in opposition to men. He extends out into the world to impose his will on the world whereas the woman is doomed to immanence or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her (91). This is why it can be said that woman is not born fully formed. She is gradually shaped by her upbringing. It is not only biological things but also prehistoric division of labor, social & political partiality that determine the things that make a woman a woman. She learns her role from man and others in the society.


Secondly, she talks about the various “myths of the ‘eternal feminine” connected with Woman” that stands for the double standards that were given voice in ancient mythological understanding of the world. It also stands for her concept of ‘Otherness.’ According to her, man establishes woman as ‘Other’ defining her according to his experience of women. As, describing the annals of the second sex, De Beauvoir writes:


Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than household, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. The housewife wears herself out marking time: she makes nothing, simply perpetuates the present… eating, sleeping, cleaning-the years no longer rise up towards heaven, they lie spread out ahead, grey and identical. The battle against dust and dirt is never won (539).


Through the former lines, she wants to clear that various mythical representation of women as ‘eternal feminine’ have imprinted human conscience often to disfavor the women because the values reflected in various arts, religions, classics and cultures are prescribed by man, not by woman; consequently, man has always been in center, driving woman to the fringe. She wishes to deflate the persistent myth of eternal feminine by showing its arising from male’s discomfort with the fact of his birth from the womb of a woman. Why so partiality is with woman when maternity has always been worshiped and reviled both for bringing life and heralding death is a matter of consideration as she thinks. Her insist is on the impossibility of comparing the character of men and women without considering the differences in their situations whether it is biological or social or cultural or political. The reason behind all this is her aim of proving that women are not born feminine but shaped by a number of eternal processes. This male dominated society conspires to deprive her of subjectivity with the aim of flattering her into an object. Owing to this she never becomes subject but remains as an object forever. Having been deprived of subjectivity, she has no freedom, no free will, and no choice at all. She has only alienation, anxiety, angst, dread and despair. The result is that she has to accept a hellish life of domestic deeds, childbearing and sexual slavery as being ‘Other.’


Thirdly, she talks about the cultural and political status of women. She feels that there are dialectic obtains within a culture as well as within the individual. In a patriarchal setup the male is set up as the positive while the female as the negative, i.e., ‘Other’ in spite of her pious reproductive power. According to De Beauvoir, it is both woman’s body—especially her re-productivity— and the prehistoric division of labor that derive in women their identity of ‘Otherness’ and her fundamental alienation. To her, woman’s body demands lots of energy to sap their potential for engaging in creative pour-soi activity so it is inherently alienating, i.e., the biological formation of women’s body also becomes a hindrance in the way of their creativity.


Fourthly, she talks about ‘moral choice.’ It is moral choice that motivates women to be free from all the shackles that bind and constrain them and depart them from the status of ‘subjectivity’ deporting them to ‘objectivity.’ It is the moral choice that paves the way to freedom for them. According to her, as her works clear, a woman with moral choice is without anxiety, for it makes her reject her femininity. Her femininity contradicts with her independent success. This is why the ‘true woman’ is required to make herself object to be the other.


Fifthly, she deals with the concept of ‘seriousness’ that is related to man. A serious man has always been worshipper of carte blanche so he has never been victim of suppressio veri but the provider of elbow room for women in every field of life. Such a man is always ready to clean the Augean stable of the society. According to her, ‘Serious Man’ is someone who devotes himself to a worldly end in order to escape the subjectivity of his existence, i.e., if man leaves his worldly status of ‘subjectivity,’ naturally, it will be assigned to woman. The result is that this changing from ‘objectivity to subjectivity’ becomes a windfall for woman in getting her social, cultural, and political status.                              


The second name that comes in this queue of Existentialist Feminist is of an American philosopher and writer Kathryn Allen Rabuzzi. It was she who opposed Simon de Beauvior’s thoughts related to woman authoring a magnum opus book titled as The Sacred and the Feminine: Toward a Theology of Housework (1982) arguing that we should not denigrate the realm of housework, as De Beauvoir does, but rather see it as the site of a continuing feminine culture, indeed, in the vein of existentialist theology, which locates transcending reality within everyday world. She urges that the home can be the site of religious events, where occurs ‘hierophany,’ the revelation of the sacred. In this way, she tried to make a balance in the scales of family to save it from its doom. Universality of the various schools of the thoughts clears that crisscross of the thoughts is common so how this school of thought can escape from it.


The third name that is counted with great reverence in this school of thought is of Mary Daly (1928-2010), an American radical feminist philosopher whose seminal work Beyond God the Father: Towards a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (1973) is near and dear to existentialist tradition. This is the book in which she considers God as a substantive subject. Presenting/making a critique of Christian theology as a totem of patriarchy and rejecting the entire structure of ‘theology’ & ‘philosophy,’ she says that the essential features/ characteristics of feminine have been muted by the patriarchal church. Advocating the women’s liberation Mary Daly writes:


If the word ‘theology’ can be torn free from its usual limited and limiting context, if it can be torn free from its function of legitimating patriarchy, then my book can be called an effort to create theology as well as philosophy. For my purpose is to show that the women’s revolution, insofar as it is true to its own essential dynamics, is an ontological, spiritual revolution, pointing beyond the idolatries of sexist society and sparking creative action in and towards transcendence. The becoming of women implies universal human becoming. It has everything to do with the search for ultimate meaning and reality, which some would call God (p.6).


The reason behind her such thought is her deconstructive argument of the re-conceptualization of “God’ as a verb rather than a noun as she thinks. According to her God is not a great being, but the process of being itself. It is the ‘Noun-God’ that traps the divine within the binary system of the subject-object and the dualism that it (subject-object) creates is unsalvageable. This puzzle must be solved if women are to become their own subjects rather than the objects of male power, i.e., if women have their will power or moral choice and female energy (which she calls gyn/ecology), its possibility is sure because these things are essential for the life-creating condition of the female spirit.


The fourth name that is annexed to this school with great honor is of Jean-Paul Sartre who was a famous French philosopher, existentialist, and phenomenologist. Although his main role is in the field of existentialism, existential feminism could not remain untouched from his hands. It is not only his work entitled as the Existential Psychoanalysis (1953), but also his contact and communion with Simon de Beauvoir—a relationship of lover and beloved— that paved the way for existential feminism. It is the same work in which Sartre says that the individual is the intersection of universal schemata and he rejects the idea of a pure individual. His golden history making line “existence precedes essence” has been such a beacon for the most of the thinkers of existential feminism, as they with its help and guidance try to achieve their destination crossing all the falling hindrance on the way and breaking all the shackles of this partial and traditional world.


Besides these four presented chief thinkers of this school of existential feminists, other thinkers belonging to ‘liberation school of theology’ also did their best for the well-wishing of the women of the folk. The thinkers of the ‘liberation school of theology’ were the predecessors of the existential feminists so the torch that the formers lit, was carried to the desired destination by the latter. By nature, ‘the liberation school of theology’ was pragmatic- social, political, and revolutionary, this is why it perceived all the evils existing in the social and political world and conversely saw redemption through the denial, refusal, and destruction of the institutional and ideological evils. The concept of the raising of consciousness was its root.


Having seen the utility for the women as well as for the various societies of the world of the present school of the feminists, now, there is to see its shortcomings. The first thing that has been highly criticized of this school is De Beauvoir’s idea about motherhood. To her, motherhood is like matrimony- an obscene bourgeois institution- monger of end to woman’s life. It seems that she forget the continuity of wo/man life in the world. The next thing that made this School a ridiculous figure—a thing for laughter and derision— is De Beauvoir’s personal life – her affair with Sartre. As she was the chief of this school and lady with a past in her personal life, due to which she could not highly affect the woman-world. Then, comes- as a weak point of this school- her acceptance related to the physical structure of women’s (body) that she has penned in her work The Second Sex (1949). To her, woman’s first and major limitation is that she is physically weaker than man. She knew the anatomy of woman’s body but, perhaps, she forgot that woman is nature designed, not man designed, i.e., It is nature that first of all has assigned her place to ‘object’ rather than ‘subject’ in social strata. After that comes the concept of ‘freedom.’ It is known to all that freedom is a matter of choice, facticity and authenticity, not a matter of providing. But finally, it can be said that the world must not undermine the economic, political, social-cultural, and psychological oppression of the women.


When the existence of man is impossible without woman, woman must neither be neglected nor be undermined in any condition and situation in any society of any religion of the world. Both paternity and motherhood are must for the existence of human being on this earth. Both are equal without any doubt. Equality of both the sexes brings mirth and laughter on this earth. Both of them have their duties to perform. These duties may be same. These duties may be different. These duties may be performed separately. These duties may be performed unitedly. These duties may be performed by changing. Nothing is bad in it. But duties are duties. They are to be performed. Compromise is the best formula to solve this puzzle of duties. Alfred Lord Tennyson who is the representative poet of Victorian Compromise is challenged in the feminist world for writing such lines:


Man for the field and woman for the hearth:

Man for the sword and for the needle she:

Man with the head and woman with the heart:

Man to command and woman to obey:

All else confusion.  (The Princess p. 48)


In a nutshell, it can be said that Existentialism is a tributary to the river of the Existentialist Feminist Thought that flows into the ocean of Feminism. As a tributary provides fresh water to the main river for its ceaseless flow, Existentialism provides a few but chief concepts—essence, existence, alienation, anxiety, angst, facticity, authenticity etc. — of its own to the Existential feminism for its ceaseless flow. The second wave that arose on the surface of the ocean of feminism, has its surge in the Existential feminism but its hidden source resides in existentialism. The thunder—one is not born, but rather becomes a woman— that is heard in this ocean is the echo—existence precedes essence—of the burbling existential tributary that passes through Existentialist Feminist Thought. The beacon that is set up in this ocean, the beacon that is standing with the help of the pole of existential feminism is erected on rock of existentialism. Indeed, the gist of the existence of the Existential Feminist Thought or Existential feminism lies in the essences of the Existentialism.


Works Cited


Abrams, M.H. & Geoffrey Galt Harpham. “Feminist Criticism.” A Glossary of Literary Terms. India (Delhi): Cengage Learning India Pvt. Ltd. 2015.pp. 124.Print.


Banks, Olive. Faces of Feminism. New Delhi: St. Martin’s Press, 1981, p.229.Print.


Birch, Dinah. “Feminist Criticism.” The Oxford Companion to English Literature. India ( Pondichery ): Replika Press Ltd. 2009.p.366. Print.


Cixous, Helen. The Laugh of Medusa. Trans & ed. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen.USA: The University of Chicago Press, 1987.p.875. Print.


Cuddon, J. A. “Existentialism.” The penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory. India: Thomson Press Ltd. 2010.p. 295. Print.


Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father: A Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.p.6. Print.


Radhakrishnan S. “Concluding Survey.” History of Philosophy: Eastern & Western. London: Allen & Unwin. 1953. p. 443.


Simone de Beauvoir. The Second Sex. trans. & ed. H.M. Parshley, London: Penguin, 1974, p. 295. Print.


Tennyson, Alfred Lord. The Princes: A Medley. Newyork: Mackmillan, 1895.p.48. Print.



Web Resources


Judith, Astellara---


Consulted Work


Tandon, Neeru. Feminism: A Paradigm Shift. Delhi: Atlantic Publisher & Distributors Ltd.  2008.  Print.



About the Author:


Dr Dharmendra Kumar Singh is working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Maharaja Harishchandra P.G. College Moradabad, affiliated to M.J.P. University, Bareilly, UttarPradesh, India. His research papers have been published in various regional, national and international journals. He can be contacted at


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