Bourdieu on Gender and Domination: Extract 1 from ‘Sociology is a Martial Art’

Interviewer 1: So, reading ‘Masculine Domination’ one could think that men, too, are victims of this domination.

PB: Yes

Interviewer 1:  So how do you explain why they don’t change? Is it that they can’t?

PB: Let’s not overstate this. They’re victims only in a relative way. There’s a phrase written by Virginia Woolf, I think, which says that they play the best role. In French we say: “They have the good part, they always come off best.” Which means that they’re visible, that, like in a theatre play, men have the leading roles. This has many advantages.They are visible, whereas women are invisible. They speak, whereas women keep quiet. But there’s a price to pay for playing the lead role. Now, why don’t things change? Of course things are changing but a lot less than one might think. The reason is that it all happens at a deeply unconscious level. In French we’re always saying, “It’s stronger than I am”. …  it means, “I can’t help myself.” It’s stronger than I am. I remember when my mother got old, if I told her off, she’d say to me, “I’m too old for you to change me”. It’s stronger than I am.

Interviewer 2: Is it true that you said that you can’t expect normal behaviour from a woman in a skirt?

PB: I’m not the one who said this. It was a fine study done by an American woman who analysed… She said, “Imagine all the gestures you…” She was talking to a man, she said, “Imagine that you’re wearing a rather short skirt and you have to pick something up off the floor.” She devised this gymnastics exercise for men. It’s a superb piece of work, it makes you aware of things that even women are unaware of doing or not doing.

Interviewer 2: You mean women aren’t fully aware of the fact that they’re dominated?

PB: Yes. And that’s what symbolic domination is about. It’s a form of domination that works insofar as the person dominated isn’t fully aware of it. And so she is, to some extent, an accomplice to that domination.

Interviewer 2: Senor Bourdieu, do you think that men should change their behaviour?

PB: Yes, but I don’t speak in terms of… That’s the trouble with sociologists, this is why I always seem to be sad, pessimistic and deterministic. I never say, “He should.” I say, “You have to find a way to compel him to”. That’s all. There are men of goodwill, who are willing to change. My book has been read by many men who told me “it’s tough reading!” But they too are not aware of it either. There’s that whole chapter on Virginia Woolf. I wrote that because she was a great theorist of feminism, I think she wrote some great things, on the suffering of the dominant. Since a great feminist had said it, so could I. There is a sentence by Marx which applies very well to men. Marx said, “The dominant is dominated by his domination.” It’s a beautiful sentence. I think that the masculine dominant in a country like this where things are a question of honour, I think that men suffer from this male chauvinism, from this duty to be virile, which is a terrible burden … If you made a list of all the things men have to do for themselves, and so on, which bother them, it would be a very long list. War, for example. In traditional societies, war is a man’s job.

Interviewer 2: Can you sum up the values of the “eternal feminine” for me? What are women’s values?

PB: Here again, that’s something that I don’t want to do … I never say “masculine values”… [as a man]  I’m very fond of what are known as “feminine values”. But we must not forget that they’re largely the product of masculine domination…They’re not part of women’s nature. In the current state of affairs, women have properties that I find far more attractive than men’s. As a matter of personal preference…they’re more modest, more discreet, more intuitive, more caring, they take more interest in others …What I should say is, “They’re more likely to be such.” One should always think statistically, it’s more precise. They are more likely to possess those qualities than a man is, everything else being equal. And that’s fine. Also, they’re more likely to be docile at school.Docile, from the Latin docilis, for “willing to learn”. In French, docile also means “subjugated”, “gentle”, one who does not rebel.


La Sociologie est un Sport de Combat, (2002) Directed by Carles P. France: C-P Productions/VF Films.



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