Biography:Monique Wittig

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Short description: French writer
Monique Wittig
Monique Wittig in 1985 (phot. C. Geoffrey)
Monique Wittig in 1985 (phot. C. Geoffrey)
BornDannemarie, Haut-Rhin, France
DiedJanuary 3, 2003(2003-01-03) (aged 67)
Tucson, Arizona, United States
OccupationAuthor; feminist theorist; activist
SubjectLesbianism; feminism
Literary movementFrench feminism, Radical feminism, Materialist feminism, Lesbian feminism

Monique Wittig (French: [vitig]; July 13, 1935 – January 3, 2003) was a French author, philosopher and feminist theorist[1] who wrote about abolition of the sex-class system and coined the phrase "heterosexual contract". Her seminal work is titled The Straight Mind and Other Essays. She published her first novel, L'Opoponax, in 1964. Her second novel, Les Guérillères (1969), was a landmark in lesbian feminism.[2]


Monique Wittig was born in 1935 in Dannemarie, Haut-Rhin, France. In 1950 she moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. In 1964 she published her first novel, L'Opoponax which won her immediate attention in France. After the novel was translated into English, Wittig achieved international recognition. She was one of the founders of the Mouvement de libération des femmes (MLF) (Women's Liberation Movement). In 1969 she published what is arguably her most influential work, Les Guérillères, which is today considered a revolutionary and controversial source for feminist and lesbian thinkers around the world. Its publication is also considered to be the founding event of French feminism.[3][4]

Wittig earned her PhD from the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences,[1] after completing a thesis titled "Le Chantier littéraire".[5] Wittig was a central figure in lesbian and feminist movements in France. In 1971, she was a founding member of the Gouines rouges ("Red Dykes"), the first lesbian group in Paris.[3] She was also involved in the Féministes Révolutionnaires ("Revolutionary feminists"), a radical feminist group.[3] She published various other works, some of which include the 1973 Le Corps lesbien (or The Lesbian Body) and the 1976 Brouillon pour un dictionnaire des amantes (or Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Dictionary), which her partner, Sande Zeig, coauthored.

In 1976 Wittig and Zeig moved to the United States where Wittig focused on producing work of gender theory. Her works, ranging from the philosophical essay The Straight Mind to parables such as Les Tchiches et les Tchouches, explored the interconnectedness and intersection of lesbianism, feminism, and literary form. With various editorial positions both in France and in the United States, Wittig's works became internationally recognized and were commonly published in both French and English. She continued to work as a visiting professor in various universities across the nation, including the University of California, Berkeley, Vassar College and the University of Arizona in Tucson. She taught a course in materialist thought through Women's Studies programs, wherein her students were immersed in the process of correcting the American translation of The Lesbian Body. She died of a heart attack on January 3, 2003.[1]

Writing style

Wittig had a materialist approach in her works (evident in Les Guérillères). She also demonstrated a very critical theoretical approach (evident in her essay, "One Is Not Born a Woman").

As a lesbian writer adamantly opposed to any notion of an inherently feminine writing, Wittig has most often been placed either in opposition to Hélène Cixous, or in a tradition of lesbian writers. Her ties to de Beauvoir and Sarraute are, however, equally significant, and position her work within a double history of feminism and avant-garde literature of the last half of the twentieth century. Like Duras and Cixous, she develops her work to a rethinking of women's experience in writing, while her staunch opposition to a notion of "difference" that would be based on sexuality or biology aligns her more with de Beauvoir and Sarraute.[6]

The Straight Mind

In the first essay of the collection, titled The Category of Sex, Wittig theorizes the class nature of sex oppression, favouring a social constructionist rather than biological essentialist view of the dialect between the sexes.

For there is no sex. There is but sex that is oppressed and sex that oppresses. It is oppression that creates sex and not the contrary. The contrary would be to say that sex creates oppression, or to say that the cause (origin) of oppression is to be found in sex itself, in a natural division of the sexes preexisting (or outside of) society.

While Wittig depicted only women in her literature, she abhorred the idea that she was a "women's writer". Monique Wittig called herself a "radical lesbian."

There is no such thing as women literature for me, that does not exist. In literature, I do not separate women and men. One is a writer, or one is not. This is a mental space where sex is not determining. One has to have some space for freedom. Language allows this. This is about building an idea of the neutral which could escape sexuality.[7]

Moreover, for Wittig, the social or gender category "woman" exists only through its relation to the social category "man," and the "women" without relation to "men" would cease to exist, leaving individuals freed from social constructs and categories dictating behavior or norms. She advocated a strong universalist position, saying that the expression of one's identity and the liberation of desire require the abolition of gender categories.

Wittig identified herself as a radical lesbian. In her work The Straight Mind, she argued that lesbians are not women because to be a lesbian is to step outside of the heterosexual norm of women, as defined by men for men's ends.

...and it would be incorrect to say that lesbians associate, make love, live with women, for 'woman' has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. Lesbians are not women (1978).

Wittig also developed a critical view of Marxism which obstructed feminist struggle, but also of feminism itself which does not question the heterosexual dogma.

A theorist of materialist feminism, she stigmatised the myth of "the woman", called heterosexuality a political regime, and outlined the basis for a social contract which lesbians refuse.

Theoretical views

Wittig's essays call into question some of the basic premises of contemporary feminist theory. Wittig was one of the first feminist theorists to interrogate heterosexuality as not just sexuality, but as a political regime. Defining herself as a radical lesbian, she and other lesbians during the early 1980s in France and Quebec reached a consensus that "radical lesbianism" posits heterosexuality as a political regime that must be overthrown. Wittig criticized contemporary feminism for not questioning this heterosexual political regime and believed that contemporary feminism proposed to rearrange rather than eliminate the system. While a critique of heterosexuality as a "political institution" had been laid by certain lesbian separatists in the United States, American lesbian separatism did not posit heterosexuality as a regime to be overthrown. Rather, the aim was to develop within an essentialist framework new lesbian values within lesbian communities.[8]

Wittig was a theorist of materialist feminism. She believed that it is the historical task of feminists to define oppression in materialist terms. It is necessary to make clear that women are a class, and to recognize the category of "woman" as well as the category of "man" as political and economic categories. Wittig acknowledges that these two social classes exist because of the social relationship between men and women. However, women as a class will disappear when man as a class disappears. Just as there are no slaves without masters, there are no women without men.[9] The category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual. The category of "man" and "woman" exists only in a heterosexual system, and to destroy the heterosexual system will end the categories of men and women.[10]


Wittig states that "Gender is the linguistic index of the political opposition between the sexes." Only one gender exists: the feminine, the masculine not being a gender. The masculine is not the masculine but the general, as the masculine experience is normalized over the experience of the feminine. Feminine is the concrete as denoted through sex in language, whereas only the masculine as general is the abstract. Wittig lauds Djuna Barnes and Marcel Proust for universalizing the feminine by making no gendered difference in the way they describe characters. As taking the point of view of a lesbian, Wittig finds it necessary to suppress genders in the same way Djuna Barnes cancels out genders by making them obsolete.[11]

Les Guérillères

Les Guérillères, published in 1969, five years after Wittig's first novel, revolves around the elles, women warriors who have created their own sovereign state by overthrowing the patriarchal world. The novel is structured through a series of prose poems. "Elles are not 'the women'--a mistranslation that often surfaces in David Le Vay's English rendition--but rather the universal 'they,' a linguistic assault on the masculine collective pronoun ils."[12] The novel initially describes the world that the elles have created and ends with members recounting the days of war that led to the sovereign state.



  • Wittig, Monique (1964). L'Opoponax. Paris: Union générale d'éditions. OCLC 299952008.  (Winner of the Prix Médicis.)
  • Wittig, Monique (1971). Les guérillères. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 9780670424634. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1973). Le corps lesbien. Paris: Les éditions de Minuit. ISBN 9782707300973. 
  • Wittig, Monique; Zeig, Sande (1976). Brouillon pour un dictionnaire des amantes. Paris: Grasset. ISBN 9782246004011. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1985). Virgile, non. Paris: Les éditions de Minuit. ISBN 9782707310217. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1999). Paris-la-politique et autres histoires. Paris: P.O.L.. ISBN 9782867446979. 


  • Wittig, Monique (1967). L'amant vert.  (Unpublished.)
  • Wittig, Monique (1972). Le grand-cric-jules.  (Radio Stuttgart.)
  • Wittig, Monique (1972). Récréation.  (Radio Stuttgart.)
  • Wittig, Monique (1972). Dialogue pour les deux frères et la soeur.  (Radio Stuttgart.)
  • Wittig, Monique (1985). Le Voyage sans fin. Paris.  (Vlasta 4 supplement.)

Short fiction

Most collected in Paris-la-Politique. Paris: P.O.L., 1999

  • Wittig, Monique (1965). "Banlieues". Nouveau Commerce 5: 113–117. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1967). "Voyage: Yallankoro". Nouveau Commerce 177: 558–563. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1973). "Une partie de campagne". Nouveau Commerce 26: 13–31. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1978). "Un jour mon prince viendra". Questions Féministes 2: 31–39. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1983). "Les Tchiches et les Tchouches". Le Genre Humaine 6: 136–147. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1985). "Paris-la-Politique". Vlasta 4: 8–35. 


Essays and criticisms

Most collected in La Pensée straight. Paris: Balland, 2001 and in The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992

  • Wittig, Monique (1967). "A propos de "Bouvard et Pécuchet"". Cahiers de la Compagnie Madeleine Renaud-Barrault Jean Louis Barrault 59: 113–122. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1979), "Paradigm", in Stambolian, George; Marks, Elaine, Homosexualities and French literature: cultural contexts, critical texts, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 114–121, ISBN 9780801497667, 
  • Wittig, Monique (February 1980). "La pensée straight". Questions Féministes (Nouvelles Questions Féministes & Questions Feministes via JSTOR) 7 (7): 45–53. 
Reprinted as: Wittig, Monique (1985). "La pensée straight". Amazones d'Hier, Lesbiennes d'Aujourd'hui (AHLA) (Amazons of Yesterday, Lesbians of Today) 3 (4): 5–18. 
  • Wittig, Monique (March 1980). "The straight mind". Feminist Issues 1 (1): 103–111. doi:10.1007/BF02685561. 
  • Wittig, Monique (May 1980). "On ne naît pas femme". Questions Féministes (Nouvelles Questions Féministes & Questions Feministes) 8 (8): 75–84. 
Reprinted as: Wittig, Monique (1985). "On ne naît pas femme". Amazones d'Hier, Lesbiennes d'Aujourd'hui (AHLA) (Amazons of Yesterday, Lesbians of Today) 4 (1): 103–118. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1982), ""Avant-note" pour La Passion", in Barnes, Djuna, La passion, Monica Wittig (translator), Paris: Flammarion, ISBN 9782080644602. 
  • Wittig, Monique (June 1982). "The category of sex". Feminist Issues 2 (2): 63–68. doi:10.1007/BF02685553. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1983). "Les questions féministes ne sont pas des questions lesbiennes". Amazones d'Hier, Lesbiennes d'Aujourd'hui (AHLA) (Amazons of Yesterday, Lesbians of Today) 2 (1): 10–14. 
  • Wittig, Monique (June 1983). "The point of view: universal or particular?". Feminist Issues 3 (2): 63–69. doi:10.1007/BF02685543. 
Translation of: Wittig, Monique (1982), ""Avant-note" for La Passion", in Barnes, Djuna, La passion, Monica Wittig (translator), Paris: Flammarion, ISBN 9782080644602. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1984). "Le lieu de l'action". Digraphe (Galilee) 32: 69–75. 
  • Wittig, Monique (June 1984). "The Trojan horse". Feminist Issues 4 (2): 45–49. doi:10.1007/BF02685548. 
Reprinted as: Wittig, Monique (1985). "Le cheval de troie". Vlasta 4: 36–41. 
  • Wittig, Monique (June 1985). "The mark of gender". Feminist Issues 5 (2): 3–12. doi:10.1007/BF02685575. 
Reprinted as: Wittig, Monique (1986), "The mark of gender", in Miller, Nancy K., The poetics of gender, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 63–73, ISBN 9780231063111. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1986), "The place of action", in Oppenheim, Lois, Three decades of the French new novel, Lois Oppenheim (translator) and Evelyne Costa de Beauregard (translator), Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 132–140, ISBN 9780252011580, 
  • Wittig, Monique (March 1989). "On the social contract". Feminist Issues 9 (1): 3–12. doi:10.1007/BF02685600. 
  • Wittig, Monique (Winter 1994). "Quelques remarques sur Les Guérillères". L'Esprit Créateur (Johns Hopkins University Press) 34 (4): 116–122. doi:10.1353/esp.1994.0008. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1996), "The straight mind", in Jackson, Stevi; Scott, Sue, Feminism and sexuality: a reader, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 144–149, ISBN 9780231107082. 
  • Wittig, Monique (March 1996). ""The Constant Journey": an introduction and a prefatory note". Modern Drama 39 (1): 156–159. doi:10.3138/md.39.1.156. 
  • Wittig, Monique (15 July 1996). "Lacunary films". New Statesman (Progressive Media International) 102. 
  • Wittig, Monique (Summer 1996). "Le déambulatoire. entretien avec Nathalie Sarraute". L'Esprit Créateur 36 (2): 3–8. doi:10.1353/esp.0.0053.  Alternative version.
  • Wittig, Monique (Summer 1996). "Avatar". L'Esprit Créateur 36 (2): 109–116. doi:10.1353/esp.0.0097.  Alternative version.
  • Wittig, Monique (1997), "L'ordre du poème", in Cardy, Michael; Evans, George; Jacobs, Gabriel, Narrative voices in modern French fiction: studies in honour of Valerie Minogue on the occasion of her retirement, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 7–12, ISBN 9780708313947. 
  • Wittig, Monique (1997), "One is not born a woman", in Nicholson, Linda, The second wave: a reader in feminist theory, New York: Routledge, pp. 265–271, ISBN 9780415917612. 
  • Wittig, Monique (2005), "Some Remarks on "Les Guérillères"", in Shaktini, Namascar, On Monique Wittig: theoretical, political, and literary essays, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 37–43, ISBN 9780252072314. 
  • Wittig, Monique (2005), "Some Remarks on "The Lesbian Body"", in Shaktini, Namascar, On Monique Wittig: theoretical, political, and literary essays, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 44–48, ISBN 9780252072314. 

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Monique Wittig, 67, Feminist Writer, Dies, by Douglas Martin, January 12, 2003, New York Times
  2. Benewick, Robert (1998). The Routledge Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Political Thinkers. London: Routledge. pp. 332–333. ISBN 978-0-203-20946-2. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Balén, Julia. In Memoriam: Monique Wittig, The Women's Review of Books, January 2004, Vol. XXI, No. 4., quoted in Trivia Magazine, Wittig Obituary.
  4. L'Homond, Bridgitte. France.—Feminism And The Women's Liberation Movement, Women's Studies Encyclopedia, ed: Helen Tierney, quoted in Gem Women's Studies Encyclopedia.
  5. "Word by Word Monique Wittig completed The Literary Workshop (Le chantier littéraire) in Gualala, California, in 1986, as her dissertation for the Diplome de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Gérard Genette was the director, and Louis Marin and Christian Metz were readers. Wittig wrote The Literary Workshop at a time of immense productivity..." ; Monique Wittig, Catherine Temerson, Sande Zeig. "The Literary Workshop: An Excerpt", in "GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies – Volume 13, Number 4, 2007, pp. 543–551
  6. Hewitt, Leah D. Autobiographical Tightropes (1990) University of Nebraska Press. ISBN:9780803272583
  7. Kirkup, James (2003-01-09). "Monique Wittig". The Independent. 
  8. Turcotte, Lousie. "Foreword." The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Ed. Monique Wittig. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. VIII-XII. Print.
  9. Wittig, Monique. "One Is Not Born a Woman." Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Ed. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2013. 246-250. Print.
  10. Wittig, Monique. "The Category of Sex." The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Ed. Monique Wittig. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. 5-8. Print.
  11. Wittig, Monique. "Point of View: Universal or Particular?" The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Ed. Monique Wittig. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. 60-61. Print.
  12. "GLBTQ >> literature >> Wittig, Monique". 

Further reading

  • Provitola, Blase A. (2022). "TERF or Transfeminist Avant la Lettre?". TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 9 (3): 387–406. doi:10.1215/23289252-9836050. 

External links