An influential lesbian feminist and avant-garde writer, Monique Wittig (1935-2003) challenged the heteronormativity of early Second Wave French feminists and was an active novelist, philosopher, and activist. Wittig’s first novel, L’Opoponax (1964), drew critical acclaim in both French and English after winning the Prix Medicis. Typical of her creative fiction, L’Opoponax was structured in an unorthodox way, not adhering to accepted forms of punctuation, formatting and grammar. Wittig would continue to study and challenge lexical standards, coming up against in particular gendered words and structures of language.
During her early career and time as a student in Paris, Wittig became involved in the May 1968 protests. Realizing that the men in positions of leadership within the movement did not want to share power, she was inspired to write her second novel, Les Guérillères (1969), an epic about a society led by women. Wittig was an early feminist voice in the French Second Wave, and marched on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a group which would become the Mouvement de libération des femmes (MLF). She would be actively involved in feminist activism, critical both of patriarchal society and of the structures of power within the women’s movement itself. She was a founding member of the Gouines Rouges in France in 1971, a group whose goal was to represent lesbian issues in both the gay rights and the feminist movements in France, most notably the primary two organisations for both of these groups–the MLF (Mouvement de libération des femmes) and the FHAR (Front homosexuel d'action révolutionnaire).
In 1976 she moved to the United States with her partner, Sande Zeig, and held a number of visiting professorships at different universities whilst publishing increasingly theoretical texts and completing her doctoral thesis under the supervision of Gérard Genette in 1986. These essays would be collated into her most successful work, The Straight Mind and Other Essays (1992). In “The Straight Mind” (originally published in 1978), Wittig denotes heterosexuality as one of the systems of oppression of women. In both her fiction writing and her theoretical texts, Wittig calls into question the effect of language on gender and oppression– “Lesbians are not women” she wrote in The Straight Mind, arguing that the word “woman” itself was deeply intertwined with patriarchal and heterosexual systems. Wittig continued to publish on lesbian feminist thought until her sudden death in 2003.
For digitized sources on women of this time period see Digitized Sources:Feminism in the 20th Century.
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