This paper studies the development of some of the key schools of feminist thought, exploring the history of the definition of Woman. Ken Wilber’s framework of Integral Feminism is then used to move toward the processual creation of a more adequately holistic understanding of women and subjectivity.
Toward an Integral Feminism
Woman has been written as an object, rather than as a subject, in the discursive order. Feminist theorists such as Irigaray, for example, have claimed that Woman is constructed against a “universal individual self” that is the normative male subject. Under these conditions the phallocentric symbolic system is incapable of representing Her as anything but a negative shadow of Man, his subordinated other. Irigaray suggests that the subjectivity of Woman is thus truly unrepresentable. Kristeva concurs that, “On a deeper level… a woman cannot ‘be’… In ‘woman’ I see something that cannot be represented, something that is not said, something above and beyond nomenclatures and ideologies.” In this nebulous light the definition of Woman within feminist discourse has eroded; gradually slimming down to nothing in what has been described as a bad case of “critical anorexia” within feminist theory. Feminism appears to have encountered an impasse, for under the microscope of theory there appears to be no Woman.
To my mind the nothingness to which Woman has been condemned is a result of the confines of the Western tradition of philosophical thought. I believe opening to the field of nondualism provides the transontological possibility for a more conducive resolution to Her quandary. Nonduality refers to an understanding of the manifest world—itself a holonic system of interrelated wholes and parts—as being directly sustained by the formless, creative ground of being. The radical, unqualifiable openness of the formless that completely transcends all and includes all, is confined to nothing and embraces absolutely everything. In knowing the embrace of the formless, the bounds of duality are dissolved. Subject and object are radically open, interconnected and empty of independent being: “The Formless and the entire world of manifest Form—pure emptiness and the whole Kosmos—are seen to be not-two (or nondual).” The nondualist principles of interconnectedness, emptiness and codependent arising are akin to the ideas of postmodern and poststructuralism, yet are without their recourse to nihilism.
To begin the journey toward a definition of Woman requires a thorough examination of the twists and turns in the development of feminist attention to the question of subjectivity. This paper works toward an unthreading and rebuilding that honours the knowledge of each knot of development in an attempt to move toward a definition of Woman by exploring identity through an Integral Feminist framework. I believe the problem of defining Woman is one of finding an adequate framework to deal with the multiplicity inherent in feminism itself. Integral Feminism allows the dynamic interests of feminism to operate on a number of contiguous levels. It recognises the “inherent, mutually arising, inextricably bound influences” of our biology, psychology, spirituality, culture and the systemic, physical world. Pragmatically, an Integral framework addresses the constructivist impasse by facilitating a contextually discursive definition of Woman through which key feminist values can continue to be represented in the political and social spheres. On an ontological level, Integral Feminism, explicitly grounded in a nondualistic ontology, can facilitate a deeper exploration of the core question of self: where Woman rests beyond sex and gender, in deep fruitful emptiness.
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About Sarah Nicholson
Sarah Nicholson (born 1973) is an author and scholar. Her interests include exploring human evolution and spirituality from the perspective of integral feminism. She teaches in the fields of religion and gender studies, literature and academic writing practice at the University of Western Sydney and Notre Dame University, Sydney. She has been an honorary postdoctoral research associate of Sydney University's Department of Studies in Religion, and was an awardee of the Ian Potter Cultural Trust Fellowship for Literature.