Monique Wittig

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Monique Wittig
Monique Wittig 1964.jpg
Wittig in 1964
Born (1935-07-13)July 13, 1935
Dannemarie, Haut-Rhin, France
Died January 3, 2003(2003-01-03) (aged 67)
Tucson, Arizona, United States
Occupation Author; feminist theorist; activist
Nationality French
Subjects Lesbianism; feminism

Monique Wittig (July 13, 1935 – January 3, 2003) was a French author and feminist theorist[1] who wrote about overcoming socially enforced gender roles and who coined the phrase "heterosexual contract". 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 in 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 being 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 Guerilleres, 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 Ph.D. from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales,[1] after completing a thesis named "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: Materical 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 like 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 unexpectedly of a heart attack on January 3, 2003.[1]

Writing Style[edit]

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[edit]

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."[7]

"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".

Moreover, for Wittig, the category "woman" exists only through its relation to the category "man," and the "women" without relation to "men" would cease to exist. 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 material feminism, she stigmatised the myth of "the woman", called heterosexuality a political regime, and outlined the basis for a social contract which lesbians refuse.




Short fiction[edit]

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


  • 1982, Djuna Barnes. Spillway and Other Stories. La Passion. Tr. Monique Wittig. Paris: Flammarion.
  • 1968, Herbert Marcuse. One Dimensional Man. L'Homme unidimensionel. Tr. Monique Wittig. Paris: Minuit.
  • 1974, Three Marias (Isabel Barreno, Teresa Horta, Fatima Velho Da Costa). Novas Cartas Portuguesas. Nouvelles lettres portugaises. Tr. Monique Wittig, Evelyne Le Garrec, Vera Prado. Paris: Seuil.

Essays and criticisms[edit]

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

  • 1967, "Bouvard et Pécuchet." Paris: Les Cahiers Madeleine Renaud-Barrault.
  • 1979, "Paradigm." Homosexualities and French Literature. Eds. Elaine Marks and George Stambolian. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press: 114-121.
  • 1980, "The Straight Mind." New York: MLA, 1978. Feminist Issues 1.1: 103-111.
  • 1982, "Avant-note" for La Passion. Paris: Flammarion.
  • 1982, "The Category of Sex." Feminist Issues 2.2: 63-68.
  • 1983, "Les questions féministes ne sont pas des questions lesbiennes." Amazones d'hier, lesbiennes d'aujourd'hui 2.1: 10-14.
  • 1983, "The Point of View: Universal or Particular?" (Trans. of "Avant-Note" de La Passion). Feminist Issues 3.2: 63-69.
  • 1984, "Le Lieu de l'action." New York: Colloque on Nouveau Roman Oct. 1983; publ. in Digraphe 32: 69-75.
  • 1984, "The Trojan Horse." Feminist Issues 4.2: 45-49.
  • 1985, "La Pensée straight." Questions féministes 7, (1980). Rpt. in Amazones d'hier, lesbiennes d'aujourd'hui 3.4: 5-18.
  • 1985, "Le Cheval de Troie." Paris: Vlasta 4: 36-41.
  • 1985, "On ne naît pas femme." Paris: Questions féministes, 1980. Rpt. Amazones d'hier, Lesbiennes d'aujourd'hui 4.1: 103-118.
  • 1986, "The Mark of Gender." Feminist Issues 5.2 (1985): 3-12. Rpt. The Poetics of Gender. Ed. Nancy Miller. New York: Columbia University Press: 63-73.
  • 1986, "The Place of Action." Three Decades of the New French Novel. Champagne: University of Illinois Press.
  • 1989: "On the Social Contract." Feminist Issues 9.1: 3-12.
  • 1994, “Quelques remarques sur Les Guérillères.” L’Esprit créateur 34.4: 116-122.
  • 1996, “Avatars” L’Esprit créateur 36.2: 109-116.
  • 1996, "Lacunary Films." London: New Statesman, 15 July: 102.
  • 1996, “Le déambulatoire: Entretien avec Nathalie Sarraute.” L’Esprit créateur 36.2: 3-8.
  • 1996, “The Constant journey: An Introduction and a Prefatory Note.”Modern Drama 39.1: 156-159.
  • 1997, ”L’ordre du poème.” In Narrative Voices in Modern French Fiction, eds.M. Cardy, G. Evans, & G. Jacobs. Cardiff: University of Wales Press: 7-12.
  • 2005, “Some Remarks on Les Guérillères.” In N. Shaktini, ed., On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political and Literary Essays, 37-43. Urbana: U. Of Illinois Press.
  • 2005, “Some Remarks on The Lesbian Body.” In N. Shaktini, ed., On Monique Wittig: Theoretical, Political and Literary Essays, 44-48. Urbana: U. Of Illinois Press.



From Les Guérillères

Witchcraft is remembrance. There was a time when you were free. Remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed naked in the sunlight--remember. You were wise woman and healer, you were huntress and amazon--remember that. You say you have lost all recollection of it; remember. Your bones remember. When you invoke your past, your heroines, your goddesses, your dreams--it is yourself you call to life. Remember who you are.

Popular culture[edit]

  • Excerpts from Monique Wittig's "The Lesbian Body" were printed on shock value t-shirts in the 1980s.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 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 0-203-20946-X. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c 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. ^ Leah D. Hewitt. Autobiographical Tightropes (1990)
  7. ^ Kirkup, James (2003-01-09). "Monique Wittig". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  8. ^ Glumazine publication of photo of Wittig's text on t-shirt; see
  9. ^ "Blow-Up" in "Yo-Yo Boing!" by Giannina Braschi, Amazoncrossing; ISBN 161109089X and ISBN 978-1611090895.

External links[edit]