Christine Delphy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Christine Delphy
Christine Delphy.jpeg
Christine Delphy at LSE, February 2016
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forCo-founder of the review Nouvelles Questions Féministes (New Feminist Issues) with Simone de Beauvoir

Christine Delphy (born 1941) is a French sociologist, feminist, writer and theorist. Known for pioneering materialist feminism, she co-founded the French Women's Liberation Movement (Mouvement de Libération des Femmes, or MLF) in 1970 and the journal Nouvelles questions féministes (New Feminist Issues) with Simone de Beauvoir in 1981.[1]


Christine Delphy was born in 1941 to her parents who owned a local pharmacy. In the documentary film on her life and ideas, "Je ne suis pas féministe, mais..." ("I am not a femnist, but...") Delphy describes an early feminist consciousness in observing her parents: though running the pharmacy was labor-intensive for both of them, when they came home at lunch, Delphy noticed her father putting his feet up to rest and read the newspaper while her mother was obliged to cook a midday meal and then do the dishes before they both returned to work.

Nevertheless, Delphy did not always identify as a feminist, owing to stigma around the term. In a television interview in 1985, she described a period of her life when she routinely prefaced comments with, "Je ne suis pas féministe, mais..." (the phrase from which the film draws its title).[2]


Delphy studied sociology at the University of Chicago, the University of Paris and the University of California, Berkeley. Returning to France, Delphy was interested in pursuing a dissertation project on women, but she describes in Je ne suis pas féministe, mais... meeting resistance to the topic in her then-advisor Pierre Bourdieu, who told Delphy that there was no one to advise such a project because no one researches women (though French sociologists like Andrée Michel had already published significant research). Delphy agreed to pursue rural sociology instead, but the question of women, and particularly the economic role women played, emerged in this project as well. While pursuing fieldwork, "I realized there was a whole set of goods that absolutely did not pass through the marketplace," with much of women's economic contributions functioning as unpaid labor, in contrast to the wage labor that was central to theories of capitalist oppression (that is, the capitalist class extracts the value between the wages they pay workers and the actual value of what the workers produce). "To a degree, the outline of [Delphy's magnum opus] The Main Enemy was already there. The bringing to light not just the economic exploitation of women, but a specific form of economic exploitation."[2]

Academic career[edit]

Delphy got a job as a researcher in 1978 and began applying for Director of Research (full professor) positions around 1990, but it took her nine years to win this promotion, encountering overt discrimination against her as a lesbian. In Je ne suis pas féministe, mais... she describes an incident where a faculty member responsible for reviewing her work for promotion offered his department an account that left out one of Delphy's major books, dismissed her research, and then added, "Plus, she's homosexual."


Delphy arrived in the U.S. in 1962 during the Civil Rights Movement, and says that it was in the United States that she came to see the reality of racism. "Racism existed at home in France, but I didn't see it." In 1965 Delphy left Berkeley to work for the Washington Urban League and, through these experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, developed a belief in the value of oppressed groups (like women) developing autonomous activist movements, as African-Americans had done. She returned to France and after the evens of May 1968, took part in a feminist group FMA (Féminin Masculin Avenir), which with other groups would eventually form the Women's Liberation Movement (Mouvement de Libération des Femmes, or MLF). In August 1970, Delphy and other members of the MLF brought flowers to the "unknown wife of the unknown soldier," the first of the MLF's actions to receive attention in the media.[3] Delphy is openly lesbian[4] and a member of the Gouines rouges ("Red Dykes").[5]

In 1971, she added her name to the Manifesto of the 343, publicly declaring she'd had an abortion when it was illegal in France.[6]

In more recent years, the implementation of the 2004 French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools—a law which includes banning French Muslim school-girls from wearing their headscarfs on school grounds—brought the issues and discrimination facing French Muslim women to Delphy's attention.[7] In response to this, Delphy confronted and addressed the reaction of many French feminists who support the law, criticizing this stance as hypocritical and racist.[8]


Materialist Feminism

Delphy was a pioneer of materialist feminism, applying a materialist approach to gender relations.[9] Delphy analyzes inequalities between men and women as rooted in a material economic basis, specifically the domestic relations of production.[10] This revision of Marxism questioned the idea that there are only capitalist classes. For Delphy, gender is also a position in the mode of production (domestic labor). In this view, the main enemy of women as a class is not capital but patriarchy.[11] She also developed an analysis of gender arguing that gender precedes sex.[12] Her theory constitutes a landmark in the process of denaturalizing sex, which is a marker of gender.[13]

With Nicole Claude-Mathieu, Emmanuèle de Lesseps, Colette Guillaumin, Monique Wittig, and Paola Tabet, Delphy launched the materialist feminism school. Materialist feminism is particularly present in the journal Nouvelles questions feministes, still directed by Delphy.

Against Essentialism and the so-called "French Feminism"

Delphy challenges the biological essentialist view of gender, even when it comes from the women's movement.[14] She also critiqued what she called "the invention of 'French Feminism'": she argues that most French feminists are against essentialism and very few support what was called "French Feminism" in the United States. For Delphy, the American invention of "French Feminism" had a political purpose: the acceptance of essentialism among Anglo-American feminists (it was expected they would think, If French women think this way, we have to respect and accept this).[15]

All these ideas are elaborated in many articles from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in Questions féministes and Nouvelles questions féministes and were published in the following books: L'Ennemi principal, tome 1 : L'Économie politique du patriarcat (1997) and L'Ennemi principal, tome 2 : Penser le genre (2001).


  • The Main Enemy, 1W.R.R.C.P., London, 1977 [1]
  • Close to Home London, Hutchinson, & The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984[1]
  • Familiar Exploitation: A New Analysis of Marriage in Contemporary Western Societies, avec Diana Leonard, Oxford, Polity Press, 1992
  • L'Ennemi principal 1, Économie politique du patriarcat, Syllepse, "Nouvelles Questions féministes", 1998.
  • L'Ennemi principal 2, Penser le genre, Syllepse, "Nouvelles Questions féministes", 2001.
  • Avec Sylvie Chaperon (dir.), Le Cinquantenaire du Deuxième Sexe, Syllepse, 2002.
  • Classer, dominer, Qui sont les "autres" ?, La Fabrique, 2008, ISBN 2-913372-82-1.
  • Un universalisme si particulier, Féminisme et exception française, Paris, Syllepse, 2010
  • Un troussage de domestique (dir.), Paris, Syllepse, 2011
  • Separate and dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, Verso, 2015.
  • Pour une théorie générale de l'exploitation : des différentes formes d'extorsion de travail aujourd'hui, Paris : Éditions Syllepse ; Québec : M éditeur, 2015.


Christine Delphy appears in numerous films:

  • Manifestation of the Women's Liberation Movement, Paris place de l'Étoile, RTF news, first appearance of a women's movement in Paris since the Second World War, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 1970
  • Le Ghetto Expérimental by Jean-Michel Carré and Adams Schmedes, 1975
  • Kate Millett talks about prostitution with feminists, Videa, during the prostitutes' strike in 1975 and after Kate Millett's book release (with French feminist such as Monique Wittig, Christine Delphy...), 1975
  • Au nom des femmes, Simone de Beauvoir, émission Aujourd'hui la vie, debate on feminism Simone de Beauvoir, Delphine Seyrig, Christine Delphy..., A2 / France 2, 1985
  • Thank God I'm a Lesbian! by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, 1992
  • Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex, on the 50th anniversary of the book's release, interviews by Michelle Perrot and Christine Delphy, TF1 TV news, 1999
  • Debout ! A history of the Women's Liberation Movement 1970-1980, by Carole Roussopoulos, 1999
  • Cinquantenaire du deuxième sexe, by Carole Roussopoulos and Christine Delphy, a film on the conference, 2001
  • Bleu, blanc, rose by Yves Jeuland, 2002
  • Un racisme à peine voilé by Jérôme Host, 2004
  • La prostitution, TV show L'arène de France, with interviews of Christine Delphy, Nicole Borvo and Florence Montreynaud, A2 / France 2, 2007
  • Chahinaz : quels droits pour les femmes, documentary on a young Algerian woman, with interview of Christine Delphy, France 5, 2007
  • Encore elles ! by Constance Ryder and Josiane Szymanski, 40 years after MLF's birth, today who are the feminists?, 2011
  • Carole Roussopoulos, une femme à la caméra, by Emmanuelle de Riedmatten, 2012
  • Je ne suis pas féministe, mais... (I'm not a feminist, but...) by Florence Tissot and Sylvie Tissot, 2015
  • L'Abécédaire de Christine Delphy (Christine Delphy from A to Z) by Florence Tissot and Sylvie Tissot, 2015

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ann Comire and Deborah Klezmer, ed. (2007). Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women through the Ages. Waterford CT: Yorkin.→Delphy, Christine.
  2. ^ a b Tissot, Florence; Tissot, Sylvie (2015-03-08), Je ne suis pas féministe, mais..., retrieved 2016-02-08
  3. ^ Françoise Picq, Liberation des femmes, les années mouvement, 1990
  4. ^ Stevi Jackson, Christine Delphy, Sage Publications Ltd, 1996, p. 190 ISBN 0-8039-8869-9
  5. ^ Abigail Gregory, Ursula Tidd, Women in Contemporary France, Berg Publishers, 2000, p. 178 [1]
  6. ^ Le manifeste des 343 Archived April 23, 2001, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Legal aid, Christine Delphy, Dating with a learning disability, Erica Jong, Facial hair, Woman's Hour - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  8. ^ Delphy, Christine (2006-01-01). "Antisexisme ou antiracisme? Un faux dilemme". Nouvelles Questions Féministes. 25 (1): 59–83. JSTOR 40620341.
  9. ^ Delphy, Christine (1975). "Pour un féminisme matérialiste" [For a materialist feminism]. L'Arc. 61: 61–67.
  10. ^ Delphy, Christine; Leonard, Diana (1980). "A Materialist Feminism Is Possible". Feminist Review. 4: 79–105. JSTOR 1394771.
  11. ^ See "L'ennemi principal (The Main Enemy)" in Christine Delphy, L'Ennemi principal, tome 1 : L'Économie politique du patriarcat (1997)
  12. ^ Delphy, Christine; Leonard, Diana (1993). "Rethinking Sex and Gender". Women's Studies International Forum. 16: 1–9.
  13. ^ Christine Delphy, L'Ennemi principal, tome 2 : Penser le genre (2001)
  14. ^ See "Protofeminism and antifeminism" in Christine Delphy, L'Ennemi principal, tome 1 : L'Économie politique du patriarcat (1997)
  15. ^ See "L'invention du 'French Feminism': une démarche essentielle", in Christine Delphy, L'Ennemi principal, tome 2 : Penser le genre (2001)