Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving

Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving

Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving

Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving

Synopsis

Recent inquiries into the concept of the gift have been largely male-dominated and thus have ignored important aspects of the gift from a woman's point of view. In the light of philosophical work by Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, Derrida, and Bataille, Women and the Gift reflects how women respond to the notion of the gift and relationships of giving. This collection evaluates and critiques previous work on the gift and also responds to how women view care, fidelity, generosity, trust, and independence in light of the gift.

Excerpt

Morny Joy

“Gift” is a word with many different resonances—of celebration, of appreciation and thanks, of farewell, of sharing, of reward, even of compensation. Yet it can also have less positive connotations of indebtedness as an obligation to reciprocate in kind, or in excess. There are also warnings about the duplicitous motives of certain people bearing gifts—the Greeks with the Trojan horse come to mind. Finally there is Pandora, so aptly named, perhaps the prototype for women’s ambivalent relation to the gift—at once bountiful yet potentially malevolent. in the latter half of the twentieth century, however, the association of women with the gift has been the focus of a number of studies by male thinkers, such as Jacques Derrida ([1978] 1979, [1991] 1992b) and Georges Bataille ([1957] 1987, 1985). in their writings women were portrayed as emblematic of a mode of excess. Their idealized evocations of women and the “feminine” also promoted a notion of giving without any expectation of return. Such depictions, however, had nothing to do with women themselves, as women were not consulted about being represented in this manner. It is intriguing to surmise the motives for this development. It could be interpreted as a protest against the exploitation of women, or perhaps as a rebuttal of bourgeois complacency, or maybe even as a rejection of obsessive late capitalism. Such extravagant gestures, however, were also in the French tradition of elaborate commentary on the classic book of Marcel Mauss, The Gift ([1924] 1990).

Mauss’s work, however, did not concern itself with women, except for a few minor references. It was written from ethnological, sociological, and historical perspectives, exploring variations on the theme of the gift so as to appreciate its “aesthetic, moral, religious, and economic motivations” (Mauss [1924] 1990, 107). His reflections ranged from commentary on studies of the indigenous peoples of North America, Oceania, and Australia written by earlier ethnographers to historical examination of Roman and Germanic . . .

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