XY by Elisabeth Badinter


On Masculine Identity
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 A French feminist philosopher and historian radically declares that ``the time of androgyn has come,'' a time for men to reconcile masculine virility with femininity. Badinter (The Unopposite Sex, 1989, etc.) moves primarily between biological and psychoanalytical discourses to explain the difficult time male fetuses have in becoming real men: ``As long as women give birth to men, as long as the XY develops within an XX, it will always take a little longer...to make a man than to make a woman.'' Women have an easier time with identity because they don't have to break with their mother's femininity. It's not always entirely clear whether Badinter is supporting or reviewing traditional gender conceptions using psychoanalytic justifications, or whether she intends to suggest new conceptions. This isn't resolved until the final chapter, where she introduces the ``reconciled man.'' Such a man is one who has moved successfully through the stages of denying his femininity and separating from his mother, to renewed recognition of his femininity and reconciliation of it with his masculine virility, ``which defines the true androgyne.'' Fatherhood is the key to this process of reconciliation, for parenting is a time for men to find themselves through caring relationships with their children, and because it takes men to produce men. There are few such men today, as most (both straight and gay) are ``mutilated'' to some extent, suffering as tough guys or soft guys. Much of the early part of the text pathologizes male and female relationships, as well as mothers' relationships with their children. In the end, Badinter concludes that parenting tasks should be split rather than shared, otherwise, roles become too clouded for healthy development for both the parents and the children. Disciples of psychoanalytic theory will delight in Badinter's proposed resolution to modernity's lost masculinity, though others will have to wade through jargon to get the meaning of the new masculinity.

Pub Date: May 4th, 1995
ISBN: 0-231-08434-X
Page count: 242pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995