Reflexive Notes on Bourdieu’s ‘Masculine Domination’

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In his book Masculine Domination, Pierre Bourdieu argues that sexual division represents specific forms of differentiation between men and women that go beyond the physical or physiological conditions between them: it leads to differentiate between women and men in their way of being and their way of constructing their world, merely from their modes of dressing, speaking, and acting, etcetera, as well as from the ways of feeling and thinking the meanings that circulate and are shared in society. According to Bourdieu, the sexual division is a basic principle of the symbolic violence in the social structure, and of what he considers is the ‘masculine domination’: this domination presupposes that the activities and attitudes of both women and men are sharply differentiated by their gender. This principle of sexual differentiation is adopted and reproduced from the base of the familiar, through arrangements and dispositions that pose themselves as natural, as they are embodied and programmed in the symbolic play of language, in common sense, and in all what is socially taken for granted. With this respect, the State, the church and the school, are institutions configured symbolically to perpetuate and reaffirm the principle of sexual differentiation already played in the family niche. The interpretation that Bourdieu makes of the sexual division presupposes the assignation of pre-established roles for women and men: an assignation that predetermines and concretes specific ways of life and conceptions of the world in society. Bourdieu’s approach is relevant: because it points to masculine domination as a form of symbolic violence that is characterized by a legitimate inequality between women and men. Thus, the principle of sexual differentiation represents a principle of construction of historical/social order, i.e, a principle of symbolic violence, in which women have no direct involvement in the ways of organization and transformation of society, because masculine domination confabulates a social world constructed by and for men: a construction that pursues the ways of self-reclusion and self-censorship of women’s thought and of their sentiment of the feminine.

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The symbolic violence of masculine domination also represents the forms and ways to maintain and consolidate the social order in which subjugation and subordination of women coexist simultaneously. This is why it has become a commonplace to think that men activities must be related to work and to the support of the family, i.e, with the making of decisions and with the virtues of being honoured, respected or admired, according to a determined social status. Thus, masculine domination dictates that women activities are related to parenting and to the organization of domestic life, i.e, to the submission towards the decisions taken by men and with the virtues of being sincere, loyal, emotional or sentimental. Bourdieu does not hesitate to indicate that masculine domination is a social construct that involves the permanence of the forms of oppression spread by sexual division, the same ones which are also reproduced by the perceptual schemas embodied in both women and men. This implies that, while constructing the meanings of their immediate reality ―meanings that are implicitly linked with the principle of differentiation between the sexes―, men and women play the game of symbolic violence, which is to say that everyday they are likely to inadvertently play the principles of masculine domination. In this sense, the sociological approach that Bourdieu exposes is primordial to understand the forms of social resistance towards the oppression and marginalization infused by this specific domination. From this perspective, the feminist tendencies wage a political struggle that faces a social reality which involves them historically: their struggle against the symbolic violence is a struggle that takes place in the very construction of the meanings that ordinate society. But this does not mean that there is no possibility of social resistance and symbolic creation, because feminisms are likely to undertake an invisible work of transforming the world: a work that can be characterized by not reproducing the embodied schemes of domination, and that involves a double phase capable to establish a creative break with the meanings that fix our social identities, i.e, the meanings that historically define sex and gender. For Bourdieu, this work is capable to promote a de-historization of the principles of social differentiation which are inherently related to the sexual division and to masculine domination.

2 thoughts on “Reflexive Notes on Bourdieu’s ‘Masculine Domination’

  1. Pingback: Using Bourdieu in my PhD on Parental Influence: Irene Kleanthous Writes : Social Theory Applied

  2. Pingback: Surviving The Enlightenment. | scrapaduq

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