Christine Delphy (born 1941) is a French sociologist, feminist, writer and theorist. She was a co-founder of the review Questions féministes (Feminist Issues) with Simone de Beauvoir in 1977. Her new book is published by Verso.
Delphy studied sociology at the University of Paris and the University of California, Berkeley. She worked in 1965 for the Washington Urban League then began working for Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris in 1966. After May 1968 events, Christine Delphy took part in the Women’s Liberation Movement (Mouvement de Libération des Femmes called MLF) and was one of the few women who brought flowers to the « wife of the unknown soldier » in August 1970. It was the first action of the MLF that received attention in the medias. Delphy is openly lesbian. She was a member of the Gouines rouges (« Red Lesbian »).
Delphy is one of the feminists who opposed the law that forbids wearing the Muslim scarf (hijab) at schools in France, 2004. She denounces the instrumentalisation of feminism for racist purposes.
- Material Feminism
Delphy’s works are mostly about feminism and class-struggle issues. She created Material feminism, which is not just socialist feminism but applies a materialist approach to gender relations. For Karl Marx class is a position in the mode of production; for Delphy gender is also a position in the mode of production (domestic labour). So the main enemy of women is not capitalism but patriarchy. The sex comes after the gender (hierarchy) and is used to legitimate the domination.
Christine Delphy had a big influence on Monique Wittig, who had a big influence on Judith Butler. But Judith Butler de-emphasizes materialist analysis. For her, women are principally a cultural construction. Christine Delphy writes that this ‘cultural turn’ has dismissed the very real oppression of women.
- Against Essentialism and the so-called « French Feminism »
Delphy challenges the biological essentialist view of gender and fights against essentialism, even when it comes from the women’s movement. She also fights against what she called « the invention of ‘french Feminism' »: 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/accept this).
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, W.R.R.C.P., 1970
Close to Home, Hutchinson, & The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984
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.
Separate and dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, Verso, 2015.
Christine Delphy appears in several 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, debat on feminism Simone de Beauvoir, Delphine Seyrig, Christine Delphy…, A2 / France 2, 1985
Thanks God I’m a Lesbian by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, 1992
Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, on the history of the essay at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bood’s release, interviews by Michelle Perrot and Christine Delphy, TF1 tv news, 1999
Debout ! An 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 colloque, 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 the interview of Christine Delphy, France 5, 2007
Encore elles ! by Constance Ryder and Josiane Szymanski, 40 years after MLF’s birth, who are today’s feminists?, 2011
Carole Roussopoulos, une femme à la caméra, by Emmanuelle de Riedmatten, 2012