Julia Kristeva illustrates how women are often correlated with a cyclical, natural, maternal temporality, excluded from the linear, historical, progressive temporality that is associated with men. Kristeva further notes first-wave feminism’s attempts to insert women, otherwise deemed to be bound to a natural temporality, into the linear time of social projects and histories.

As for time, female subjectivity would seem to provide a specific measure that essentially retains repetition and eternity from among the multiple modalities of time known through the history of civilizations. On the one hand, there are cycles, gestation, the eternal recurrence of a biological rhythm which conforms to that of nature and imposes a temporality whose stereotyping may shock, but whose regularity and unison with what is experienced as extrasubjective time, cosmic time, occasion vertiginous visions and unnameable jouissance

Temporality…traditionally linked to female subjectivity insofar as the latter is thought of as necessarily maternal should not make us forget that this repetition and this eternity are found to be the fundamental, if not the sole, conceptions of time in numerous civilizations and experiences, particularly mystical ones. The fact that certain currents of modern feminism recognize themselves here does not render them fundamentally incompatible with “masculine” values.

In return, female subjectivity as it gives itself up to intuition becomes a problem with respect to a certain conception of time: time as project, teleology, linear and prospective unfolding; time as departure, progression, and arrival – in other words, the time of history. It has already been abundantly demonstrated that this kind of temporality is inherent in the logical and ontological values of any given civilization, that this temporality renders explicit a rupture, an expectation, or an anguish which other temporalities work to conceal…

In its beginnings, the women’s movement, as the struggle of suffragists and of existential feminists, aspired to gain a place in linear time as the time of project and history. In this sense, the movement, while immediately universalist, is also deeply rooted in the sociopolitical life of nations. The political demands of women; the struggles for equal pay for equal work, for taking power in social institutions on an equal footing with men; the rejection, when necessary, of the attributes traditionally considered feminine or maternal insofar as they are deemed compatible with insertion in that history – all are part of the logic of identification with certain values: not with the ideological (these are  combated, and rightly so, as reactionary) but, rather, with the logical and ontological values of a rationality dominant in the nation-state (Kristeva 1981, 16-19).

Kristeva, Julia. 1981. ‘Women’s Time.’ Translated by Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. Signs 7(1): 13-35.


Rita Felski notes that rather than women being restricted to the natural temporality exemplified by maternal cycles, they are actually more preoccupied with a non-natural, cultural time, than men are. This is said to be identifiable in the onus put on women to juggle child-care and work responsibilities.

For example, those who believe that linear time is masculine and cyclical time feminine usually point to the dramatic contrast between the grand narratives of male historical time and the repetitive everyday time of women. This difference then serves as evidence of a vast gendered gulf in temporal experience. Here is an instance of the problem noted by Maurice Bloch: one facet of cultural experience is taken to be exemplary and representative of an entire (gendered) way of life. The part is taken for the whole.

If, however, the daily lives of women are compared to the daily lives of men, the contrast is much more muted. The realm of everyday life simply is repetitive, being largely defined by monotony, routine, and habit. It is the realm of the eternal daily round, of what the French call “métro, boulot, dodo” (metro, work, sleep). The grey-suited commuter waiting for the 6:30 train or the male sports fan glued to the television every Saturday is as much a creature of routine as is any woman. As I argue in chapter 3, the perception that cyclical time is a uniquely female province is highly misleading.

Such a perception arises from the fact that cyclical time is often seen as natural time, and hence the sphere of women. Yet there is nothing particularly natural about the routines through which most people in the West organize their lives: Burger King at 6 p.m., Friends at 8, a weekly trip to Walmart, the church, or the mall. Of course, the idea that cyclical time is natural does contain an important grain of truth. We know that human bodies are programmed to eat, sleep, and get rid of waste at regular intervals and do not cope well with major alterations to these rhythms (think, for example, of the well-documented disorientation of workers required to work irregular shifts). There are clear limits to the adaptability of human bodily rhythms. Yet the organization of such physical needs within everyday life is always an affair of culture, not nature.

Rather than being elemental creatures attuned to natural rhythms, many women nowadays are, if anything, even more preoccupied with time measurement than men. Caught between the conflicting demands of home and work, often juggling child care and frantic about their lack of time, it is women who are clock watchers, who obsess about appointments and deadlines, who view time as a precious commodity to hoard or to spend. Because women’s work at home is unpaid and hence is not translatable into exchange value, scholars have sometimes assumed that it remains outside the modern time economy. Yet the regulation of time pervades all aspects of everyday life and is no longer limited to those engaged in paid work. The housewife who places her cake in the oven for exactly thirty-five minutes, writes down her appointments in her daily planner, and makes sure that she gives her children several hours of quality time each day is as much a creature of modern time measurement as is any male worker (Felski 2000, 20-21).

Felski, Rita. 2000. Doing time: Feminist theory and postmodern culture. New York and London: New York University Press.