Literary Theory Unit 2 Feminism

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Literary Theory Unit 2 Feminism

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(A) Twenty years on: A Literature State Apparatuses



1. What is the main theme of the essay?

Ans: In a literature of their own, Elaine C. Showalter traces a tradition of women’s literature in England by examining the works and lives of women novelists from 1840 to the present.

2. In which year the essay was first published?

Ans: In the year 1977.

3. What are three phases of feminism according to showalter?

Ans: Elaine Showalter’s three phases of faminism: the “feminine” (women writers imitate men), the “feminist” (women advocated minority rights and protested), and the “female” (the focus is now on women’s texts as opposed to merely uncovering misogyny in men’s texts).

4. What is Gynocriticism?

Ans: Gynocriticism is the study of women’s writing. Gynocriticism established the historical study of women writers as a legitimate field of academic inquiry and developed to encompass a broad range of methodologies of reading women’s writing.

5. What does Elaine Showalter mean by wilderness?

Ans: The essay by Elaine Showalter is an attempt to study the field of literary criticism from the feminist point of view. Showalter has tried to analyse in detail the belief that feminist criticism is in wilderness, which means, feminist critics are not capable enough to produce coherent speculations.

6. What is feminist poetics according to Elaine Showalter?

Ans: One of the most influential essay by the American critic Elaine Showalter, “Towards a Feminist poetics” calls for a separate and autonomous model of literary theory by rejecting the inevitability of male models and theories and recalling women’s literary tradition to the present.

7. What are the four models?

Ans: Emphasizing the difference factor, Elaine Showalter brings out four models: Biology, Linguistics, Psychoanalytic and Cultural. Each of these models differentiates and define women’s writings and texts. She says that they occur in linear order, one incorporates the model preceding it.

8. Why is Elaine Showalter important feminist criticism?

Ans: Showalter says the most constructive approach to future feminist theory and criticism lies in a focus on nurturing a new feminine cultural perspective within a feminist tradition that at the same time exists within the male tradition, but on which it is not dependent and to which it is not answerable.


1. Prepare a note on the overview of the essay.

Ans: Feminism is conserned with the marginalization of women in a patriarchal culture.

Feminist critics explain how the subordination of women is reflected or challenged by literary texts. They examine the experiences of women of all races, classes, sexual preferences, and cultures.

Feminist critics’ goals: to expose patriarchal premises and resulting prejudices; to promote the discovery and revaluation of literature by women; and the examine social, cultural, and psychosexual contexts of literature and literary criticism.

First-, second-, and third-wave feminisms roughly corresponding to the nineteenth century, the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and the late twentieth-and early twenty-first centuries.

Elaine Showalter’s three phases of feminism: the “feminine” (women writers imitate men), the “feminist” (women advocated minority rights and protested), and the “female” (the focus is now on women’s texts as opposed to merely uncovering misogyny in men’s text). Showalter’s four models of sexual difference: biological, linguistic,  Psychoanalytic, and cultural.

Gender studies: how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works. Male and female discursive logic: sequential vs. associational. Current practices of feminism: Marxist feminism, French feminism (I’ scripture feminine), feminist myth critics, feminist film theory, and “minority” feminism such as black and lesbian sub-genres. Alice Walker prefers “womanish” to “feminism”.

2. Discuss about Gynocriticism.

Ans: Elaine Showalter’s a Literature of their own, which describes three stages in the history of women’s literature, also proposes a similar multi-part model of the growth of feminist theory. First, according to Showalter, comes an androgynist poetics. Next, a feminist critique and female Aesthetic, accompanied by gynocritics, follows, and these are closely pursued by gynesic poststructuralist feminist criticism and gender theory. Androgynist poetics, having relations and perhaps roots in mid-Victorian women’s writing of imitation, contends that the creative minds is sexless, and the very foundation of describing a female tradition in writing was sexist. Critics of this vein found gender as imprisoning, nor believed that gender had a bearing in the contend of writing, which, according to Joyce Carol Oates is actually cultured-determined. 

Imagination is too broad to be hemmed in by gender. However, from the 1970s on, most feminist critics reject the genderless mind, finding that the “imagination” cannot evade the conscious or unconscious structures of gender. Gender, it could be said, is part of that culture-determination which Oates says serves as inspiration. Such as position emphasizes “the impossibility of separating the imagination from a socially, sexually, and  historically positioned self”. This movement of thought allowed for a feminist critique as critics attacked the meaning of sexual difference in a patriarchal society/ideology. Images of male-wrought representations of women (stereotypes and exclusions) came under fire, as was the “division, oppression, inequality, [and] interiorised inferiority for women”. The female experience, then, began to take on positive affirmations. The Female Aesthetic arose–expressing a unique female consciousness and a feminine tradition in literature-as it celebrated an intuitive female approach in the interpretation of women’s texts. It “spoke of a vanished nation, a lost motherland; of female vernacular or Mother tongue; and a powerful but neglected women’s culture”. 

Writers like Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson, emerging our of the Victorian period and influenced by its writings were perhaps the first women to recognize this. In “Professions for Women”, Woolf discuss how a women writers seeks within herself “the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber”, inevitably colliding against her own sexuality to confront “something about the body, about the passions”. The French feminists of the day discussed this Mother Tongue, calling it l’ecriture feminine. Accessible to men and women a like, but representing “female sexual morphology”, I’ecriture feminine sought a way of writing which literally embodied the female, thereby fighting the “subordinating, linear style of classification or distinction”. “Showalter finds that whether this clitoral, vulval, vaginal, or uterine; whether centred on semiotic pulsions, childbearing, or jouissance, the feminist theorization of female sexuality/textuality, and it’s funky audacity in violeting patriarchal  taboos by unveiling the Medusa, is an exhilarating challenge to phallic discourse.

3. Discuss Elaine Showalter as a Feminist Critic.

Ans: Elaine Showalter is an influential American critic famous for her conceptualization of Gynocriticism, which is a women-centric approach to literary analysis, Her a Literature of their own discusses the-female literary tradition which she analyses as an evolution through three phases. She observes that literary “subcultures” (black, Jewish, Anglo-Indian) tend to pass through these stages: 1) Imitation of the modes of the dominant tradition and internalization of the artistic and social values. 2) Protest against these standards and values and a call for autonomy, 3) Self discovery-turning inward free from’ some of the dependency of opposition, a search for identity.

Viewing the women’s literary tradition in terms of these phases, Showalter calls the first phases as “feminine” spanning from 1840-1880 (a phase of imitation, when women writers like George Eliot wrote with male pseudonyms); the second phase as the feminist phase (1880-1920, the phase of protest) when women won voting rights; the third phase as the female phase (1920-till around 1960) when women’s writing entered a new phase of self-awareness.

Showalter points out that although women writers since the beginning have shared a “covert solidarity” with other women writers and their female audience; there was no expressive communality or self-awareness before the 1840s. Even during the feminine phase, women writers did not see their writing as an expression of their female experiences. Yet the repressive circumstances gave rise to innovative and covert ways to express their inner life, and thus we have the mad woman locked in the attic, the crippled artist and the murderous wife. Despite the restrictions, the novel from Jane Austen to George Eliot talked about the daily lives and values of women within a female and community.

In the feminist phase which denotes political involvement, women writers questioned the stereotypes and challenged the restrictions of women’s language, denounced the ethic of self-sacrifice and used their fictional dramatization of oppression to bring about social and political changes. They embodied a “declaration of independence” in the female tradition and stood up to the male establishment in an outspoken manner. Challenging the monopoly of the male press, many feminist journals came into being, and some like Virginia Woolf, controlled their own press.

The female phase was marked by courageous self-exploration and a return to kore realistic modes of expression. Post 1960 writers like Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch and Margaret Drabble undertook an authentic anger and sexuality as sources of creative power, while reasserting their continuity with women writers of the past.

Showalter also posited that feminist criticism falls into two categories: women as reader (Feminist Critique) and women as writer (Gynocriticism). In the first category, women are consumers of a male-produced literature and this aspect of feminist criticism is conserned with the stereotypical representations of women, fissures in male-oriented literary theory and how patriarchy manipulated the female audiences. Gynocriticism attempts to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature and focus on female subjectivity, female language and female literary career.  

4. Write about Gynocritical thinkers.

Ans: Showalter points out the major points of similarity and difference in European feminist tradition from the American tradition. 1. Similarity can be recognized in terms of their radical stance ‘intellectual affiliations and rhetorical energies’, 2. And difference in mainly in terms of taking a more theoretical direction. For example American feminism is empirical in its grounding in linguistics, Marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstructionism, and so on. In other words, it-appears that. French/European feminism continues to derive a substantial degree of revolutionary zeal from the established critical discourses. This is a sufficient reason to make free-thinking radicals like Elaine Showalter uneasy, but upon closer examination she finds that it is a forward-looking brand of feminism. A primarily fundamental concept evolved by French feminists like Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, etc. is ecriture feminism, “the inscription of the female body and female difference in language and text’, with Helene Cixous being its chief proponent. It was Toril Moi who, analyzing Helene Cixous’s concept call it an. Imaginary utopia. However, it seeks to decenter the collusion between logo centrism and phallocentric and proclaims “woman as the source of new life, power and energy”.

As with so many other Utopians, there is an overdose of confidence that shows clearly here. Elaine Showalter sees here a hope for close cooperation between the European and American feminists. By contrast, the English feminists show more traditional orientation to textual interpretation. Thus in each country can be seen a different emphasis within wider Gynocritical ambit:

(a) Americans, more practical, focus on expression and are concerned with text-related factors.

(b) The French, with their preoccupation with psychoanalysis are concerned with repressive forces.

(c) The English feminists, centred around Marxist position, highlight oppression and social-cultural factors. By summing these up one can appreciate the formidable challenge of defining the difference of women’s writings, Showalter Calls It a slippery and demanding task. Our task, she says, is to reveal the delicate divergences, the subtle ways of women’s responses, and reactions, the intricate, seemingly elusive feelings and thoughts. It is a call to original readings and researches, not seeking to rely on pre-established theses, but an endeavor to that begins at the beginning, totally radical start. This is the beauty and strength of Showalter. She is quite clear about it. She with one colossalsweep of vision takes in all the diversities and deviations, oppositions and cantradictions of feminism.

5. Give a brief analysis of the essay.

Ans: Elaine Showalter (born January 21, 1941) is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.

She is well known and respected in both academic and popular cultural fields. She has written and edited numerous books and articles focused on a variety of subjects, from feminist literary criticism to fashion, sometimes sparking widespread controversy, especially with her work on illnesses. Showalter has been a television critic for people magazine and a commentator on BBC radio and television.

Showalter is a specialist in Victorian literature and the Fin-de-Siecle (turn of the 19th century). Her most innovative work in this field is in madness and hysteria in literature, specifically in women’s writing and in the portrayal of female characters.

Showalter’s best known works are Towards a feminist poetics (1979), the female malady: women, Madness, and English Culture (1830-1980) (1985), sexual Anarchy: Gender at Culture at the fin de siecle (1990), Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media (1997), and Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage (2001). In 2007 Showalter was chair of the judges for the prestigious British literary award, the Man Booker International Prize.

Showalter’s book Inventing Herself (2001), a survey of feminist icons, seems to be the culmination of a long-time interest in communicating the importance of understanding feminist tradition. Showalter’s early essays and editorial work in the late 1970s and the 1980s survey the history of the feminist tradition within the ”wilderness” of literary theory and criticism. Working in the field of feminist literary theory and criticism, which was just emerging as a serious scholarly pursuit in universities in the 1970s, Showalter’s writing reflects a conscious effort to convey the importance of mapping her discipline’s past in order to both ground it in substantive theory, and a mass a knowledge base that will be able to inform a path for future feminist academic pursuit.

Showalter is concerned by stereotypes of feminism that see feminist critics as being ‘obsessed with the phallus’ and ‘obsessed with destroying male artists’. Showalter wonders if such stereotypes emerge from the fact feminism lacks a fully articulated theory.

Another problem for Showalter is the way in which feminists turn away from theory as a result of the attitudes of some male academics: theory is their property. Showalter writers: ‘From this perspective, the academic demand for theory can only be heard as a threat to the feminist need for authenticity, and the visitor looking for a formula that he or she can take away without personal encounter is not welcome’. In response, Showalter wants to outline a poetics of feminist criticism.

In Toward a Feminist Poetics Showalter divides feminist criticism into two sections:

(a) The Women as Reader or Feminist Critique: ‘the way in which a female reader changes our apprehension of a given text, awakening it to the significance of its sexual codes’; historical grounded inquiry which probes the ideological assumptions of literary phenomena’; ‘subject include the images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions of and misconceptions about women in criticism, and the fissures in male-constructed literary history’; ‘concerned with the exploitation and manipulation of the female audience, especially in popular culture and film, and with the analysis of woman-as-sign in semiotic systems’; ‘political and polemical’; like the Old Testament looking for the errors of the past.

One of the problems of the feminist critique is that it is male-orientated. If we study stereotypes of women, the sexism of male critics, and the limited roles women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced, but only what men thought women should be. The critique also has a tendency to naturalize women’s victimizing by making it the inevitable and obsessive topic of discussion.

(b) The Woman as Writer or Gynocritics: Showalter coined the term ‘gynocritics’ to describe literary criticism based in a feminine perspective. Probably the best description Showalter gives of gynocritics is in Towards a Feminist Poetics:

In contrast to [an] angry or loving fixation on male literature, the program of gynocritics is to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on the study of female experiance, rather than to adapt male models and theories. Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the linear absolutely of male literary history, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition, and focus instead on the newly visible world of female culture.

This does not mean that the goal of gynocritics is to erase the differences between male and female writing; gynocritics is not “on a pilgrimage to the promised land in which gender would lose its power, in which all texts would be sexless and equal, like angles”. Rather gynocritics aims to understand the specificity of women’s writing not as a product of sexism but as a fundamental aspect of female reality. Its prime concern is to see ‘woman as producer of textual meaning, with the history themes, genres, and structures of literature by women’. It’s ‘subjects include the psychodynamics of female creativity. It studies linguistics and the problem of a female language in literary text. It reviews the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career. 

It proposes ‘to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on women’s experience’. It’s study ‘focuses on the newly visible world of female culture’; ‘hypotheses of a female sub-culture’; ‘the occupations, interactions, and consciousness of women’. It projects how ‘feminine values penetrate and undermine the masculine systems that contain them’. And at its extreme, it is ‘engaged in the myth of the Amazon’s, and the fantasies of a separate female society’.

Showalter acknowledges the difficulty of “[d]efining the unique difference of women’s writing” which she says is “a slippery and demanding task in “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness”. She says that gynocritics may never succeed in understanding the special differences of women’s writing, or realize a distinct female literary tradition. But, with grounding in theory and historical research, Showalter sees Gynocriticism as a way to “learn something solid, enduring, and real about the relation of women to literary culture”.

Showalter then provides an exemplary feminist critique of Thomas Hardy’s the mayor of Casterbridge to demonstrate that “one of the problems of the feminist critique is that it is male-oriented”, meaning that, in some sense, every feminist critique, when criticizing patriarchy, is focused toward the male. As an alternative, Showalter presents gynocritics as a way “to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on the study of female experience, rather that to adopt to male models and theories”.

To begin to trace out this radically female-centered theory, Showalter notes excerpts from feminist historians and sociologists. She then moves on to an engaging discussion of the experiences of Elizabeth Barreth Browning and other female authors to show the need for “completeness”, in discussing women

authors’ work way in which ”it is necessary to leave oneself room to deal with other things besides [women writers”] work, south has that work been influenced by conditions that have nothing whatever to do with art”.

6. Discuss the three phases of feminism.

Ans: From these experiences, Showalter then begins a rough sketch of some of the elements that have characterized women’s writing: awakening, suffering, unhappiness, and matrophobia, among others. She concludes with her classification of women’s writing into three phases that “established [es] the continuity of the female tradition from decade to decade, rather than from Great Women to great women”.

Thus, Showalter traces the history of women’s literature, suggesting that it can be divided into three phases: 

The feminine phase (1840-1880): Showalter sees the first phases taking place from roughly 1840 to 1880; she calls this “the feminine phase” and declares that it is characterized by “women [writing] in an effort to equal the intellectual achievements of the male culture… The distinguishing sign of this period is the male pseudonym…[which] exerts an irregular pressure on the narrative, affecting tone, diction, structure, and characterization”.

The feminist phase (1880-1920): The second, Feminist phase follows from 1880 to 1920, wherein “women are historically enabled to reject the accommodatination postures of feminity and to use literature to dramatize the ordeals of wronged womanhood”. This phase is characterized by “Amazon Utopias”, visions of perfect, female-led societies of the future. This phase was characterized by women’s writing that protested against male standards and values, and advocated women’s rights and values, including a demand for autonomy.

The female phase(1920) is one of self-discovery. Showalter says, “women reject both imitation and protest-two forms of dependency and turn instead to female experience as the source of an autonomous art, extending the feminist analysis of culture to the forms and techniques of literature”. Significantly, Showalter does not offer a characteristic sign or figure for the Female phase, suggestion a welcome diversity of experience that is too broad to be encompassed in a single image.

Rejecting both imitation and protest, Showalter advocates approaching feminist criticism from a cultural perspective in the current Female phase, rather than from perspective that traditionally come from an androcentric perspective like Psychoanalytic and biological theories, for example. Feminists in the past have worked within these traditions by revising and criticizing female representations, or lack there of, in the male traditions (that is, in the feminine and feminist phases). In her essay Feminist Criticism in the wilderness (1981), Showalter says, “A cultural theory acknowledge that there are important difference between women as writers: class, race nationality, and history are literary determinants as significant as gender. Nonetheless, women’s culture forms a collective experience within the cultural whole, an experience that binds women writers to each other over time and space”.

(B) When the Goods Get Together

1. Who is Luce Irigaray?

Ans: Luce Irigaray is a Belgian born French feminist philosopher, psychoanalyst, and cultural commentator. She is especially credited for advancing an “ethics of sexual difference” that is based on the specificity and autonomy of the female/feminine. In the respect, her work can be contrasted against the normative Freudo-Lacanian rendering of women and/or feminity as “passive, narcissistic, masochistic and penis-envying”.

2. What did Luce Irigaray believe?

Ans: Irigaray argues that objects of value, such as the sun or God, are typically marked with the masculine gender while less important objects are feminine. Since language and society mutually affect each other, Irigaray believes that language must change along with society.

3. What did Luce Irigaray argued in the essay?

Ans: Luce Irigaray has argued that the woman has been constructed as the specular other of man in all Western discourses. Combining psychoanalysis, philosophy and linguistics, Irigaray’s work has been enormously influential in poststructuralist feminist thought.

4. What is referred as French feminism?

Ans: Luce Irigaray, born in 1930, is a highly influential Belgian-born French feminist who along with feminists like Helen Cixous, Julia Kristeva and many others belongs to that school of feminism referred as “French feminism”.

And just like Cixous and Kristeva, heavily engages with the theories of psychoanalysis, linguistic and post-structuralism, post-modern and other philosophical ideas to bring her own unique feminist criticism.

5. What is Speculation of the other women?

Ans: Irigaray’s most acclaimed work is titled Speculation of the other women published in 1974. Though Irigaray was herself a student of prominent psychoanalyst like Lacan, she is highly critical of the way he and Freud present quite a rigid and monolithic picture of the reality and the privilege given to phallocentric worldview. She critiques the entire notion of western philosophy and how in this western philosophical tradition we see a lack of feminine self, either in the thoughts or as a particular individual or intellectual.

6. What is the presence of binaries?

Ans: She argues that the entire western philosophy, from Plato to Descartes has this notion of a single, separate and rational individual as a thinking subject analysing the rest of world as objects and hence Irigaray critiques this notion of subject-object rigidity in thoughts, the presence of binaries. And she attributes this notion and mind-set for creating the absence of feminine and the absence of any other difference that doesn’t fit in the worldview of this phallocentric and “phallocentric” structure, viewing the differences always as a lack of it.

7. What is male way of understanding?

Ans: She harshly critiques this male way of understanding and analysing the world in term of binaries. According to Irigaray, trying to look at reality this way kills the entire possibility of the existence of the “other” like women, whose existence have always been defined as the lack of men, or lack of phallus.

The only possibility for the other being or identity other than the “ideal” and “central” in this subject-object thought process, is by completely destroying the very structure, in the similar fashion that Cixous wants feminine writing to destroy the male hegemony.

8. What has influenced by Irigaray’s work?

Ans: Irigaray’s work has influenced the feminist movement in France and Italy for several decades. Since the 1980s she has spoken in support of the Italian Communist Movement, touring and lecturing in Italy. Irigaray has conducted research over the last decades at the Centric National de Recherche Scientifique in Paris on the difference between the language of women and the language of men. This research takes place with speakers of many different languages and discussed in her recent writings. In 1986 she transferred from the psychology Commission to the Philosophy Commission as the latter is her preferred discipline.

9. What women should do?

Ans: In the end, she says that women should establish homogenous relations among themselves. In this way, phallus will lose its power and hence they will achieve the desired status. They will never be able to bring change by adding women voice to the current male-centric world.

10. What do you mean by Homosexuality?

Ans: Irigaray rejects Freud concept of homosexuality. According to her, homosexuality (sexual relations among the persons having same-sex) and homosociality (relation among persons with same-sex without having sex) exist in society. However, homosociality is promoted respected and accepted whereas homosexuality is rejected.

She provides another example to show the existence of homosexuality in society. According to her the trade of women happens among the men. In a way the whole society is homosexual. However, it is kept in pretence though it is the basis for the general economy i.e. trading of women. Homosexuality never appears in public as it will disrupt the order and the dominance of men over women will end.


1. Give an introduction on Feminism.

Ans: Feminism is characterized by significant political movements, range of ideologies, far-reaching social revolution, each being driven towards a sole objective: to align women’s personal and political status with that of men. The aim was not to displace the patriarchal Centre with the Feminist model but the empower women to formulate an identity in the society through: gaining the right to vote, being a part of productive labor 1, to recieve education, achieve reproductive rights, and to own property. Feminist movement has been divided into three stages called the three Waves of feminism. The First Wave was synonymous with the women’s suffragette Movement. In the Second Wave, Women were not only influenced by, but also participated in the contemporaneous Civil Rights Movement of theb1960’s. It was reaction to the Post World War domestication women, limiting their involvement to household chores. 

Betty Friedman, with her book The Feminine Mystique, (1963) is often credit with starting this wave of Feminist movement which focused on issues like sexuality, marriage, reproductive rights, workplace environments and physical and sexual violence. Gender and sexuality is central to the Third wave ideology. It addressed the issues surfacing in the second wave: more appropriation and often misappropriation of women who were outside the domain of the white upper middle class.

The focus was on individualized identity and giving a voice the subaltern women who were excluded from the feminist movement. Began in 1990’s, the movement continues to simmer even today. For instance, the “Slut Walk” in 2011 and the present time Queer movements taking place in different parts of the world.

The Critical Approaches of the 1980’S Can Be Studied as three stages. In the first stage, women drew from the approaches of other kinds of criticism: Marxism, Structuralism, psychoanalysis, Linguistic, etc. In the second stage, a greater emphasis was laid on reconstruction of female experience; the movement was no longer limited to attacking male supremacy. In the third stage, efforts were directed at: rewriting Women’s history and creating a New Canon of Women’s Writing.

2. Discuss the thought of Luce Irigaray in the essay.

Ans: Equality is a concept that has concerned Luce Irigaray, in various guises, throughout her work. 

Irigaray’s work is often divided into three phases. Briefly, in the first phase, or the ‘critical’ phase, she excavates the most subjective(masculine) character and tradition of Western culture during which she revisits the seminal texts of philosophy and psychoanalysis and contests the defining concept of enlightenment thought. In the second, she seeks to define the conditions necessary to develop a culture in the feminine and in the third, her focus is on the elaboration of a genuine coexistence between masculine and feminine subjects, without hierarchy, or the construction of intersubjectivity in sexual difference. I think we can map on a movement in her thinking on equality to these three phases.

Irigaray’s great insight in speculum of the other women was that the universal subject espoused by the men of phylosophy and psychoanalysis is not universal or neutral, as they had asserted, but in fact masculine and that this subject had achieved it’s domination through the suppression and denial of the feminine. Through dialogic reading of the ‘blind spots’ of the texts of Freud, Plato, Lacan, Kant and others, Irigaray illustrated how the feminine has been colonised by a male fantasy of an inverted other through which he can project himself as subject, while women functions only as object for an between man. The masculine projection of the feminine is thus defined in accordance with male perceptions and experiences of the world and involves the elaboration of norms for keeping the feminine within certain boundaries. 

These boundaries are premised upon the negation of specific female bodies in history and their replacement with masculine constructions of the feminine, such as those of wife and mother. Women’s bodies are thus materialised insofar as they serve the male world. Irigaray calls this law that orders society ‘hom (m) osexual’ or ‘phallocentric’ in that it values, and is in service exclusively to, men’s needs and desires, and exchanges among men. As Alain pottage eloquently explains:

[Phallocentrism] therefore preserves the reproduction of culture in the image of a masculine morphology-a morphology sculpture and sustained through techniques of identification and attachment which institutes a self predicated upon the denigration of otherness; or, specifically, an otherness which has been attributed a feminine gender.

This phallocentrism necessitates what Irigaray exposed as a symbolic economy in which women’s difference can only be represented as a defective variation of the same. Women exist in an ‘economy of the same’ in that equality is conceived as becoming equivalent to a man, however inclusion in phallocratic logic through equivalency with men does nothing to disrupt that logic; it remains the same. In such a symbolic order, women has no entitlement to her own unique genealogy, culture or becoming and as such cannot enter into civil society as woman, for herself. On the basis of this insight, Irigaray is critical of liberal politics of inclusion which espouse the goal of ‘equality’ between the sexes. 

The figure of the neutral ‘equal’ citizen, she argues, is a fiction which serves primarily to obscure the masculine as universal and justifies the continued denial of women’s unique sexual difference. After the gains of egalitarian politics are carefully examined, argues Irigaray, women’s inclusion in civil society and culture fas failed to acknowledge their distinct and different position from men, and from each other, and in doing so has left intact the a historical neutral (sexless) citizen of the nation state. The consequences of this construction of equality are significant: ‘The demand for the equality of the sexes often forms a part of this plan to neither familial and sexual singularity for the benefit of the state and its laws… Yet these laws have openly sacrificed woman and covertly sacrificed man’.

From this critique of liberal equality Irigaray moved in the second and third phases of her work to consider equality through a (literally) different lens. If women are to become subjects, she argues, it will most likely not be because they have first become accepted as men, or as sexually neutral citizens. What is required instead is an ability to think equality not through some less but through difference.

In the second phase of her work, during which time she was concerned with an elaboration of the conditions necessary for a culture in the feminine to emerge, she missed upon the dual demands of equality and difference primarily through her notion of the ‘double universal’. This idea has often been criticised, particularly in feminist circles, as being essentialist but this a misunderstanding of her thinking here. The double universal is not the elaboration of a fixed feminine subjectivity to compliment, or double, the universal (masculine) subject, but rather the conduit for the full positive affirmation of two sexes and the reconfiguration of the subject beyond the ‘one’. As Elizabeth Grosz explains:

The sexes as we know them today have only one model, a singular and universal neutrality… But the idea that sexual difference entails the existence of at least two points of view, sets of interests, perspectives, two types of ideal, two modes of knowledg le, is yet to be considered.

In this way, Irigaray began to think about how sexual difference could form the basis for the wholesale transformation of civil society on the basis of two sexually differentiated subjects living in intersubjectivity.

In thinking through the possibility of the double universal in the earlier part of the third phase of her work, Irigaray turned increasingly to the law. While critical of law as an institution which remains mired within phallocentrism it remains necessary, nonetheless, she argues, in order to initiate that ‘full-scale rethink’ of the civil system she envisages. In a series of texts released in English in quick succession, Irigaray argues for what she calls ‘sexuate rights’ which are designed to apply in respect of men and women and ‘respond to the reality of their respective needs’. 8 Equality between men and women, she argues, ‘cannot be achieved without theory of gender as sexed and a rewriting of the rights and obligations of each sex, qua different, in social rights and obligations’. The law which would be brought into being by, but also tasked with safeguarding, such a system of rights would have the capacity to regulate the subjectivity and objective relations between (sexually) different persons thus facilitating a universal made up of two equal but different subjects.

In her more recent work Irigaray continues the project of thinking equality through sexuate difference. Her thinking emphasises the crucial importance of a shared horizon of becoming grounded in a respect for difference.

In order to go beyond a limit, there must be a boundary. To touch one another in intersubjectivity, it is necessary that two subjects agree to the relationship and that the possibility to consent exists. Each must have the opportunity to be a concrete, corporeal and sexuate subject, rather than an abstract, neutral, fabricated, and fictitious one.

Those interested in the manifestation of the double universal in Irigaray’s later work might have a look at her new book released this year in which she revisits many of these key themes and in which the critical phase of her work is presented in a particularly accessible manner.

3. Prepare a note on Irigaray’s Psychoanalytic feminism.

Ans: In her works like speculum of the other women (translated 1985) and this sex which not one (1987), Luce Irigaray has argued that the women has been constructed as the specular other of man in all Western discourses. Combining psychoanalysis, philosophy and linguistics, Irigaray’s work has been enormously influential in poststructuralist feminist thought. Irigaray’s rejection of the male symbolic order in order to highlight difference has been regarded as the “radical feminist” phase of the feminist movement.

(a) The speculum is the curved mirror (one turned hack on itself) of feminine self-examination. This is opposed to the flate mirror, which privileges the relation of men with other men but excludes the feminine. Psychoanalysis has always inscribed masculine ideology. Irigaray seeks to uncover a feminine order of meaning so that the sexual identity of the women may be constructed.

(b) She therefore argues against the “logic of sameness” operating within all discourse. This logic means that two specificites–of man and woman-are consistently merged into one: “man is the measure of all things”. Turning to Freud, Irigaray shows how Freud’s theory of sexuality is basically premised on one sex-the male. There is the male and there is the absence of lack-the female. The male is the paradigm of all sexuality-physical changes (Freud, Irigaray points out speaks of the “lack” in the females, but never speaks of the degeneration of breasts in the males, which should also be constructed a “lack”) and sexual pleasure-and sexuality is a priori male for Freud. Irigaray notes: “female sexuality has always been conceptualised on the basis of masculine parameters”.

(c) Irigaray traces the logic of sameness right back to Plato. She argues that the logic of sameness collapses the two specificities as follows: into one and it’s negative-man and not-man, A and not A (or A-minus). This means that instead of two separate autonomous entities A, B we have one positive (A) and it’s negative. The second term/identity is only what the first is not. All difference between the sexes is eradicated through this means. This is why Irigaray suggests that the flat mirror reflects back to the male, indicates only the fullness of male identity. This also means that it becomes impossible for the women to represent herself. She is always, writes Irigaray “off-stage, off-side, beyond representation, beyond selfhood”. This logic is also indicative of the privileging (a) of the male organ and (b) of the unitary notion of truth, where the patriarchal truth is the only truth. Irigaray has set the stage for the articulation of the autonomous feminine subject, the thus-far effaced B of discourse.

(d) Irigaray suggests a specifically feminine writing practice. Proceeding from the assumption that a different order of meaning is necessary to construct a positive representation of the feminine, Ingaray searches out new linguistic modes of expressing the the feminine self. The Lacanian idea that language is phallic, Irigaray argues, implies a dangerous situation. For the women to speak, she she must speak like a man, or else to break away from the social/symbolic. If women are to have their own identity, they must subvert the phallic version of the symbolic. She sees writing as going through the looking glass into a world of women’s self-representation.

(e) Irigaray therefore adopts a slippery kind of writing herself. Puns, word plays, syntactic experiments and new arrangements, fragmentation become the modes of feminine writing the breaks the stranglehold of masculine rigidified and rule bound language. Reading and writing then must favour the images and metaphors of fluidity, dynamism, polysemy and plurality (all feminine) rather than those of unity, monologism, stability and fixity.

(f) She associates the metaphor of the specular mirror with this feminine representation. The curved surface of the speculum produces a deformed image with reverses the reflections of masculine discourse. Irigaray writes: then “the specular surface [will be] found not the void of nothingness but the dazzle of multifaceted speleology. A scintillating and incandescent concavity”. This curved surface represents the inner specificity of the female body. Women need to first represent themselves to themselves in order to constitute themselves as social being who can form positive relationships with one another.

(g) Rejecting the primacy of sight in psychoanalysis, Irigaray returns to the pre-Oedipal stage where the sense of touch rules the mother-child relation. In addition, Irigaray reject the focus on genitals as the erogenous zone in classical psychoanalysis. Arguing that the women’s body is multiplicity itself, Irigaray suggests that female sexuality is also multiple in its erogenous zones. It is now necessary to see female sexuality is not a lack but as “two lips” which are evidently different from the unitariness of the male organ. The lips are “continually interchanging and touching, they are “neither identifiable nor separable from one another….these two are always joined in an embrace:” Fluidity multiplicity and the primacy of touch inform Irigaray writing. Lacanian psychoanalysis which privileges metaphor (considered semi-solid) over metonymy (considered fluid) has resulted in the neglect in the feminine sexuality. Feminine sexuality which is fluid is always ignored in favour of the solidity of the phallus.

(h) Foregrounding the mother-daughter relationship, Irigaray argues that the women’s inability to represent herself is due to the undermining of the mother-daughter bond by and in the Symbolic Order. Motherhood is allowed only a small space, denied economic or social status and separated from the very aspect of sexuality. Creativity is a male domain, motherhood is is restricted to the nurture and care of the child. The daughter in the patriarchal system must separate from the mother in order to gain her own identity. The daughter is thus “exiled” from her first identity and history.

(I) Irigaray argues that this conditions must be rectified by the invention of a new language that redefines motherhood in explicity sexual terms. Such as language will allow the mother and daughter separate

 identities but retain their bond. In her search for the equivalent of the mother-daughter bond, Irigaray has resurrected those aspects of Western culture that symbolize specifically feminine conditions: witchcraft, sorcery and the divine feminine. These have been repressed in the masculine symbolic order, argues Irizarry. There is not even a feminine god, she points out. The feminine god has to be the god of becoming, the god of fluidity, of porous boundaries, and of the very elements (air, fire, water and earth). The quest for such a feminine god is thus the search for an alternative point of reference other than the patriarchal one.

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