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"This Sex Which Is Not One"

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Michael Baker

on 29 April 2014

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Transcript of "This Sex Which Is Not One"

"This Sex Which Is Not One" (1977)
by Luce Irigaray

A presentation by Michael Baker
Main Ideas
“Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters” (23).

"the vagina is valued for the 'lodging' it offers the male organ when the forbidden hand has to find a replacement for pleasure-giving" (23).

"Must this multiplicity of female desire and female language be understood as shards, scattered remnants of a violated sexuality? A sexuality denied?" (30).

"Women are marked phallicly by their fathers, husbands, procurers. And this branding determines their value in sexual commerce" (31)

“women do not constitute, strictly speaking, a class, and their dispersion among several classes makes their political struggle complex, their demands sometimes contradictory” (32).
Women's sexuality has been viewed by professionals and scholars (such as Freud) as "that of 'lack, 'atrophy' (of the sexual organ), and 'penis envy'" (23). Rather, Irigaray posits that women are more than just cavities/objects for men; they are superior sexual entities who don't need to have their sexual organs exposed; "within herself, she is already two but not divisible into one(s)" (24). In fact, the presence of the male sex organ is described by Irigaray as a violent disruption to the natural process of a woman's autoeroticism.

In the male eye, the woman's sexual organ is reduced to being a prop for enjoyment or something to be conquered. This misunderstanding is reflected in the economic status of women and results in women being "[consigned] to passivity: she is to be the beautiful object of contemplation" (26). Thus the social role of women is primarily based on (and limited by) sexual organs. In addition, the woman is then reduced to being a commodity for having "emptiness" where men have something measurable (no pun intended).

Irigaray's conclusion is a challenge to women to look forward, rather than repairing the past. She claims that the latter choice will result in
no change at all, causing a continuance in phallocentricm.

For women to undertake tactical strikes, to keep themselves apart from men long enough to learn to defend their desire, especially through speech, to discover the love of other women while sheltered from men's imperious choices that put them in the position of rival commodities, to forge for themselves a social status that compels recognition, to earn their living in order to escape from the condition of prostitute . . . these are certainly indispensable stages in the escape from their proletarization on the exchange market. But if their aim were simply to reverse the order of things, even supposing this to be possible, history would repeat itself in the long run, would revert to sameness: to phallocratism. It would leave room neither for women's sexuality, nor for women's imaginary, nor for women's language to take (their) place (33).
Irigaray and "Aspasia: Rhetoric, Gender, and Colonial Ideology" (Jarratt and Ong)
Both texts discuss how women are situated within a male-centered society.

Irigaray and Robert J. Connors
Agree that "Men and women do and always have engaged in gender-differentiated behaviors” (Connors 2).

Irigaray and Abolitionists (especially Angelina Grimke)
Discuss the negative possessive effects of ownership and how it limits personal power.

Irigaray's Theory in "This Sex Which Is Not One"
Freudian -
"As Freud admits, the beginnings of the sexual life of a girl child are so
"obscure," so "faded with time," that one would have to dig down very deep indeed to discover beneath the traces of this civilization, of this history, the vestiges of a more archaic civilization that might give some clue to woman's sexuality" (25).

Marxism -
"A woman's development, however radical it may seek to be, would thus not suffice to liberate woman's desire. And to date no political theory or political practice has resolved, or sufficiently taken into consideration, this historical problem, even though Marxism has proclaimed its importance" (32).

Irigaray tends to essentialize all women, regardless of social class, ambition, or sexuality into one marginalized/generalized group.

“Woman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking, and her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies, again, her consignment to passivity” (26).

"Ownership and property are doubtless quite foreign to the feminine. At least sexually. But not nearness. Nearness so pronounced that it makes all discrimination of identity, and thus all forms of property, impossible" (31).
About Luce Irigaray
Born in Belgium on May 3, 1930 and currently lives in France.

Holds multiple post-graduate degrees in linguistics, psychology, and philosophy.

Marxist scholar (focusing on women as commodities)
More from Irigaray
"Today's culture is a masculine one. Women do not receive a culture."
Full transcript