This Sex Which Is Not One Critical Essays

Luce Irigaray


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Throughout the essays collected in This Sex Which Is Not One, Irigaray engages in a twofold movement: She simultaneously critiques the hidden male bias in Western philosophical systems and attempts to develop new forms of writing and speaking that reflect women’s specificity. Central to this undertaking is her call for a theory of sexual difference in which femininity and masculinity would indicate autonomous, qualitatively different models of subjectivity, or consciousness. Drawing primarily on psychoanalytic insights developed by Freud and Lacan, Irigaray maintains that Western linguistic and philosophical traditions are based on what she calls “sexual indifference,” or an unacknowledged conflation of two independent sexes into a single, pseudo-universal model of personhood that subordinates the feminine. In this representational system, which she and other theorists describe as “phallocentric,” woman or the feminine is defined as being quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, different from the masculine. Thus, for example, Freud describes the girl’s clitoris as a little penis, not as a specifically female organ.

Irigaray argues that by denying women an independent, sexually specific identity, this phallocentric model reduces the feminine to “the inverse, indeed the underside, of the masculine.” Woman, for example, is defined only as man’s “other.” In “The Power of Discourse” and “Questions,” she attributes Freud’s restrictive account of femininity to this hierarchical binary system. She explains that because sexuality assumes a single, masculine form in Freudian theory,...

(The entire section is 668 words.)