Moving Beyond “the Phallic Function” and “Woman’s Destiny”: An Evaluation of the Benefits and Limitations of Luce Irigaray’s Feminism

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Luce Irigaray’s “This Sex Which Is Not One” (1977) not only specifically rejects Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis as part and parcel of a deconstructive stance—that is to say, she rejects psychanalytic understandings of “woman,” “femaleness,” and “femininity” by deconstructing phallocentrism and phallogocentrism—but, to a larger extent, she participates in a French theoretical movement influenced by Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). I would like to begin with the latter first. By doing so, I will situate Irigaray contextually as a theoretical extension of de Beauvoir’s anti-phallocentric, contra-Freud position and demonstrate how, as a result, Irigaray contributes to a “second-wave” feminist movement—not just contra-Freud, but contra-Lacan—which can be assessed in terms of its benefits and limitations. While the benefits of Irigaray’s feminism can be specifically enumerated in reference to the limitations of Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, these same benefits present more theoretical limitations that are addressed by Black feminism and Womanism, both of which attempt to not only attempt to move beyond phallocentricism and phallogocentrism, but both also move beyond Irigaray’s logocentric interpretation of “woman’s destiny.” Just as Irigaray’s feminism situates itself against the Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic point of view that presents an essentialist understanding of female sexuality in reference to the phallic function, Black feminism or Womanism also situates itself against Irigaray’s essentialist understanding of “woman” in reference to woman’s destiny. For Black feminism or Womanism—despite the fact that there are subtle difference between the two, the most notable being in the former’s use the term “feminism” as a pivot point for the Black experience, and the latter completely rejecting “feminism” altogether—there is a “Black feminist thought” that conceives of woman’s destiny differently from Irigaray’s, particularly since Irigaray’s Eurocentric perspective of gender oppression, by adding racial oppression and perceiving an oppressive intersectionality between race and gender.

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