Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.—Virginia Woolf (A Room of One's Own 35)
In Sigmund Freud's account of female sexuality, woman herself is never at issue: as Luce Irigaray points out, "the feminine is defined as the necessary complement to the operation of male sexuality, and, more often, as a negative image that provides male sexuality with an unfailingly phallic self-representation" (This Sex 70). The "other" sex, the female, exists only as "the indispensable complement to the only sex": as a mirror, the other reproduces the image of the one; the two are interlocked in a figuration of "the same" (This Sex 28, 116). As the sexual model for Freud, as the standard for the representation of desire, the "masculine" is a model that privileges sameness, the refusal to recognize the other as other. Freud's theory requires the male as model: "for both sexes in childhood only one kind of genital organ comes into account—the male. The primacy reached is, therefore, not a primacy of the genital, but of the phallus" ("Infantile Genital Organization" 172). Such a phallocratie model operates in all specular and self-reflexive systems of representation that disappropriate the female from her relation to herself and to other [End Page 407] women, which identify the "feminine" in terms exclusively determined by and for the masculine (This Sex 85).
Freud construes the sexual difference of the woman as a lack, the absence of the phallus, a castration, and not as something that might have a form and a constitution different from that of the man. In this economy of patriarchal "indifference," woman is constituted as a subject only as a void, a hole in representation. The denial of difference castrates woman, inscribes her in the law of the same: "same sexuality, same discourse, same economy, same representation, same origin" (Feral 6-7). Because she has "nothing to see," because her genital organs are invisible to the inquiring eye and therefore—in analogic relation to the male—reveal her state as castrated, she is a "man —," that is, a man-minus. Within this ana-logic, no economy is thus possible whereby sexual reality can be represented by and for the woman, except as the negative image of the man; difference is subsumed in an oppositional analogy.
Jacques Lacan formulates his account of human subjectivity in reference to the fiction of a singular, coherent identityña fiction constructed by the child when first misrecognizing itself as a unified self in a mirror image that fractures the very unity it seems to project. Lacan argues that the mirror image can be understood as a model of the ego function itself, the function enabling the subject to operate as "I." For Lacan the subject is constituted in language as the fundamental and irreducible division or splitting of the process of symbolization itself: language can only operate by designating an object in its absence. To assure the self of psychic unity and coherence, the male in patriarchal culture constructs "woman" as an absolute category within language—as the absent object, as cipher—that guarantees unity on the side of the man.1 But as Garry Leonard points out in his essay in this special issue, by defining the feminine solely "as that which is not masculine, as that negativity that authenticates masculine identity by embodying enigmatic anonymity," the masculine subject refuses to acknowledge that the unity of his own subjective consciousness is a fiction: the enigma of the woman as his negative, as the cipher he would decipher, "merely reflects back to the masculine subject the division that already exists within him."
At issue in such a construction of "woman" in a patriarchal culture is power: to define identity (even as non-identity) and to determine value is to disenfranchise, to dominate, to marginalize the other. Indeed, James Joyce claimed that the emancipation of women, "the revolt of women [End Page 408] against the idea that they are the mere instruments of men," is the greatest revolution of our time (Power 35...