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L’Un e(s)t l’Autre: The Future of Difference in French Feminism Cecile Lindsay Et en vérité il suffit de se promener les yeux ouverts pour constater que l’humanité se partage en deux catégories d’individus dont les vêtements, le visage, le corps, les sourires, la démarche, les intérêts, les occupations sont manifestement différents: peut-être ces dif­ férences sont-elles superficielles, peut-être sont-elles destinées à disparaître. Ce qui est cer­ tain c’est que pour l’instant elles existent avec une éclatante évidence. —Simone de Beauvoir F RENCH FEMINIST THOUGHT has for some time been polarized over the issue of sexual difference. Proponents of the positive force of sexual difference have sought to define and celebrate leféminin through an exploration of the female body, the female libidinal econ­ omy, and women’s language (particularly writing). As Alice Jardine points out in Gynesis, 1 these theorists have recognized that modern thought entails a certain valorization of the feminine, and they are insis­ tent in their appeal to a primordial feminine body, the “anatomy” of which can provide the grounds for a critique of Western metaphysics, politics, and society. Opponents of this position have charged that it con­ stitutes a dangerous “essentialism,” a “neofemininity” which amounts to a reaffirmation of the very habits of thought and action that feminists seek to subvert. Such theorists hold that sexual difference, far from being an immediate given of either experience or perception, is instead a complex mythic construction and interpretation of physical features. The body is thus always located in a historical, social, linguistic moment; for this second group of theorists, any notion of a natural body or natural sex is a fiction created by dominant discourse for the purpose of main­ taining its preeminence. To view the “masculine” and the “ feminine” as political rather than biological phenomena is to be at loggerheads with those who would seek in the specificity of the “feminine” the key to the liberation of women. And indeed, these two major tendencies in contem­ porary French feminist thought have occasioned numerous clashes, debates, and schisms since the growth of the women’s movement in France in the late sixties and early seventies.2The multitude of essays, books, and conferences recently devoted to the issue of sexual difference Vo l. XXIX, No. 3 21 L ’E sprit C réateur attests to the importance and tenacity of this “querelle entre elles.” 3 Does all this mean that the differences between the two sides are irrecon­ cilable, that what we have here is a différend in the sense given the term by Lyotard: a dispute in which the two sides make their claims in dif­ ferent idioms, different languages that will never permit a resolution of their differences? I would like to pursue this question in respect to two recent works which, by their very titles, seem to square off against each other on the issue of sexual difference, and in precisely the terms sketched above: Luce Irigaray’s Ethique de la différence sexuelle and Elisabeth Badinter’s L ’Un est VAutre, des relations entre hommes et femmes. With these works, I will examine two current avatars of this longstanding divergence in French feminist thought and explore the possibility of finding some common future ground between them. “La différence sexuelle représente une des questions ou la question qui est à repenser à notre époque.” 4The opening words of Luce Irigaray’s Ethique affirm her allegiance to the notion of sexual difference. Irigaray is a psychoanalyst and a former member of the Ecole Freudienne at the University of Paris (Vincennes). Her Ethique is composed of a series of lectures delivered at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, where she was invited to serve as a visiting scholar in philosophy in 1982. In these lec­ tures, she grounds her discussion of the ethics of sexual difference in readings of some major philosophers of the Western tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas. Today, Irigaray claims, sexual difference remains obscured, occulted in every domain: thought, science, religion, society. And yet, she main­ tains, sexual difference could...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 21-35
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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