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Friday, February 28, 2014

"This sex which is not one"


In her article, "This sex which is not one", Luce Irigaray defies Freud's and Lacan's analyses of sexual relations and proposes a female sexuality which is self-referential and disconnected from "masculine parameters" of sexual conceptualization.

Irigaray's definition of female sexuality and sexual pleasure is centered exclusively on the female body, which is conceived not as one sexual organ, but as a plurality of them. The female body, she argues, cannot be reduces to one sexual organ, because this would only reaffirm the male logic of the "primacy of the phallus". Important in this regard is Irigaray's concept of the 'other', meant as the capacity to create an alternative definition of the feminine, which defies the one created by patriarchy. It is in the realm of this 'otherness', situated sexually in the female body, that the alternative has to be found. In Irigaray's conceptions, the appropriation of a real female space requires the exclusion of man. Thus, heterosexuality as well as motherhood are rejected as a "masochistic prostitute:” but she does not seem to exclude completely the male cultural tradition, since she refers to a Marxist analysis in her interpretation of women oppression.

Given the very differences in male sexuality and female sexuality, then, leads Irigaray to importantly conclude that, “Women’s desire would not be expected to speak the same language as man’s”. Irigaray’s  conclusion here seems to align nicely with that of Helen Cixous, whose “Laugh of the Medusa”, in which she posits “Ecriture feminine” as a women’s way of writing. For her, because the Female Imaginary cannot be pinned down- as Woman’s sexuality is not one, is not even two, but it is plural- so Woman’s language can be similarly be pinned down.

Throughout Irigaray seeks to dispute and displace male-centered structures of language and thought through a challenging writing practice that takes a first step toward a woman's discourse, a discourse that would put an end to Western culture's enduring phallocentrism. She further talks about ‘penis envy’. She says that the very absence of the penis in a woman leads to the ‘penis envy’. A woman realizes that she is different from man because of the lack of a penis. And for this reason, to get over it, she tends to become closer to the male members in the family especially the father or husband to cover up for the lack by serving them. After a course of time, she gets over the electra complex stage and starts for looking outside family relations.

Irigaray further says that, by virtue of the biological constitution of her genitals, in other words, woman has a radically different pleasure/sexuality from man, one characterized by self-sufficient, immediate touching—of each other. Finally, Luce Irigaray's formulation for an alternative female society, while presenting a very insightful critique of the traditional sexual relations, it is by definition one of narrow scope, both rhetorically and politically. It ultimately appeals only to a specific segment of a specific gender. It does not speak to those women, and for that matter to those men as well, concerned with inequality and who happen to be heterosexual.

[Notes of the lecture delivered by Shyam Nair on 24 February, 2014 at Christ University, prepared by Prathibha Sebastian Vellanikaran - I M.A. (ENG) -1324144]


  • Nair , Shyam. "The Sex Which is Not One ." 24 02 2014. Address.
  • Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. Print.

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