Wednesday, February 2, 2011


So tonight, we're moving on to some chapters from Luce Irigaray's This Sex Which Is Not One. The book is primarily a critique of Freud's psychoanalysis by Irigaray as a modern psychoanalyst. I'm not terribly interested in psychoanalysis personally, though the intellectual relationship between Freud and Irigaray is interesting. That aside, as I read more, a pattern emerges that's also consistent with Dworkin's work. This pattern is two-fold:

1. Female sexuality is constructed in terms of male sexuality.

We talked in the last entry about how women's bodies are designed to be entered by the penis, thus giving men irrefutable dominance. For Dworkin, this biological arrangement of intercourse created the basis for women's status as inferior to men. Irigaray takes a psychological approach, characterizing the penis as "active" and the vagina as "passive." Even the "activity" of the clitoris is attributed to its status as a little penis.
"In these terms, woman's erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris-sex that is not comparable to the noble phallic organ, or a hole-envelope that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse: a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing" (23).
Fairly self-explanatory. We've all heard this argument before.

2. Male pleasure precludes female pleasure.

Irigaray addresses the above problem of phallomorphism with the concept of female autoeroticism: "Woman "touches herself" all the time, and moreover no one can forbid her to do so, for her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact" (24). So, far from being passive, the labia and vaginal walls participate in constant self-caress. Now, obviously we're not all in a constant state of arousal because of this perpetual touch; rather it represents the plurality and fullness of female sexuality and being. When Irigaray chose the title C'est sexe qui n'en pas un, she meant that women have more than one sexual organ; a biological truth often neglected in phallocentric discourse.

Male pleasure is that phallocentric discourse: its focus is penetration, the envelopment of the penis. As we discussed before, penetration for Dworkin represents the invasion of the female body. For Irigaray, penetration disrupts the autoeroticism described above:
"the brutal separation of the two lips by a violating penis, an intrusion that distracts and deflects the woman from this "self-caressing" she needs if she is not to incur the disappearance of her own pleasure in sexual relations" (24).
For both authors, male pleasure, derived from the penetration of women, precludes female sexual pleasure by depriving her of self-caress, by invading her inner being as experienced through her body--or often by simply not lasting long enough.

Like I said, psychoanalysis isn't really my thing, but these two ideas can be related to other discourses. The first one still seems like a hot topic; the second one is perhaps a little less relevant by today's standards, what with the expansion of sexual positions that give women more control and by the growing societal acceptance of female masturbation. Ah, well; take it for what you will.

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