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Feminisms and Gender Studies: Major Feminist Schools

French Feminisms

Postmodern Feminism

Lesbian/Gender Studies


French Feminisms

Issues: 1. What is phallocentrism? And phallogocentrism?

  1. What is Women's Writing?  Is it writing signed by women, writing for women, or feminine writing (ecriture feminine)?
  2. Why does Cixous, Irigaray, or Kristeva, refuse to define 'feminine writing'?
  3. What problems are there in equating the semiotic and non-rational discourse with


1. J. Derrida's critique of phallocentrism and binarism

  • "[D's] idea of writing as the endless replacement of meaning which both govern language and places it for ever beyond the reach of a stable, self authenticating knowledge" (Christopher Norris)
2. Lacan's "the Symbolic Order" and the Imaginary (the Pre-Oedipal; the plenitude);

3. jouissance (Barthes—that which is indeterminate, mobile, blank, the explosion of language, when language no longer has meaning; Lacan--female sexual pleasure; Cixous & Irigaray--characteristic of feminine writing

Cixous: "The Laugh of Medusa"  

  • Why don't you write? (317)
  • women's writing --

individually (writing from the body 320)

  • seizing the occasion to speak (321)
  • from woman and for women --"first music from the first voice of love"; writing in white ink (322);
  • the Realm of the Gift vs. the Realm of the Proper (property-- appropriate--the fear of castration)
  • writing (323-24) -- 'work on the difference'
  • the other bisexuality--multiple, variable and ever changing, consisting as it does of the 'non-exclusion either of the difference or of one sex'.
  • flying (325)
  • "heterogeneous" and erogenous

Irigaray: autoeroticism; plural sexuality; ("Irigaray describes the ways women speak to each other--shared confidences, unfinished sentences, exclamations, what Irigaray calls babble--in order to define feminine language as outside the order of the symbolic...She develops an alternate discourse that is multiple, fluid, and heterogeneous, basing her theory on the anatomy of female genitalia, whose shape,..., is that of two constantly touching and retouching lips." Showalter)

feminine style: 1) mimicry; 2) "self-touching" and "self-affection" --

  • an alternate discourse that is multiple, fluid, and heterogeneous,
  • basing her theory on the anatomy of female genitalia


  • the feminine as the silence of the unconscious that precedes discourse
  • its utterance is a flow or rhythm instead of an ordered statement;
  • expression is fluid like the free-floating sea of a womb or the milk of the breast.
  • the semiotic chora (from the Greek word for enclosed space, womb);

    --the mirror phase as the first step that 'opens the way for the constitution of all objects which from now on will be detached from the semiotic chora' (Revolution 44).

Further Reading



Postmodern Feminism




A. Conflicts between postmodernism and feminism: Postmodern critique of 

  1. epistemology: meta-narrative, or narrative of legitimation, vs. the need for cognitive map

  2. selfhood: depth-psychology vs. politics of identity

  3. representation and politics (--play of difference or undermining system of representation)

B. Connections of postmodernism and feminism

  1. against master/masculine narratives

  2. strategies of double coding (irony, intertextuality, parody, etc.)

Feminism/Postmodernism "Introduction"  Nicholson, Linda, ed. Feminism/Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1990:  1-18.


similarities (p. 5)

1) [both have] uncovered the political power of the academy and of knowledge claims.  In general, they have argued against the supposed neutrality and objectivity of the academy, asserting that claims put forth as universally applicable have invariably been valid only for men of a particular culture, class, and race.

2) [Postmodernists have alleged that] ideals which have given backing to these claims, such as "objectivity" and "reason,"  have reflected the values of masculinity at a particular point of history. Feminists have criticized other enlightenment ideals, such as the autonomous and self-legislating self,  as reflective of masculinity in the modern West.

3) pm offers feminism some useful ideas about method, particularly a wariness toward generalizations which transcend the boundaries of culture and region.


(pp. 5-6)
pm's criticism of f's essentialism and traditional notions of history (e.g. the ways they locate the cause of women's oppression

e.g. biological determinants; a cross-cultural domestic/public separation; the assumption of monocausality

(pp. 6-7
2) feminists' critique of postmodernism's

  1. decentered self -- e.g. Christine Di Stefano  " . . . for women to take on such a position is to weaken what is not yet strong."

  2. critique of epistemology -- e.g. Sandra Harding  "To this critique she counterposes two alternative feminist theories of scientific knowledge: feminist empiricism, .  . . and feminist standpoint theory. . . . she claims that both theories have incorporated postmodernist elements to deal with [their problems in not supporting the norm of 'value-free' research and in elaborating linkages with the standpoints of oppressed groups other than women.];
    e.g. Seyla benhabib against postmodern relativism

(p. 8-

  1. feminist concern with the loss of the categories of gender and body;  the loss of particularity.  

postmodern feminis -- principle (p. 35)

1) forswear master narrative; theory would be explicitly historical

2) non-universalist

3) dispense with the idea of a subject of history. It would replace unitary notions of woman and feminine gender identity with plural and complexly constructed conceptions of social identity, treating gender as one relevant strand among others.

4) pragmatic and fallibilistic

Different Kinds of Postmodern Feminisms:

1. Donna Haraway:


A Cyborg -- "contradictory, partial and strategic" (197), "a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective self"?(205), breaking the dichotomies between "mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized…"


(Question: Does this involve erasure of the body?)

Susan Bordo

"What sort of body is it that is free to change its shape and location at will, that can become anyone and travel everywhere? If the body is the metaphor for our locatedness in space and time and thus for the finitude of human perception and knowledge, then the postmodern body is no body at all." (8)


2. Judith Butler Gender Trouble

p. 136 If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity.  

p. 139  Consider gender, for instance, as a corporeal style, an "act," as it were, which is both intentional and performative, where "performative" suggests a dramatic and contingent construction of meaning. 


3. Postmodern Feminist Artists:

Further Reading

"The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism", an outline by Lisa Li



Lesbian/Gender Studies


  1. What is "lesbian"?  lesbian writing?  Is there a lesbian aesthetic? --Consider style, sexual orientation (heterosexuality, bisexuality, pornography, butch and femme) , political position

Different Kinds of Lesbian writings:

    1. in the closet: gay and lesbian relations in traditional literature—e.g. Shakespeare's sonnet, Iliad, A Room with a View

    2. "It is writing which exhibits, within the confines of the text itself, something which makes it distinctively about, or for, or out of lesbian experience. That element may lie in the plot, in the subject, in the theory, in the cold or the genre, but it has to be there in the writing. The writer herself may never have kissed another woman. Even if she has, she may not call herself a lesbian" (Margaret Reynolds 1993: xxxii)

    3. 周華山  pp. 184-86: Lesbian writings defined by the author's sexual orientation? e.g. Woolf? Jane Austin?; By content e.g. Sula ?

lesbian style: "tortured lesbian"; "romantic lesbian" ; "lesbian allegory/science fiction"

What is lesbian experience? (sexual relations; woman-centered experience; experience subversive of the patriarchy)

queer reading and the lesbian/gay texts in the closet

Lesbianism & Lesbian movement: Three stages; three definitions of the "lesbian" (Cf. 周華山; 矛峰)

  1. 70's--political lesbian: desexualized p. 110; e.g. Women Against Sex 組織
     Rich: Compulsory heterosexuality "Lesbian continuum" 114;

    Wittig: Lesbians are not Women 115

    critique: 117- e.g. 122 Lesbian as a pre-discursive subject


  2. 80's--sexual liberation
Think through the body ; arguments about porn. 134-37

arguments about butch and femme 140-45

Black (Third World) feminism: e.g. Lorde's argument about sex and "erotic" 149

  1. 90's--politics of difference
postmodern feminism—in relation to 1. logocentrism; 2. theories of Sexual equality, and Sexual difference, (e.g. vaginal orgasm)

Foucault and Derrida

Judith Butler –gender identity as corporeal styles, as a lack (non-identity); masquerade
and Diana Fuss—identity established through erasing/suppressing difference

What is "Lesbian"

Three Stages of homosexuality: (Cf. 矛峰)
  1. biological stage -- homosexuality as a primitive instinct
  2. cultural stage -- endowed with cultural or religious significance; in myth or folk religion
  3. (political stage--)
    aesthetic stage -- p. 424-25



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