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Feminism and Identity


Explanations > Identity > Feminism and Identity

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Feminism in identity seeks to understand the separation of sexual and gender identities, explaining how men and women become separated and different.


Jaqueline Rose uses Lacan to argue that:

  • Sexual identity is acquired in the Oedipal crisis, rather than being innate.
  • Sexual differentiation is symbolically valued in patriarchy, rather than being biological.
  • The phallus is a symbol, not a penis.
  • Women are subjected by symbolic relations of power rather than being naturally inferior.
  • Sexual identities are always unfinished. Women do not 'fit' the subject positions into which they are interpellated. Their unconscious 'unpicks' such positions.

She equate women with the jouissance that men desire.

Men are seen to fantasize themselves as 'sutured' into the position of the all-powerful phallus. Women, to men, symbolize the 'lost object', the significant 'Other' and are positioned as subordinate in the 'phallic economy'.

Women still, for men, have something unobtainable beyond the phallic power relationship. This is jouissance, which gives women the power to resist the subject position put upon them.

French feminism

French feminism rejects the Lacanian/Rose view that there is 'no feminine outside language', that it comes only from the patriarchal relations of the symbolic order. They suggest the pre-Oedipal phase as a basis for femininity, rather being that which escapes or is left over from the phallic economy of the symbolic.

Julia Kristeva's notion of 'chora' indicates the infant sensation of the mother as a basis for identity, prior to the Oedipus complex and languaging in symbolic register.

Luce Irirgaray uses the girl's many fluid and subversive experiences of her own body as a basis for identity, thus breaking away from Lacan's 'phallic logic' interpretations.


Feminism has particularly tried to escape the Freudian/Lacanian version of infant sexuality that is dominated by the power of the phallus and the father. Rather than completely revoking this theory, feminists have sought a space in which feminine identity might develop separately. The pre-Oedipal stage provides this space. Being earlier, it also may be claimed as having superiority and equipping the female with the power to handle the Law of the father without being subjugated within the symbolic order.

 From a feminist perspective, Laura Mulvey (1975) described the 'male gaze' in movies, where the camera and hence the viewer is invited to view women in voyeuristic and objectifying terms.

See also

Infant sexuality, The Chora, Movies and identity

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