EducationO.O.P.S.Sex & Gender

Women Count

This post is part of the Bodies, Gender, and Domination OOPS Series.

On Monday October 24, women in Iceland left work at 2:38 p.m. to protest the gender wage gap. The time was decided by calculating the gap percentage to the regular work day: Every day, the hours that women work in Iceland after 2:38 are not accounted to their pay. [1]

We can agree that the first great accomplishment of feminism was obtaining the women’s right to vote. That was an attempt to make women’s voices count. For women to be accounted for. Although feminism has taken many different shapes and forms since, here we are, a century later, protesting for women’s work to count. To be accounted for. Why is this the case?

In Freudian psychoanalysis, when a child is separated from the mother he[2] becomes castrated. The mother up to that point is referred to as the “phallic mother,” she who is the ultimate object of the child’s desire because, up to that point, all of her desire is directed towards the child, to fulfill all of the child’s needs. The child possesses the mother. It is this that is behind the Oedipus Complex (at least in the child who becomes a man). The man’s desire then comes to return to that first stage, that original stage where he possesses the mother, where he is inside her, but it is transferred to another woman, who will replace the mother and it will be his phallus inside her.

The child who becomes a woman will not be able to return to her origin in that way: she doesn’t have a phallus. “No return to, toward, inside the place of origin is possible unless you have a penis.”[3] What is there to long for, if you are a woman? According to Irigaray, “the girl will herself be the place where the origin is repeated, re-produced and reproduced.”[4] This, she explains, doesn’t mean that she will go back to “her” origin but that she will repeat the origin. Repeat it so it can be counted.

When we think of repeating it, re-production, reproduction, we automatically think about procreation. Reproducing in a biological sense. This, however, is not necessarily the case. She can reproduce other things that can be (ac)counted. She can produce a voice, a vote, to be accounted for. She can also produce work to be accounted for. But her vote or her work not accounted responds to the functioning of castration. And it is a never ending battle, an eternal “plus one” that will take her closer and closer, but never completely, to the origin: to the phallic mother.

According to the Freudian logic, the fight for women to count will never be over. We could fight to be counted in every aspect of our lives. However, that will not satisfy us. It is then necessary to analyze the structure that determines these mechanisms of desire. It is thanks to Irigaray that we can understand that Psychoanalysis is only an economy of knowledge that is viewed by a man’s perspective. In her writing, she opened a distance between the readers and the text. In doing so, she opened the possibility to understand that psychoanalysis is only a structure, a phallogocentric structure, that reads women from the position of a man, and measures them against him. If we keep trying to measure up to them we will never succeed, we will always fall short. In this economy we are the lack. But this is only one among many possible economies or stories. It is time to tell different stories.

Footnotes

Fontaine, Paul. “In Response To Gender Wage Gap, Women In Iceland Leaving Work Today At 14:38. The Reykjavik Grapevine. October 24, 2016.

Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985)

[1] http://grapevine.is/news/2016/10/24/women-in-iceland-leaving-work-today-at-1438/

[2] I’m using the pronoun “he” since even the little girl is a little boy at this point.

[3] Luce Irigaray, The Speculum of the Other Woman, 41.

[4] Luce Irigaray, Speculum, 41.

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