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What is Julia Kristeva's idea of the abject and the nature of women?

Kristeva has emphasized the rejection of mothers by both male and female children due to male-dominated cultural patterns that render the mother herself abject, which is to say, totally other, disgusting, and monstrous. Kristeva thinks that the solution to this problem requires a rediscovery and healing of narcissism in women's psyches and an acceptance of adult love between women. However, Kristeva rejects the label "woman" as a universal term, and has refused to define women. She apparently believes that every woman is fundamentally different in how she is a woman or what being a woman means. As she wrote:

It is there, in the analysis of her difficult relation to her mother and to her own difference from everybody else, men and women, that a woman encounters the enigma of the "feminine." I favour an understanding of femininity that would have as many "feminines" as there are women.

Kristeva's main theoretical writings are: About Chinese Women (1977), Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (1980), Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), Revolution in Poetic Language (1984), and New Maladies of the Soul (1995).

Who is Luce Irigaray?

Luce Irigaray (1932-) was born in Belgium and attended Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic seminars in the 1960s. She is famous for having written, "Sexual difference is probably the issue in our time which could be our 'salvation' if we thought it through," and "One must assume the feminine role deliberately. Which means already to convert a form of subordination into an affirmation, and thus to thwart it." Irigaray's main writings include An Ethics of Sexual Difference (1982) and Je, Tu, Nous: Toward a Culture of Difference (1990).

For what is Luce Iragary most famous?

The publication of Irigaray's (1932-) doctoral thesis, Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), led to her expulsion from further study at Lacan's Freudian School at Vincennes. (In Europe a Ph.D. is not sufficient for university teaching, as it is in the United States, and a second dissertation or habilitation is required.) Irigary's dissertation consisted of her theoretical analyses of a lecture by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) on femininity and long quotations from the works of male philosophers, from Plato (c. 428-c. 348 B.C.E.) to Hegel (1770-1831). It was evident in the work that by a "speculum" she was referring to the concave mirrored medical instrument inserted into a woman's body.

Was Luce Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman socially relevant?

Yes, and it has also had a tremendous influence on students and scholars of French feminist philosophy. In the context of the women's health movement in the United States during the 1970s, it expressed part of the spirit of the gynecological aspect of women's liberation. Women began to rebel about the fact that there were so few women doctors and that male doctors treated their reproductive and child birth issues in repressive ways. Women began to talk more openly about their feelings of shame about their own bodies.

Members of some women's collectives began giving themselves and their friends gynecological examinations, and others, without prior medical training, taught themselves how to administer abortions. At the same time, the practices of natural childbirth (childbirth without medication) and nursing, which until then had been the only resort for many poor women, were advocated for privileged women, for the health of both mothers and babies. These examples of women taking responsibility for their health were motivated both by an ideology of rebellion against patriarchy and the goal of improving women's health.

Is French feminism flamboyant?

At times, yes, it is. For example, Berena Andermatt Conley relates that Hélène Cixous (1937—) used to enter the complex of the University of Paris at Vincennes "in a dazzling ermine coat whose capital worth most probably surpassed the means of many in the classroom."

Since the 1970s, feminist advocates have pointed out that clinical medicine has traditionally been based on the male body. Some diseases have different symptoms in men and women—for example, heart disease. At this time, female doctors are commonplace, particularly in the practice of gynecology, and there is greater attention, overall, to women's health problems.

Historical information on the 1970s women's health movement can be found at CWLU Herstory Project: The Online History of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union is at cwluherstory.com.

 
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