By MaryKate Schwerdt
What Luce Irigaray seems to be getting at in the excerpt from This Sex Which Is Not One is that woman, as a whole, is a dispersed being. She exists in numerous planes, fulfilling a single need from various sources. However, when she coerces, usually voluntarily, to a masculine dominated societal regimen, she is forced to fulfill her needs like man- from a single, concentrated source.
If I understand her correctly, I agree. Most people would agree that men have higher libidos than women, but after reading this, I’m not so sure. Perhaps women and men of the same age have close to equal amounts of sexual desire, but they’re expressed in different ways. Men are primarily focused on penetration, while women like other aspects of sexual interaction, like foreplay. There are a few studies that suggest women are better at multitasking than men, and maybe the difference in sexual appetites is another manifestation of that. However, these differences are often ignored when it comes to sex. People seem to expect mind-blowing intercourse just happening to be the norm- that somehow these two very different beings with very different anatomies are supposed to come together, differences out the window, and result in something incredible right off the bat.
For most men this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Let’s face it, it’s easier to find something if it’s all in one place. Going on Irigaray’s hypothesis, man’s sex is located on primarily one place- the penis –so pleasure is somewhat simpler for men. On the other hand, women have various erogenous zones with shifting concentrations making pleasure a little more complicated. These differentiating ways don’t point to a single sex having a superior experience than the other, but when one tries to conform to the other, there is a disconnection. Irigaray claims women define their pleasure by man’s definition. I think this rings very true for sex. Women who are not as enthusiastic about vaginal penetration as men are often seen as sort of broken because they do not fit the sexual convenience of man.
This concept of defining a woman according to man ties in nicely to chapter five of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. This concept is so instilled into society that it weaves its way into nearly all literature. So much so, in fact, that even Woolf herself is surprised when she sees that one woman liked another. Since Woolf’s time, the homosocial relationships of women have been explored somewhat, but the notion of defining oneself relative to many things, instead of just man, is very important. I can relate to this a little- I have two older brothers and my father was the former Queens Deputy Bureau Chief of Homicides. I went to the same high school as my brothers, so I got pretty used to defining myself as “John and Pat’s sister.” I also work at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s Manhattan unit, where routine autopsies are done. There I often define myself as my father’s daughter. Granted, these self definitions are out of convenience, and I would just as readily define myself as my mother’s daughter where appropriate, but that type of maternal identification didn’t, according to Woolf, exist before the 19th century, making female homosociality a very unexplored area of human interaction.