Feminism studies: Compare and contrast two competing accounts of ‘sexual difference’ – between Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler

Monday, February 19th, 2007 (Posted 14 years, 7 months ago)

Part 4 – Sexual difference

When P. DE Sagazan questions Irigaray about how men and women are different, Irigaray’s answer was that ‘they are corporeally different’. She articulated that this ‘biological difference’ leads to other differences such as constructing subjectivity, connecting to the world and relating (Irigaray, 2000, p.96). In contrast to ‘biological difference’, Butler argues that these ‘corporeal styles’ (differences) are a sedimentation, which has been produced over time. It appears in sexes that sit in ‘a binary relation to one another’. (Butler, 1988, p.407)

‘Sexual difference’ for Irigaray is heterosexually based, which is the major distinction between her and Butler. Irigaray stated later in conversation that ‘…two genders have different forms of consciousness: one remaining more faithful to the body and to her sensibility, to the concrete environment, and to intersubjective relationships, …the other, constructing a universe of non-natural objects…’ It seems that she clearly separated the idea of ‘sex’ into two genders. Conversely, Butler rejects the heterosexuality of sex/gender division, she claims that heterosexuality (the same as gender) is, as mentioned above, ‘culturally produced’ and can be ‘subverted and dismantled.’ (Stone, 2006, p.7)

Furthermore, Irigaray believed that ‘sexual difference’ is a universal difference, which can serve as a standpoint for understanding other differences. According to her, ‘there are traces of instincts derived from animality and human passions in the relations between women and men’, such as respecting other gender. For her, this can be seen as from the ‘most instinctive to the most spiritual’ – the most spiritual being that which bring humans to respect other differences such as race, generation, culture and so on. (Irigaray, 2000, p.99) So ‘sexual difference’ (which by her means sex difference) obviously was a fundamental difference for her, which Butler denies. Butler stresses the ‘multiplicity’ of ‘sex’ and ‘gender performativity’, which bear cultural meaning with it.


Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution. In Conboy, K., Medina, N., Stanbury, S. eds. Writing on the Body: Female Movement and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Irigaray, L. and Lotringer, S., transl. Collins, C. (2000). Why Different? New York: Semiotext(e).

Stone, A. (2006). Luce Irigaray and the Philosophy of Sexual Difference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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