What You Need to Know About : French Feminism

French feminism is the name for a body of philosophical, psychoanalytic, and linguistic theory that cuts across a broad array of related disciplinary interests, including rhetorical and cultural studies, queer theory, poststructuralism, and semiotics. It migrated from France to the United States in the mid-1970s and is relevant to communication studies because it provides a critical framework and set of concepts by which to understand how discourse is sexed. This entry focuses on its background, major concerns, and key critical terms.

Neither distinctively French nor precisely feminist, French feminism is a neologism resulting from the reception, by U.S. American scholars, of Luce Irigaray’s, Julia Kristeva’s, and Hélène Cixous’ work. Although identified with French feminism, none of the three are themselves French nationals: the psychoanalyst, linguistic theorist, and continental philosopher, Irigaray, is Belgian, with a name of Basque origin; the Marxist linguist, novelist, literary critic, and psychoanalyst, Kristeva, is Bulgarian; and the novelist, dramatist, and English literature theorist, Cixous, is a German-speaking Algerian. In addition, none of them self-identify as feminist with respect to French politics. However, as some of the most formidable contemporary intellectuals (such as Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, Kelly Oliver, and Elizabeth Grosz) have engaged Irigaray, Kristeva, and Cixous, moving beyond their initial insights and limits to develop new understandings of the feminine, French feminism has come to refer less to them and more to a kind of theory that most often takes the intersection between language, psychoanalysis, and philosophy as its point of departure. Although its scope has since expanded to include other French intellectuals (such as Simon de Beauvoir, Michèle Le Doeuff, Catherine Clément, Monique Wittig, and Sarah Kofman), this entry will focus only on the work of Irigaray, Kristeva, and Cixous, underscoring a few of the important similarities and differences between them.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan