Hegel’s Antigone: A Response to the Feminist Critique

The Owl of Minerva 33 (2):179-204 (2002)
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Recent feminist criticism suggests that Hegel’s account of Antigone in the Phenomenology of Spirit is antithetical to feminism on two key counts: first, Hegel does not develop an authentic political representation of women’s agency and participation in the community, and second, he does not provide a model for a genuinely ethical order especially where relations between men and women are concerned. Patricia Jagentowicz Mills and Luce Irigaray are two feminist thinkers who have expressed these positions. They both take issue with Hegel’s interpretation of Antigone’s actions, although each for different reasons. Mills argues that Hegel misrepresents the experience of women in the Greek community, symbolized by Antigone, as not self-conscious, unreflective, and incapable of enduring ethical conflict. The main reason for this mistaken identity, according to Mills, stems from Hegel’s beliefs that human law and man are ethically superior to divine law and woman, and that the former can legitimately rule over, indeed dominate, the latter. Irigaray asserts that the phallogocentric power of the masculine in Hegel’s text almost completely eliminates the possibility of an authentic feminine individual and action. According to this view, an autonomous feminine understanding of purpose and action is rendered impossible by the feminine’s very masculinization at the outset. At issue here is whether Antigone can indeed be understood as an ethical actor when she acts on behalf of the family and/or whether she can be understood as an ethical actor who represents the community. The conclusions drawn from these interpretations have been that, for Hegel, women are not genuine political actors, on the one hand, because their association with the family disqualifies them as such, and on the other hand, because their actions are constituted by consciousness which is masculine, and also instrumentalized for the masculine.



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