Sexual Difference and Decolonization: Oyĕwùmí and Irigaray in Dialogue about Western Culture

Hypatia 33 (2):178-194 (2018)
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In this article we aim to show the potential of cross-continental dialogues for a decolonizing feminism. We relate the work of one of the major critics of the Western metaphysical patriarchal order, Luce Irigaray, to the critique of the colonial/modern gender system by the Nigerian feminist scholar Oyĕrónké Oyĕwùmí. Oyĕwùmí's work is often rejected based on the argument that it is empirically wrong. We start by problematizing this line of thinking by providing an epistemological interpretation of Oyĕwùmí's claims. We then draw Irigaray and Oyĕwùmí into conversation, and show how this bolsters and helps to further illuminate and contextualize Oyĕwùmí's critique of gender. But the dialogue between these thinkers also reveals significant limitations of Irigaray's philosophy, namely her presumption of the priority of sexual difference, its rigid duality, and her failure to take into account the inextricable intertwinement of gender and race in the Western patriarchal order. Relating Irigaray's critique of Western culture's forgetting of sexual difference to Oyĕwùmí's critique hence demonstrates to what extent Irigaray's philosophy remains typically Western and how she therefore fails to escape the paradigm that she is so critical of.



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Annemie Halsema
VU University Amsterdam

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