Was born in Belgium in the 1930s. From 1962-1964 she worked for the Foundation Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Belgium. Following this she began work as a research assistant at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris where she is currently Director of Research in Philosophy. Irigaray’s second Doctorate thesis, “Speculum of the Other Woman,” was closely followed by the termination of her employment at the University of Vincennes. This damage to her career was cruelly ironic – the phallocentric economy she condemned for excluding women swiftly silenced her.This illustrated her main point – the machinery of phallocentrism cannot accept sexual difference and the existence of a different female subjectivity.
She was invited to give seminars and speak at conferences throughout Europe. In the second semester of 1982, Irigaray held the chair in Philosophy at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Research here resulted in the publication of An Ethics of Sexual Difference, establishing Irigaray as a major Continental philosopher. Irigaray’s work has influenced the feminist movement in France and Italy for several decades.Irigaray has conducted research over the last decade at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Paris on the difference between the language of women and the language of men. Early receptions of Irigaray in the English-speaking world often mistakenly labelled her an ‘essentialist. ‘ This view is now generally considered false, as a better understanding of the complex linguistic, philosophical and psychoanalytic precepts Irigaray writes from is gained.
In avoiding ‘essentialist’ theory, with its abstract pursuit of intellectual goals, she has emphasised the female need to discover a sexuality that does not merely serve the male.As she notes in “The bodily encounter with the mother”, the charge that she introduced politics into the practice of psychoanalysis, however, was itself politically motivated. Her main objection to Freud’s influence was in fact that his ‘scientific’ procedures merely masked phallocentric prejudices. French feminist theoreticians in particular, seek to break down the conventional, male-constructed stereotypes of sexual differences. French feminism has been deeply influenced by psychoanalysis, especially Lacan’s reworking of Freud, and in this it has overcome the hostility towards the latter, hitherto shared by many feminists.Irigaray stresses the way in which conceptualisations of ‘woman’ have been caught up in particular ‘phallocentric’ frameworks. She deploys the feminine to subvert the ‘phallogocentric’ logic.
Irigaray starts her essay/speech by pointing out the fact that “so few men-practitioners are here to listen to what women have to say about their madness. ” 1 (Irigaray had given this speech and it was later published as an essay). She argues that many men often complain about women-only meetings, wanting to be there to observe and to listen, however, she says, today, when they are invited to take part, only few have indeed shown up.
She adds that those who are actually present should try and see why they are the exception, why they have chosen to attend. Irigaray ponders on the reason of the male absence, coming to a conclusion that their not being present might boil down to guilt, implied by statistics showing the relatively high number of women which are confined in psychiatric hospitals, and showing that they are treated by chemotherapy and not psychotherapy. The other reason she infers is that of contempt by these men since the meeting is organised by and for women.