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

Azille Coetzee, Annemie Halsema

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In this paper we aim at showing the potential of cross-continental dialogues for a decolonizing feminism. We relate the work of one of the major criticasters 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 Oyewumi’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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-194
Number of pages17
JournalHypatia : A Journal of Feminist Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


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