Watch That Gap: Reflections on the Struggle for Equality

By Hopkins, Lekkie | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Watch That Gap: Reflections on the Struggle for Equality


Hopkins, Lekkie, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


In this paper in my attempt to begin a conversation about ways to negotiate that mysterious gap between hope and happening (1) that is so often the stuff of policy change, I'll be considering the thinking and activism of two quite different women from the same generation--Australian feminist activist and internationalist Pat Giles (born 1928), and Belgian/French feminist philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray (born 1932). My reasons for bringing them together in this forum are both serendipitous and strategic: serendipitous because my current research preoccupations bring me into close contact with the work of them both; and strategic because, in thinking through ways to address a conference called Women in the Modern World: the Struggle for Equality, it became apparent to me that the work of the one can usefully address the dilemmas of the other. Specifically, I'm thinking here of Irigaray's philosophical work on negotiating sexual difference, and Pat Giles' lifetime commitment to what she and her activist colleagues frequently call the struggle for equality through introducing legislative and policy changes.

In this paper I'll be arguing that we already understand, conceptually, the difference between aspiring for equality and aspiring for recognition of difference--most intricately explored by Luce Irigaray (2)--but what we're not so clear about yet is how to create the discursive space for that kind of manoeuvre to be articulated. How do we, for example, make space in a policy document to ensure that the philosophical context it's embedded in--the desires that underpin it--desires for women to be accorded full human status--are visible, audible, and able to be acted on? Those are the conversational spaces I hope this paper will open up.

So, why my fascination with Irigaray? I'm an Australian feminist academic, and for the past couple of decades I've been enchanted by poststructuralist notions of subjectivity and power. In a sense this has been a risky kind of enchantment, because for a long time such discourses have been regarded with suspicion by many feminist activists and scholars, and probably for good reason: specifically, in thinking about poststructuralist notions of subjectivity, many activists feared that the fracturing of (personal and collective) identity implicit in these discourses would mean a similar fracturing of political solidarity; and further, many feminists feared that to view power as fleeting and fluid invited a slippage into a kind of nihilistic relativism which automatically required an abandoning of feminist ethics. Today, though, for many of us these fears have been replaced by an intense interest in ways to read and negotiate across and around interpersonal and collective sites of difference. (3) For inspiration on how to prepare students for activist community based practice through learning to read and negotiate such sites of difference, I have turned again and again to the work of Luce Irigaray. It's Irigaray's work on negotiating difference, specifically sexual difference, that I find most relevant to the questions I'll be considering today. In particular, in considering how to bridge that mysterious gap between hope and happening, Irigaray's argument, that the most crucial arena for changes to occur in order to recognise the full human status of women is in the philosophical realm, is one I find to be most useful. Irigaray argues that for the work of sexual difference to take place, we need a revolution in thought and ethics. (4)' Before I introduce you to Pat Giles, I want to draw on Irigaray's

recent work and on the early work of African American scholar and activist Andre Lorde to rehearse the differences between notions of permitting equality and recognising difference, and to signal, very briefly, the ways these notions can be seen to resonate philosophically.

In 1984, in her collection Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde explores questions of difference, marginalisation and fear. …

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