21st Feb 2017 6:30pm-8:00pm
Edward Street Lecture Theatre
Lisa Downing (University of Birmingham)
Feminist Philosophy and the Politics of Selfishness
In this talk I examine the place occupied by the freighted concepts of “selfishness” and “selflessness" in the history of feminist thought and politics. After first outlining the feminist critique of the Kantian self and the homo economicus as masculinist constructions (Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Patricia Hill Collins), I move on in the main part of the talk to focus on two second-wave texts: Shulamith Firestone’s manifesto for feminist revolution, The Dialectic of Sex (1970), and Carol Gilligan’s psychological study of the ways in which men and women appear to conceive differently of ethical dilemmas, In A Different Voice (1982). Both texts highlight a key tension: women report feeling "self-less” (or "deprived of Self”, in Firestone’s words), while simultaneously experiencing a disproportionate fear of being considered selfish. The talk concludes by revisiting this issue in the context of our contemporary moment, which has been defined as "the age of selfishness" or "me culture”. I briefly examine recent iterations of muscular, self-interested “feminism", such as Sheryl Sandberg’s agenda of "lean-in”, and the response to such neoliberal, individualist discourses by Lacanian analyst Paul Verhaeghe which risks calling for the reestablishment of reactionary hierarchies (of gender, class and race) and the strengthening of the nuclear family in the name of connected community. In sum, I conjecture that a new conceptualization of female self(ishness), that harks back to the passion and radical agenda of the second wave, and that incorporates the ideas of feminisms of colour, may be needed to address properly feminist ends as an antidote both to so-called post-feminist, neoliberal individualism and to the pernicious nostalgia of agendas such as Verhaeghe’s.
Lisa Downing is Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, UK. She is the author of numerous books, articles, and chapters on sexuality and gender studies, film, and critical theory. Authored books include: The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault (Cambridge University Press, 2008), Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters (co-authored with Libby Saxton, Routledge, 2010), The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality, and the Modern Killer (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts (co-authored with Iain Morland and Nikki Sullivan, University of Chicago Press, 2015). She is currently editing a volume entitled After Foucault for Cambridge University Press, and writing a monograph on gender and selfishness, from which the Lecture at Brighton is taken.