What Does Feminism Want?

Type of content
Journal Article
Publisher's DOI/URI
Thesis discipline
Degree name
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Horbury, Alison

Like Freud’s famous inquiry ‘what does a woman want?’, this paper asks a similar question of the signifier ‘feminism’ for if one aims to (re)imagine feminism for the new millennium one must first ask: what does Feminism want? This (imperfect) reference to Freud’s question hopes to draw attention to the particular and the universal underpinning the signifier feminism, a slipperiness that works idiosyncratically at the threshold of public and private politics which, though it is perhaps the most unifying aspect of feminism, nevertheless undermines it. To politicize the personal one must question the signifier that comes to universalize an indefinite article for, as I argue in this paper, what ‘a’ woman wants is beneath the bar of what Feminism wants when it is mounted in public discourse. To continue to invest publically in a signifier of personal politics––as Jacqueline Rose advocates (2014)––then, one must rephrase the question: of what does this signifier Feminism speak when it is mounted in public discourse? This paper considers some mechanisms by which this signifier generates and mobilizes desire, fantasy, and phobia in public politics where feminism’s knowledge product covers over or, in Rose’s terms, “sanitizes” those “disturbing insight[s]” (2014: x) of experience, “everything that is darkest, most recalcitrant and unsettling” (2014 xii), in the “furthest limits of conscious and unconscious life” (2014: x). Here, where this signifier constitutes an ideal-ego, its effects are inhibiting. In short, this paper argues that before any future of feminism can be imagined, those occupying a feminist position—discourse, politics, or identity—must ask what their unconscious investment in this signifier is. In Lacanian terms, one must relinquish feminism’s discourse of protest and complete the circuit through the analyst’s discourse to ask: what does a woman want in feminism? What does Feminism want?

feminism, psychoanalysis, Woman, desire, the gaze, Lacan, the unconscious, jouissance
Ngā upoko tukutuku/Māori subject headings
ANZSRC fields of research
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.