Men's Task in Luce Irigaray's Ethics of Sexual Difference: Privilege, Responsibility, and Reparations

Robinson, Andrew Alan
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University of Guelph

In my dissertation I argue that men are responsible for women’s oppression and that men owe reparations to women. Drawing on Luce Irigaray’s analysis of women’s oppression, and in particular the role that pornography and prostitution play in that oppression, I demonstrate that most men contribute unintentionally and indirectly to women’s oppression. Further, I show that the same social structures that subordinate women bestow privileges on men. Specifically, men gain the capacities and opportunities to function as linguistic, sexual, and political subjects in ways that women do not. I then explain the ethical significance of men’s contributions and privileges: On the one hand, men accrue moral residue through their unintentional and indirect contributions to women’s oppression. On the other hand, men incur a debt to women, due to the fact that men’s privilege comes at the expense of women’s capacities and opportunities to functions as subjects. I then argue that men’s moral residue and moral debt are sufficient to justify holding men responsible for women’s oppression. However, the majority of men’s contributions lack intention, a common criterion for moral responsibility. Therefore, I suggest holding men responsible in a qualified sense. Specifically, I argue that we should not blame men for women’s oppression, but that we are warranted in demanding reparations from men. Finally, I recommend that these reparations come in the form of a commitment to feminist social change and I turn to Irigaray’s ethics of sexual difference—which aims at creating non-hierarchal relationships between women and men—to outline men’s task in relation to feminist social change. From this perspective, the preliminary stages of men’s task consist in men entering into dialogue with women, learning about their connection to women’s oppression, creating new modes of masculinity through friendship and fatherhood, and developing new modes of sexuality.

Ethics, Feminism, Male privilege, Moral responsibility, Reparations, Pornography