Derrida and Feminism

Catherine Verneuil, 1963: Robert Doisneau

Jacques Derrida’s concepts of différance and deconstruction have raised questions among philosophers about feminism and a woman’s “being-in-the-world.” While some believe that true feminism is an inversion of the male-dominated power structure, others believe that embracing feminine mystique is the key to overcoming inequalities. In his short book, Spurs, Derrida essentially raises the question, how can a woman be empowered by inverting a preexisting power structure, thus subjecting herself to it? This essential question merits further analysis.

Some feminists react to the phallocentric construction of “Truth” with a mindset that Derrida claims is a double castration of women. In challenging the male-centered apparatus from a reactive point of view, women subject themselves to the binary thinking of male/female, which stems directly from Plato’s construction of logic. If a woman seeks to be in a “male” position of dominance, she makes herself subject to both castration and anti-castration, two opposing views.

Ghislaine Thesmar dans l’atelier de couture de l’Opera de Paris, Robert Doisneau

In Derrida’s words, “…she knows that such a reversal would deprive her of her power of simulation, that in truth, a reversal of this kind would…force her just as surely into the old apparatus” (61). In becoming dominant over the male, a woman still subjects herself to placement within the masculine power structure. In Derrida’s view, a woman is outside of this structure all-together, and in this position, she is at an advantage. She is neither subject to it, nor is she powerless.

Derrida points out that “there is no one place for women” (70) within the phallocentric structure. This means that she is not caged within a specific identity but can weave freely inside and outside of its boundaries. In his essay, “Choreographies,” he explains that this movement is more subversive than a positioning herself in diametrical opposition . It is what he calls the “dance,” and it is “not synonymous with powerlessness or fragility” (McDonald and Derrida 69) but a way of empowerment.

Dane Shitagi
Robert Doisneau Kiss, Dane Shitagi

When a woman positions herself in opposition to the masculine, in a dialectical sense, she sets off a “battle of the sexes” and allows the masculine victory (McDonald and Derrida 72). Derrida says that a woman’s power lies in her ability to evade and infiltrate masculine constructions at will, yet never be subject to them. If a woman were to invert the system, as in a reversal of sexual power, she would still become subject to it, and thus, enslaved to dogma. In simpler terms, Derrida is saying that there is no way to defeat a system by making ourselves subject to it. If we follow its rules, we are no longer subverting it but condoning and enforcing it.

–M. Chaplin

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques, and Stefano Agosti. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles = Eperons: Les Styles De
. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1979. Print.

McDonald, Christie V.; Derrida, Jacques Diacritics. “Choreographies.” Cherchez la Femme
Feminist Critique/Feminine Text
. 12.2. (1982): 66-7. Print.



Being, Michelle Chaplin

Wherefore also we must acknowledge that there is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only.

Plato, the Timaeus


The Socratic Woods, Michelle Chaplin

I am currently writing a research paper on the concept of Khôra, which is introduced in Plato’s Timaeus. Today, I took a walk in the woods to philosophize in true Socratic fashion. After much contemplation, I created this erasure poem to grasp at the concept of Khôra, a space that evades all logos and mythos.


In her
empty space

waiting silence
wells, flows

no one



She will not
be held
but uphold.

The Cave, Michelle Chaplin

I wrote the original poem in 2012. It’s interesting what one can find hidden within a text.

The Sphere

Domed in the starry sphere,
empty space
drops like wind and lifts winged arms heavenward.

Smothered in a veil of memory,
awaiting stillness in silence
from her heart a song wells, overflows
ballads sung to no one.

On moors, shadowed and still,
darkened with fires kindled in vanity,
spilling a bowl of ashes mingled with tears,
and drunk up by earth’s dry mouth
she laughs at my calamity,
embarks to root me down, and hold me.

I will not be held,
but trample on the wasted earth,
and bound until her gravity deny,
and uphold the wings of liberty
in the face of the daunting sky.

M. Chaplin