Speakers

Ann Cahill

Ann Cahill

Ann J. Cahill is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Elon University (located in North Carolina, USA).  She is the author of Rethinking Rape (Cornell University Press, 2001) and coeditor of Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory: de Beauvoir, Kristeva, Cixous, and Irigaray (Routledge, 2008) and Continental Feminism Reader (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).  Her research interests lie at the intersection of feminist theory and philosophy of the body.


"Feeling Bodies: Material Intersubjectivity and the Problem of Objectification"
Objectification is a foundational concept in feminist thought, used to problematize a host of social phenomena such as sex work, representation of women?s bodies, and sexual harassment.  Yet it has received surprisingly little direct and focused attention from feminist theorists, and virtually none in recent years.  In part, this gap may be explained by the fact that the concept itself rests upon several philosophical assumptions that have been, by and large, rejected by contemporary feminist theory.  In this presentation, I will present a critique of the concept of objectification (particularly as explored by Linda LeMoncheck and Martha Nussbaum), arguing that it is beholden to a Kantian ideal of personhood. In remaining loyal to certain tenets of modern thought, such as a privileging of autonomy and rationality in subjectivity, these theorists fail to recognize sufficiently the role the body plays in (inter)subjectivity.  This failure, despite the theorists? best efforts to articulate the conditions of positive sexual interactions, leads to an implicit vilification of the body and at times of sexuality itself.  We are left, then, with questions that have continued to plague feminist thought: how can we distinguish between objectionable and non-objectionable erotic encounters?  How can we account for the pleasure that can derive from being gazed upon, being perceived and approached as sexually attractive, and being erotically involved with other bodies?  How can we explain the sense that such erotic involvements can serve not to destroy or undermine subjectivity, but rather to enhance our sense of being-with?

I will argue that the problem with the phenomena associated with objectification is not that they render women objects, and therefore not-subjects, but rather that they construct feminine subjectivity and sexuality as wholly derivative of masculine subjectivity and sexuality. Women, in other words, are not objectified as much as they are (to coin a new term) derivatized.  Grounding my work in that of Luce Irigaray, I will argue for an ethics of materiality based upon a recognition of difference, thus working toward an ethics of sexuality that is decidedly ? and simultaneously ? incarnate and intersubjective.