Lucy Irigaray published This Sex Which is Not One in 1977, first in French, then in 1985 in English. This book, along with her earlier Speculum, represents the foundation of her theories regarding the valorization of woman. It is a collection of eleven essays on a wide range of topics, all of which share a common link: the recognition that women have throughout history been marginalized in politics, economics, literature, and even in medicine. It is no surprise, then, that Irigaray addresses these varying issues in essays that are marked by not only thematic differences but also by a protean richly textured prose style. The title gives the reader a clue that connects this book to the theme of Speculum, namely that over the centuries men have treated women as a gender-in-absence. Irigaray addresses first women to shake them out of a patriarchal blanket of a hegemonic denial of self to re-invigorate in them the long-buried notion that there are indeed two human genders, each of which must be equal to the other, but only one of them tries mightily to suppress the other. She obliquely addresses men as well, but only in the sense that since she knows that men will not read her books in any significant number, it is up to women to reconfigure the gender trajectory of men to bring them into alignment with women. This will be no easy task since the domination of women by men has built up over the eons a massive inertia that resists change, especially when one considers that this domination has thoroughly infested the totality of social intercourse between the genders.
Regardless of the topic of each of the eleven essays, Irigaray posits the interplay between the totemic significance of male hegemony--the phallus--and how it has been used to de-valorize women on an astonishingly wide variety of levels. Briefly, here are the eleven essays and their respective loci.
"The Looking Glass, from the Other Side:" The vision of women as fragmented is shown from the odd perspective of Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Here Alice looks at women from the vantage of one who has "crossed over" from beyond the mirror to note how women struggle mightily but vainly to assert their primal voices.
"This Sex Which is Not One:" Irigaray takes this title as the title of her book to emphasize that for far too long men have treated women either as a gender-in-absence or what is worse as smaller but inferior versions of men. She uses anatomy to make her point as men (read Freud) have treated the clitoris as naught but a reduced penis.
"Psychoanalytic Theory: Another Look:" Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan have both advanced theories related to the development of male/female sexual desire and sexual organs that privilege the male over the female. Irigaray goes into a highly technical analysis into this interplay.
"The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine:" This essay is a printed interview that Irigaray gave in 1975. Here she elaborates on themes from Speculum, focusing on her critique of Freud who refused to acknowledge women as separate but equal genders, preferring instead to see women only in relation to men. This view of course justified his privileging men over women, an act which in turn justified society doing much the same.
"Cosi Fan Tutti:" Irigaray accuses Lacan of falsely claiming that the phallus is an ahistorical master signifier of the Symbolic Order. There is nothing "ahistorical" about such a claim since both Lacan and Freud assume the existence and continuity of a primacy of the male gender relegating all women to the hinterlands of non-existence.
"The "Mechanics" of Fluids:" The encroachment of patriarchy has even encompassed science. Irigaray notes that language is used to relate men with desirable scientific traits like solidity and women with less desirable ones like fluidity and changeableness.
"Questions:" The "Questions" referred to are those questions that men might likely ask of Luce Irigaray based on her book Speculum: "What is a woman?" "What is the double syntax?" "What is the relation between speaking (as) woman and speaking of woman?" Her focus is less on providing hard answers and more on identifying their structures and intents.
"Women on the Market:" Irigaray takes a Marxist approach to the value that women have on the open market. Women are "scarce" and their value flows from this scarcity. The economy of a patriarchal society is not unlike the psychological/linguistic setup of that society, which is based on the name of the Father and the name of God. It is men who decide that this male-centered view of economics is both natural and inevitable. Women of course take orders but do not give them.
"Commodities among Themselves:" This essay flows from the previous one in that it is men who use women as commodities and currency. Since only men are the center of control it follows that this center is a homosexual center. Heterosexuality comes in only when men assign economic roles to other men who may work with women. Thus only men are the producer-subjects while only women are the productive commodities.
"'Frenchwomen,'" Stop Trying:" Irigaray addresses those men whom she calls "libertines." Such men are pornographers who use women to create images of women as sexual playthings for the gratification of other men. It is irrelevant that such women enjoy themselves. What is relevant is that they seem to do so. Thus, Irigaray urges Frenchwomen to stop trying to please men in such a debasing manner.
"When Our Lips Speak Together:" Language between the genders has contributed to gender inequality. She considers the phrase spoken by a man to a woman: "I love you." What does it mean? Does "love" go way? Does it return? What becomes of the woman? Kissing, loving, and speaking all combine into a complex ball of gender inter-subjectivity that requires both genders to recognize that two genders really mean two.
Overall, it becomes clear that in This Sex Which is Not One, Luce Irigaray seeks to make women aware of a very long established pattern of patriarchal hegemony and once having done so points to a need to reconfigure this out of balance massively kinetic inertia. She does not, however, outline a precise Plan of Action. In effect, Irigaray tells women: "I have passed you the torch. You decide where, when, and how you will run with it.