Women as Commodities
Luce Irigaray describes women in her This Sex Which Is Not One in this way: “A commodity, a woman, is divided into two irreconcilables bodies: her natural body and her socially valued, exchangeable body, which is a particularly mimetic expression of masculine values”. This means that the feminine is a mirror image of the masculine. Women, reflect back to men’s particular phallocentric ideals, and by means of this process the feminine is lost, given over and made available to the masculine. Men, according to Irigaray, are the group who generally control the means of production and they have the power to determine the value of commodities. The women as commodities’ price no longer comes from their natural form, from their bodies, their language, but from the fact that they mirror the need or desire for exchanges among men: “They are … transformed into value-invested idealities. Their concrete forms, their specific qualities, and all the possibilities of real relations with them or among them are reduced to their common character as products of man’s labor and desire” (Irigaray 181). Here, Irigaray presents the real question; why is it women who are the objects of exchange and not men?
In her essay “Women on the Market” she answers this: It is because women’s bodies can produce the social life and culture “through their use, consumption, and circulation” (Irigaray 174). In this system, wives, daughters, and sisters have value only in that they serve as the potential benefits in relations amongst men:
“The exchange of women as goods accompanies and stimulates exchanges of other ‘wealth’ among groups of men. The economy in both the narrow and the broad sense- that is in place in our societies thus requires that women lend themselves to alienation in consumption, and to exchanges in which they do not participate, and that men be exempt from being used and circulated like commodities” (Irigaray 175).
This means that women as commodities need to engage into roles that are of value inside the social order. According to Irigaray in such a social order, the body of women is used as either the reproductive mother (natural and social value), virginal woman (potential social exchange value), and the prostitute (use and exchange value). This explains why the legislation systems attempt to constitutionalize the laws regarding women in accordance to the female body. For the system, to control a female body is to control the production value, the potential labor force, and the use and exchange vessel. The concept necessitates much contemplation on the topic of women rights in societies centralized around labor force values.
Irigaray, Luce, Carolyn Burke, et al. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. 1st ed., Cornell University Press, 1993.
Irigaray, Luce, I Love to You. e-book, Abingdon, United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, 2016.
Irigaray, Luce, This Sex Which Is Not One. Amsterdam, Netherlands, Amsterdam University Press, 1985.
Irigaray, Luce, and Gillian Gill. Speculum of the Other Woman. Cornell University Press, 1985.