Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2009


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Bruce Fink

Committee Member

Suzanne Barnard

Committee Member

Terry Pulver


Lacan, Irigaray, Butler, feminism, hysteria, femininity


This theoretical dissertation aims to initiate a dialogue between Lacan and Irigaray, Butler, and poststructuralist Anglophone feminists on the relationship between hysteria and femininity. The very existence of hysteria has been called into question by the majority of Anglophone feminists, who have criticized its diagnostic proliferation, claiming that it has negative implications for social change and has played a central part in women's oppression. The Anglophone feminist tradition views Lacanian psychoanalytic theories of sexuation and hysteria with a critical eye, arguing that Lacan's oeuvre is another version of patriarchal discourse, another reductionistic paradigm of female suffering, and another essentialist scheme that theorizes the subject within the normative realities of sexual difference and psychopathology. I argue that Anglophone feminism theorizes the unconscious superficially and fails to conceptualize how women's unconscious desires sustain rather than subvert patriarchy. Whereas feminists challenge traditional assumptions about women's subjectivity and make a substantial contribution to our knowledge about the oppressions brought on by patriarchal discourses, they misread Lacan's revisionist approach to Freud and undermine Lacan's theoretical contributions regarding the role of unconscious desire and the real in the constitution of subjectivity. Hence, they fail to explain how the female hysteric, as a victim of patriarchal discourses, preserves the dominance of patriarchy. In this dissertation, I elucidate the structural differences between female hysteria and femininity. I assume that the subject has a particular structural relationship with the Other, and take Lacan's and Irigaray's oeuvres as points of departure to articulate an ethics of feminine desire and jouissance and the differences between how a woman maintains her victimhood by being dominated by the law and how a woman achieves her emancipated potentialities by realizing her infinities in relation to the law.