Made in America

“French Feminism” in Academia
  • Claire Goldberg Moses


This article originated in puzzlement and frustration. Much has been written in the United States about a “French feminism” influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis and by other poststructuralist explanations for women’s condition, of which Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray are the most significant exemplars along with the group Psych et po. This “French feminism,” however, is strikingly different from the feminism I encounter in France where, as a historian, my work affords me frequent opportunities to meet and talk with feminists. Although I would be hesitant to assume a disjuncture between an American version of “French feminism” and an “actually existing feminism” in France merely on the basis of personal impressions, I have become emboldened to problematize this issue now that French women themselves have begun to produce histories of their movement that provide insights beyond my observations. I begin exploring this question by summarizing from recent French histories, asking how French historians describe France’s feminist movement and where they locate the French feminists we in the United States most typically read about. I turn next to what U.S. scholars have come to know as French feminism, looking for its genesis in the English-language works that first used the term. My intention is neither to explicate nor to evaluate the French theorists who figure in the “made-in-America” version but to interrogate the process by which naming occurs and a historical record is constructed. How and why did Americans come to define their own “French feminism”? What does this tell us about the meanings Americans assign to “French” and even to “feminism”? Does it matter to French women if Americans misunderstand or misrepresent their movement? Does the seeming disjuncture between “made-in-America French feminism” and the made-in-France histories mask a disjuncture between theorists and movement activists or perhaps even between “theory” and “history”? And to what extent does the question of “French feminism” reflect unresolved struggles at play within the U.S. women’s studies community: our difficulties in representing feminism as at once theorized and activist and in writing theorized histories and historicized theory, as well as the limitations of interdisciplinarity in academic feminism and transnationalism in feminism more broadly?


Feminist Study French Woman French Writer French History Academic Feminist 
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Copyright information

© Roger Célestin, Eliane DalMolin, Isabelle de Courtivron 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Goldberg Moses

There are no affiliations available

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