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A place called home. Women and philosophy of


Simone Galea

To cite this article: Simone Galea (2017): A place called home. Women and philosophy of
education, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2017.1359781

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Educational Philosophy and Theory, 2017

A place called home. Women and philosophy of education

Simone Galea
Philosophy of Education, University of Malta, Msida, Malta

This paper argues for the active participation of women in philosophy of Women; philosophy of
education and the importance of their sexually differentiated positions education; sexual difference;
in pluralising knowledge. Drawing on the philosophical work of Luce Irigaray; pluralisation of
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Irigaray it explains how the feminine as other, has been symbolised as a knowledge
dark epistemological cave from which those seeking universal truths ought
to escape. Within such phallogo-centric systems of knowledge, women’s
thoughts have been excluded from philosophy, and the feminine became
un-representable as philosophical. This scenario raises important political
and ethical questions related to women’s place in philosophy of education
and calls for deconstructive strategies aimed at using feminised locations
to challenge phallogocentrism. The paper argues that a simple inclusion of
women’s thoughts or the replacement a masculine-dominated philosophy
with feminine ones do not suffice to disrupt the order that establishes what
counts as philosophy. It therefore explores how sexual difference can rethink
the traditional tenets of philosophy. The idea that women need a place that
they can call home for such practices and whether this space can really
differentiate knowledge is debatable and controversial. In considering this
possibility, however, sexual difference is not considered a subject for thought
in philosophy of education but a question that rethinks and engenders it.

Irigaray’s deconstructive reading of Plato’s parable of the cave is an important place to situate a discus-
sion about women, education and philosophy of education. In Speculum of the Other Woman Irigaray’s
(1985), explanation of the position of woman in the construction of philosophical knowledge shows
how such a discussion is necessarily a feminist one in that it makes a detailed analytic critique of how
dominant phallogo-centric regimes have made it impossible for the feminine to be legitimately artic-
ulated in philosophy. This critique is feminist not only because it refers to the sexist marginalisations
and exclusions of women in doing philosophy. It is also especially, concerned with the ways in which
women have had to neglect their socio symbolised spaces and knowledges emerging from their expe-
riences and social positioning as feminine subjects to be taken seriously as philosophers. In this sense,
my arguments in this paper are feminist in that they seek to reflect on the challenges of women doing
philosophy of education that go beyond the reproduction of dominant discourses and methods of
inquiry. The paper explores how knowledge marked by particular and various positionings of women
can contribute to an epistemological rethinking of the tenets that delegitimise certain knowledges, such
as non-western, indigenous, embodied knowledges, as non-knowledges. My argument is that women
who have the feminist intent of developing concepts of education that rise out of their experiences as

CONTACT  Simone Galea

© 2017 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
2    S. GALEA

women and women educators, should foster and make use of spaces to pluralise such knowledge. A
place they can call home is needed for such a political practice to be grounded within particular loca-
tions. However, women in philosophy of education would not be necessarily bound to one location
and need not rigidly or continuously identify themselves as women. What is important is that they use
such spaces to offer possibilities for differentiating practices in knowledge production. Such spaces
should be open and hospitable to persons who have the interests in pluralising philosophical knowledge
through critical engagement of the limits of their own practice. The feminist project of diversifiying
knowledge should be recognised as contributing to a deeper exploration of the struggle for epistemic
diversity in philosophy of education in parallel to and in conjunction with non-white, not straight and
non-western methods of inquiry.

Knowledge beyond the cave

Irigaray’s analysis of the problematic relation between sexual difference and the creation of knowledge
can be understood through her recounting of Plato’s Parable of the cave. Plato’s representation is well-
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known; “men – ‘hoi anthropoi,’ sex unspecified – live under-ground, in a dwelling formed like a cave.”
(Irigaray, 1985, p. 243). As she explains
the cave is a representation of something always already there, of the original matrix/ womb which these men
cannot represent since they are held down by chains that prevent them from turning their heads or their genitals
towards the daylight. (p. 244)
Irigaray’s reading is indicative of how the positioning of the feminine within this narrative works through
the negation of sexual difference. It demonstrates the impossibility of a representation of the feminine
within systems of knowledge. The feminine is not rendered completely invisible. It is presented as the
place that men must free themselves from to enable their acquisition of truth. The journey towards
knowledge is rendered legitimate through the prisoners’ detachment from the cave and the turn
towards the only passageway that leads to the place of absolute knowledge. Jones (2011) points out
that when one takes into account the saying that western philosophy is only but a footnote to Plato’s
philosophy then Irigaray’s description of how the feminine is disavowed in western metaphysics is
indicative of the way sexual difference has been shadowed in philosophical traditions. Plato’s parable
states that truth can be acquired when one abandons the cave/the womb, a space that represents
sexual difference. The only place of truth is outside the cave and the only pathway that leads towards
truth is that which necessitates that men are torn away from their original locations. The womb (hys-
tera) is an illusion, a replica, the space that renders people prisoners. Irigaray critiques the manner
by which the feminine, as other, is placed on the other side of truth; represented as a negation of the
truth. In this narrative of the production of knowledge, woman is not excluded from the process but
is centrally placed as the unenlightened space that has to be abandoned. Here, woman is rendered
incapable of producing knowledge herself or within the spaces that she is symbolised through (see
also Irigaray 1993a).  This means that sexually differentiated perspectives have been excluded from an
area of knowledge recognised as philosophy and feminine or feminised subjects have been delegiti-
mised as philosophers. Whitford (1992) explains that the female and/or feminist philosopher becomes
a contradiction in terms because the traditional criteria that establish what counts as philosophy makes
the feminine unrepresentable as philosophical. The knowledge that might be produced within the
cave, referring to ideas that are marked by sexual difference, is graded low within the epistemological
hierarchy that values a single unified truth.
Irigaray states that ‘Already the prisoner was no longer in a womb but in a cave’(Irigaray, 1985, p.
279). This indicates how in renouncing the feminine, man ended up in a cave. He becomes a prisoner
of unchanging inert ideal forms. For even if he is encouraged to move out of the cave, the move takes
place through one path by which a single universal interpretation of the world is rendered possible.
Irigaray’s account of how knowledge production becomes legitimised through the silencing of the
feminine is intended to problematise the question of sexual difference in traditions of philosophy.
However, one can also draw on it to understand the symptoms of philosophy’s problematic relations

with difference and different forms of knowledge. For example, her readings indicate how legitimate
knowledge is produced through a process by which men turn away from their own locations of origins.
Here, Irigaray’s reference to the abandonment of feminine spaces in the production of knowledge infers
that the question of difference has to be understood in terms of two opposing masculine–feminine
positions. Nevertheless, her problematisation of knowledge produced by renouncing one’s particular
gendered positions opens a discussion of the importance of recognising various locations and not
only feminised ones, in pluralising knowledges. This is also a task that a number of philosophers of
education have become committed to.

Locating the feminine for knowledge production

Irigaray insists that the articulation of the feminine is an essential strategy to challenge the history of a
monochromatic philosophical project. Some of her critics point to the fact that her deconstruction of
philosophy is exclusively centred on an essentialised feminine body. Although I draw on her thoughts
here, I do not think that the feminine should be conceived as the only location through which philosophy
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is challenged and difference articulated. However, Irigaray’s thoughts help me focus on two main aspects
relevant to my reflection about women in philosophy of education. First, that not recognising women
in doing philosophy of education seems to me to replicate the tendency that the presence of sexual
difference and any accounts of differentiation are unacceptable in philosophical thought. It reinforces
the metaphysical concept that references to the material and specific attributes of the body and its
experiences are immaterial to proper philosophical endeavour. The other important aspect is that the
fact that sex is ‘unspecified’ in Plato’s story of the production of knowledge, does not make knowledge a
neutral or an open enterprise. It hides the domination of the use of one language over another, limiting
women within one body of knowledge, repressing their possibilities to articulate themselves beyond
one dominant frame of thought. Women have to identify their critique of phallogo-centric knowledge
through their particular feminised position, as a political and ethical move to ‘situate themselves with
the tradition as speaking subjects’(Braidotti, 1991, p. 228). Establishing their own places of enunciation
becomes important when considering that women have only been accepted in philosophy when they
have acted as the dutiful daughters of their father’s wisdom. They have only been heard when using
the language of the father, or when executing the ‘educational’ function of reproducing patriarchal and
phallocentric forms of thought.
The metaphor of the home features as a prominent theme in the literature related to the issue of
women having a place of their own (Young, 2005). Finding a home is important for the constitution
of women as philosophers; of having the opportunities to think about particular issues that may not
be usually thought of or written about in philosophy of education and of exploring different modes of
inquiry. Irigaray herself uses the metaphor of the home to argue that finding a space of their own is a
necessary step for women if they do not want to remain exiled in the house of their husbands (Irigaray,
1993b, p. 19). Griffiths and Whitford (1996, p. i) point out that ‘women doing feminist philosophy do
not find a natural home either in Philosophy departments (suspicious of feminism) nor in Women’s
Studies departments suspicious of philosophy).’ Women doing feminist philosophy of education have
similar experiences. This is not to say that women and feminist philosophy are necessarily excluded
from thoughts in philosophy of education. But women doing philosophy of education may seek
particular spaces that are distant from dominant power structures (groups, conferences and special
editions) and have the financial independence in doing research that brings their feminist thought
to bear on concepts about education. (Greene & Griffiths, 2003). Mary Leach gives further reasons for
women to set up a home where persons are understood as being culturally constituted as different.
She explains that
It would be a home in which personal voices, the ‘I’ with particular feelings and experiences would be as welcome,
indeed understood as a necessary part of the ‘I’ who will argue this or that—a home where everyone is present as a
visible ‘I’ who does not merely point disembodied to the world out there, but rather engages in shared conversation
about the known world fully acknowledging each other’s partial point of view. (Leach, 1991, p. 291)
4    S. GALEA

What is highlighted here is not a replacement of a masculine-dominated philosophy with a feminine

one, but a disruption and modifications of phallocratic and logo-centric systems hat legitimise founda-
tional philosophical discourse. Since phallogo-centric foundational philosophies work on neutralising
or hiding differences attempts to keep differences covert would only reinforce the idea of philosophy
of education as a unified system of thought. It might also reinforce the epistemological foundational
thoughts that a detached view from nowhere is possible. To adopt Virginia Woolf’s famous phrase ‘a
room of one’s own’ is needed to become critical of foundational discourses. It is also needed for under-
standing and articulating one’s position in relation to other thoughts, in thinking about the possibility
of becoming different and in search of methods that diversify thoughts.
The need for such a place functions within the feminist concept of the production of knowledge as
situated. Haraway (1988) argues
for politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the
condition of being heard, to make rational knowledge claims. These are claims on people’s lives. I am arguing
from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring and structured body, versus the view from above, from
nowhere, from simplicity. Only the god trick is forbidden. (Haraway, 1988, p. 589)
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It reflects a feminist epistemology which is not indifferent to the particular situated positioning of
persons for, as Grosz states, ‘the idea that knowledge is untouched by the particularities of the person
who knows is fantasy’ (Grosz, 2014, p. 116). Furthermore, it is an epistemology that is conscious of its
origins and reflects the specificity of its political and ethical work. As Braidotti (1991) argues, although
feminist critiques run parallel to contemporary philosophy which is critical of philosophy’s foundation-
alist resistance to differences, one cannot ignore the feminist contribution to the development of new
modes of thought that rise out of feminism. An affirmation of spaces for women doing philosophy of
education could work very much in line with Fraser and Felski’s conceptualisation of a counter public,
in their aim to disrupt discourses that are homogenising at the same time as they withdraw to regroup
and rethink (Asen & Brouwer, 2001).

Doing philosophy from the margins

The idea of women having ‘places of their own’ in philosophy of education to resist and rethink homog-
enising forms of thought raises the question of how, as Sandra Harding suggests, ‘the margins are sites
of radical epistemological possibility.’ However, what nourishes counter knowledge productions within
the margins and to what extent counter knowledges remain situated within the margins? (Asen &
Brouwer, 2001, p. 8). The concept of situated knowledges here again becomes useful in explaining how
counter discourses emerge out of particular experiences and situations of oppression and injustice. The
awareness of historical, socio-cultural experiences of exclusion of a particular group i.e. the situated
knowledge of exclusionary practices and of their very locations at the margin make them more equipped
to challenge and question dominating forms of thought. Irigaray’s feminist critique of the exclusion of
the feminine in philosophical thought therefore cannot simply be dismissed or considered as irrelevant
to the debate about difference because of its specific emphasis on the feminine. The particular question
of the marginalisation of the feminine makes a direct critique of universalising forms of thoughts. One
cannot critique the notion of the production of knowledge as a view from nowhere without at some
point, marking the position from where such criticism takes place.
From a feminist standpoint, the cave is an important location because it strategically places women
at the margins from which phallocentric forms of knowlegde can be overturned. Irigaray, however,
does not assume that one’s view from somewhere automatically equips one with subversive powers.
It may well be the case that in being at the margins women become overwhelmed by experiences of
oppression or increased victimisation. (Santoro, 2008). Irigaray thinks that it is in learning to mimetically
use their socially, culturally and historically assigned places as feminine subjects that women are able
to go beyond the restrictions imposed on them. For example, the metaphorisation of the cave as the
womb for Irigaray is a mimetic strategy that seeks to transform women into creators and generators of
knowledge within the spaces allowed them in the social order. Jones (2011, p. 50) explains that

If Plato’s myth relies on transferring the power connotations of the womb onto the figure of the cave, Irigaray shows
that the metaphorisation is unstable and reversible. There is nothing to stop her reading the cave as a metaphor
of the womb.
The cave is represented as the unenlightened space but the womb in spite of its association with the
‘dark continent’ is actually a very fruitful site for procreation. The symbolisation of the cave as the womb
rethinks the feminine as a place, where knowledge can be engendered, created and proliferated. The
feminine becomes associated with the possibility of multiplicity itself and the explorations of differ-
ence. This counteracts positioning women and feminist philosophers ‘as a theoretical impossibility’
(Whitford, 1992, p. 111) reinstating them as active agents of pluralistic knowledge production. Irigaray,
in fact objects to the limited ways by which the cave is explored, referring to the restrictive methods
of knowledge production.
‘The cave cannot be explored in the round, walked around measured in the round which means that
the men all stay there in the same spot, same place, same time.’ (Irigaray, 1985, p. 245) She complains on
how philosophy suffers from thinking in one direction, one which follows a phallic line. The womb, how-
ever, offers an alternative exploration suggesting the sexual differentiation of philosophical thought.
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Nevertheless, the identification of feminine symbolic as a site for the production of knowledge is
not unproblematic. There are concerns as to whether the womb can be considered as a productive site
that can engender differences beyond femininity. Irigaray’s identification of the womb as a space for
engendering differences may imply that all knowledge differences are to be created through feminised
spaces. However, should one necessarily refer to the feminine in thinking about the multiplication of

The plural beyond the feminine

As I argued above, one of the ways to counteract the power of philosophy to generalise, universalise
and eradicate sexual difference is by symbolising knowledge produced by women through their spe-
cific social and cultural historical positioning as women. Recognising their knowledges through their
different and various situations is a political strategy that challenges philosophical tendencies to act as
regimes of truth. One controversial issue that is raised in conceiving the feminine as a site of differen-
tiation is the problem of understanding difference in terms of an oppositional discourse between two;
of solidifying and reifying sexual difference to a binary dualism between two sexes. Derrida’s (1999)
writings reflect his preoccupation that an understanding of sexual difference in terms of a fixed binary,
closes off the possibility of multiplying difference beyond the masculine and the feminine. Derrida draws
attention to the ways in which the feminine is reductively understood as the non-masculine, through
this binary frame of thought. This parallels the critique of feminists who state that doing philosophy in
separate places may leave phallocratic, male-defined philosophy quarters untouched, not to mention
the ghettoisation of feminist philosophy which may reinforce the legitimation of one dominant mode
of philosophy over another (Mann, 1999).
This criticism is essential in realising that establishing spaces for doing philosophy that challenge
the definitions of what counts as philosophy is not enough. It is not sufficient for feminists to stay at
the margins and do their own philosophies without being constantly in touch and involved in debates
that take place in spheres that legitimise certain discourses. If they want to be effective in opening up
perspectives and creating new concepts and new ways of thinking feminists need to keep a constant
critical outlook on the philosophical discourses they produce. Moving to and from feminised spaces
to mainstream philosophical thought sustains feminist political aims of differentiating philosophy of
education at the same time as maintaining a space for a critical revisions of their own thought. This
movement to and fro, helps feminism to go beyond established boundaries and to open up possibilities
to think beyond existing frameworks.
Irigaray speaks ‘of the path in-between Of the “go-between” path that links two “worlds”, two modes,
two methods, two measures of replicating, representing, viewing, in particular the sun, the fire, the
light, the “objects” and the cave. Of this passage that is neither outside nor inside, that is between the
6    S. GALEA

way out and the way in.’ (Irigaray, 1985, p. 246) Irigaray’s call for making use of the passageway between
the inside and outside of the cave, runs parallel to the argument that women need to move between
margins and mainstream and the importance of not building boundaries to places they have established
as their own. The passageway may be read as a possibility of communication between two differences
so that they do not reify and solidify themselves into oppositional dichotomies. She warns that ‘when
the passage is forgotten … it will found, subtend. Sustain that hardening of all dichotomies, categor-
ical differences, clear cut distinctions, absolute discontinuities, all the confrontations of irreconcilable
representations.’ (Irigaray, 1985, p. 246).
Nevertheless, there are also limitations in thinking about the passageway only as a communication
between two rigid spaces, that between the feminine and the masculine. This reduces difference to
two forms even though their relation might not be an oppositional one. This reiterates Derrida’s prob-
lematisation of the function of the feminine and the question of pluralising sexual difference beyond
the masculine and the feminine. Derrida’s question, referred to by Grosz (1995, p. 119) below, is an
important question about the contribution of feminist theory to the pluralisation of knowledge today.
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Must one think ‘difference’ ‘before’ sexual difference or taking off ‘from’ it? Has this question, if not a meaning (we
are at the origin of meaning here, and the origin cannot ‘have meaning’) at least something of a chance of opening
anything at all, however impertinent it may appear?
Grosz’s reference to Derrida’s questions invites a reflection on how a politics and ethics of sexual dif-
ference, such as Irigaray’s may open itself to differences that go beyond strict notions of femininity.
Irigaray’s mimetic play with the figure of the womb as engendering all difference does suggest that
one should think femininity as the origin and the generator of differences. Thinking about femininity
in this way challenges feminist thought to continuously question its very own logo-centric tendencies
reflecting how the feminine can be implicated in excluding other differences. Feminist practices are to
search for other ways of conceptualising beyond ‘Western eyes’ (Mohanty, 2003). The place of feminism
in philosophy of education has sought to multiply the meaning of femininity, to enact a ‘parler femme,’
which goes beyond what is defined as feminine by dominant quarters, western, white and middle class.
However, feminist projects of differentiation need to be constantly critical of the ways by which powerful
locations of sexual difference may become sites for ‘reproducing others’ and of the fixed locations by
which they identify themselves.

In searching for places of their own, women in philosophy of education become responsible for open-
ing spaces for meaningful relations with different others. These, at the same time, instigate their own
processes of becoming multiple. Their places need to become hospitable to others who might not
necessarily adhere to the ‘home’ environment that feminists have established for themselves. In seek-
ing to network with others, they might question their own positions and explore how their feminist
viewpoints can be revised, rejected, extended or enriched. Their encounters might not be consensual
and harmonious as Leach’s (1991) quote above implies. Nevertheless, encounters offer possibilities for
different subjective becomings.
More radically, rather than establish foundations for one place they can call home, feminists in
philosophy of education need to become nomadic (Braidotti, 1994) and not fear to move away from
their usual place in encountering other bodies of difference. To become nomadic is not to renounce
having a home but to be flexible enough to venture away from the usual sedentary places. Differences,
in this manner, are not fundamentally defined in terms of the feminine or necessarily brought about
by a singular pathway for the pluralisation of educational thought.
It is dangerous to assume that feminised spaces should be originators of different knowledges or
claim that they should have special spaces within philosophy of education networks to explore the
pluralisation of knowledge. However, erasing sexual difference and the feminine in the multiplication
of diversity defeats the very purpose of making philosophy of education a more pluralistic practice.

Women in philosophy of education bring ideas, thoughts and perspectives that are particular to their
specific and various positions at particular times and places and through experiences that they live
as feminine, feminised and feminist subjects. Their different knowledges cannot be conceptualised
from ‘nowhere.’ At the same time however their political and ethical commitments to differentiation
cannot emerge from fixed singular places of identification. It is rather their active relations with others
and the educational movements generated by these encounters which makes the practice of feminist
philosophy relevant to practices of education that seek to make a difference.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes on contributor
Simone Galea is an associate professor at the Faculty of Education, the University of Malta. Her research and teaching
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specialisations are philosophy of education with particular focus on feminist philosophy and theory and narrative inquiry.
She is currently engaged in a writing project of stories for children that draws on feminist ideas.

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