Thought on Sexual Difference

By Giorgia Salatiello

In its most radical formulations, the gender theory denies the existence of any properly human meaning to there being an original difference between woman and man and interprets the difference between them to mere socio-cultural construction that, in as much as it is just that, can be reconstructed, leaving the subjects at liberty to decide their personal sexual identity, completely independent of biological fact.

There is no doubt that at the level of public opinion, this approach is certainly the most well-known, but, at the level of philosophical reflection proper, the so-called thought on sexual difference is no less relevant, and we will endeavour to analyse it in a synthetic way, making reference to Luce Irigaray’s definition, and thus identify its positive aspects and its intrinsic limitations (1).

Thought on sexual difference is drastically different from the gender theory from its very premises, given that it affirms in a decided way the originary character of the difference of gender inscribed on the body, without which the human being is unthinkable. 

This means that, in every act that the subject performs, he or she is characterized by belonging to a particular sex, and, in addition, that means that there is intentional originary openness to the other sex, i.e. to their being an intrinsic relationship between them, which therefore excludes any form of hierarchical subordination.

In other terms, it must be recognised that there is no abstractively neutral human subject, such that sexuation would be derived or successive, but that the difference is found at a level of essence, which is the level of originally dual subjectivity.

In this way, sexual difference is configured as the prototype of all other differences between human beings, because nobody can be considered as a reduced and limited copy of a unique and privileged model.

The relationship between nature and culture is also reread from the point of view of sexual difference and thus any contraposition between an ideal man as cultural subject and the woman seen from the part of nature and therefore inferior, is discarded, given that both subjects are, precisely by their nature, intrinsically cultural.

Through this extremely summarised analysis it emerges clearly, in respect of the gender theory, that we find here several useful points in aiding the understanding of the sexual difference that better allows for the totality of the person, man and woman.

However, in these same considerations, it is possible to discover the limits that mark this approach, and that we find principally in the concept of human essence that is used and appears to be reduced to the abstraction of a concept, and the sole difference of which being concretely existential; in this way, the originality of the difference is transformed into an absolute such that an unbreachable abyss is formed between man and woman, placing at risk the relationship between the sexes.

It becomes philosophically necessary to deepen in the concept of human nature such that even if it is true that it cannot be thought of without the originary difference, it is, at the same time true that it is not an abstraction, given that it encompasses intelligence and free will, characters that belong equally to both man and woman.

Christian anthropology, founded in the vision of woman and man, both created in the image of God, with a unique act that has placed identical originally-differentiated humanity in them, reveals all its richness, and thus allows the positive aspect of this thought to be taken on, which vindicates the original character of the difference, using an articulated and unitary conception in which human identity and sexual difference remain harmoniously integrated.


1. For the complete analysis and bibliography, cf. Salatiello, Georgia, Donna – Uomo. Ricerca sul fondamento, Napoli, Grafitalica, 2000.

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