Selfish Women and Other Inconvenient Deviants

Inaugural lecture of Professor Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality.

This lecture considers the place in the modern cultural imaginary occupied by women of letters and politics who espouse a principle - indeed an ethics - of selfishness. These women are “inconvenient" insofar as they flout in different ways a number of ingrained attitudes about women held by patriarchal discourse on the one hand and by feminist politics on the other. Drawing examples from French, US, and UK contexts, including Rachilde, Ayn Rand, and Margaret Thatcher, this lecture asks how revisiting the words and works of exceptional women of the past century, and examining discourse produced about them, can assist us in understanding our fraught individual and collective identities as gendered beings in a contemporary, neo-liberal culture.