Feminism, Heterosexuality and the French Nation
- After Ilana Eloit's viva
Ilana Eloit is familiar with Sciences Po: she graduated from the School of Public Affairs in 2012 and remembers participating in the organization of the first Queer Week (FR). She, who had initially chosen Sciences Po to become senior official in the French public service, eventually comes back as a Doctor. In october 2018, she passed her viva at the London School of Economics with no corrections. Her PhD is titled Lesbian Trouble: Feminism, Heterosexuality and the French Nation (1970-1981). She told us her story.
What led you to research in gender studies?
Actually I discovered gender studies during my third year abroad. I was an exchange student in Washington, at Georgetown University. There, I had the opportunity to take a course in gender studies which I really enjoyed.
When I got back to Paris I continued to read up on these subjects. At that time I was not quite sure what I wanted to do after my master’s degree.
Thanks to Sciences Po, I was able to take a gap year: I flew to New York and worked for the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. This work experience consolidated my interest in gender matters. It also sparked my interest in research: the museum asked me to create and set up an exhibit on lesbian feminism in the 1970s United States. I had to dig into sets of archives and, from there, I knew I wanted to continue down this road and do research in gender studies. After Sciences Po, I took another master’s degree in research and gender studies, then started my PhD at the London School of Economics in London.
You just passed your viva with no corrections. Can you tell us more about Lesbian trouble?
I worked on the politicisation of lesbianism in the French Women's Liberation Movement (Mouvement de Libération des Femmes) in the 1970s. My principal interest lies in the interplay between feminism and lesbianism.
My PhD title is a reference to Judith Butler’s work as I address these issues from the queer point of view she developed, on the deconstruction of the feminist subject. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler explains that gender, and thus the “woman” category is not descriptive but performative: it produces and regulates a specific political subject, in this case heterosexual. So I asked myself: how can I re-read and understand the French Women's Liberation Movement’s history from this theoretical point of view?
I also wanted to study an historical fact which is hardly mentioned: Monique Wittig’s exile to the United States following resistances in the Movement. In my thesis I show that the French Women's Liberation Movement was actually not so inclusive. In fact, if we undertake a critical analysis of Monique Wittig’s trajectory, that is the exiled, we can rewrite a different story.
Judith Butler was part of your viva jury. How was it?
I have a lot of consideration for Judith Butler. I had never meet her before my defence but what she writes stimulates me both intellectually and personally. I was very proud to present my PhD thesis in front of her and it was a great satisfaction to talk with her about my work.
I knew she would be part of the jury a year before the defence, so I had to finish my thesis knowing this huge figure was to judge it. So obviously it was a lot of stress, but also fulfillment!
What is next?
I want to pursue a career in research and teaching in France, why not at Sciences Po...