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Reading: Hannah Arendt as an ally for queer politics?


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Hannah Arendt as an ally for queer politics?


Julian Honkasalo

University of Helsinki, FI
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Feminist scholars interested in the thought of Hannah Arendt have often criticized her for excluding the questions of gender and sexuality from her political philosophy. Early readers, such as Adrienne Rich, Mary O’Brien, Hanna Pitkin and Wendy Brown present Arendt as a ‘masculine thinker’, a theorist who dismisses fundamental aspects of the human condition, such as embodiment, emotions and biological reproduction. In striking contrast, theorists motivated by an ethics of sexual difference, such as Adriana Cavarero and Julia Kristeva most notably, cherish Arendt as a feminine thinker, even as a ‘female genius’. Th is paper examines a highly marginal, but original, queertheoretical interest in Arendt’s works. I show how a number of gay- and queer-studies scholars, since the late 1980s have used Arendt as an ally in theorizing lesbian and gay rights as well as for understanding how the ‘closet’ operates in the production of myths about sexuality, race and gender. These readings that integrate feminist-, gayand queer-scholarship do not look at gender and sexuality in Arendt’s writings by asking whether Arendt qualifies as a feminist, whether she had anything significant to say about women, or whether or not she was a masculine thinker. They are instead concerned with the question of how certain groups of people come to be viewed as naturally inferior, as genetically predestined to remain so, and hence legitimately subjected to shame, unequal treatment and even annihilation. Why this is particularly important for a feminist project, is that crucial to this process of defaming is the ‘effemination’ and ‘social gaslighting’ of certain groups of people (Jewish and homosexual men in this case) as well as the pathologizing of so called ‘effeminate characteristics’. This raises a number of important questions: why is it, that effeminacy is needed for justifying the imprisoning, assaulting and murdering of certain persons? Furthermore, what do various moral, medical and political techniques of effeminizing reveal about a society, and more importantly, about the formation of the nation-State?

How to Cite: Honkasalo, Julian. 2014. “Hannah Arendt as an Ally for Queer Politics?”. Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory 17 (2): 180–200. DOI:
Published on 01 Sep 2014.
Peer Reviewed


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