What is the relationship between men and women?
Undoubtedly the most controversial area of Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory is his ‘formulae of sexuation’. These formulae – perhaps unhelpfully compressed into the following slogans: ‘Woman does not exist’, ‘Woman is a symptom of Man’, ‘there is no sexual relationship’ – are concerned to elaborate the gendered structure of the subject using predicate calculus (a form of logic used for exploring the relations between sets). Partly suffering from only approximate translations – in French it is ‘la femme’, ‘the Woman’, meaning the universal concept of ‘woman’ – the slogans expressing these formulae seem to suggest that women are somehow inherently lesser beings than men, subsidiary developments of an authentic and masculine humanity. As Lacan was neither very concerned about observing the sanctities of (what we now think of as) political correctness, nor inclined to dissuade people from thinking ill of him by rendering his explanations as transparent as possible, the formulae of sexuation have continued to provoke critics and divide loyalties.