Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Vanderheide, John


This dissertation is a philosophical examination of women’s masochism from several different viewpoints. Beginning from a centre of Western psychoanalytic thought, I analyse what Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Gilles Deleuze, and Slavoj Žižek say about women and masochistic practices, and then continue the discussion by looking at the work of several women theorists and writers, including Angela Carter, Judith Butler, Kathy Acker, and Luce Irigaray. This analysis centres around Lacan’s theorization of the death drive through the figure of Antigone, and while he does not describe her as the original woman masochist, I believe she is a central figure in understanding women’s masochism and how engaging in masochistic acts is a radical action. In Chapter Two, the concepts of masochism and feminine jouissance are re-examined through the figure of Mohawk Saint Káteri Tekahkwí:tha, a figure whose masochistic jouissance has undergone revision and overwriting by the Roman Catholic Church, but who nevertheless illustrates a form of feminine jouissance which I demystify through an understanding of Haudenosaunee culture. The third Chapter examines the stories which are told about Indigenous people by Canadian settlers such as Duncan Campbell Scott so that the settler reader can enjoy the suffering of Indigenous peoples “masochistically” via the racist fantasy. These fantasies depend on the actual suffering of Indigenous people at the hands of the sadistic settler colonial state, and amount to literary political warfare in the formation of the nation state. The fourth and final Chapter theorizes what masochism means for Indigenous women writers, including E. Pauline Johnson, Marie Clements, and Tenille K. Campbell, and through methods such as Indigenous futurism, Indigenous moral sadomasochism, and Indigenous erotica. To theorize Indigenous women’s masochism means to reject it as a fantasy of men and look to our own culture for guidance.

Summary for Lay Audience

This dissertation is divided into four chapters which each examine women’s masochism from a different viewpoint. I begin from an understanding of masochism through continental philosophy and expand into the ways in which women theorists and writers were influenced by these theories and how their own work expresses a new way of looking at women’s masochism. The second chapter examines the figure of Mohawk Saint Káteri Tekahkwí:tha to understand how her masochism was not just an influence of the Jesuits, but was uniquely Haudenosaunee. The next chapter delves into more contemporary philosophy related to the pleasure-humiliation discourse that emerges from talking about race. In the Canadian sense, this can be examined via the settler who enjoys masochistically through the pain of real Indigenous bodies. Lastly, my final chapter answers back to the first and the failures inherent in women’s masochism by envisioning a form of Indigenous futurism where Indigenous peoples can explore their sexuality outside the context of settler colonialism.