Posted on | March 26, 2014 | 44 Comments
From time to time, it seems necessary to remind readers that there is no such thing as “moderate feminism.” Feminism is inherently radical — indeed, revolutionary in its aims — and if you are not a radical, you are not a feminist. This is not what I say, this is what feminists themselves say. Women who think of themselves as “moderate feminists” simply have not paid attention to actual feminists.
While searching for a quote earlier today, I came across a complete PDF of Katharine MacKinnon’s 1989 book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. MacKinnon is not a marginal fringe character. She was influential in the development of sexual harassment law, and this particular book was published by Harvard University Press. These excerpts are from page 54, and from pages 113-114:
[W]oman’s social inequality is not an inevitable attribute of her biology but biologically inherent in the heterosexual sex act. The current meaning of sexual relations between women and men is taken as biologically inevitable. The only thing that is not inevitable is woman’s social oppression through them. Woman’s biology oppresses her only when she relates to men. The basis of the inequality of the sexes here is seen as the inequality inherent in heterosexual intercourse as a result of sex-specific anatomy. To transcend or avoid this in personal life by having sexual relations only with women — lesbianism — eliminates the gender-based underpinnings of sexual inequality in this view. [Quoting Jill Johnston, 1973:] “For if the phrase biology is destiny has any meaning for a woman right now it has to be the urgent project of woman reclaiming herself, her own biology in her image, and this is why the lesbian is the revolutionary feminist and every other feminist is a woman who wants a better deal from her old man.” Biological problems have biological solutions. . . .
Sexuality, then, is a form of power. Gender, as socially constructed, embodies it, not the reverse. Women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them, by the social requirements of its dominant form, heterosexuality, which institutionalizes male sexual ‘dominance and female sexual submission. If this is true, sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality.
Feminism has a theory of power: sexuality is gendered as gender is sexualized. Male and female are created through the erotization of dominance and submission. The man/woman difference and the dominance/submission dynamic define each other. This is the social meaning of sex and the distinctively feminist account of gender inequality. Sexual objectification, the central process within this dynamic, is at once epistemological and political. The feminist theory of knowledge is inextricable from the feminist critique of power because the male point of view forces itself upon the world as its way of apprehending it.
MacKinnon is not a stupid woman. Her writing is nuanced and carefully worded and, for example, you can’t say she explicitly endorses Jill Johnston’s viewpoint — she superficially maintains objectivity by use of the phrase “in this view,” so that she (or her defenders) can say she is merely describing a certain perspective, and may dismiss as unfair any critic who points out that MacKinnon does not explicitly reject Johnston’s lesbian separatism.
However, skipping forward from page 57 to page 113, we find MacKinnon saying that “heterosexuality . . . institutionalizes male sexual ‘dominance and female sexual submission,” from which arises “gender inequality” because of “the social meaning of sex.”
It is difficult to read this as anything other than a condemnation of heterosexuality, per se, and especially of the male role in heterosexual relationships. Perhaps there are men and women who could enjoy a relationship that would not offend MacKinnon’s feminist sensibility, but I have a hard time imagining it. What she seems to wish to dictate are relationships in which men have no agency, no initiative, no prerogatives, and no rights. It is not equality, but absolute female hegemony, which MacKinnon seeks.
However strange this anti-male, anti-heterosexual view may seem to most people — including some women who might (mistakenly) think of themselves as “feminists” — it is in fact very influential within academic feminism, a view taught in all university Women’s Studies programs. And as this MacKinnonite perspective has suffused its influence throughout academia and, from there, throughout society — in culture, in politics, in law — what is the practical result? Men on Strike, as Helen Smith calls it.
If male-female relationships are merely a contest for power, as MacKinnon proclaims, then these relationships will necessarily be a source of constant conflict, and who needs that? Men therefore avoid relationships, keeping their interactions with females as casual as possible — “friends with benefits” or short-term “hook-ups” devoid of emotional content — so as to limit the risk of conflict.
Of course, women will blame men for this unsatisfactory stalemate in the War of the Sexes, but that’s what feminism is really about: Whenever a woman is unhappy, some man must be to blame. What MacKinnon calls “the feminist critique of power” means that all men are always wrong about everything, because “woman’s social oppression” deprives women of responsibility for their own problems. Ultimately, feminism teaches that every woman is a victim of patriarchy, and she can only escape by becoming a lesbian.
Quod erat demonstrandum.