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Generalizing Gender: Reason and Essence in the Legal Thought of Catherine Mackinnon

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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/20498

Generalizing Gender: Reason and Essence in the Legal Thought of Catherine Mackinnon

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Title: Generalizing Gender: Reason and Essence in the Legal Thought of Catherine Mackinnon
Author: Rapaport, Elizabeth
Abstract: Catharine MacKinnon's work has been a shaping force in the development of feminist legal theory as well as on the course of legal reform. Although few feminist scholars accept her views on gender and sexuality in their entirety, her preeminent contribution to feminist legal theory is generally acknowledged. MacKinnon's most signal legal reform success has been in identifying sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination prohibited by federal employment law. More recently, attended by greater controversy and less material success, she has been active in the feminist antipornography campaign. This chapter has two objectives. The first is simply the journeywoman task of understanding MacKinnon's theory of gender and especially the methodology she employs. The second objective is to defend an aspect of MacKinnon's methodology that has of late come under political and philosophical attack. She has been accused of gender essentialism, a vice that is variously defined but is most commonly understood to mean treating the concept of gender as a transcultural and transhistorical universal. The price of gender essentialism, according to its critics, is the imposition of false uniformity on the disparate experience of women of different classes, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Privileged white intellectuals read their own experience as that of women as such. In doing so we falsify the experience of those whom we call sisters but whose voices we ignore. In my view, these deplorable consequences do not necessarily overtake the theorist who seeks to generalize about gender. The impulse that animates MacKinnon's work, the desire to formulate a theory that speaks from and to the experience of all women, should not be easily relinquished. Generalizing about gender, at least in the modest form in which it is done by this bold theorist, need not be philosophically or politically pernicious.
Date: 1993
Publisher: Westview Press
Citation: “Generalizing Gender: Reason and Essence in the Legal Thought of Catherine Mackinnon,” in A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, at 127 (Louise M. Antony & Charlotte Witt, eds., 1993).
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/20498


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