Feminist Notes, part I

By including what violates women under civil and human rights law, the meaning of “citizen” and “human” begins to have a woman’s face. As women’s actual conditions are recognized as inhuman, those conditions are being changed by requiring that they meet a standard of citizenship and humanity that previously did not apply because they were women. In other words, women both change the standard as we come under it and change the reality it governs by having it applied to us. This democratic process describes not only the common law when it works but also a cardinal tenet of feminist analysis: women are entitled to access to things as they are and also to change them into something worth our having.

Thus women are transforming the definition of equality not by making ourselves the same as men, entitled to violate and silence, or by reifying women’s so-called differences, but by insisting that equal citizenship must encompass what women need to be human, including a right not be sexually violated and silenced. This was done in the Bosnian case by recognizing ethnic particularity, not by denying it. Adapting the words of the philosopher Richard Rorty, we are making the word “woman” a “name of a way of being human.” We are challenging and changing the process of knowing and the practice of power at the same time.

-Catharine MacKinnon, “Postmodernism and Human Rights,” Are Women Human?

One thought on “Feminist Notes, part I

  1. Nice little note, Joey. I think MacKinnon’s thesis that women are not (yet) human can be used provoke some excellent discussions (especially in “human rights and conflict” classes). What interests me is how she explains the gap between the rhetorical, formal, legal, and philosophical (Aristotelian, she’d say) mainstreaming of equality on the one hand, and, on other other, actual continuities in gender inequality. Do you know of a good concise statement on this? Related, I see parallels with the mainstreaming of anti-racism and the colourblindness for race in many contemporary contexts – it seductive, but the fact is that it leaves much space for informal discrimination.

    As for the Bosnian war allusion in the note above, I wonder if she makes an argument that ‘recognition’ is the answer to identity-based discrimination and, if so, how she deals with essentialism and such. MacKinnon, if I may add, has become something of a household name in former Yugoslavia, not only for her written interventions on the subject of wartime rape. but also because she proved that she was ready to leave the ivory tower and help represent war victims in various courts.

    One more thing: the MacKinnian “overt sexism may be over, but the game remains rigged” informs with this recent piece by one of IR’s superstars. Note that it focuses on the question of women’s equality qua leaders, which has a practical dimension in the case of this particular author: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/

    P.S. An acquaintance of mine and a budding IR scholar by the name Steve Kerr sent me an email a couple of days ago to say that he loooooves your TDOT writings, and this is my way of inviting him to contact you as well as leave a comment or two on our blog in the future 🙂


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