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?