BY CATHARINE MACKINNON:
What is the difference between the women’s movement we had and the one we have now, if it can be called a movement? I think the difference is liberalism. Where feminism was collective, liberalism is in dividualistic. We have been reduced to that. Where feminism is socially based and critical, liberalism is naturalistic, attributing the product of women’s oppression to women’s natural sexuality, making it „ours.“ Where feminism criticizes the ways in which women have been socially determined in an attempt to change that determination, liberalism is voluntaristic, meaning it acts like we have choices that we do not have. Where feminism is based on material reality, liberalism is based on some ideal realm in the head. And where feminism is relentlessly po litical, about power and powerlessness, the best that can be mustered by this nouveau movement is a watered-down form of moralism: this is good, this is bad, no analysis of power or powerlessness at all. In other words, members of groups, like women, who have no choice but to live life as members of groups are taken as if they are unique indi viduals.
Their social characteristics are then reduced to natural characteristics. Preclusion of choices becomes expression of free will. Material reality is turned into ideas about reality. And concrete positions of power and powerlessness are transformed into mere relative value judgments about which reasonable people can form different but equally valid preferences. Women’s experience of abuse becomes a „point of view.“
The way this gets itself up in law is as gender neutrality, consent, privacy, and speech. Gender neutrality means that you cannot take gender into account, you cannot recognize, as we once knew we had to, that neutrality enforces a non-neutral status quo. Consent means that whatever you are forced to do is attributed to your free will. Pri vacy protects the sphere of women’s intimate oppression. Speech pro tects sexual violence against women and sexual use of women because they are male forms of self-expression. Under the First Amendment, only those who already have speech have protected speech. Women are more likely to be men’s speech. No one who does not already have these rights guaranteed them socially gets them legally.
Liberalism makes these results necessary, in part because it cannot look at sexual misogyny. This is because misogyny is sexual. To be clear, it is sexual on the left, it is sexual on the right, it is sexual to liberals, and it is sexual to conservatives. As a result, sexuality, as so cially organized, is deeply misogynist. To male dominance, of which liberalism is the current ruling ideology, the sexual misogyny that is fundamental to all these problems cannot be seen as a sex equality issue because sexuality is premised on sex inequality. Equality law can not apply to sexuality because equality is not sexy and inequality is. Equality cannot apply to sexuality because sexuality occurs in private and nothing is supposed to interfere in the private, however unequal it is. And equality cannot be more important than speech because sex ual expression is sex and unequal sex is something men want to say.
Having said that, here we are in this room—there are more people at this conference than it took Bolsheviks to topple the czar. You make me begin to believe that we may have a women’s movement to get back. In your workshops, perhaps you could think about ways—the ordinance is one, we know others, and there are many waiting to be discovered— to mobilize women’s sex-based physical and economic in security, women’s vulnerability and desperation, not to be defeated by women’s sex-based personal indignity, women’s boredom, and wom en’s despair. Think about how to change women’s fear, so that fear is no longer the most rational emotion we feel, how to transform wom en’s invisibility and exhaustion and silence and self-hate. If we loosed all of that, what could stand against it? Also, think about how, against all odds, against history, against all the evidence, we can create—invent— a sex-based hope.