Radical Feminism


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radical feminism Pornography Debate


    Suppose one accepts MacKinnon and Dworkin's suggestedstatutory definition of pornography.  How does one who
generally accepts MacKinnon and Dworkin's views on the
pervasively harmful effect of pornography, and who accepts a need
for legal redress of the harms perpetrated by pornography, deal
with pornographic material?
    The ordinance proposed by MacKinnon and Dworkin would deal
with such material by enacting legislation which gives people
adversely affected by the works, which clearly fit their
definition of pornography, a cause of action against the
producers, vendors, exhibitors or distributors for
"trafficking", or for an assault "directly caused by the
specific work.
    I do not think liberals, or others for that matter, should
have much problem with the clause dealing with assault, since a
causal connection to specific works is demanded by it.  However,
s. 3.2(iii) which deals with trafficking would be very
problematic for liberals and legal conservatives because it
creates a cause of action for a person contrary to the
traditional conception of a rights holder's cause of action.
This subsection reads:
         Any woman has a claim hereunder as a woman acting
         against the subordination of women.  Any man, child or
         transsexual who alleges injury by pornography in the
         way women are injured by it also has a claim.
         [emphasis added]

    My goal in this paper is to suggest that a slight
modification to this subsection of the ordinance would make it
very difficult for liberals and legal conservatives to object to
it.  This modification would restrict the cause of action to the
same persons as the other sections of the ordinance, namely, the
particular victim of the specified injury.  I shall argue that
such a modification would largely cohere with the conception of
harm already at work in Ontario law, would afford only a minor
reduction in the potential efficacy of such legislation in
curbing the harm of pornography, and would offer to empower the
feminist camp which is behind such an ordinance with a mechanism
for social and political change if a sufficiently organized
feminist "vanguard" took hold of the opportunity to empower
women.
    Adrian Howe argues that the concept of social injury which
may be suggested by the ordinance recognizes the differential
harm felt by women from pornography.  Howe suggests this social
notion of harm may be a necessary feature of any successful law
reform which is to address the huge social problem of male
domination and female oppression.  The liberal notion of an
individuated human right fails to capture, for MacKinnon and
Howe, "the specificity of the harm to women."  Thus, an
ordinance which did not create a cause of action "for women as
women" would fail to address the root of the social problem of
which pornography is a manifestation.  
    This conception of social harm, and thus subsection
3.2(iii), may offend liberals or legal conservatives in two ways.
First, the notion of non-individuated harm is antithetical to the
liberal conception of a rights holder claiming a cause of action.
Fundamental to a liberal conception of harm is the notion of the
individual who is autonomous, separate and fundamentally worthy
of respect.  Rawls and Kant exemplify this view in their analyses
when they posit the undifferentiated self, free of any particular
qualities save that of being an agent worthy of a fundamental,
inviolable respect.  This notion of the individual worthy of
equal concern and respect in the eyes of the state permeates
liberal conceptions of rights.  It is also a fundamental, if not
exclusive, tenet of the common law of torts:  
         In tort litigation, the courts must decide whether to
         shift the loss suffered by one person, the plaintiff,
         to the shoulders of another person [emphasis added].

    Clearly, on its face this conception of harm precludes the
notion of a harm suffered collectively which cannot be delineated
individually.  While class actions are possible, and claims may
be made on behalf of groups such as company shareholders, this is
only by virtue of the fact that a legally recognized individual
has suffered an identifiable particular harm.
    Thus, the conventional liberal notion of harm is radically
distinct from that outlined by Howe and MacKinnon.  Since on the
liberal conception rights holders are autonomous, individual
selves who are essentially distinct, harm to one is distinct from
harm to another.  It may be that a liberal conception of a rights
holder simply renders the concept of a social harm, and thus a
cause of action "for women as women" incoherent.  I do not wish
to discuss whether it is possible to develop a complete liberal
notion of social harm.  It is sufficient to ... more

radical feminism

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feminism 150 years of action




Last year marked the 150th Anniversary of a movement by women to achieve full civil rights in this country.  Over the past seven generations, dramatic social and legal changes have been accomplished that are now so accepted that they go unnoticed by people whose lives they have utterly changed. ( Eisenberg 1) Many people who have lived through the recent decades of this process have come to accept what has transpired.  And younger people, for the most part, can hardly believe life was ever otherwise.  
The staggering changes for women that have come about over those seven generations in family life, in religion, in government, in employment, in education – these changes did not happen spontaneously.  Women themselves made these changes happen, very deliberately.  They have not been the passive recipients of miraculous change in laws and human nature.  Seven generations of women have come together to affect these changes through meetings, public speaking and non-violent resistance. (Eisenberg 1)  
During the early times of our country’s history, men and women were actually considered partially equal.  During this time, America was an agrarian society, which means that it was a farm-based country.  There was much work to be done around the farm, and the chores were divided equally amongst the men and women. (K., Esther 1) The livelihood of the family relied on both the husband and the wife, so women’s jobs were considered equally important to those of men.  
When America became an industrialized country, women began to loose their importance.  Since many products could be bought cheaply, there was no longer any need for women to make things such as butter, yarn and other household items. Their main duties were to raise the children and to keep the house clean and comfortable for there “hard working” husbands.  Therefore, women lost their importance in economic society and fell into the background.
Married women were considered “civilly dead” in the eyes of the law, and could be imprisoned and beaten by their husbands.  Women could not hold office, attend college, or speak in public.  They had no right to property or earned wages. They were not permitted to sue or divorce, nor were they granted the custody of their own children.  Women could not participate in the elective franchise, yet were required to obey laws in which they had no voice.
Women did not even think of revolting against this unfair way of life because society dictated that to show any rebellion would be unacceptable.  Social class was very important in the early years of feminism, and to break the social chain and embarrass your family, especially your husband, was unthinkable.  
Many women longed for equality in many areas of their lives, but it took radical leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott to take the first step toward equality.  Cady Stanton and Mott met in London in 1840 as delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Society.  But denied a place on the floor with the other female delegates, Mott and Cady Stanton left the hall and began to discuss the lack of women’s rights in general.  What was needed, they determined, was a convention for women to discuss how they could secure the same rights as men.  It was almost eight years before the two women met again and called for such a convention.  They had an advertisement published in The Seneca County Courier, a semi-weekly journal, of July 14, 1848, which read, simply:
“A Convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women, will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, NY, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 19th and 20th of July, current; commencing at 10 o’clock, A.M.”
Seneca Falls, site of the first official women’s convention in 1848, became the organizing force to move forward and take action.    It was chosen because of the concentration of reformers and abolitionists in the area.  They joined forces in calling together this convention and creating a list of grievances towards women’s’ rights for property, education, employment, marriage and suffrage.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton told over three hundred women and men who gathered together on July 19th and 20th that it was time to put the ... more

radical feminism

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