MacKinnon, C. 1982. “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State.”

MacKinnon, Catharine A. 1982. “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory.” Signs 7(3): 515-544.

“Sexuality is that social process which creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire,  creating the social beings we know as women and men, as their relations create society” (516).

Class is distinctly heterosexualized – supported by gender and family roles, claims to reproduction.

“Socially, femaleness means femininity, which means attractiveness to men, to which means sexual attractiveness, which means sexual availability on male terms. What defines women as such is what turns men on (530-531). — here, alludes to heterosexist fantasy built upon infantilization, violence, appeasing narcissism/entitlement, vulnerability.

“Sexuality, then, is a form of power. Gender, as socially constructed, embodies it, not the reverse. Women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them, by the social requirements of heterosexuality, which institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission.  If this is true, sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality” (533).

Sontag (1973): “The question is: what sexuality are women liberated to enjoy? Merely to remove the onus place upon the sexual expressiveness of women is a hollow victory if the sexuality they become freer to enjoy remains the old one that converts women into objects…. This already ‘freer’ sexuality mostly reflects a spurious idea of freedom: the right of each person, briefly, to exploit and dehumanize someone else.  Without a change in the very norms of sexuality, the liberation of women is a meaningless goal.  Sex as such is not liberating for women.  Neither is more sex” (188, quoted here on 533-534).

“Objectification makes sexuality a material reality of women’s lives, not just a psychological, attitudinal, or ideological one. It obliterates the mind/matter distinction that such a division is premised upon. Like the value of a commodity, women’s sexual desirability is fetishized: it is made to appear a quality of the object itself, spontaneous and inherent, independent of the social relation which creates it, uncontrolled by the force that requires it” (539-540).

“Commodities do have value, but only because value is a social property arising from the totality of the same social relations which, unconscious of their determination, fetishize it. Women’s bodies possess no less real desirability – or, probably, desire” (541).

“Sexual objectification is the primary process of the subjection of women.  It unites act with word, construction with expression, perception with enforcement, myth with reality. Man fucks woman; subject verb object” (541).

Objectification in marxist materialism is thought to be the foundation of human freedom, the work process whereby a subject becomes embodied in products and relationships. Alienation is the socially contingent distortion of that process, a reification of products and relations which prevents them from being, and being seen as, dependent on human agency. But from the point of view of the object, objectification is alienation. For women, there is no distinction between objectification and alienation because women have not authored objectifications, we have been them. Women have been the nature, the matter, the acted upon, to be subdued by the acting subject seeking to embody himself in the social world. Reification is not just an illusion to the reified; it is also their reality. The alienated who can only grasp self as other is no different from the object who can only grasp self as thing. To be man’s other is to be his thing. Similarly, the problem of how the object can know herself as such is the same as how the alienated can know its own alienation. This, in turn, poses the problem of feminism’s account of women’s consciousness. How can women, as created, “thingified in the head [see Rowbotham 1971, pg 17], complicit in the body, see our condition as such?” (541-542).

“In order to account for women’s consciousness (much less propagate it) feminism must grasp that male power produces the world before it distorts it. Women’s acceptance of their condition does not contradict its fundamental unacceptability if women have little choice but to become persons who freely choose women’s roles. For this reason, the reality of women’s oppression is, finally, neither demonstrable nor refutable empirically. Until this is confronted on the level of method, criticism of what exists can be undercut by pointing to the reality to be criticized. Women’s bondage, degradation, damage, complicity, and inferiority – together with the possibility of resistance, movement, or exceptions-will operate as barriers to consciousness rather than as means of access to what women need to become conscious of in order to change” (542).

CITES:

Rowbotham, Sheila. 1971. Women’s Liberation and the New Politics. Spokesman Pamphlet 17. Bristol: Falling Wall Press.

Sontag, Susan. 1973. “The Third World of Women.” Partisan Review 40(2): 180-206.

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