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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: July 2010

11 - Feminism and Pragmatism


When two women ascended to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, Catharine MacKinnon asked, “Will they use the tools of law as women, for all women?” She continued as follows:

I think that the real feminist issue is not whether biological males or biological females hold positions of power, although it is utterly essential that women be there. And I am not saying that viewpoints have genitals. My issue is what our identifications are, what our loyalties are, who our community is, to whom we are accountable. If it seems as if this is not very concrete, I think it is because we have no idea what women as women would have to say. I'm evoking for women a role that we have yet to make, in the name of a voice that, unsilenced, might say something that has never been heard.

Urging judges to “use the tools of law as women, for all women” alarms universalist philosophers. These are the philosophers who think that moral theory should come up with principles that mention no group smaller than “persons” or “human beings” or “rational agents.” Such philosophers would be happier if MacKinnon talked less about accountability to women as women and more about an ideal Minnesota or an ideal United States, one in which all human beings would be treated impartially. Universalists would prefer to think of feminism as Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges did, as a matter of rights that are already recognizable and describable, although not yet granted. This describability, they feel, makes MacKinnon's hope for a voice saying something never heard before unnecessary, overly dramatic, hyperbolic.