Feministing’s Hannah quotes Catherine MacKinnon:
When reading what Catherine MacKinnon and some other academic feminists (especially Alison Jaggar) (or maybe not Alison Jaggar – see update below) say about liberal feminism, keep in mind that they’re using what is (in my opinion) an inaccurate definition of liberal feminism.
To me – and to most active feminsts outside the university I’ve discussed this wtih – liberal feminism is represented by mainstream, politically liberal feminists, who concentrate more on women’s economic equality and less on attacking pornography. Liberal feminism is, frankly, the popular face of feminism: Ms Magazine, The Feminist Majority Foundation, NOW, Bella Azbug, Naomi Wolf, Molly Ivans, Nancy Folbre, Katha Pollitt, and folks like that.
Contrary to MacKinnon’s claim, none of these folks ignores the need for social equality as well as formal equality. Alison Jaggar, writing along similar lines, has suggested that liberal feminists believe that all women need is equality under the law; I doubt there’s a single liberal feminist writer today who’d endorse that nonsense.
The more I read MacKinnon and Jaggar, the clearer it becomes that they’re using “liberal” in the old sense of the word, which we nowadays call “libertarian.” MacKinnon and Jaggar thus share a very inaccurate view of modern feminism.
First of all, they talk as if there is a significant theory of feminism combining libertarianism (aka “classical liberalism”) and feminism. But in fact, the libertarian feminists are a tiny minority of feminists[*], and their organizations are dismissed by most feminists as anti-feminists in feminist clothing. So MacKinnon and Jaggar’s conflating “liberal feminism” with libertarianism credits right-wing feminists with far more influence and support within feminism than they actually possess.
Secondly, MacKinnon and Jaggar basically ignore or misrepresent the views of actual liberal feminists – who are, I suspect, the large majority of feminists in the USA today, although they’re probably a minority within academic feminism.
Compounding the problem, MacKinnon and Jaggar are two of the most widely read authors in undergraduate women’s studies programs. Jaggar, in particular, has written some very popular textbooks which give a wildly inaccurate view of liberal feminism. As a result, women’s studies programs teach their students a view of liberal feminism that has no relevance in the real world, and is more than a little insulting to the majority of non-academic feminists.
[*] I have no idea what Ifeminist’s membership is, but I’m sure it pales compared to NOW’s. Ditto for the IWF. Concerned Women for America has a membership comparable to NOW’s, but they don’t claim to be feminists.
UPDATE: Never post from memory rather than from research. I remembered being very affronted by the description of liberal feminism in a Jaggar-edited textbook, and a bit of online searching found a feminist philosphy professor who seemed to confirm my memory. Another feminist on the net had gotten a similar impression of Jaggar’s view of liberal feminism.
However, after reading my post, my co-blogger Bean suggested to me that my description of Jaggar’s view of liberal feminism was incorrect. Kasala, who is one of Jaggar’s students, suggests in the comments that I’m mistaken. I must admit, they may be correct – Kasala actually knows Jaggar, and Bean’s memory for feminist theory is usually better than mine.
I’ll do more research (i.e., read Jaggar herself, rather than looking at secondhand sources) and return to this issue, either to stand by or to apologize for my criticism of Jaggar.
UPDATE: I can’t support my criticism of Jagger, from what I’ve read. So I withdraw my criticism of Jagger, and apologize to her for my error.