Critical Legal Studies
Feminist Legal Criticism
Catharine A. MacKinnon is a leading figure in radical feminist criticism (sometimes called fem-crit). Throughout her career, MacKinnon has attempted to show the ways in which the established legal system reflects the sexism of the society that created it. The law, according to MacKinnon, is only one extension of a male-dominated society that is characterized by inequality between the genders and by the sexual objectification of women. As the product of a male-oriented view of the world and a male-dominated state, the law systematically victimizes and discriminates against women. "The law," MacKinnon wrote, "sees and treats women the way men see and treat women." It ensures male control over female sexuality. The feminist project to counter this negative aspect of the legal tradition, MacKinnon wrote, is "to uncover and claim as valid the experience of women, the major content of which is the devalidation of women's experience."
One topic that MacKinnon has examined in detail is the legal doctrine regarding rape. Citing the difficulty that women have proving legally that they have been raped, MacKinnon interprets rape doctrine as the product of male ideology. She argues that rape and the laws surrounding it, which are often ineffective in securing convictions of male rapists, are used by men to keep women in a position of submission and inferiority. The law's standards of objectivity and neutrality, according to MacKinnon, actually hide a male bias that makes it very difficult for a woman to win a rape case in the legal system. The state thus perpetuates rape in a way that promotes the dominance of men.
MacKinnon also uses rape as an example of the way in which the conventional liberal distinction between public and private spheres actually enhances male power. For women, according to MacKinnon, the private sphere cannot be separated from the public. The private sphere as it is usually understood—that is, the home—is actually a place where the law defines men's right to dominate women through domestic abuse, marital rape, and exploitive work conditions. The law, according to MacKinnon, overlooks such injustices, and legal doctrines regarding the private sphere of the home perpetuate rather than resolve them.
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