Feminism Against Crime Control: On Sexual Subordination and State Apologism

in Historical Materialism
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Abstract

Its critics call it ‘feminism-as-crime-control’, or ‘Governance Feminism’, diagnosing it as a pernicious form of identity politics. Its advocates call it taking sexual violence seriously – by which they mean wielding the power of the state to ‘punish perpetrators’ and ‘protect vulnerable women’. Both sides agree that this approach follows from the radical feminist analysis of sexual violence most strikingly formulated by Catharine MacKinnon. The aim of this paper is to rethink the Governance Feminism debate by questioning this common presupposition. I ask whether taking MacKinnon’s analysis of sexual violence seriously might, in fact, itself give us reason to be critical of political strategies that embrace the punitive state. By raising this question, I hope to persuade radical feminists to listen to critics of carceral politics rather than dismissing them as rape apologists, and critics of carceral politics to listen to radical feminists rather than dismissing them as state apologists.

Feminism Against Crime Control: On Sexual Subordination and State Apologism

in Historical Materialism

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