What is Catherine MacKinnon's contribution to second wave feminist political philosophy?

In the 1970s Catherine MacKinnon (1946-) began to argue that sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination, outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin also developed legal theory to outlaw pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against sexual harassment in 1986, largely based on MacKinnon's work; and the Supreme Court of Canada has partly accepted her arguments against pornography.

MacKinnon's books include: In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (edited and introduced with Andrea Dworkin; 1997), Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989), Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality (with Andrea Dworkin; 1988), Organizing Against Pornography (1988), Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (1987), and Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination (with Thomas I. Emerson; 1979).

What is Catherine MacKinnon's argument against pornography?

According to MacKinnon, pornography not only exploits and objectifies those women who are its subjects, but it also expresses and supports the overall oppression of women in society. The subordinate status of women in pornography, as well as the violence against women depicted in so many of its forms, is part of an unjust sex-gender system.

How have second wave feminists addressed gender?

They have criticized the social norm of "compulsive heterosexuality," on the grounds that the human sex-gender system is a system of power that benefits men at the expense of women. Some of this work has consisted of the "deconstruction" of gender as natural and a valorization of love between women. Judith Butler, the Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, has challenged "heteronormativity" in Antigone's Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (2000) and Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1999). Butler is famous for her deconstruction of gender into performances of gender. Sara Lucia Hoagland, in Lesbian Ethics: Toward a New Value (1988), and Marilyn Frye in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (1983), developed foundational views of this perspective.

What is French feminism?

French feminism is a school of thought named by feminists outside France to refer to work mainly proffered by Luce Irigaray (1932—), Hélène Cixous (1937—), and Julia Kristeva (1941—). But none of these three is originally from France, and from time to time each has denied being a feminist. What Irigary, Cixous, and Kristeva all share is that their work is based on considerations of philosophical and psychoanalytic texts. They all assume that to improve the situation of women, fundamental psychological structures need to be revised. That is, they are working within the tradition of structuralism.

By comparison, there is another group of French feminists whose work is more sociological and activist than theoretical. Known as French materialist feminists, they address the situation of women by attempting to change society through political activism and work in the social sciences. Key figures are: Simon de Beauvoir (1908—1986), Christine Delphy (1941—), Monique Wittig (1935—2003), and Colette Guillaumin (1934—). Some of their theoretical work, which has been especially influential in the Communist Revolutionary League, describes the ways in which the free labor of women in the family supports capitalism.

Who is Julia Kristeva?

Since arriving in France in 1966 from Bulgaria, Julia Kristeva (1941—) has achieved international recognition for her writings about women in the psychoanalytic tradition. Her work is considered multi-disciplinary, encompassing art criticism, philosophy, and cultural critique. Kristeva's primary theoretical contribution has been a distinction between the symbolic aspects of language and what she calls the semiotic, a psychic level of meaning based on a child's relationship to its mother. Primary human desires are attached to the semiotic, which is based on the biological rhythms of the maternal body, although the semiotic eludes symbolic translation.

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