At the Heart of Freedom

At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality

Drucilla Cornell
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    At the Heart of Freedom
    Book Description:

    How can women create a meaningful and joyous life for themselves? Is it enough to be equal with men? In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Drucilla Cornell argues that women should transcend the quest for equality and focus on what she shows is a far more radical project: achieving freedom. Cornell takes us on a highly original exploration of what it would mean for women politically, legally, and culturally, if we took this ideal of freedom seriously--if, in her words, we recognized that "hearts starve as well as bodies." She takes forceful and sometimes surprising stands on such subjects as abortion, prostitution, pornography, same-sex marriage, international human rights, and the rights and obligations of fathers. She also engages with what it means to be free on a theoretical level, drawing on the ideas of such thinkers as Kant, Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Hegel, and Lacan.

    Cornell begins by discussing what she believes lies at the heart of freedom: the ability for all individuals to pursue happiness in their own way, especially in matters of love and sex. This is only possible, she argues, if we protect the "imaginary domain"--a psychic and moral space in which individuals can explore their own sources of happiness. She writes that equality with men does not offer such protection, in part because men themselves are not fully free. Instead, women must focus on ensuring that individuals face minimal interference from the state and from oppressive cultural norms. They must also respect some controversial individual choices. Cornell argues in favor of permitting same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, for example. She presses for access to abortion and for universal day care. She also justifies lifestyles that have not always been supported by other feminists, ranging from staying at home as a primary caregiver to engaging in prostitution. She argues that men should have similar freedoms--thus returning feminism to its promise that freedom for women would mean freedom for all.

    Challenging, passionate, and powerfully argued, Cornell's book will have a major impact on the course of feminist thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2255-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Feminism, Justice, and Sexual Freedom
    (pp. 3-32)

    Where does women’s freedom begin? It should begin with the demand that we free ourselves from the use of gender comparison as the ideal of equality. I know that this statement runs against mainstream feminist legal analysts, who have fought so valiantly for our formal equal treatment to men. Indeed, some feminist litigators and legislators have explicitly fought against more expansive legal definitions of sex or of sexual equality.¹ Were they right to do so? The most obvious conservative implication of the legal interpretation of sex as gender is that it continues the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Freed Up: Privacy, Sexual Freedom, and Liberty of Conscience
    (pp. 33-65)

    Besides defending the idea that our sexuate being and the way we choose to represent ourselves sexually is basic and personality-defining, and must therefore be protected by any meaningful concept of liberty of conscience, I will show how the concept of the imaginary domain works normatively to define the limits of the regulation of any person’s sexuality. Furthermore, I will point out how the imaginary domain can help us move past the “which side are you on” rhetoric that has accompanied debates among feminists over the controversial issue of the moral stature of prostitutes and porn workers. Feminists who think...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Nature, Gender, and Equivalent Evaluation of Sexual Difference
    (pp. 66-95)

    Congress dramatically declared discrimination against pregnancy to be illegal sex discrimination by overturning the Supreme Court opinionGeduldig v. Aiello.¹Writing for the court inGeduldig,Justice William Rehnquist held it not to be per se discrimination when insurance companies covering male-related disorders refused coverage for pregnancy.² Insurance companies had argued that their refusal disadvantaged pregnant women only.³

    Despite Congress’s legislative efforts, deeply entrenched views of women and their reproductive capacity have changed little, and discrimination against women continues,⁴ particularly against pregnant women in the workplace.⁵ Thus, there has been widespread support for recent fetal protection regulations from both women...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Adoption and Its Progeny: Rethinking Family Law, Gender, and Sexual Difference
    (pp. 96-130)

    Why have feminists been reluctant participants in the politics of adoption? Today, the law in most states pits the two mothers against one another while the media dramatizes the purportedly hostile relationship between the two. Think of the “heart-tugging” pictures of baby Jessica as she is removed from her adoptive parents to be given back to her birth mother and father. The press in general has never shown much sympathy for birth mothers. Nor has the feminist press, wherein for years members of the various birth mothers’ associations have tried without success to publish.¹ These organizations have accused feminists of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE What and How Maketh a Father? Equality versus Conscription
    (pp. 131-150)

    In the United States there is a growing movement of primarily heterosexual white men who advocate a return to their paternal responsibilities. According to the movement two main impediments keep men from becoming Fathers. The first is their nature. Few women, even in their worst fantasies and fears about what men are really like, view them as bleakly as David Blankenhorn, author ofFatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem.¹ For Blankenhorn, whose description of men is echoed throughout the fathers’ movement, men are by nature irresponsible, slovenly, murderously aggressive, rapacious, and polygamous, if one can even dignify their...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Troubled Legacies: Human Rights, Imperialism, and Women’s Freedom
    (pp. 151-173)

    Is the imaginary domain necessarily a Western ideal, premised on the central value of the individual? The question of whether or not this ideal, as well as others associated with Western rights, should be universalized is no longer simply academic. In the last ten years a worldwide feminist movement has pressed hard for a human rights agenda that would not only force human rights organizations to address the problem of discrimination against women, but also would promote the idea that since women make up half the human race, women’s rights are human rights. Any concept of rights that does not...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Feminism, Utopianism, and the Role of the Ideal in Political Philosophy
    (pp. 174-186)

    That feminism frightens some people, challenging many established religious, traditional kinships, and cultural norms, is only too evident. That these challenges produce anxiety is hardly surprising. But the root charge against feminism—that we are totalitarians, hence “feminazis” —is deeply disturbing ethically. There are no feminist death squads, let alone concentration camps, so that the effect of the term is to trivialize the human devastation Nazism left in its wake. Yet despite the glaring inappropriateness of the comparison, the term continues to have a certain credibility in our public culture, the charge implying that if they could, feminists would forcibly...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-232)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-244)
  14. Index
    (pp. 245-254)