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Split Decisions

Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism

Janet Halley
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Split Decisions
    Book Description:

    Is it time to take a break from feminism? In this pathbreaking book, Janet Halley reassesses the place of feminism in the law and politics of sexuality. She argues that sexuality involves deeply contested and clashing realities and interests, and that feminism helps us understand only some of them. To see crucial dimensions of sexuality that feminism does not reveal--the interests of gays and lesbians to be sure, but also those of men, and of constituencies and values beyond the realm of sex and gender--we might need to take a break from feminism.

    Halley also invites feminism to abandon its uncritical relationship to its own power. Feminists are, in many areas of social and political life, partners in governance. To govern responsibly, even on behalf of women, Halley urges, feminists should try taking a break from their own presuppositions.

    Halley offers a genealogy of various feminisms and of gay, queer, and trans theories as they split from each other in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. All these incommensurate theories, she argues, enrich thinking on the left not despite their break from each other but because of it. She concludes by examining legal cases to show how taking a break from feminism can change your very perceptions of what's at stake in a decision and liberate you to decide it anew.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2735-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. PART ONE Taking a Break from Feminism

      (pp. 3-10)

      Over the last twenty-five years the U.S. Left has produced a rich range of theories of sexuality. These theories differ a lot, partly because they were made by people involved in a context of deep internal critique, debates so intense that they were sometimes experienced as “war.” The result is a wide array of incommensurate theories of sexuality and of power.

      This book argues that the splits between the theories are part of their value. It proposes an alternative to the normative demand to harmonize them, reconcile them, and smooth out their clashes. I argue here for a politicsof...

      (pp. 11-15)

      It is widely (but by no means universally) thought that left/progressive theoretical, political, and erotic work in sexuality today, in the United States, will always, at root or ultimately, befeminist. I argue here, to the contrary, that feminism is not a universal advocacy project for all sexual interests that left/progressive/liberal intellectuals and advocates have constructed, inhabited, defended, and advanced. In the United States over the last twenty years, we have seen a range of political and theoretical incursions, all indicatively “left” of center, and all adding significantly different analyses and agendas. These projects—gay-identity thought and politics, sex-positive feminism,...

      (pp. 16-26)

      This book sets out a genealogy of theories of sexuality, developed left-of-center, in the United States, between 1980 and 2000. It is a genealogy for two reasons: as the people making the theories worked, they worked in the context created by their predecessors and self-consciously engaged them; and it is perceivable as a going-forward narrative only because of the active work of retrospection and desire—my desire.

      All the theories have in them an image of power. And all of them have implications for how power can and should be used. Though few of them arelegaltheories, all of...

      (pp. 27-30)

      Here I offer a story of how feminism (along with several other forces) produced its others during the last two decades of thought and activism relating to sexuality in the United States. It is a violently foreshortened version of what you have, in lavish textual detail, in Part Two.

      By far the most brilliant and forceful thinker about sexuality in U.S. feminist legal theory for the last twenty-five years has been Catharine A. MacKinnon. Her formulation—which for shorthand I will call power feminism—has become the paradigmatic understanding of sexuality in sexual-subordination feminism in the United States. The chief...

      (pp. 31-36)

      Over the course of the splits involved in this story, ideas changed, politics changed, groups changed, research projects changed, identities changed, political consciousnesses changed. Keywords in the debate—male domination, “women,” “pleasure”—changed their meanings. There was a no-going-back quality to it all; each intervention had a path-dependent effect on what was then possible; the constraints of the debate also provided its intensity and its capacity to produce new work. People Took a Break from Feminism; feminism reacted; and things changed again.

      Feminism emerges from this story not as a transhistorical truth—a brooding omnipresence in the sky—that suffers...

  5. PART TWO The Political/Theoretical Struggle over Taking a Break

      (pp. 41-105)

      Two important kinds of sexual-subordination feminism, each of them radical, have infiltrated liberal-feminist thought and engaged deeply in governance over the last twenty-five years: MacKinnon’s power feminism and cultural feminism. During the same period, the hybrid feminisms—socialist, antiracist, and postcolonial—produced a major eruption of controversy within feminism, and provide my first examples of divergentism within and from feminism.

      Cards-on-the-table moment: MacKinnon’s focus on power—her quite self-conscious deployment of it—is one of the things I love about her work. I find the cultural-feminist alternative—moralism—repellent. That’s just my taste, I know. I am going to try...

      (pp. 106-186)

      Divergentist antiracist and postcolonial feminisms verge on Taking a Break from Feminism, but they maintain feminist aims. When they suspend those, in current academic practice, they are received into long-running traditions of antiracist and anticolonial thought and practice and disappear from feminist reading lists. (I see this as a pathology not of the work but of the lists.) Something different is happening in the generation of gay identity, a politics of “sexual minorities,” and queer theory: so far at least, even when Taking a Break they have stayed in close discursive and political contact with feminism. There could be lots...

      (pp. 187-280)

      This is a story of the consequences of the Break, as they unfolded over the 1990s.

      Feminist theorists and activists repeatedly generate a profound misreading ofGender Troubleand Butler’s postmodernizing, specifically deconstructive, feminism. One encounters again and again feminists who say: “But how can we seriously entertain Butler’s deconstruction of woman? For does it not deny the social existence of women, disable us from organizing on behalf of women, and lead to paralysis?”

      Similarly, feminist theory often runs onto the rocks of despair over hybrid feminist divergentism. The multiplicity of women; their relation to each other through racial, colonial,...

  6. PART THREE How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism

      (pp. 283-303)

      I’ve divided this chapter in two, one portion appearing both here and at the end of Part Three, and thus at the very end of the book. In both segments I look at feminist and gay-identity legal issues: up front, the decisions to seek workplace accommodations for pregnant women and to make male/male sexual harassment actionable as sex discrimination, and later, the decision to regulate the sexual injury husbands impose on their wives by letting wives sue for money damages on the grounds that they’ve been emotionally harmed. The idea is to read (and reread, and reread . . .)...

      (pp. 304-347)

      Inhabiting the uncertainty that lies at the heart of theOncaledecision, facing up to the split interests it manages and the perverse deployments of its rule that it enables, produces a disenchanted, coldly realist legal consciousness—the attitude of a responsible power wielder. It also envisions a wildly energized erotic scene, a world of many, many possibilities for sexual pleasure, and a sense that legal rules can be decided not only by sober ethical mandate but with a thrilling will to power. One way to avoid encountering this double consciousness is to wrap oneself tightly in a secure and...

      (pp. 348-364)

      This is the last rereading I’ll offer you. I’m going to read the “facts” ofTwyman v. Twymanagainst the elements of the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress—and then reread them as if they were our best examples of nonfeminist theories about morals, power, and sex that I derive from Nietzsche’sOn the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic¹ and Foucault’sVolume One. This repeats the basic protocol that produced my four readings ofOncale. But there I was trying to make manifest an array of fairly reified social constituencies managed by the legal regime of...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 365-390)
  8. Index
    (pp. 391-402)