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The Dominance Approach
Transcript of The Dominance Approach
The Sameness/Difference Theory
It's the Power Relations, Stupid
The Dominance Approach
MacKinnon on the Problems of Sameness/Difference
The Dominance Approach
MacKinnon claims that discussion of gender and inequality has been trapped by the language of sameness and difference.
The Sameness Approach judges women by how well they measure up to men, who are supposed to be neutral, human.
But this leads to absurd results because of biological and social differences:
Differences in Qualifications
The practical outcome of the Sameness Approach has been to advantage men.
On the Difference Approach, women are judged by their departure from the male standard. They receive special protections, and special consideration.
Rather than valuing femininity, this often results in patronizing and essentializing women.
It is too ready to accept differences that are the result of oppression and discrimination.
The Problem with Sameness/Difference
MacKinnon thinks that the whole framework of Sameness and Difference gets it wrong.
Neither approach adequately questions the construction of sameness and difference.
Neither approach realizes that whether men and women are the same or different is beside the point.
Neither approach looks enough at the overall
Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at University of Michigan.
Full Purrfessor of Feline Studies
"[V]irtually every quality that distinguishes men from women is already affirmatively compensated in society. Men's physiology defines most sports, their needs define auto and health insurance coverage, their socially designed biographies define workplace expectations and successful career patterns, their perspectives and concerns define quality in scholarship, their experiences and obsessions define merit, their objectification of life defines art, their military service defines citizenship, their presence defines family, their inability to get along with each other--their wars and rulerships--define history, their image defines god, and their genitals define sex. For each of their differences from women, what amounts to an affirmative action plan is in effect, otherwise known as the structure and values of American society. But whenever women are, by this standard, "different" from men and insist on not having it held against us, whenever a difference is used to keep us second class and we refuse to smile about it, equality law has a paradigm trauma and it's crisis time for the doctrine" (MacKinnon 246).
MacKinnon on Gilligan
Women don't reason about morality in a
way, they reason about morality in the way men want them to/allow them to.
"Women value care because men have valued us according to the care we give them, and we could probably use some. Women think in relational terms because our existence is defined in relation to men. Further, when you are powerless, you don't just speak differently.
A lot, you don't speak
. Your speech is not just differently articulated, it is silenced. Eliminated, gone" (MacKinnon 248).
What is a power inequality?
What is a system of power relations?
Men and women are not the same, but the difference between men and women is not a difference of biology, nor is it a difference that exists unproblematically.
Rather, it is a difference created by power imbalances. Indeed, the difference
just is the power imbalance
(See MacKinnon 259).
So the solution is not to assert equality, nor is it to revalue difference. It's to alter the power relations.
A Videogame Analogy
The Dominance Approach as
MacKinnon says her view is "critical of reality" (249).
"The Real World"
Common Themes in Responses:
General Praise for the Analogy
Concerns About the Analogy
Concerns About a Solution
I divided the responses by gender and then by "Positive/Non-Critical" and "Negative/Critical" where something was "Negative/Critical" if half or more of the response presented concerns or objections. Here's the breakdown:
Male Students: 24 Total, 15 (
Female Students: 25 Total, 3 (
The Parable of the Fish
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
-David Foster Wallace, Commencement Speech at Kenyon College, 2005
Is Sexism Still "Real"?
OR: What Does a System of Domination Look Like?
Intimate Partner Violence.
Interlude: Critical Legal Theory
What critical theories of the law generally have in common is the claim that the law, while it purports to be a set of rules that neutrally and impartially applies to its subjects, is really nothing of the sort. In fact, the rules are (whether by design or not) tools for perpetuation of the dominance of certain groups over other groups. The law takes substantive stands on matters of justice and morality, to the advantage of the dominant group or groups.
MacKinnon is working in this sort of tradition.
Access to Power
"Not all men have equal access to male power, nor can men ever fully occupy women's standpoint. If they do, on occasion, they pay for it; and they can always reclaim male power, which is theirs by default unless consciously disavowed. A woman can also take the male point of view or exercise male power, although she remains always a woman. Our access to male power is not as automatic as men's is; we're not born and raised to it. We can aspire to it" (MacKinnon 260).
The Dominance Approach
The Cause of Oppression
The Nature of Oppression
What to do about Oppression
The Role of Supposed Counterexamples
A common response to claims about oppression is to attempt to provide counterexamples that disprove the claim.
But this strategy is ill-formed with regard to these claims (claims about oppression) because oppression is not biological or mechanistic.
See MacKinnon 262
Gendered power relations position women as subordinate.
The gendered hierarchy results in material and hermeneutical disadvantages.
1. Reveal the system and its features.
2. Change the system and its features.
Sex and Violence
MacKinnon says that men define it in terms of penetration—what men think violates women. Women then call that violence.
But it’s a violation of their sexuality.
Consider also the fact that many men in prison for rape can’t understand why they’re there—they’re in prison for something not very different from what most men do most of the time, and call it sex.
Rape is defined in contrast to intercourse—in terms of the “usual amount” of force. But what’s that standard, and who sets it? Crime is deviant, but if dominance helps define sexuality, what's deviant about rape?
The social contexts in which things like sexual harassment occur conceal the violation of harassment unless we have a notion of male power—that everyone concerned has been taught that women exist for men.
Harassment law fails to take male power into account.
Consider pornography as well—it’s what turns men on and it defines what turns men on. It portrays women as enjoying degradation, but it also says that women are turned on by being degraded.
To say that pornography is not erotic is to dismiss the way in which pornography constructs women’s sexuality.
Battery is seen primarily as an issue of violence rather than sexuality, but is it?
MacKinnon points out that "over half of the incidents are in the bedroom", involve sexual elements (like jealousy), and that violence against women in general is eroticized (270).
MacKinnon thinks that women should not attempt to be objective about this; they should attempt to represent the point of view of women.
Masculine society defines sex and rape, harassment and sexual initiation, pornography and eroticism in opposition to each other. Women then end up saying “we’re going to take what you call rape and call it violence,” etc.
We have to inquire into the experiences of the people involved, and as whether, in the social context, there is a clear distinction between something like violence and something like sexuality.
Some Empirical Data
"[T]he current results showed an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in nonexperimental studies. In addition, such attitudes were found to correlate significantly higher with the use of sexually violent pornography than with the use of nonviolent pornography, although the latter relationship was also found to be significant. "
Hald et al, 2010 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ab.20328/abstract
"Results showed that men who view pornography are significantly less likely to intervene as a bystander, report an increased behavioral intent to rape, and are more likely to believe rape myths."
Foubert et al, 2011
"Findings showed that participants who viewed music videos of highly objectified female artists reported more adversarial sexual beliefs, more acceptance of interpersonal violence, and, at a level of marginal significance, more negative attitudes about sexual harassment than participants assigned to low-sexual objectifying music videos by the same female artists."
Aubrey et al, 2011
Civil Rights Anti-Pornography Ordinance
Stoltenberg's essay provides an extended examination of the Civil Rights Anti-Pornography Ordinance, drafted by MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin.
The law is not an obscenity law, it is a civil rights law.
The ordinance would be a civil law that would enable someone who has suffered a harm due to pornography—see the statutory definition on 304-305—to bring a suit for damages (money to redress the harm) or an injunction (an order to stop causing the harm) under one of these four causes of action:
Coercion into pornography
Forcing pornography on someone
Assault due to pornography
Trafficking in pornography
Coercion into Pornography
Forcing a person to participate in the making of pornography; see Linda Lovelace’s story, and her claim that “every time someone watches that film, they are watching me being raped.”
Note that while rape is illegal, the film of a rape is protected speech.
Note also the list of facts (300-301) that cannot preclude a finding of coercion.
Forcing Pornography on Someone
Being forced to watch pornography at home, in a place of work or education, or in public.
Assault Due to Pornography
Enables anyone who has been raped or injured directly as a result of the use of a specific piece of pornography to sue the perpetrator for damages, as well as anyone who made or sold the specific pornography for money damages or an injunction against further sales.
Trafficking in Pornography
A kind of class action based on the notion that pornography is a practice of sex discrimination in itself; it harms all women by producing “hostility, bigotry, and aggression against women, and also attitudes and behaviors of sex discrimination.”
“Under the trafficking provision…any woman has a cause of action against the subordination of women as a class through the sale and distribution of particular pornography" (Stoltenberg 302)
Men, children, and transsexuals can also sue under this provision if they can “prove that the pornography has the same impact on their civil status as it does on the civil status of women.”
Definition of Pornography
1. It must be graphic (not implied or suggested);
2. It must be sexually explicit;
3. It must be the subordination of women;
4. It must include at least one from a list of specific scenarios—see p. 305.
Dworkin on Obscenity Laws
1. Obscenity laws essentially provide a formula for making pornography; it doesn’t matter what the pornographers do to women as long as the pornography is marketed with some socially redeeming spin.
2. The “prurient interest test” is irrelevant to what is happening to real women in pornography—in fact, the test probably contributes to pornography becoming increasingly sadistic, since the more repulsive it is the less likely a jury will think that the “average person” would be turned on by it.
3. The community standards test is also irrelevant, since the community’s standards are likely to be patriarchal. In a society where women are persecuted, what value are “community standards”?
4. Obscenity laws are inadequate to the reality of current technology.
5. Obscenity laws are useless for ending hostility, aggression, and sexual abuse against women because they are designed to keep things out of the public view, not to address private consumption. They are also aimed at an offense to decency, and are not concerned with the effects on victims. (Stoltenberg 307)
Goldman opposes suffrage for women. Why?
The Case Against Suffrage
The clamor for suffrage is based on the assumption that political power is legitimate in the first place and/or that including women in the democratic process will improve it.
Goldman denies both claims.
(1) The government is illegitimate.
(2) Women have not improved conditions in places where they have the right to vote.
Goldman as Dominance Approach
"[T]here can be no equality between political superiors and inferiors" (Goldman, quoting Pankhurst, 275).
The Sameness and Difference Approach fail to demand radical change.
"But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed. If she would not make things worse, she certainly couldn't make them better. To assume, therefore, that she would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible of purification, is to credit her with supernatural powers" (Goldman 272).
Masculinity and Rape Culture
In particular, hooks discusses "rape culture" and its connection to everyday sexuality.
"Overall, cultural celebration of black male phallocentrism takes the form of commodifying these expressions of "cool" in ways that glamorize and seduce" (hooks 333).
That is, sexuality is a product of the system of power.
hooks argues that altering the problematic aspects of hierarchy requires that all of us change our expectations and desires, sometimes in difficult ways.
We might have to examine what we think is normal, sexy, attractive, desirable, and so on.
"I confronted the reality that despite all my years of opposing patriarchy, I had not fully questioned or transformed the structure of my desire. By allowing my erotic desire to still be determined to any extent
Changing the System
Sexuality and Power
"Sexuality is the social process that creates, organizes, expresses, and directs desire. Desire here is parallel to value in marxist theory, not the same, though it occupies an analogous theoretical location. It is taken for a natural essence or presocial impetus but is actually created by the social relations, the hierarchical relations, in question. This process creates the social beings we know as women as men, as their relations create society. Sexuality to feminism is, like work to marxism, socially constructed and at the same time constructing. It is universal as activity, yet always historically specific, and jointly comprised of matter and mind. As the organized expropriation of the work of some for the use of others defines the sex, woman" (MacKinnon 258)
“It wasn’t my choice to be kissed. The guy just came over and grabbed!”
“I did not see him approaching, and before I knew it, I was in this vice grip. [sic]“
“You don’t forget this guy grabbing you.”
“That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”
Wait... Women Can't Make a Difference?
"Before 1870, only white men could vote. Here's how the election would have looked before the 15th Amendment."
"From 1870 to 1920, only men could vote. Under that scenario, the electoral map would have looked something like this."
"While women's suffrage passed in 1920, there were still huge impediments to minorities to vote during that period, for instance in the form of poll taxes (only finally outlawed by the 24th Amendment in 1964). So here's a version of the map that shows only white voters, men and women"
"After the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, young voters became a much more important part of the electorate. This map shows the 2012 results just among voters older than 24"