On September 28, 2011, the New York Times ran an article titled “Rape Definition Too Narrow in Federal Statistics, Critics Say.” The story reported “thousands of sexual assaults that occur in the United States every year are not reflected in the federal government’s yearly crime report because the report uses an archaic definition of rape that is far narrower than the definitions used by most police departments.” Namely, the Uniform Crime Report defines rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” Critics of this definition say that it “does not take into account sexual-assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol, or cases with male victims.”
I read this news story shortly after also reading Catherine MacKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989). I couldn’t help but juxtapose the news story with an excerpt from that scholarly work: “Women have been excluded from jobs in male-only prisons . . . because they might get raped, the Court taking the viewpoint of the reasonable rapist on women’s employment opportunities. The conditions that create women’s rapability are not seen as susceptible to legal change.”
In what may seem like a non-sequitur – don’t worry, I’ll tie it back in – I also just finished reading the teenage book series the Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games (a futuristic survival story), the protagonist Katniss hunts to feed her family, and she is a skilled fighter. After escape from what can most concisely be termed evil forces, Katniss returns to her village only . . . to agonize over men. In the series’ second novel, when Katniss isn’t debating which man she should marry, she is asking one of her two husband-candidates to validate her beliefs and actions.
Reader, you’re probably thinking: what on Earth do the Uniform Crime Report, a judicial decision prohibiting women from working in prisons, and the Hunger Games have in common? The short answer is, situation theory. When Catherine MacKinnon writes “the sexes are not equally situated in society with respect to their relative differences,” some might argue, “that’s outdated.” Yet consider the diverse evidence above, collected from sources published in 2011, 1989, and 2008. Violence against women is, as of now, still condoned by lax statutory definitions and paternalistic judicial opinions. In our works of fiction -- which should reflect our highest ideals -- female role models for the next generation succeed only when they fill male roles (hunter, fighter) and remain “measured according to correspondence with man, their equality judged by proximity to his measure.” The male-female gender hierarchy manifests both physically and intellectually. It is, though not overt, ubiquitous.
I believe that modern feminism’s most important task is to communicate this basic reality, one that I myself was skeptical of prior to enrolling in this class. For many, it’s easy to dismiss equality as something that we thank our Grandmothers for – as a fait accompli. Other times, "no structural analysis is possible, because everyone is too busy with self-analysis." (Judith Baer, Our Lives Before the Law.) What Feminist Legal Theory has made me see in almost everything that I encounter, from news stories to novels to conversations with friends, is just how entrenched anti-feminist attitudes are, and just how much they impact all women. Feminism hasn’t reached its goals; at best, it's halfway there.
By way of comments I’d welcome examples of books, TV shows, or practices in mainstream culture that you once accepted as normal, but have realized are anti-feminist since taking this class.