Challenging Liberalism: Feminism as Political Critique
Lisa H. Schwartzman
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Questions about the relevance and value of various liberal concepts are at the heart of important debates among feminist philosophers and social theorists. Although many feminists invoke concepts such as rights, equality, autonomy, and freedom in arguments for liberation, some attempt to avoid them, noting that they can also reinforce and perpetuate oppressive social structures.
In Challenging Liberalism Schwartzman explores the reasons why concepts such as rights and equality can sometimes reinforce oppression. She argues that certain forms of abstraction and individualism are central to liberal methodology and that these give rise to a number of problems. Drawing on the work of feminist moral, political, and legal theorists, she constructs an approach that employs these concepts, while viewing them from within a critique of social relations of power.
would arise. While some inequalities would be caused by differences in effort and ambition, others would result simply from factors that are not a part of an individual’s personality but are merely the results of natural endowment or brute luck, factors for which it is unfair to hold individuals accountable. Abstract Ideals and Social Inequality 41 Dworkin is fully aware that it is, in actuality, impossible to include personal resources (such as natural talents and health) and brute luck in
toes.”29 And earlier, she claims that “our current gender structure is incompatible with the attainment of social justice” and that “the disappearance of gender is a prerequisite for the complete development of a nonsexist, fully human theory of justice.”30 Thus, Okin posits a category in the original position (gender) that she ultimately believes must be eradicated in a just society. Not only does this go against what it means for something to be a category in the abstract ideal of the “original
agency, rationality, and relationships; and (2) ideals posited by the theorist— that is, ideals that the theorist acknowledges are not yet descriptive of actual persons but are offered as goals to be achieved. O’Neill rejects both sorts of idealization and suggests that both can be avoided by pursuing a strategy of “mere abstraction.” O’Neill objects most strongly to the first type of idealization she describes. When idealized assumptions about such matters as human agency and human rationality
several examples of women in different cultural contexts who are using terms such as rights, personhood, autonomy, and self-respect in order to better their positions in society and to challenge male domination. She explains: “It is obvious that the activists from whom I have quoted have gone about their business undaunted by the feminist critique, and they will not be daunted now, if feminists once again tell them that autonomy and personhood are bad notions for feminists to use” (56). Insofar
23. Ibid. 24. Ibid., 321. 25. Ibid., 321–22. 26. Elsewhere Brown describes this similarity more explicitly: “[T]hose familiar with Foucault’s genealogy of confession will have discerned in this argument an implied homology between the epistemological-political operations of consciousness-raising [as described by MacKinnon and other feminists] and those he assigns to confessional discourse” (Brown, States of Injury, 41). 190 Notes to Pages 121–129 27. Brown, “Freedom’s Silences,” 314. 28. For