"In Second ’Signs’, published in 1983, MacKinnon fully embraced the problem that women’s knowledge of their reality, their ability to see male dominance and to object to it for themselves, was relentlessly situated in male dominance. Boldly, she refuses to explain the problem away on grounds of false consciousness (‘my consciousness is true, yours false, never mind why’) or of the verity of any biological woman’s experience (‘I know I am right because it feels right to me, never mind why), attributing the paired objections to the object/subject polarity that feminism detects at the heart of male power (637-38). This is a profoundly critical move, and it makes the early MacKinnon’s feminism highly paradoxical. The dilemma is not feminism’s fault; it arises from the historical capture of objectivity for, and as, the male point of view, and the resulting objectification of women, the rendering of their powerlessness as their subjectivity. Thus true feminism, ‘feminism unmodified,’ MacKInnon argued, must be radical: ‘Women’s situation offers no outside to stand on or gaze at, no inside to escape to, too much urgency to wait, no place else to go, and nothing to use but the twisted tools that have been shoved down our throats. If feminism is revolutionary, this is why’ (638-39).
Hence the centrality of method in the Signs articles: feminism does not have the truth of women, but rather seeks un unprecedented disruption in the conceptual and social order by untying women’s experience from the subject/object, objectivity/subjectivity, truth/feeling dyads, that are the epistemology of male power: ‘The project is to uncover and claim as valid the experience of women, the major content of which is the devalidation of women’s experience.’ ‘The pursuit of consciousness becomes a form of political practice.’ And within that political practice, the radical project is ‘the claim of feminism to women’s perspective, not from it.’
In First Signs, MacKinnon partially derailed this radicalism, however, when she invoked women’s experience as the source of authority for the claim that sexuality is a form of power generalizing male superordination and female subordination. The derailment occurs in stages. MacKinnon was at first frank that her own interpretative inductions led to the claim: ‘I think that feminism fundamentally identifies sexuality as the primary social sphere of male power. The centrality of sexuality emerges… from feminist practice on diverse issues, including abortion, birth control, sterilization abuse’ (529, emphasis added). How did feminist practice -much of it by practitioners who would have resisted MacKinnon’s assessment of sexual injury and of sexuality- provide this insight? ‘If the literature on sex roles and the investigations of particular issues are read in light of each other, each element of female gender stereotype is revealed as, in fact, sexual' (530). Passive verbs: a bad sing for agency and pleine aire interpretation. But pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for he is about to emerge as women asserting their experience of sexuality as subordination: ‘Women experience the sexual events these issues codify as a cohesive whole… The defining theme of that whole is the male pursuit of women’s sexuality’ (532, emphasis added). MacKinnon’s interpretive insight has become the meaning of feminist practice across the board and, ultimately, the substantive centrality of sexual subordination to women’s experience of gender (and thus sex1*). Sexuality is sex discrimination. QED.
The dogmatism of the late MacKinnon therefore emerged within the critical and radical practice of the early MacKinnon.” (pp. 43-45)
*sex1 - “By sex, I will mean the purported bodily difference between men and women. The supposedly irreducible fact of biological dimorphism. ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ Penis or vagina, testicles or ovaries, testosterone or estrogen, and so forth.” (p. 24)
Janet Halley, Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism