Drucilla Cornell. At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex and Equality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998. xvi + 254 pp. $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-02896-5; $62.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-02897-2.
Reviewed by Avital H. Bloch (Center for Social Research, University of Colima, Mexico)
Published on H-Women (April, 2000)
The Freedom of the Heart
At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality is Drucilla Cornell's latest contribution in her series of works on feminist jurisprudence published throughout the last decade. Cornell, a professor of law, political science, and women's studies at Rutgers University, has approached the relationship between feminism and law by focusing on the issues of deconstruction and justice, feminist culture and theory, and postmodern theory of ethics.
Along with scholars of women and gender studies during the last two decades, Cornell understands contemporary feminist thought as inseparable from the recent approaches in cultural and critical theory. In this theoretical set, especially as it relates to gender, she anchors political philosophy and legal thought. She intends to follow her own dictate: "To give symbolic form to what is being claimed in actuality is part of the role of ideals in political philosophy" (p. 178). Cornell addresses the realities of law, culture, social structure, and politics by tying together philosophy, legal studies, and gender thinking. Thus, she not only proposes a feminist theory of rights, but also a set of legal reforms and hope for social change.
Cornell centers her book on a concept she calls the "imaginary domain" and the principle of freedom on which it rests: "The freedom to create ourselves as sexed beings, as feelings and reasoning persons, lies at the heart of the ideal that is the imaginary domain" (p. ix). This concept is not new, as Cornell had first developed it in her previous book The Imaginary Domain. It offered the principle of the imaginary domain as an answer to three problems that haunt the relationship between sex and equality and with which feminism has been struggling for the last decades: abortion, pornography, and sexual harassment. At the Heart of Freedom contributes more topics to the discussion of feminist politics, no less controversial and, in some aspects, even broader. Work, adoption, family, parenthood, and prostitution in the United States, and human rights in postcolonial and non-Western countries, are treated as gender issues that affect a wide range of people's lives and to which, therefore, the law and feminist politics must give satisfactory answers.
The author's mission is to analyze gender issues by bypassing the obstacles formal equality feminism has encountered. She argues with liberal feminists about expectations to eliminate all differences between men and women in order to achieve legal equality. This quarrel with the equal rights feminist movement is not new in academic feminism. Cornell, for example, echoes historian Joan Wallach Scott's discussion on the history of French feminism in Only Paradoxes to Offer. Scott emphasizes the constant contradictions of feminists in their long battle to reconcile sexual differences and universal equality for women as citizens.
In Cornell's opinion as well, feminists have failed to consider crucial differences between women -- sexual, racial, economic, national, religious. Attempts to claim equality with men, to whom citizenship has been attached, cause injustice for women when they do not fit into the male ideal.
Moreover, such feminism essentializes men. Here Cornell refers to the educated, professional, middle-class feminists of her generation. Since the 1970s they have aspired to equalize rights with men, as they have known and perceived them: of the same social class and cultural orientation. Other women, however, have been left out. To integrate all women into an equal right justice system requires an articulation of a new definition of gender differences.
This involves a change that that considers more than the simple biological differences between men and women. It should respond to a situation feminists have ignored: "the reality that 'hearts' continue to starve" (p. ix). What must be added to feminist liberalism is the notion of persons as sexed creatures. This idea, which takes into account the matters of the heart, should be the source for the understanding of gender and difference and on it any discussion of rights must be based. The book's title, At the Heart of Freedom, conveys the idea that what the feminist theory of rights misses the protection of what is elaborated at the imaginary domain.
The imaginary domain is the space where the emotional, imaginative, spiritual, and aesthetic self is expressed and recreated. In this view we imagine ourselves as "sexuate beings" turned toward particular objects of desire. Through the sexuate expression we claim ourselves as our own persons. In this space a complete sense of identity is found and intimate life is determined. Cornell draws from psychoanalytical thought to emphasize how the body and the libido are projected in the imaginary domain. She counts on psychoanalytic works of Freud and Lacan, and on neurologist Oliver Sacks and feminist scholar Nancy Chodorow.
These theorists show the importance of the body's image, integrity, senses, and libidinal delights, and how, by projecting the body, the individual comes out to the world. At any point in time, the way we orient ourselves as sexuate beings dictates how we feel, think, and behave. The imaginary domain is as much a site for aesthetic expression. Cornell borrows from female writers such as bell hooks and Virginia Woolf to illustrate the necessity of such space as it is analogous to Woolf's image of the "room of one's own. It means a locus where, through narration and resymbolization, a woman claims her own person as independent of men.
The attempt to accommodate liberal feminism to differences involves adjusting liberalism to contemporary postmodernist thought. Thus, Cornell utilizes recent concepts that problematize gender identification beyond the previous liberal-modernist binary definitions. In the articulation of the imaginary domain, she replaces themes of permanent entities, clear boundaries, and imposed meanings for thoughts about constant instability, multiplication, and fluidity.
In perceiving the process that takes place in the imaginary domain as a process of becoming, Cornell echoes other gender theorists. She refers to Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, and shares ideas with Scott and feminist political philosopher Seyla Benhabib. Each approaches sexual and gender identification as a narrative, an unfixed process and a journey with endless possible results. Identities are created and re-produced by reflecting each other just as they mirror the dominant "normative" system and its ideological construction.
Through the "sexual imago" of the body and psyche people can define themselves anew -- not only historicized by context, but also based on their free aspirations. Gender entity, therefore, should no longer be seen as stable or as simply bound to two biological sexes. In this regard, like Butler, Cornell critiques the Belgian-French philosopher Luce Irigaray, whose work she otherwise cites favorably.
Cornell questions Irigaray's distinction only between two sexes and her perception of women as the only persons who are dismissed by the dominant masculine normative regime. Cornell agrees with Butler that Irigaray fails to recognize differences among women in order to see the exclusion of non-heterosexual positions, and to acknowledge an endless variety of identities and practices.
Since Cornell conceives the imaginary domain as a fundamental part of identity formation that enables individuals "to share in life's glories" (p. x), protecting it is a matter of moral and legal right in any society that calls itself liberal. It cannot be displaced even if other rights are already gained and its freedom must be included in any gender thought about freedom.
Through the ideal of the freedom of the imaginary domain as a gender concept, Cornell actually accommodates the American liberal tradition of "pursuit of happiness" to gender and sexuality. She reinforces gender and sexual equality in the liberal system as a matter of moral and legal right. Her project is to engender political philosophy altogether, adapting it to the requirements not only of rights for women's but also for all sexual identities --gays and lesbians -- who are ignored by the legal system and the mainstream culture.
The first target in this project is Kant. His principles have been central for Cornell, but she tries to adapt his Enlightenment philosophy to the contemporary multicultural reality. From Kant, Cornell adopts the concept of right as the source of representation of sexuate differences, but Kantianism does not include rights for women as free and equal persons and rules out their membership in the moral community of persons. In as much as Kant has inspired American liberal philosopher John Rawls, with whom Cornell basically agrees, she seeks to adapt Rawls's A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism to feminism.
In this context women must be recognized as free persons and sexuate beings. Cornell points to the right of people to claim equality and freedom to exercise their imaginary domain and live as sexuate beings the way they choose. She urges us "to 'see' that there is a prior moral space of evaluation of the entities" in moral procedures, even before any egalitarian theory is agreed upon (p. 15). According to this notion, women are persons as an initial matter. They should not lose the freedom attached to this status because of the choices they make. As free persons, women must not be automatically compared to heterosexual males and thus able to claim only rights given to heterosexual men. Theory of rights ought to allow them to be evaluated for their sexuate differences from males, and among themselves, as expressed in the process of the imaginary domain, and yet as equal persons.
In regard to the adaptation of the law to sexuality and gender, Irigaray influences Cornell. Irigaray requires that the law acknowledge the existence of two sexes and guarantee women's rights and civil identity as a sexed identity that is different from men. But since Cornell recognizes more possible identities her concept of rights embraces them as well.
The emphasis on women as persons and members of the moral community of persons is crucial. Being recognized as a free person implies that a woman represents herself. As initially free, a woman is not granted rights, but rather claims them as hers. Not being defined as a free person means being represented by men -- as the patriarchal system dictates -- and thus the denial of a woman's right to represent her imaginary domain. Cornell insists that this negation is not a small matter since failure to achieve it limits the ways a woman can claim herself in society. When a woman's sexual existence is not in her own hands she becomes "socially dead" (p. 21).
The same applies to lesbians and gay males. Under the heterosexual patriarchy they suffer lack of legal recognition as free women and men, and therefore, are not self-represented. Cornell's fundamental argument for rights is summed up in the following sentences: "We need to be recognized as the source of our own evaluations and representations of how we are to live out our sexuality. In this way the imaginary domain is consistent with the priority that political liberalism gives to liberty" (p. 19). The way people wish to represent their sexuate being cannot be used to deny them rights. Moreover, expressions of the imaginary domain may not be dictated or encouraged by the state or the law.
Patriarchy is inconsistent with the ideal of the sanctuary of the imaginary domain, and Cornell's theory constitutes the foundations of an anti-patriarchal project. Taking such decisions away from the state and the law implies overcoming the patriarchal order's male heterosexual ideology. But the purpose of the freedom of the imaginary domain is also to prevent any other ideology about sexuality to be enforced.
Cornell insists that the right of a person cannot depend upon any opinion about what the nature of being a woman or being a homosexual. Her theory "does not seek to make law the main vehicle for restructuring the current meaning of our sexual difference" (p. 23). Legal solutions for justice must be separated from disagreements about the characteristics of differences. The state must not dictate or privilege any self-representation of intimate life and the institutions it is based on.
Perhaps even more than Rawls, the legal theorist Ronald Dworkin has been a significant source for Cornell. Dworkin's ideas about equality provide her with the ethical justification for the protection of the imaginary domain: each person is unique and has an intrinsic value. Each is uniquely responsible for his or her life, values, and conscience, including the decisions about life as a sexuate being. The freedom of the imaginary domain is ethically anchored in the notion of freedom of conscience, where we claim ourselves as a source of what is good. Dworkin's liberal "discontinuity thesis" about the separation of the right from the good demands that an individual's concept of the good can be claimed as a right but can not be imposed on others.
Like Dworkin, Cornell is careful to distinguish between individualism and the uniqueness of the individual as a source of values. Both reject individualism as a freedom that is omnipotent and detached from reality. Here, again, one can identify gender theorists' understanding of experience and identity as constantly historicized. Shaping differences of ethical judgement -- and the freedom that allows the process -- is a personal process that is anchored in and is relational to available ideologies, politics, and values. The advantage of placing the individual conscience process in a contested social and political environment is that vulnerability of individuals in that personal route is acknowledged and so their omnipotence is reduced.
Cornell believes that ideological competition over the judgments of representations of the imaginary domain will more effectively support the right of representation. For a theorist who aims at anchoring her theory in pragmatism and social responsibility, this is a significant point. It reinforces Cornell's call to conduct the debates about sexual values out of the legal system, while insisting that the system itself guarantee the rights for all to not only take part in the debates but express their sexuate being regardless of agreement upon its value.
Indeed, as social notions, conscience and the freedom of the imaginary domain must not imply privacy. Cornell criticizes liberal feminists' reliance on privacy ever since the Supreme Court established privacy rights for sexual freedom in the cases of Griswold (1965), regarding the use of contraceptives, and Roe v. Wade (1973), regarding abortion. Cornell departs from this argument, proposing to separate privacy from the protection of the imaginary domain. She maintains that self-representation of the sexuate being has goals beyond the boundaries of the private.
Precisely because the imaginary domain is based in conscience and is personality-defining and primary for people's happiness, it must be allowed and tolerated in the public space, just like any other conscientious expression. For people who live openly with their choices to be left alone, privacy is not an option in some matters of the sexuate being, such as parenting, pregnancy, and, as Cornell argued in her previous book, abortion. Those activities and conditions require social support and public access to information and services. The right to pursue happiness implies inclusion in the community and the legal system not only of heterosexual women, but also lesbians and gays and women who deviate from the ascribed social designs. They have the right as well to express the aspects of their private lives in public without suffering loss of legal rights and social dismissal.
Significantly, Cornell brings back to feminism the New Left ideal of the private as the political in its broad sense. She politicizes the private when she states that persons' private domain requires public recognition, protection, and support. This implies shifting the struggle for equal rights -- to gain what society owes all its members on the communal level in order to maintain happy private life -- once again to the political arena.
We may also understand the political significance Cornell gives to the publicization of the private sphere as knowledge about certain options and categories of the sexuate being hitherto despised and silenced. In a recent polemical exchange, Cornell discusses the importance of the realm of "publicness" as taken from Kant's "sensus communis aestheticus." Within this realm people articulate their subjective aesthetic judgements in a shared community.
The public domain is important precisely because the subjective of the imaginary domain is created in this sphere. The communication about the subjective that takes place in public illuminates the opinion of others and in an endless process brings about actual changes in law and eventually determines the nature of the community. Scott explains the process, which Cornell describes as knowledge, based on visualization gained in the public domain. Once people see hidden experiences of desire and they apprehend them not as naturalized but as recreated and related to the context we all live in, then legitimacy and emancipation of the Others may be gained.
The book first examines prostitution as an illustration of the problematic of the private and the public in their relationship with the imaginary domain. Cornell proceeds from the controversy in the feminist movement in the 1970s over whether to regulate, legalize, unionize, or ban prostitution. Although the controversy has currently lost it urgency for feminists, for Cornell it is a subject that can be successfully used to formulate her arguments about the imaginary domain. Discussing prostitution's morality is especially useful because the topic touches on controversial images about men, women, and sex. Moreover, if her argument functions for the freedom of women whom the culture normally disdains, it can easily be applied to others.
Consistent with the book's main statement, Cornell locates the heart of the issue in the prostitute as a person. Historical studies of prostitution in the United States and Europe, which Cornell uses, demonstrate that prostitutes, more than other women in patriarchal society, have been represented by men, controlled by the state, and excluded from the moral community of persons.
Cornell believes that despite what seems as the violation of their body integrity, prostitutes are initially persons who possess the right to represent their imaginary domain as sexuate beings in their occupation. It is their right, not the right of the state, to decide what prostitution really means to them and how it serves them in their own lives. Based on the ideal of the freedom of the imaginary domain, it is these women's right to articulate their own meaning of prostitution, including the experience and the identity related to it. Those may differ from the definitions of immorality and self-destruction society usually assigns to the profession.
By looking closer at prostitutes' lives, Cornell discovers the possibility that in their work they may recreate their body integrity and identity following a history of child sexual abuse, for example -- regaining a "primordial sense of self" (p. 54). Although seen as "public women," such process of abstraction through the reimagination of their sexual being in their work is at the same time personal, and thus moral. Therefore, prostitutes must not be excluded from the moral community of persons, nor their work prohibited. In promoting the legal recognition and moral justification of prostitution, Cornell situates herself with scholars who have begun transforming the views on prostitution, looking at the prostitute as an agent, worker, and a woman who performs "emotional labor".
In fusing the public and the private realms of self- representation of gender and sexuality, Cornell helps to break down the paradigm of the "separation of spheres," which gender scholars have used in recent decades. She rethinks another paradigm that has been even more anchored in gender politics and scholarship: the distinction between naturally inscribed and culturally constructed gender differences. Patriarchal ideologies determine "natural" and essentialist differences and force female permanent identities. But Cornell also observes the incapacity of contemporary feminism to successfully address the problem. It either universalizes differences-as is the case with "difference feminism" -- or ignores them for the sake of formal equal rights.
Cornell seeks a way to amend the Second Wave feminists. According to her, they have been reluctant to accept female anatomy as women's destiny, preferring theories of social and cultural construction of gender and formal equal rights based upon them. At the same time, she challenges the difference feminists, represented by such scholars as psychologist Carol Gilligan and philosopher Sara Ruddick, who value women's special biological and psychological attributes.
Commenting on the dilemma of the alleged contradiction, Irigaray explained how the binaries of body and meaning are part of the "phallogocentric economy" that regulates sexuality. Butler's response is to approach the materiality of sex and body not as oppositional to discourse, but as simultaneous to it. Sexual differences operate in the material body and through its formulation as an inscriptional space. In line with their conception of the inseparability of biology and meaning, Cornell pronounces the imaginary domain as precisely the site for the signification of the body.
While she debates with feminist politics and thought, Cornell argues more with male philosophers who have not taken gender sufficiently, or at all, into account. By addressing their arguments, she demonstrates the possibility of reconciling nature and rights. In regard to the question whether inequalities that result from nature should be included in a theory of justice, Cornell criticizes Thomas Nagel. She rejects his notion that there are natural limits on women that might eventually be acknowledged as unsurpassable, and therefore society has to consider them as beyond the reach of justice. Cornell realizes the disadvantages of biological difference for females, but she will not give in to the argument of nature as to accept Nagel's view of woman as priori unequal to men.
Cornell prefers Rawls's philosophy because he accepts woman's equal status to men as an initial matter and prior to any attempt to change the causes of inequality. But she adds to Rawls the principle of "equivalent evaluation" of biological differences. It means accepting natural differences in the way the imaginary domain processes their representation in a form of choices. Society is required to maintain rights and provide goods that enable individuals to maintain the freedom of sexuate being along with differences. If women as biologically different are recognized as free persons, in practical terms of law and policy, they can demand legislation that aims to bring them closer to initial equality with men.
In Cornell's approach, what is evaluated as differences is subject to open, pluralistic, and free political contest. In treating differences the legal system should rely on evaluations only after they have been selected through public debates, rather than the courts and the law dictating them with no sufficient social acceptance. Liberal publicness is the locus for the processing political ideas, meaning that the courts cannot replace public debates and politics to bring about change.
In this view, and throughout the book, one can sense the influence of philosophical pragmatism on Cornell. She tries to reach beyond moral philosophy and adjust it to the more extreme pragmatist school of "law and economics" in legal studies, most accented by the legal thinker Richard Posner. Cornell is more in line with postmodernist neo-pragmatism, than with Posner's pragmatism, but she also rejects transcendental truths. She believes that the law has to take into consideration realities of life and politics to functionally resolve questions of justice. Nevertheless, Cornell searches for answers in ethics in order to prevent exactly those damages to the imaginary domain that might be caused by society's pragmatic interests.
To illustrate how the idea of equivalent evaluation may serve as a solution to the deficiencies of formal equal rights feminism, At the Heart of Freedom discusses the issue of female reproductive capacity and equality in the workplace. Cornell draws on the Supreme Court case of Johnson Controls (1990), which revolved around sterilization as company policy. It required sterilization for women of childbearing age as a condition for keeping their high-salaried job in the company battery production facility, because workers were exposed to lead that could cause birth defects.
Cornell supports the Court's decision that the practice discriminated against women: The company could not decide for the women that reproduction was more important to them than their economic power. The Court expected women to be responsible for their sexuate lives and their freedom to reject motherhood despite the dominant expectations of society. Exercising the notion of equivalent evaluation of difference means not only accepting a woman's free choice about her imaginary domain without harming her equal rights because of an alternative she chooses-either pregnancy or her decision against it. It also requires reforms accommodating the workplace to such choices.
Cornell's conviction about the importance of freedom for intimate matters brings her to a discussion on the family. Current family laws demonstrate that the "gender trouble" is not merely a woman's issue. It is created when people -- women or men, at the mainstream or at the margins of society -- are not given the free space to exercise the imaginary domain. It is true for prostitution, an institution despised by the dominant moral system, as it is true for the family, the institution which American society struggles to preserve.
In regard to the family, Cornell identifies the basic issue in the way motherhood is perceived. According to the author, when the imaginary domain is given its freedom, gender is fluid enough to shift away from the ordinary reference to women as mothers, a role the state and patriarchal conventions assign only to females. Here, Cornell draws on Irigaray in her conclusion that society idealizes women as mothers and nurturers that it does not even permit them to process themselves their own female identity. In Cornell's vocabulary this identification deprives women of the freedom to process the experience of motherhood in their imaginary domain and disallows them to arrive at any conclusions about their sexuate identity that might contradict those that society ascribes.
The book challenges fixed definitions of gender and family roles and criticizes family law subject to dominant ideologies. Cornell's far-reaching answer changes in the structure of the family. Following Martha Fineman's radical suggestions to destroy the marital model for the family, Cornell also advocates non-traditional families. In such families roles will be defined minimally by the law, and will not be limited to biological parenting or even to intimate association among parents. That means that persons outside of the wife-mother definition will be legally and publicly accepted as parents. Thereby no longer privileging either a specific gender or genetic relations and redefining motherhood.
In fact, Cornell has no patience for the preference of the ordinary mother-child metaphor, which she considers psychoanalytically a myth, since the goal is the eventual separation between mother and child. Moreover, reducing the significance of progeny for parenting in the heterosexual culture, she advocates the possibility of parenting by more than one mother or not by women at all. For lesbian couples, the book defends the legal adoption by one woman of the child her partner bares without the biological mother losing her rights as a mother.
Not privileging biological gender, gay men and same sex couples must also enjoy equal legal rights as adoptive parents. Furthermore, not benefiting the sexual aspects for parenting either, Cornell proposes custody of children and parental responsibility that may be separated from the sexual couple. People with various sexual preferences must be able to organize their sexuality and love relations and keep the legal right of family association in any type of marriage or domestic partnership. The state cannot enforce any form of family as the good family nor prefer the heterosexual and monogamous nuclear family. We should be able to imagine "brave new families" (p. 128).
An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to criticism of what is known as the "fathers' movement" and its polemic against new gender and family ideals. Cornell is especially critical of the movement's wish to reapply patriarchy according to the "good family men" image. Threatened by feminism and driven to protect heterosexuality and the place of men as a sperm and sexual source in a conventional family, Cornell contends that these groups want to restore the rigid gender division to fulfil the father's role. According to Cornell, the movement is not about men playing an active role in children's lives. Instead, their program reflects unhappiness with the freedom of the imaginary domain of others, and is a disguise of patriarchy.
Again, like other matters of intimate life, the solution to making men's positive role in the family possible may not be found in legislation. Loyal to the idea that "love cannot be legislated" (p. 150), Cornell proposes to provide men with a non- patriarchal alternative vision of masculinity, that they may process in their own imaginary domain. This can be achieved through the Lacanian insight about the separation of the child from the mother and the imposed identification of the father in patriarchal society. Later, the boy-man is subordinated by father's substitutions, which constantly threatens his masculinity and is a constant source to his anxiety.
If feminists introduce men to the idea of the re-creation of identities in the free imaginary domain, males may be able to resolve their anxiety in the existing patriarchal gender structure precisely by revolting against it. As alternative cultural options are offered, they are added to the broad context of the existing free market place of ideologies, where the re- imagined sexuate being is made.
The last chapter of the book shifts the focus from the United States to postcolonial societies and developing countries. Cornell deals with the question of the validity of the imaginary domain as a Western liberal principle for a universal feminist human rights agenda to be applied in places where traditionalists try to re-establish patriarchal hierarchies.
The ultimate reason for her discussion of the imaginary domain lies in its wider applicability. But the appreciation of postcolonial theory in the academic environment may also urge Cornell to engage in the discussion of the hegemony on liberal philosophy. It is not surprising that Benhabib also explores the same question. They connect feminist theory to the global, exploring a concept of identity that would respond to women's movements in the world and address concerns about the future and the past of their societies.
For that undertaking Cornell relies on Rawls's demand for liberal tolerance toward certain nonliberal notions. In what he calls "overlapping consensus," Rawls pragmatically suggests that all nations would accept basic norms of human rights that are universal for all of them, without the need to agree on their philosophical or theological justification. Cornell adds the missing gender and postcolonial dimensions. Rather than universal formal equality, which is especially difficult to achieve in patriarchal postcolonial communities. She includes in Rawls's design the equivalent evaluation of female sexual difference.
This evaluation would be based on specific norms of each society and on political contest in them. The practice of genital mutilation, for example, is inconsistent with the equivalent evaluation for women because of the gravity of the bodily harm. But in Cornell's opinion, the fight for the abolition of this procedure should be left to the women living in those societies. She is aware, therefore, of patriarchal norms that might be internationally acceptable but insists on a certain minimum. The least is for women, lesbians, and gays to be permitted equal and fearless participation in the political debates so they can advance their interpretation of the imaginary domain.
Cornell relies upon Algerian writer Frantz Fanon for help in justifying and hoping for change toward recognition of more equality in postcolonial nations. Fanon saw national liberation struggle not as a return to the precolonial culture but rather as a cultural process in which decolonized people reimagine the nation. This parallels the process that takes place in the imaginary domain as Cornell articulates it for individuals. She claims that freedom struggles in those countries include the ideal of freedom of sexuate being to women, gays, and lesbians.
As much as the imaginary domain is not totalitarian, neither it is "a bad utopian ideal" (p. 174). If the problem is to make equal rights pragmatically acceptable for people who fear to risk the cohesiveness of their postcolonial communities, Cornell acknowledges that the idea of rights should be inspired by indigenous sources rather than by subjective Western liberalism. Supporting her claim that sympathetic notions of equality can be deployed in a consensus, she uses the example of Surinam female activists who adopt ideas from their Creole spirituality.
The book, however, does not offer a solution where traditions lack appropriate sources to support rights so as to initiate Fanon's reimagination journey. It is not clear how change can be expected other than by political struggles to at least win the hearts and minds of "reasonable people" (p. 175) regarding the necessity to expand the freedom of the imaginary domain.
Cornell believes that, especially by including Dworkin's "discontinuity thesis," the freedom of the imaginary domain becomes an advantageous model for the purpose of promoting human rights in postcolonial societies. What makes it basically right in the democratic United States is also what makes it suitable elsewhere. Even when its pragmatic minimalism is exercised, it still reflects an aspiration to rights and equality as central to politics.
The freedom of the imaginary domain implies public recognition of differences that does not necessarily endorse or enforce any alternative forms of sexuate being as better or forces anyone to change. And lastly, this freedom also allows what Benhabib requires from feminism: "the capacity to generate meaning over time so as to hold past, present and future together.
Cornell presents ways that women can overcome differences among themselves-sexual, cultural, religious, and national- through something that resembles a universal identity of the female but that overcomes gender essentialism. Indeed, At the Heart of Freedom reveals a new preoccupation with universality after a period in which scholars, obeying postmodernism's dictates, have been focusing on fragmentation. Cornell demonstrates a universalistic capacity of postmodernism and especially respect for the universal in feminism. Thus, she joins Benhabib in viewing the empowerment of women's political agency as "the vocation of the feminist theorist.
Furthermore, this book is important because the imaginary domain, defined by the relationship between body and psyche for all human beings, facilitates a broader universalistic feminist thinking. As the "imaginary domain feminism" has room in it to accommodate all aspects of differences among sexuate beings, feminism's universality is extended to become an idea that also embraces all men.
As such, feminism can offer answers to broader questions of rights and freedoms in society, not merely to those involving women. What specifically stand out in At the Heart of Freedom are the responses the imaginary domain and its theory of justice give issues that arise for gay men and lesbian women. As Cornell addresses problems that go beyond the ordinarily known gender differences, she connects feminism with persons who are neither women nor heterosexuals. The political implication of that may be an alliance among heterosexual women, lesbians, and gays, with a significant scholarly extension of a stronger link between gender theory and queer theory.
. Drucilla Cornell, The Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography, and Sexual Harassment (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).
. Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
. Jacques Lacan, Escris: A Selection (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1977); Oliver Sacks, "The Disembodied Lady," in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (New York: Summit Books, 1970); Nancy Chodorow, Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1994).
. bell hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (New York: Henry Holt, 1996); Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (London: Harcourt Brace, 1929).
. Seyla Benhabib looks at the construction of identity as a continuous process of narration. She attaches it to the conversing psychoanalytical process, in which telling and retelling the subconscious and its subtext in the present result in unsettling but a new understanding of the self. This is analogous to what takes place in the imaginary domain as Cornell explores it. See Seyla Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities: The New Global Constellation," Signs 24 (Winter 1999), 349-350.
. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990) and Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York and London: Routledge, 1993). Cornell had collaborated with Butler and Benhabib. See Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell and Nancy Fraser, Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).
. Luce Irigaray, Thinking the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution (New York and London: Routledge, 1994).
. See also Drucilla Cornell, "Enlightening the Enlightenment: A Response to John Brenkman," Critical Theory 26 (Autumn 1999), pp. 128-139.
. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971) and Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
. Luce Irigaray, I Love to You: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History (New York and London: Routledge, 1994).
. Benhabib also emphasizes the responsibility of the community to sustain the individual similarly to what is required in psychoanalysis. For a successful process, the fragile patient needs the analyst's support, while working to re-establish the boundaries of his or her identity. See Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities," p. 350.
. Cornell, "Enlightening the Enlightenment," pp. 129-131.
. Joan W. Scott, "The Evidence of Experience," Critical Inquiry 17 (Summer 1991), pp. 773-797.
. See, for example, Wendy Chapkis, Live Sex Acts: women Performing Erotic Labor (New York and London: Routledge, 1997).
. Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989); Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).
. See Richard A. Posner, The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).
. Martha Fineman, The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family, and Other Twentieth-Century Tragedies (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).
. Cornell relies on David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York: Basic Books, 1995).
. Benhabib, "Sexual difference and Collective Identities," pp. 335-361.
. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963). Later Cornell uses Fanon's conditioning universality with the ending of colonial rule in order in order to correct Kant's notion of the immaturity of non-Western societies. See Cornell, "Enlightening the Enlightenment," pp. 136-139.
. Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities," p. 353.
. Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities," p. 354-356. Benhabib quotes Naomi Schor on the universalistic feminist interest. See Schor, "French Feminism Is a Universalism," differeces 7 (1), pp. 15-47.
Copyright (c) 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@h-net.msu.edu.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-women.
Avital H. Bloch. Review of Cornell, Drucilla, At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex and Equality.
H-Women, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2000 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.