Law's Nobility

75 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2011 Last revised: 20 Jan 2011

See all articles by Robin L. West

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: January 10, 2011


This article first aims to set out the feminist theory of Catharine MacKinnon as explicitly as possible and in a way that accounts for its incredible power. To strengthen MacKinnon's theoretical project, the article proposes some modifications to the original that are drawn from, in part, the critiques of queer theorists. The crucial departure proposed here concerns MacKinnon's "critique of desire," which in my view is deeply mistaken. Rather than distrusting the sexual desires of women as hopelessly polluted by subordination, we should be neutral - neither critical nor confident - regarding the degree to which our desires, if fulfilled, will give pleasure, and whether their satiation will serve our interests. What we should doubt, I will argue, are not women's sexual desires but rather women's sexual choices to engage in sex - of any description - that is not desired. In other words, it is the undesired sex in which we engage, and not either the sex we desire, or the desires themselves, of any description at all, that should be the target of our critique. Likewise, it should be women's consensual choices to engage in all of that unwanted, unwelcome, and undesired sex that should be the target of our skepticism. Both MacKinnon and her critiques are wrong to believe that the critique of desire, or its opposite, is necessary to genuine radicalism. An embrace of, or neutrality toward, the content of women's sexual desire does not necessarily reduce to an undue liberal celebration of the sexual status quo. Rather it holds open the possibility of a redirection of our skeptical gaze.

Keywords: feminism, queer theory, MacKinnon, feminist legal theory, desire, sexuality, harassment, radical feminism, rape, consent, same-sex, unwelcome, theory of the state

JEL Classification: K39, Z00

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., Law's Nobility (January 10, 2011). Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 385-458, 2005, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-02, Available at SSRN:

Robin L. West (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001
United States

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