Janet Halley and the Art of Status Quo Maintenance

Social Justice & Equity Law Journal, Vol. 2, Pp. 5-46

43 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2018 Last revised: 21 Dec 2018

See all articles by Lama Abu-Odeh

Lama Abu-Odeh

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2018


Over the past few years, Janet Halley emerged as one of the most avid critics of campus rape feminist activists, activists who push for the reformulation of university investigative rules to shift the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused. Halley contends that Title IX policies, embedded with affirmative consent, are not only procedurally unsound, but bad for boys, bad for sex, and bad for feminism, charging its agenda with “radical feminism” influences. Halley’s stance on campus rape is consistent with her long-held “queer theory” and its anti-feminist deregulatory drive. In this article, I argue that Halley’s “queer theory,” which she developed by polemically critiquing Catharine Mackinnon’s work, in an attempt to extol “sex positivism” in legal academia with the dignity of “fancy” theory, in effect stands Mackinnon on her head. By inverting Mackinnon’s gender/ sex constructions, Halley’s theory fronts as an idealist proposition indicting feminism with the invention of sexual injury and inspiring women to manipulate innocuous facts into scandalous protest.

Flipping Mackinnon’s equality approach when it comes to legal rules takes Halley to the right of “consent” where Mackinnon had gone to its “left.” By mirroring Mackinnon’s critique of “consent,” except from the right, Halley’s theorizing echoes a sexual libertarian agenda without/before feminism. It defends male sexual entitlement avant liberal feminism.

Ideologically, such theoretic formulations, along with the bundle of rules they advocate for, are designed to keep pressure on ruling liberal feminism from departing in its understanding of sex from the “pathology” model whereby all men are good except for those who are “pathologically” violent (classical liberalism) in the direction of understanding sexual entitlement as part of the social construction of maleness. By clamoring from the right of liberal feminism, mainstream liberal feminism is kept in check.

In order to explain the various elements of Halley’s theories on gender/sex and expose their underlying pre-feminist “classical liberal” orientation, I position her comparatively within the gender/sex theories of the non-liberal academic left: Mackinnon (her antagonist), Duncan Kennedy (her ally), and Judith Butler (her theoretical homebody). I analyze the way these theorists used the theoretical traditions of Marxism, post-modernism, and post-structuralism to posit a relationship between gender and sex: sex is gender simpliciter (Mackinnon), gender is sex simpliciter (Halley), and the split difference between gender and sex (Kennedy). This exercise illuminates the doctrinal approaches of each theory, be it to the left or right of consent. I conclude the article with a succinct critique of Halley’s theoretic excursions and argue Halley is guilty of five themes of “misrecognition:” (A) theoretical, oscillating between an antagonism to the very idea of sexual injury and proposing a neutral proceduralist approach to identifying it; (B) political, targeting radical feminism with her critique while smashing liberal feminism on the way; (C) sociological, reading women’s sexual injury through the eyes of an “uninjurable” promiscuous gay man advocating a radical sexual ideology; (D) ideological, attempting to ally her sexual libertarianism with the left when the ideological universe it travels is “classical liberalism,” definitively, the left’s most pronounced critic; and (E )historical, advocating a “sex positive” agenda in radically sex positivist times.

Keywords: Feminist Theory, Feminist Legal Theory, Queer Theory, Law and Gender, Law, Gender and Sexuality, Feminist Jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Abu-Odeh, Lama, Janet Halley and the Art of Status Quo Maintenance (2018). Social Justice & Equity Law Journal, Vol. 2, Pp. 5-46, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3124327 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3124327

Lama Abu-Odeh (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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