48 From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway?
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48 From Practice to Theory, or What Is a White Woman Anyway? CATHARINE A. MacKINNON And ain't 1a woman? Sojourner Truth] Black feminists speak as women because we are women . .. Audre Lorde2 In recent critiques of feminist work for failing to take account of race or class, race and class are regarded as unproblematically real and not in need of justification or theoretical construction.3 Only gender is not real and needs to be justified.4 Although many women have demanded that discussions of race or class take gender into account, typically these demands do not take the form that, outside explicit recognition of gender, race or class do not exist. That there is a diversity to the experience of men and women of color, and of working-class women and men regardless of race, is not said to mean that race or class are not meaningful concepts. I have heard no one say that there can be no meaningful discussion of "people of color" without gender specificity. Thus the phrase "people of color and white women" has come to replace the previous "women and minorities," which women of color rightly perceived as not including them twice, and embodying a white standard for sex and a male standard for race. But I hear no talk of "all women and men of color," for instance. It is worth thinking about that when women of color refer to "people who look like me," it is understood that they mean people of color, not women, in spite of the fact that both race and sex are visual assignments, both possess clarity as well as ambiguity, and both are marks of oppression, hence community. In this connection, it has recently come to my attention that the white woman is the issue here, so I decided I better find out what one is. This creature is not poor, not battered, not raped (not really), not molested as a child, not pregnant as a teenager, not prostituted, not coerced into pornography, not a welfare mother, and not economically exploited. She doesn't work. She is either the white man's image of her-effete, pampered, privileged, protected, flighty, and self-indulgent-or the black man's image of her-all that, plus the "pretty white girl" (meaning ugly as sin but regarded as the ultimate in beauty because she is white). She is Miss Anne of the kitchen, she puts Frederick Douglass to the lash, she cries rape when Emmett Till looks at her sideways, she manipulates white men's very real power with the liftThis is an excerpt from a speech on theory and practice that appeared in -1 YALE j. l. AND FEMINISM 13- (1991). Originally published in the Yale jO/lrllal of Law alld Felllillislll. Copyright © 1991 by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material From Practice to Theory 301 ing of her very well-manicured little finger. She makes an appearance in Baraka's "rape the white girl,"s as Cleaver's real thing after target practice on black women,6 as Helmut Newton 's glossy upscale hard-edged, distanced vamp,? and as the Central Park Jogger, the classy white madonna who got herself raped and beaten nearly to death. She flings her hair, feels beautiful all the time, complains about the colored help, tips badly, can't do anything, doesn't do anything, doesn't know anything, and alternates fantasizing about fucking black men with accusing them of raping her. As Ntozake Shange points out, all Western civilization depends on her.8 On top of all of this, out of impudence, imitativeness, pique, and a simple lack of anything meaningful to do, she thinks she needs to be liberated. Her feminist incarnation is all of the above, and guilty about every single bit of it, having by dint of repetition refined saying "I'm sorry" to a high form of art. She can't even make up her own songs. There is, of course, much to much of this, this "woman, modified," this woman discounted by white, meaning she would be oppressed but for her privilege. But this image seldom comes face to face with the rest of her reality: the fact that the majority of the poor are white women and their children (at least half of whom are female); that white women are systematically battered in their homes, murdered by intimates and serial killers alike, molested as children, actually raped (mostly by white men), and that even...