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  • The Wrong of Injustice: Dehumanization and its Role in Feminist Philosophy by Mari Mikkola
  • Kathryn Gillespie
Mari Mikkola, The Wrong of Injustice: Dehumanization and its Role in Feminist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2016

Mari Mikkola identifies three primary forms of social injustice—oppression, domination, and discrimination—and asks what makes them wrong. She argues that feminist philosophy has thus far focused heavily on gender as a lens or anchor through which to understand and respond to injustice. In Mikkola's view, this orientation around gender (and what she terms "the gender controversy") is limiting feminist philosophers' theoretical engagement with the roots of injustice. To remedy this problem, she builds a case for moving toward a more broadly humanist conception of injustice. The humanist feminism that she puts forth centers dehumanization as a way to theorize injustice; dehumanization, for Mikkola, is the very foundation of injustice.

Following an introductory chapter that frames Mikkola's approach and argument, the book is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is dedicated to articulating Mikkola's argument for moving beyond the "gender controversy" in feminist philosophy. She explains that the perspectives debated in the gender controversy produce two kinds of puzzles: one semantic, the other ontological. The semantic puzzle asks: "Given that ordinary language users tend not to distinguish sex and gender (treating 'woman' largely as a sex term, or a mixture of social and biological features), what precisely are feminists talking about when they talk about 'women'? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions that the concept woman encodes, if any such conditions exist to begin with?" (28). The ontological puzzle, by contrast, is concerned with: "How should we understand the category of women that is meant to undergird feminist political solidarity, if there are no necessary and sufficient conceptual conditions underlying our gender talk? Do women make up a genuine kind? […] What kinds of entities are gender and sex anyway?" (28).

Chapter 2 reviews aspects of how gender has been and is currently debated by feminist scholars. Mikkola articulates foundational feminist theorizations of the sex/gender distinction, the problem of biological determinism in thinking about sex and gender, and the social construction [End Page E-1] of gender. Core to this chapter's exploration of the sex/gender debate is the problem that defining sex and/or gender relies on women sharing some common features that identify them as women and define their objectification as women. This poses a problem because not all women are equitably incorporated into this category; other vectors of perceived difference (like race, ethnicity, class) shape how women experience and define what it means to be "woman." Thus, she reviews how a thicker and more inclusive definition of womanhood has been advocated through an intersectional approach to feminist politics and theory.

In chapters 3 and 4, Mikkola details nominalist and realist responses to what she terms the semantic and ontological puzzles of the gender controversy. Chapter 3 explains the gender nominalist position that "denies that there is some normatively and ethically significant feature that women qua women share; still, it holds that there is something that unifies women's social kind, which is normatively significant" (46). In Mikkola's view, nominalism lacks enough boundaries of what defines woman to effectively enact a feminist politics, while still maintaining woman as a category that likely will, in fact, slip into defining particular features of womanhood. Gender realism is explained in chapter 4 as perspectives that "hold that there is something women as women share, and this 'something' unifies their social kind" (71). The problems Mikkola identifies in both the gender realist and nominalist perspectives are that ideas about gender are far from unified (i.e., a single conception of what it means to be woman is impossible to achieve), they tend to be exclusionary (i.e., including only certain people in the category of womanhood), and there is limited potential for political transformation in these formulations.

Chapter 5 argues that semantic and ontological issues in understanding gender "are not as pressing as feminists make them out to be;" indeed, Mikkola writes: "I contend that we need not know 'what it is to be a woman...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3249
Print ISSN
1054-6863
Pages
pp. E-1-E-5
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-19
Open Access
No
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