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exclusion itself, which that image suffers in common with its rivals. In effect
such an approach treats deconstruction as an empirical rather than an ethical
claim, as an argument about what can be changed, for good or ill, rather than
an argument about what ought to be changed.
In other words, the endorsement of any image of the feminine, however
minimal its content, and the consequent repression of rivals to that image,
contradicts Cornell™s argument that gender repression is repression of the Other,
III. The Renewal of Gender 103

whatever the content of the Other may be. It presents instead a picture of gender
repression as repression of what ought not to be repressed because it is worthy
of inclusion among the images of existence available to us. Yet to know that
a given image of the feminine is worthy requires at a minimum that we know
what the content of that image is, while the essence of Cornell™s argument is that
the true meaning of the feminine, as she would reimagine it, is and must remain
undecidable. More important, to know that a given image of the feminine is
worthy requires that we have an understanding of value based on something
other than the fact of exclusion. Cornell™s second way of resolving her dilemma,
therefore, attempts to redeem her argument by a means that undermines its basic
premise.
c. Transparent Themes. It follows that Cornell™s second way of resolving
her dilemma still fails to strike the required balance between determinacy and
indeterminacy, and so makes necessary yet another re¬nement of the double
gesture. Given that af¬rming certain themes as settings for, and constraints on,
deconstruction has for Cornell the undesired effect of determining the conse-
quences of deconstruction, to the extent that those themes have any substance
at all, her third way of resolving her dilemma is to stipulate that such themes
must be suf¬ciently transparent that they do not violate the ethical relation.
Within the setting of her feminist project, therefore, she contends that the bare
existence of a framework of the feminine is not only essential to the decon-
struction of the present symbolic order and the role of the masculine subject
there, but is transparent enough not to con¬‚ict with any other image of the femi-
nine. So understood, she argues, the feminine is inherently compatible with the
requirements of the ethical relation, provided of course that the content with
which its framework is from time to time infused remains subject to continuous
monitoring and regulation within the double gesture, so as to prevent it from
ever assuming a status that would violate the ethical relation.44
Cornell argues that, understood in this way, the practice of the double gesture
makes possible the realization of an in¬nite range of meanings for the feminine,
and thus makes the pursuit of feminine difference compatible with the fullest
range of feminine aspirations, as they are understood and felt by all manner
of women. It makes possible, in other words, the af¬rmation of an ideal of the
feminine that is compatible with the fullest degree of feminine pluralism, an
ideal that has its roots in the present position of women in our culture, but that
embodies an acknowledgment that latent and ineradicable within that position
there lies an in¬nite capacity for women™s redemption.
And yet the feminine, so conceived, cannot entirely free itself from tension
with the obligations embodied in the ethical relation as Cornell describes it.
To the extent that the structure and outline of the feminine are identi¬able as
an image and established as such, as they are by the process of thematization,

44 Beyond Accommodation, supra n. 3, at 171.
104 difference

the feminine is by de¬nition not fully transparent. This is because its structure
and outline establish the parameters of an image whose existence, sheltered as
it is from deconstruction, precludes the realization of any other image whose
structure would compete with it, including all the images of gender we have yet
to imagine, as well as those we are already aware of. Indeed, if the image
of the feminine did not have this consequence, it could not ful¬l its role as a
theme within deconstruction. Complete transparency in this situation would be
equivalent to indeterminacy.
To the extent that the image of the feminine is rendered transparent by the
second level of the double gesture, it lacks any content suf¬ciently established
to be capable of begetting an Other to which it could be ethically obliged,
and to which it could accordingly be expected to yield. In other words, any
content that the feminine possesses, in Cornell™s account, ¬‚ows entirely from
the determination of its structure, so that the feminine character of the content
with which that structure is from time to time infused comes exclusively from the
terms of the structure that shapes and contains it. That structure, like any other
image, is conceived in terms of an Other to which it is ethically obliged, yet an
Other in favour of which it, unlike other images, is sheltered from deconstruction
as a theme within the double gesture. It follows that the initial decision to af¬rm
the feminine as a theme within deconstruction categorically de¬nes the content
of the feminine as feminine, and establishes its ethical character. That decision
can neither be derived from deconstruction nor be rendered consistent with it.
On the contrary, both its justi¬cation and its consequences, to repeat, lie within
determinacy, not outside it.45

iii. conclusion. None of the three resolutions that Cornell offers to her
dilemma, therefore, is successful in striking a balance between determinacy and
indeterminacy that could mediate between those two perils without partaking
of either, and so could give rise to an account of the feminine that embodies an
entirely new understanding of existence. Nor is this failure the result of some
¬‚aw in the design of Cornell™s argument that could be corrected by yet another
description of the double gesture. Rather, it is the result of her recourse to the
idea of deconstruction itself, which con¬‚ates the fact that our culture is repres-
sive of much that is worthy with the fact that it is repressive of possibilities in
its very de¬nition as a culture. What ultimately matters to Cornell, by contrast,
and the only thing that could matter to her as a feminist who seeks to af¬rm the

45 Cornell sometimes uses the word “feminine” to describe the Other itself. However, she can-
not be understood to be using the word in that sense when she treats the feminine as a theme
within the practice of the double gesture, a theme designed to shape our response to the claims
of the Other. Rather, she is using it to refer to a subverted version of our present gender
roles, to the possibilities for transformation latent in the metaphors through which she be-
lieves our lives are now lived: see The Philosophy of the Limit, supra n. 12, at 104“6, 174“75;
Beyond Accommodation, supra n. 3, at 3, 198.
III. The Renewal of Gender 105

experience of being a woman, which cannot be af¬rmed without repressing its
rivals, is the worth of what is repressed, not repression itself.
In each of the three resolutions that Cornell offers to her dilemma, the only
character her vision of the feminine possesses that enables it to be called femi-
nine ¬‚ows from its determination as an image in language and culture, one that
despite her protestations to the contrary, Cornell implicitly believes is worthy
of recognition by reason of what she sees as its freedom from the taint of the
past, its ¬‚exibility, and its pluralism. The idea of deconstruction that she seeks
to invoke in support of this vision of the feminine might, it is true, radically un-
dermine and so overthrow our present understanding of gender, but in doing so
it could not af¬rm the existence or worth of Cornell™s or any other vision of the
feminine. Deconstruction™s ethical claim, that which would give it its power to
revise the prevailing understanding of language and culture rather than merely
remind us of their origins, is by its nature foundational to the very idea of lan-
guage and culture, so that it threatens the stability of any image or concept by
reason of its stability alone. As a result, the practice of deconstruction is funda-
mentally incompatible with the af¬rmation or reaf¬rmation of an image of the
feminine, whether the content of that image be minimalist or highly developed,
comprehensive or speci¬c.
Any scope that is given to the practice of deconstruction yields indeterminacy
to that extent, or as Derrida would call it, undecidability, while any meaning and
content that is given to the image of the feminine is predicated on its determinacy
and resistance to deconstruction. It follows that while deconstruction might
appear to serve as Cornell™s ally in her attack on the present social order, it
in fact serves no agenda but its own. The authority that it undermines is the
authority of any image or concept; as a result it cannot be harnessed to the
service of the feminine. It is for this reason, one assumes, that Derrida resiles
from any af¬rmation of the feminine, on the ground that it would merely result,
in his phrase, in the passing out of new sexual identity cards. More to the point
of Cornell™s project, it is for this reason that any meaning the feminine is to
have must ¬‚ow from its determination, not its deconstruction.
Ultimately, therefore, Cornell can avoid the indeterminacy that an unqual-
i¬ed account of deconstruction would yield only by determining the content
of the feminine, either arbitrarily or by limiting recognition of the call of the
Other to what is desirable because of its perceived contribution to social order,
human dignity, pluralism, or some other good. What this reveals, however, is
that the Other that is excluded in the establishment of an image is not only hu-
man potential, emancipation, and liberation from oppression, but also brutality,
evil, disorder, chaos, and worse. When we de¬ne ourselves in terms of cultural
images we often exclude qualities that are desirable and worthy, but we do not
exclude only qualities of that kind. On the contrary, we also exclude a great
deal that is harmful and wrong. It follows that if the worth of an image is what
we ought to care about, exclusion of the Other is as potentially emancipatory
106 difference

an act as its inclusion. Conversely, if ending exclusion of the Other were what
we ought to care about, ending the exclusion of what is unworthy would be as
emancipatory an act as ending the exclusion of what is worthy. Since Cornell
clearly does not believe that ending the exclusion of what is unworthy is in any
sense emancipatory, she cannot believe that ending the exclusion of the Other
is what we ought to care about, except when to do so coincides with ending the
exclusion of what is worthy.
Within the context of the feminine and similar images of existence, exclusion
of the Other permits the establishment of forms of solidarity and community
from which our lives derive much of their meaning. We can pursue an image
of the feminine, or any other image of existence that enables us to identify
with other human beings and develop associations with them on that basis,
only by repressing and excluding not only competing forms of solidarity, but
all those forms of existence not based upon solidarity. To seek to eliminate
those determinate images in pursuit of an undecidable image of the feminine
is in fact to seek to destroy the possibility of communal identity in the name of
communal identity.
And yet to pursue the feminine as a value requires an ability to determine
what is and what is not worthy of recognition as a social image, an ability that at
the most basic level Cornell denies we possess. According to her account, our
fundamental ethical obligation is to acknowledge the Other, so that any form
of morality or social value must be predicated on that acknowledgment. Yet
what her description of the practice of the double gesture, and particularly her
apartheid illustration, reveals is that what she in fact cares about is the worth
of what is excluded and hence Other, not the fact of exclusion itself. Despite
her protestations to the contrary, what implicitly justi¬es the recovery of the
feminine for Cornell is the worth of what she takes that image to represent.
The dif¬culty for her, of course, is that as long as she remains committed to
avoiding a determinate account of the feminine, she can offer no sense of the
content of the feminine, other than to identify it with all that is excluded in the
place of the Other. If she is in fact to af¬rm the worth of the feminine, she must
abandon her reliance on the Derridean deconstruction of sexual difference and
reject the Lacanian analysis of gender on which it is based, for both present a
picture of existence in which, to use Lacan™s phrase, woman does not exist.
In effect, in Cornell™s account, it is an ethic that is both external to decon-
struction and not subject to its claims that must carry the weight of de¬ning the
feminine and establishing its worth. What she presents as an account of the fem-
inine based on an ethic of deconstruction ultimately derives both its feminine
character and its ethical authority from the precepts that are taken to govern
and constrain the consequences of deconstruction. To pursue a comprehensive
rather than a local vision of the feminine, or to pursue one comprehensive vision
of the feminine rather than another, are issues of social value and morality, and
must be examined and evaluated as such.
4
Reasons for Feminism




I. The Value of Diversity
It is often said that human beings are complex creatures, who are inevitably
betrayed by any attempt to comprehend them in simple terms. Indeed, much
of the force of Drucilla Cornell™s argument stems from its endorsement of the
view, shared by many, that a failure to appreciate the complexity and diversity of
human existence is responsible for the predicament that women now ¬nd them-
selves in. According to this view, Western society fails to appreciate diversity
suf¬ciently, and so fails to appreciate fully the difference that women represent.
Or, as it is sometimes more skeptically put, Western society denies many of the
differences between human beings, including many of the differences between
women and men, in order to avoid having to come to terms with those differ-
ences. For those who share this view of human complexity and diversity, the
release of women from their present predicament is dependent on an escape
from the straitjacket of masculine values, and a consequent recognition of and
respect for the distinctive meaning of women™s existence as women, as one
element, if perhaps the most signi¬cant element, in a general acknowledgment
of human diversity.
This understanding of feminism bears a strong relationship to that offered
by Cornell herself. Like Cornell, its adherents are committed to recognizing
difference for its own sake. Unlike Cornell, however, they are unidealistic,
nonutopian. The differences they seek to honour are those that are already
present in the world, not those that never have been and in a very real sense
never could be. Their concern is with the many different ways of being that
our society has neglected, overlooked, undervalued, and sought to suppress in
its ongoing construction of what is normal and what is valuable. Their claim is
that society should respect women as it should respect all ways of being, and
for the same reason.
This is a distinctive and, on the face of it, somewhat surprising view of
sex discrimination. Many if not most women hold an understanding of the
108 reasons for feminism

disadvantage they experience on account of their sex that is instinctively based
on a commitment to a particular view of what it means to be a woman, and the
ways in which that meaning has been suppressed by the forms and practices of
our culture.1 By the same token, any af¬rmation that such women undertake
of their distinctive existence as women is based on a sense of the value of that
existence. Yet not all those who question the present place of women in society
need be feminists in this committed sense, as both MacKinnon™s and Cornell™s
discussions of discrimination demonstrate. Neither of those discussions takes
any view about what it really means to be a woman and what value there might
be in that.2
In particular, a commitment to a particular view of what it means to be a
woman and the value of that existence forms no part of the argument of critics
of the present social order who do not rely on a speci¬cally female experience
for their understanding of women™s disadvantage, but regard the oppression of
women as one aspect of the oppression of human difference.3 For critics like
these, women™s qualities and characteristics are to be af¬rmed not for their own
sake “ that is, out of a belief in the value of their particular content and the
activities that content makes possible “ but out of a belief in the value of human
diversity generally, and a corresponding belief in the existence of an obligation
on human societies to recognize and af¬rm that diversity in all its variety and
particularity. It is the diversity that women™s qualities represent that is valued
here, not the female character of those qualities. Advocates of this approach
thus rely on the truth of two propositions. On the one hand, they maintain
that a society that neglects or otherwise refuses to af¬rm women™s qualities is
oppressive of women simply by reason of its failure to af¬rm the full diversity of
human experience. On the other hand, they maintain that a society that af¬rms

1 See Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, Mass., 1982). The approach described here
differs from Gilligan™s in including the view that the content of what it means to be a woman
is very largely the same as the content of what it means to be a man, so that the oppression of
women is a matter of suppressing their equality with men.
2 Both would condemn any search for a true answer to the question of what it means to be a woman.
MacKinnon castigates Gilligan, and refuses to af¬rm women™s qualities on the ground that there
is no value in those qualities as we know them, although she does not rule out the possibility
that once the subordination of women is ended it will be possible to develop an understanding
of sexual identity that is worth af¬rming. Cornell endorses MacKinnon™s analysis of women™s
present predicament but insists on af¬rming the feminine, understood as the unrealized and
unrealizable possibilities implicit in the present understanding of sexual difference.
3 I have in mind here commentators such as Martha Minow, Making All the Difference: Inclusion,
Exclusion and American Law (Ithaca, 1990) (“When those who have been considered ˜different™
become the source of information about a critical but previously suppressed perspective on
the legal issues affecting them, the social and institutional patterns that ignore this perspective
themselves become questionable”: id. at 218), although I do not wish to suggest that the position
I present here is Minow™s own. My purpose is not to address the substance of a particular position,
such as Minow™s, but to use my criticism of the af¬rmation of difference for its own sake as a

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