38 N. Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 387 (1993)
Feminism and the False Dichotomy of Victimization and Agency

handle is hein.journals/nyls38 and id is 393 raw text is: FEMINISM AND THE FALSE DICHOTOMY OF
VICTIMIZATION AND AGENCY*
ELIZABETH M. SCHNEIDER7
During the last twenty years, feminist activists and lawyers have
attempted to transform societal understandings and to shape legal
definitions of several interrelated harms against women: woman-abuse,
rape, sexual harassment, and pornography. In each of these areas,
feminist redefinition of harm has been premised on a theoretical
framework of gender subordination in which women are primarily viewed
as victims.' However, as feminist work on these issues has developed,
tensions within feminism and conflicts among feminists have emerged
concerning women's victimization.2 In this essay, I suggest that feminist
work has too often been shaped by an incomplete and static view of
women as either victims or agents, and argue that what I have previously
identified as the false dichotomy between women's victimization and
* © Copyright by Elizabeth M. Schneider 1993.
** Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School. An earlier version of this essay was
presented at a panel on Victim Feminism at the Law and Society Association 1994
Annual Meeting. I am grateful to Martha Fineman, Tom Grunfeld, Susan N. Herman,
Minna Kotkin, Sylvia Law, Betty Levinson, Martha MeClusky, and Martha Minow for
materials, conversation and comments and to Suzanne Brackley and Stephanie Manes for
research assistance. A Brooklyn Law School Faculty Research Grant generously
supported my research and writing. This essay is part of a larger project on tensions
within feminist legal theory and practice.
1. This theoretical framework has been called dominance feminism. Dominance
feminism is used to describe that strand of feminist (legal) theory that locates gender
oppression in the sexualized domination of women and the eroticization of that
dominance through pornography and other aspects of popular culture.... Catharine
MacKinnon would probably be described as the primary-and most visible-exponent of
this theory but there are a range of feminists who have worked theoretically and, often
through political practice, to raise consciousness about male sexualization of and
aggression against women. Kathryn Abrams, Songs of Innocence and Experience:
Dominance Feminism in the University, 103 YALE L.J. 1533, 1549 (1994) (reviewing
KATIE ROIPHE, THE MORNING A]IFER (1993)).
2. For an historical perspective on feminist conflict on a variety of different issues
see generally, CONFucrs IN FEmINIM (Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Keller eds., 1990),
Nadine Taub, Thoughts on Living and Moving Wth the Recurring Divide, 24 GA. L.
REV. 965 (1990). For more recent examples of conflict on the theme of victimization
and agency see infra note 26 and accompanying text; see also Tamar Lewin, Feminists
Wonder Ifit Was Progress to Become 'Victims,' N.Y. TiEs, May 10, 1992, § 4, at 6.

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