Liberation through Control in the Body Politics of U.S. Radical Feminism

Michelle Murphy

in The Moral Authority of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780226136806
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226136820 | DOI:
Liberation through Control in the Body Politics of U.S. Radical Feminism

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Sometimes nature's all-too-oppressive authority is confronted by another, such as that of political freedom. This chapter shows how twentieth-century feminists sought control over women's reproductive biology as the sine qua non of their liberation. So vigorous was the language of control that nature came to be seen as more malleable than culture, sex more readily alterable than gender. The twentieth-century call for women to control their bodies has been historically structured by a paradox that runs through Western feminist thought: a feminist must speak as a woman, thereby invoking a supposed “natural” difference, while at the same time seeking to undermine that difference. In the most contradictory articulation of this paradox, feminists spoke as women in order to make the category “woman” disappear. At the other extreme, another tradition of feminism affirmed a positive value for womanness, thereby reinstantiating the difference between male and female. Both positions, as well as a panoply in between, can be found in radical feminism.

Keywords: radical feminism; political freedom; twentieth-century feminists; reproductive biology; liberation; sex

Chapter.  10168 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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