Legal Feminism: Activism, Lawyering, and Legal Theory

By Ann Scales | Go to book overview

7
False Consciousness

Everyone in this room is wearing a uniform.

—Frank Zappa

In previous chapters, I’ve repeatedly come back to the con- cept of choice. It is a fundamental tenet of legal liberalism—that the individual is the only meaningful unit of social measurement and that the individual captains her own ship, makes her own bed, and is the self-determining protagonist in a number of nonmetaphorical endeavors as well. Choice is also an intractable problem in philosophy. There is no way that our human minds could ever know for sure whether what we experience as choice actually determines any events in our own lives or elsewhere. We could be mere cogs in an eternal universal unalterable plan. Or maybe what we understand as our choices have some partial effectuality—maybe nature and nurture and physics and the gods and human dignity are all ingredients in a cosmic stew. We just can’t know for sure.

I’ve also referred the reader to how the concept of choice has particu- lar poignancy for women and other “others.” This chapter is a medita- tion upon the matter of individual choice, and specifically upon how feminist lawyers have dealt and not dealt with the concept. Though my discussion goes well beyond the specific term, I’ve called this chapter “false consciousness” because the term signifies—not always precisely —a continuing source of feminist infighting and paralysis. “False con- sciousness” is both a philosophical term of art and a political epithet, at least these days. Along with the charge that a feminist is engaging in “essentialism,” the allegation that a feminist has accused another of “false consciousness” has long been both a conversation stopper and a thought stopper. That happened when any of us began to think beyond liberalism. If individual perception and evaluation aren’t the measure

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