Underlying Catharine MacKinnon's analysis of women's present predicament is the thesis that the difference between women and men as we know it is entirely socially constructed, that women and men are by nature merely blank slates upon which society has chosen to draw the patterns of sexual difference with which we are familiar, and from which women suffer. There are two assumptions implicit in this thesis: first, that freeing women from their present predicament depends upon changing what women (and men) now are, and second, that what is the product of society is amenable to such change while what is the product of nature is not. For MacKinnon and many, perhaps most other feminists, these two assumptions are relied upon in the service of egalitarian ends. We must change what women now are so as to ensure that their qualities and characteristics (and the lives that those qualities and characteristics make possible) are equal to those of men.
Yet there is no necessary connection between belief in sexual equality and the belief that the present character of sexual identity is a social construct that must be changed if women are ever to flourish, for it is perfectly possible to believe that the present character of sexual identity can and must be changed for reasons other than equality. It is perfectly possible, for example (or at least so it is claimed), to believe that new and different forms of sexual identity must be pursued for the sake of their very novelty and difference, for the sake of the release that such fresh visions of sexual difference would provide from the confines of sexual identity as it has been laid down in the present forms and practices of our society.
It is change of this kind that Drucilla Cornell seeks. Drawing on Continental psychoanalytic traditions, and in particular on Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of Jacques Lacan's refiguring of Freud's analysis of women's lack, Cornell argues that sexual identity as we know it is a fantasy, created for the benefit of men and at the expense of women, the purpose of which is to conceal the existence of the many possible alternatives to our present understanding of the human condition, which if recognized would expose the inherent vulnerability