Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction, and the Law


Feminism takes as its distinctive focus gender-based injustices, and critically investigates the nature of and remedies for these injustices. Feminism flourishes in diverse fields of thought and practice, and its critical claims – centering on injustices to women – play an increasingly creative and transformative role in redefining the very terms of our moral and legal culture.

The critical analysis of gender-based injustices, like the comparable analysis of the injustices of racism, cannot be sharply demarcated from larger forms of internal and external criticism of long dominant strands of Western culture. Internal criticism is the examination of an injustice in terms of a principle internal to a culture (for example, the principle of liberal equality in American constitutional culture); internal criticism shows how a certain injustice in fact fails to elaborate consistently or coherently a principle central to that culture. External criticism is the identification of an injustice in a culture in terms of a principle unrooted in the culture but resting on an independent normative standard which may reasonably be used to criticize the culture (for example, the criticism of Greek slavery in light of guarantees of human rights).

Contemporary feminism cultivates both internal and external criticism because reasonable discourse about the nature and extent of injustices to women builds upon principles implicit in liberal constitutional culture and yet self-critically transforms our understanding of those principles in order to probe adequately the dimensions of the injustices in question and the appropiate remedies. Like the comparably profound movements opposing slavery and racism, a critical enterprise as profound as feminism not only must assume and even advance the integrity of liberal intellectual and moral standards, but also must question liberalism itself. After all, leading political theorists of rights-based liberalism (including John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant) all emphatically legitimated conceptions of gender hierarchy, and thus gave an interpretation to rights-based equality that today must be questioned, criticized, and corrected. A central task of feminism, then, must be both to use and to transform liberal argument. Internal and external criticism merge interactively, enabling deeper ethical criticism and cultural transformation.

Suggested Reading

Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with