Taking Mina Loy’s articulation of femininity in her poem ‘One O’Clock at Night’ as a point of departure, I examine a false dichotomy facing contemporary feminism: should we identify with or reject the gender imposed upon us? In conjunction with a materialist analysis which posits women as a class, this paper argues that Loy’s discussion of gender could provide a useful framework with which to critique the ‘soft abolitionist’ approach trending today; a largely online movement which assumes that the individual can permanently sever themselves from the confines of gender and construct an autonomous political subjectivity from this shared (and often openly traumatised) ‘non-identity’. This paper discusses criticisms by trans theorists of the notion that liberation can be located from within gender, and explore ways in which the identification-versus-rejection question has been engaged with in historical feminisms. This includes Monique Wittig’s partial rejection of the term ‘woman’, and a strand of 1970s radical feminism termed (by its critics) ‘the anti-woman line’. In its conclusion, this paper looks to the present – using the feminist-activist group Sisters Uncut as a case study. It asks whether a dialectical praxis, looking to the conversations around ‘identity’ had within historical feminist movements, could inject contemporary feminisms and struggles with a politics of solidarity or political subjecthood, cutting through debates based on narrow understandings of identity and non-identity.
Its critics call it ‘feminism-as-crime-control’, or ‘Governance Feminism’, diagnosing it as a pernicious form of identity politics. Its advocates call it taking sexual violence seriously – by which they mean wielding the power of the state to ‘punish perpetrators’ and ‘protect vulnerable women’. Both sides agree that this approach follows from the radical feminist analysis of sexual violence most strikingly formulated by Catharine MacKinnon. The aim of this paper is to rethink the Governance Feminism debate by questioning this common presupposition. It asks whether taking MacKinnon’s analysis of sexual violence seriously might, in fact, itself give us reason to be critical of political strategies that embrace the punitive state. By raising this question, this paper aims to persuade radical feminists to listen to critics of carceral politics rather than dismissing them as rape apologists, and critics of carceral politics to listen to radical feminists rather than dismissing them as state apologists.