women and gender studies during the last two decades have understood
contemporary feminist thought as inseparable from the recent directions in
cultural and critical theory. In the United States, such approach, which
criticizes the liberalism as an ideological set based on universal ideas of
the Enlightenment, resulted in a debate between feminists and liberals about
the meanings of liberties, rights, and justice in current societies. An
important contribution to the debate has been Drucilla Cornell, a scholar of
law, political science, and women's studies. Her 1998 book by, At the
Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality is the last contribution
in her series of works on feminist jurisprudence published throughout
addresses the realities of law, culture, social structure, and politics by
tying together philosophy, legal studies, and gender thinking. She has
approached the relationship between feminism and law in a contemporary
fashion by focusing on the issues of deconstruction and justice, feminist
culture and theory, and postmodern theory of ethics. In this theoretical
set, especially as it relates to gender, she anchors political philosophy
and legal thought. Her intention to follow her own dictate: "To give
symbolic form to what is being claimed in actuality is part of the role of
ideals in political philosophy."
Not only Cornell proposes a feminist theory of rights, and through it also a
set of legal reforms and hope for social change. She also proves there is a
fundamental element that must be included in their design: basic human
calls the core concept of freedom that tie together all her work the
"imaginary domain." This principle rests on "The freedom to create ourselves
as sexed beings, as feelings and reasoning persons, lies at the heart of the
ideal that is the imaginary domain."
She had first developed this term in her previous book from 1995, The
Imaginary Domain. It offered the principle of the imaginary domain as an
answer to three problems that haunt the relationship between sex and
equality and with which feminism has been struggling for the last decades:
abortion, pornography, and sexual harassment. In the Heart of Freedom
contributes more topics to the discussion of feminist politics, no less
controversial, and, in some aspects, even broader. Work, adoption, family,
parenthood, and prostitution in the United states, and human rights in
postcolonial and non-Western countries, are treated as gender issues that
affect a wide range of people's lives and to which, therefore, the law and
feminist politics must give satisfactory answers.
mission is to analyze gender issues without falling into the obstacles
formal equality feminism has encountered. She argues with liberal feminists
about their expectations to eliminate all differences between men and women
in order to achieve legal equality. This quarrel with the equal rights
feminist movement is not new in academic feminism. Cornell, for example,
echoes historian Joan W. Scott's discussion on the history of French
feminism in Only Paradoxes to Offer.
Scott emphasizes the constant contradictions feminists stumbled on in their
long battle to reconcile sexual differences and universal equality for women
as citizens. In Cornell's opinion as well, feminists have failed to consider
crucial differences between women--sexual, racial, economic, national,
religious. Attempts to claim equality with men, to whom citizenship has been
attached, cause injustice for women when they do not fit into the male
such feminism essentializes men according to a certain image. Here Cornell
refers to the educated, professional, middle-class feminists of her
generation. Since the 1970s they have aspired to equalize rights with men,
as they have known and perceived them: of the same social class and cultural
orientation. Other women, however, have been left out. To integrate all
women into an equal right justice system requires an articulation of a new
definition of gender differences, one that permits more than the simple
biological differences between men and women to be considered. It should
respond to situation feminists have ignored, which is "the reality that
'hearts' continue to starve."
What must be added to feminist liberalism is the notion of persons as sexed
creatures. This idea, which takes into account the matters of the heart,
should be the source for the understanding of gender and difference and on
it any discussion of rights must be based. The book's title, At the Heart
of Freedom, indeed conveys the idea that what the feminist theory of
rights is missing is the protection of what is elaborated at the imaginary
imaginary domain is the space where the emotional, imaginative, spiritual,
and aesthetic self is expressed and recreated. In this site we imagine
ourselves as "sexuate beings" turned toward particular objects of desire.
Through the sexuate expression we claim ourselves as our own persons. In
this space a complete sense of identity is found and intimate life is
determined. Cornell draws from psychoanalytical thought to emphasize how the
body and the libido are projected in the imaginary domain. She counts not
only on psychoanalytic works of Freud and Lacan, but also on neurologist
Oliver Sacks and feminist scholar Nancy Chodorow.
They show the importance of the body's image, integrity, senses, and
libidinal delights, and how, by projecting the body, the individual comes
out to the world. At any point of time since infancy, the way we orient
ourselves as sexuate beings dictates how we feel, think, and behave. The
imaginary domain is as much a site for aesthetic expression. Cornell borrows
from female writers such as bell hooks and Virginia Woolf to illustrate the
necessity of such space as it is analogous to Woolf's image of the "room of
It means a locus where, through narration and resymbolization, a woman
claims her own person as independent of men.
to accommodate liberal feminism to differences involves the endeavor to
adjust liberalism to contemporary postmodernist thought. Thus Cornell
utilizes recent concepts that problematize gender identification beyond the
previous liberal-modernist binary definitions. In the articulation of the
imaginary domain, she replaces themes of permanent entities, clear
boundaries, and imposed meanings for thoughts about constant instability,
multiplication, and fluidity. In perceiving the process that takes place in
the imaginary domain as a process of becoming, Cornell echoes other gender
theorists. She refers to gender theorist Judith Butler's Gender Trouble
and Bodies that Matter, but she also shares ideas with Scott and
feminist political philosopher Seyla Benhabib.
They approach sexual and gender identification as a narrative, an unfixed
process and a journey with endless possible results. Identities are created
and re-produced by reflecting each other just as they mirror the dominant
"normative" system and its ideological construction. Through the "sexual
imago" of the body and psyche people can define themselves anew--not only
historicized by context, but also based on their free aspirations. Gender
entity, therefore, can no longer be seen as stable or as simply bound to two
biological sexes. In this regard, like Butler does, Cornell critiques the
Belgian-French philosopher Luce Irigaray, whose work she otherwise cites
Cornell questions Irigaray's distinction only between two sexes and her
perception of women as the only persons who are dismissed by the dominant
masculine normative regime. Butler and Cornell agree that Irigaray fails to
recognize differences among women, to see the exclusion of non-heterosexual
positions, and to acknowledge an endless variety of identities and
Cornell conceives the imaginary domain as a fundamental part of identity
formation and what enables them "to share in life's glories", protecting it
is a matter of moral and legal right in any society that calls itself
It cannot be displaced even if other rights are already gained and its
freedom must be included in any gender thought about freedom. Through the
ideal of the freedom of the imaginary domain as a gender concept Cornell
actually accommodates the American liberal tradition of "pursuit of
happiness" to gender and sexuality. She reinforces gender and sexual
equality in the liberal system as a matter of moral and legal right. Her
project is to engender political philosophy altogether, adapting it to the
requirements not only of rights for women's but also for all sexual
identities--gays and lesbians--who are ignored by the legal system and the
target in this project is the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. His principles
have been central for Cornell, but she tries to adapt his Enlightenment
philosophy to the contemporary multicultural reality.
From Kant she adopts the concept of right as the source of representation of
sexuate differences, but Kantianism does not include rights for women as
free and equal persons and rules out their membership in the moral community
of persons. In as much as Kant has inspired American liberal philosopher
John Rawls, with whom she basically agrees, Cornell seeks to adapt Rawls's
A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism to feminism.
Women must be recognized as free persons and sexuate beings. Cornell points
to the right of people to claim equality and freedom to exercise their
imaginary domain and live as sexuate beings the way they chose. She urges us
"to 'see' that there is a prior moral space of evaluation of the entities"
in moral procedures, even before any egalitarian theory is agreed upon.
According to this notion, women are persons as an initial matter. They
should not lose the freedom attached to this status because of the choices
they make. As free persons initially, women must not be automatically seen
as heterosexual males and thus able to claim only rights given to
heterosexual men. Theory of rights ought to allow them to be evaluated for
their sexuate differences from man, and among themselves, as expressed in
the process of the imaginary domain, and yet as equal persons. In regard to
the adaptation of the law to sexuality and gender, Irigaray influences
Cornell. Irigaray requires that the law acknowledges the existence of two
sexes and guarantees women's rights and civil identity as a sexed identity
that is different of men's.
But since Cornell recognizes more possible identities her concept of rights
embraces them as well.
on women as persons and members of the moral community of persons is
crucial. Being recognized as a free person implies that a woman represents
herself. As initially free, a woman is not granted with rights, but rather
claims them as hers. Not being defined as a free person means being
represented by men--as the patriarchal system dictates--and thus the denial
of a woman's right to represent her imaginary domain. Cornell insists that
this negation is not a small matter since that limits the ways she can claim
herself in society. When her sexual existence is not in her hands she
becomes "socially dead."
The same applies to lesbians and gay males. Under the heterosexual
patriarchy they suffer lack of legal recognition as they are not thought of
as free men and are not self-represented. Cornell's fundamental argument for
rights, therefore, is summed in the following sentences: "We need to be
recognized as the source of our own evaluations and representations of how
we are to live out our sexuality. In this way the imaginary domain is
consistent with the priority that political liberalism gives to liberty."
The way people wish to represent their sexuate being cannot be used to deny
them rights. Moreover, expressions of the imaginary domain may not be
dictated or encouraged by the state or the law.
is inconsistent with the ideal of the sanctuary of the imaginary domain, and
Cornell's theory constitutes the foundations of an anti-patriarchal project.
Taking such decisions away from the state and the law implies overcoming the
patriarchal order's male heterosexual ideology and what it imposes through
the state. But the purpose of the freedom of the imaginary domain is also to
prevent any other ideology about sexuality to be enforced. Cornell insists
that the right of a person cannot depend upon any opinion about what the
nature of being a woman or being a homosexual might be. Her theory "does not
seek to make law the main vehicle for restructuring the current meaning of
our sexual difference."
Legal solutions for justice must be separated from disagreements about the
characteristics of differences. The state must not dictate or privilege any
self-representation of intimate life and the institutions based on it.
more than Rawls, the legal scholar Ronald Dworkin has been a significant
source for Cornell. Dworkin's ideas about equality provide her with the
ethical justification for the protection of the imaginary domain: each
person is unique and has an intrinsic value. Each is uniquely responsible
for his or her life, values, and conscience, including the decisions about
life as a sexuate being. The freedom of the imaginary domain is ethically
anchored in the notion freedom of conscience, where we claim ourselves as a
source of what is good. His liberal "discontinuity thesis" about the
separation of the right from the good demands that an individual's concept
of the good can be claimed as a right but can not be imposed on others.
Cornell is careful to distinguish between individualism and the uniqueness
of the individual as source of values. Both reject individualism as a
freedom that is omnipotent and detached from reality. Here, again, one can
identify gender theorists' understanding of experience and identity as
constantly historicized. Shaping differences of ethical judgement--and the
freedom that allows the process--is a personal process that is anchored in
and is relational to available ideologies, politics, and values. The
advantage of placing the individual conscience process in a contested social
and political environment is that vulnerability of individuals in that
personal route is acknowledged and so their omnipotence is reduced. Cornell
believes that ideological competition over the judgments of representations
of the imaginary domain will support the right of representation itself to
be more effectively maintained. For a theorist who aims at anchoring her
theory in pragmatism and social responsibility, this is a significant point.
It reinforces her call to conduct the debates about sexual values out of the
legal system, while insisting that the system itself guarantee the rights
for all to not only take part in the debates but express their sexuate being
regardless of agreement upon its value.
social notions, conscience and the freedom of the imaginary domain must not
imply privacy. Cornell meets with difficulties liberal feminists' reliance
on privacy ever since the Supreme Courts established privacy rights for
sexual freedom in the cases of Griswold (1965), regarding the use of
contraceptives and Roe v. Wade (1973), regarding abortion. Cornell departs
from the privacy argument, proposing to separate privacy from the protection
of the imaginary domain. She argues that self-representation of the sexuate
being has goals beyond the boundaries of the private. Precisely because the
imaginary domain is based in conscience and is personality-defining and
primary for people's happiness, it must be allowed and tolerated in the
public space, just like any other conscientious expression. For people who
live openly with their choices to be left alone by society is not even an
option in some matters of the sexuate being, such as parenting, pregnancy,
and, as Cornell argued in her previous book, abortion. Those activities and
conditions require social support and public access to information and
But the right for the pursuit of happiness implies inclusion in the
community and the legal system not only of heterosexual women, but also
lesbians and gays and women who deviate from the imagined ascribed designs.
They have the right as well to express the aspects of their private lives in
public without suffering loss of legal rights and social dismissal.
Significantly, Cornell brings back to feminism the New Left´s ideal from the
1960s--the private as the political-- in its broad sense. She politicizes
the private when she states that persons' private domain requires public
recognition, protection, and support. This implies shifting the struggle for
equal rights--to gain what society owes all its members on the communal
level in order to maintain happy private life--once again to the political
arena. We may also understand the political significance Cornell gives to
the publicization of the private sphere as knowledge about certain options
and categories of the sexuate being hitherto despised and silenced. In a
recent polemical exchange, Cornell discusses the importance of the realm of
"publicness" as taken from Kant's "sensus communis aestheticus." Within this
realm people articulate their subjective aesthetic judgements and reflect
them to one another in a shared community. The public domain is important
precisely because the subjective of the imaginary domain is created in this
sphere. The communication about the subjective that takes place in public
illuminates the opinion of others and in an endless process brings about
actual changes in law and eventually determines the nature of the community.
Scott explains the process, which Cornell describes as knowledge, based on
visualization that is gained in the public domain. Once people see hidden
experiences of desire and they apprehend them not as naturalized but as
re-created and related to the context we all live in, then legitimacy and
emancipation of the Others may be gained.
first examines prostitution as an illustration of the problematic of the
private and the public in their relationship with the imaginary domain.
Cornell proceeds from the controversy in the feminist movement in the 1970s
over whether to regulate, legalize, unionize, or ban prostitution. Although
the controversy has currently lost it urgency for feminists, for Cornell it
is a subject that can be successfully used to formulate her arguments about
the imaginary domain. Discussing prostitution's morality is especially
useful because the topic touches on controversial images about men, women,
and sex. Moreover, if her argument functions for the freedom of women whom
the culture normally disdains, it can be easy applied to others.
with the book's main statement, Cornell locates the heart of the issue in
the prostitute as a person. Historical studies of prostitution in the United
States and Europe, which Cornell uses, demonstrate that prostitutes, more
than other women in patriarchal society, have been represented by men,
controlled by the state, and excluded from the moral community of persons.
Cornell believes that despite what seems as the violation of their body
integrity, prostitutes are initially persons who possess the right to
represent their imaginary domain as sexuate beings in their occupation. It
is their right, not the right of the state, to decide what prostitution
really means to them and how it serves them in their own lives. Based on the
ideal of the freedom of the imaginary domain, it is these women's right to
articulate their own meaning of prostitution, including the experience and
the identity related to it. Those may differ from the definitions of
immorality and self-destruction society usually assign to the profession.
closer at prostitutes' lives, Cornell discovers the possibility that in
their work they may re-create their bodily integrity and identity-following
a history of child sexual abuse, for example--regaining a "primordial sense
Although seen as "public women," such process of abstraction through the
re-imagination of their sexual being in their work is at the same time
personal, and thus moral. Therefore, prostitutes must not be excluded from
the moral community of persons, nor their work prohibited. In promoting the
legal recognition and moral justification of prostitution, Cornell situates
herself with scholars who have begun transforming the views on prostitution,
looking at the prostitute as an agent, worker, and a woman who performs
the public and the private realms of self-representation of gender and
sexuality, Cornell helps to break down the paradigm of the "separation of
spheres," which gender scholars have used in recent decades. She rethinks
another paradigm that has been even more anchored in gender politics and
scholarship, which is the distinction between naturally inscribed and
culturally constructed gender differences. Patriarchal ideologies determine
"natural" and essentialist differences and force female permanent
identities, but Cornell also observes the incapacity of contemporary
feminism to successfully address the problem. It either universalizes
differences-as is the case with "difference feminism"--or ignores them for
the sake of formal equal rights.
seeks a way to amend the Second Wave feminists. According to her, they have
been reluctant to accept female anatomy as women's destiny, preferring
theories of social and cultural construction of gender and formal equal
rights based upon them. At the same time, she challenges the difference
feminists, represented by such scholars as psychologist Carol Gilligan and
philosopher Sara Ruddick, who value women's special biological and
Commenting on the dilemma of the alleged contradiction, Irigaray explained
how the binaries of body and meaning are part of the "phallogocentric
economy" that regulates sexuality. Butler's response is to approach the
materiality of sex and body not as oppositional to discourse, but as
simultaneous to it. Sexual differences operate in the material body and
through its formulation as an inscriptional space. In line with their
conception of the inseparability of biology and meaning, Cornell pronounces
the imaginary domain as precisely the site for the signification of the
debates with feminist politics and thought, Cornell argues more with male
philosophers who have not taken gender sufficiently, or at all, into
account. By addressing their arguments, she demonstrates the possibility of
reconciling nature and rights. In regard to the question whether
inequalities that result from nature should be included in a theory of
justice, Cornell criticizes Thomas Nagel. She rejects his notion that there
are natural limits on women that might eventually be acknowledged as
unsurpassable, and therefore society has to consider them as beyond the
reach of justice. Cornell realizes the disadvantages of biological
difference for females, but she will not give in to the argument of nature
as to accept Nagel's view of woman as priori unequal to men.
prefers Rawls's philosophy because he accepts woman's equal status to men as
an initial matter and prior to any attempt to change the causes of
inequality. But she adds to Rawls the principle of "equivalent evaluation"
of biological differences. It means accepting natural differences in the way
the imaginary domain processes their representation in a form of choices.
Society is required to maintain rights and provide goods that enable to
maintain the freedom of people's sexuate being along with the differences
that occur with it. If women as biologically different are recognized as
free persons initially, in practical terms of law and policy, they can
demand legislation that begins not with an end to inequality, but
legislation that aims at bringing them closer in practice to the initial
equality with men.
's approach, what is evaluated as differences is subject to open,
pluralistic, and free political contest. In treating differences the legal
system should rely on evaluations only after they have been selected through
public debates, rather than the courts and the law dictating them with no
sufficient social acceptance. Liberal publicness is the locus for the
processing political ideas, meaning that the courts cannot replace public
debates and politics to bring about change. In this view, and throughout the
book, one can sense the influence of philosophical pragmatism on Cornell.
Cornell tries to reach beyond moral philosophy and adjust it to the more
extreme pragmatist school of "law and economics" in legal studies, most
accented by the legal thinker Richard Posner.
Cornell is more in line with postmodernist neo-pragmatism, than with his
pragmatism, but she also rejects transcendental truths. She believes that
the law has to take into consideration realities of life and politics to
functionally resolve questions of justice. Nevertheless, she searches for
answers in ethics so as to prevent exactly those damages to the imaginary
domain that might be caused by pragmatic interests of society.
illustrate how the idea of equivalent evaluation may serve as a solution to
the deficiencies of formal equal rights feminism, At the Heart of Freedom
discusses the issue of female reproductive capacity and equality in the
workplace. Cornell draws on the Supreme Court case of Johnson Controls
(1990), which revolved around sterilization as company policy. It required
sterilization for women of childbearing age as a condition for keeping their
high-salaried job in the company battery production facility, because they
were hazardously exposed to lead. Cornell supports the Court's resolution
that the practice was discriminating: The company could not decide for the
women that reproduction was more important to them than their economic
power. The Court expected women to be responsible for their sexuate lives
and their freedom to reject motherhood despite the dominant expectations
based on perceptions about women's natural differences. Exercising the
notion of equivalent evaluation of difference means not only accepting
woman's free choices about her imaginary domain without harming her equal
rights because of an alternative she chooses-either pregnancy or her
decision against it. It also requires reforms accommodating the workplace to
conviction about the importance of freedom for intimate matters brings her
to a discussion on the family. Current family laws demonstrate that the
"gender trouble" is not merely a woman's trouble. It is created when
people--women or men, at the mainstream or at the margins of society--are
not given the free space to exercise the imaginary domain. It is true for
prostitution, an institution despised by the dominant moral system, as it is
true for the family, the institution which American society struggles to
preserve. In regard to the family, Cornell identifies the basic issue in the
way motherhood is perceived. According to the author, when the imaginary
domain is given its freedom, gender is fluid enough to shift away from the
ordinary reference to women as mothers, a role the state and patriarchal
conventions assign only to females. Here, Cornell draws on Irigaray in her
conclusion that society idealizes women as mothers and nurturers that it
does not even permit them to process themselves their own female identity.
In Cornell's vocabulary this identification deprives women of the freedom to
process the experience of motherhood in their imaginary domain and disallows
them to arrive at any conclusions about their sexuate identity that might
contradict those society ascribes.
challenges fixed definitions of gender and family roles and criticizes
family law that is subject to dominant ideologies. Cornell answer is
far-reaching changes in the structure of the family. Following Martha
Fineman's radical suggestions to destroy the marital model for the family,
Cornell also advocates non-traditional families.
In such families roles will be defined minimally by the law, and will not be
limited to biological parenting or even to intimate association between the
parents. That means that persons outside of the wife-mother definition will
be legally and publicly accepted as parents. No longer privileging either a
specific gender or genetic relations, mothering is entirely redefined.
Cornell has no patience for the preference of the ordinary mother-child
metaphor, which she considers psychoanalytically a myth, since the goal is
the eventual separation between mother and child. Moreover, reducing the
significance of progeny for parenting in the heterosexual culture, she
advocates the possibility of parenting by more than one mother or not by
women at all. For lesbian couples, the book defends the legal adoption by
one woman of the child her partner bore without the biological mother losing
her rights as a mother. Not privileging biological gender, gay men and
couples must also enjoy equal legal rights as adoptive parents. Furthermore,
not benefiting the sexual aspects for parenting either, Cornell proposes
custody of children and parental responsibility that may be separated from
the sexual couple. People with various sexual preferences must be able to
organize their sexuality and love relations and keep the legal right of
family association in any type of marriage or domestic partnership. The
state cannot enforce any form of family as the good family nor prefer the
heterosexual and monogamous nuclear family. We should be able to imagine
"brave new families."
chapter of At the Heart of Freedom is dedicated to criticism of what
is known as the "fathers' movement" and its polemic against new gender and
family ideals. Cornell is especially critical with the groups' wish to force
back the role of the father according to the traditional image of the "good
family men." Threatened by feminism and driven to protect heterosexuality
and the place of men as a sperm and sexual source in a conventional family,
they want to restore the rigid gender division if they are to fulfil the
According to Cornell, the movement is not about men playing an active role
in children's life. Their program reflects unhappiness with the freedom of
the imaginary domain of others, and is a disguise of patriarchy.
other matters of intimate life, the solution to making men's positive role
in the family possible may not be found in legislation. Loyal to the idea
that "love cannot be legislated," Cornell proposes to provide men with a
non-patriarchal alternative vision of masculinity, which they may process in
their imaginary domain.
This can be achieved through the Lacanian insight about the separation of
the child from the mother and the imposed identification with the father in
the patriarchal society. Later, the boy-man is subordinated by father's
substitutions, which constantly threatens his masculinity and is a constant
source to his anxiety. If feminists introduce to men the idea of the
re-creation of identities in the free imaginary domain, males may be able to
resolve their anxiety in the existing patriarchal gender structure precisely
by revolting against it. As alternative cultural options are offered, they
are added to the broad context of the existing free market place of
ideologies, where the re-imagined sexuate being is made.
Cornell shifts the focus from the United States to postcolonial societies
and developing countries. Cornell deals with the question of the validity of
the imaginary domain as a Western liberal principle for a universal feminist
human rights agenda to be applied in places where traditionalists try to
re-establish patriarchal hierarchies. The ultimate reason for her discussion
of the imaginary domain lies in its wider applicability. But the
appreciation of postcolonial theory in the academic environment may also
urge Cornell to engage in the discussion of the hegemony on liberal
philosophy. It is not surprising that Benhabib also explores the same
question. They connect feminist theory to the global, exploring a concept of
identity that would respond to women's movements in the world and address
their concern about both the future and the past of their societies.
undertaking Cornell relies on Rawls's demand for liberal tolerance toward
certain nonliberal notions. In what he calls "overlapping consensus," Rawls
pragmatically suggests that all nations would accept basic norms of human
rights that are universal for all of them, without the need to agree on
their philosophical or theological justification. Cornell adds the missing
gender and postcolonial dimensions. Rather than universal formal equality,
which is especially difficult to achieve in patriarchal postcolonial
communities, she includes in Rawls's design the equivalent evaluation of
female sexual difference. The evaluation would be based on specific norms of
each society and on political contest in them. The practice of genital
mutilation, for example, is inconsistent with the equivalent evaluation for
women because of the gravity of the bodily harm, but in Cornell's opinion
even the abolition of this procedure should be left for the women in those
societies to fight for. She is aware, therefore, of patriarchal norms that
might be internationally acceptable but insists on a certain minimum. The
least is for women, lesbians, and gays to be permitted equal and fearless
participation in the political debates so they can advance their
interpretation of the imaginary domain.
relies upon Algerian writer Frantz Fanon for help in justifying and hoping
for change toward recognition of more equality in postcolonial nations.
Fanon saw national liberation struggle not as a return to the pre-colonial
culture but rather as a cultural process in which the decolonized people
reimagine the nation.
This parallels the process that takes place in the imaginary domain as
Cornell articulates it for individuals. She claims that freedom struggles in
those countries include the ideal of freedom of sexuate being to women,
gays, and lesbians.
As much as
the imaginary domain is not totalitarian, neither it is "a bad utopian
If the problem is to make equal rights pragmatically acceptable for people
who fear to risk the cohesiveness of their postcolonial communities, Cornell
acknowledges that the idea of rights should be inspired by indigenous
sources rather than by subjective Western liberalism. Supporting her claim
that sympathetic notions of equality can be deployed in a consensus, she
uses the example of Surinam female activists who adopt ideas from their
Creole spirituality. At the Heart of Freedom, however, does not offer
a solution where traditions lack appropriate sources to support rights so as
to initiate Fanon's reimagination journey. It is not clear how change can be
expected other than by political struggles to at least win the hearts and
minds of "reasonable people" regarding the necessity to expand the freedom
of the imaginary domain.
believes that, especially by including Dworkin's "discontinuity thesis," the
freedom of the imaginary domain becomes an advantageous model for the
purpose of promoting human rights in postcolonial societies. What makes it
basically right in democratic United States is also what makes it suitable
elsewhere. Even when its pragmatic minimalism is exercised it still reflects
an aspiration to rights and equality as central in politics. The freedom of
the imaginary domain implies public recognition of differences but which
does not necessarily endorse or enforce any alternative forms of sexuate
being as better and does not force anyone to change. And lastly, this
freedom also allows what Benhabib requires from feminism: "the capacity to
generate meaning over time so as to hold past, present and future together.
Cornell’s articulations important is that the imaginary domain, defined by
the relationship between body and psyche for all human beings, facilitates a
broader universalistic feminist thinking. Cornell presents ways in which
women can overcome differences among themselves--sexual, cultural,
religious, and national--through something that resembles a universal
identity of the female but that overcomes gender essentialism. Indeed, At
the Heart of Freedom reveals a new preoccupation with universality after
a period in which scholars, obeying postmodernism's dictates, have been
focusing on fragmentation. Cornell demonstrates a universalistic capacity of
postmodernism and, especially, respect for the universal in feminism,
joining Benhabib in viewing the significance of collective empowerment of
women's political agency.
"imaginary domain feminism" has room in it to accommodate all aspects of
differences among sexuate beings, feminism's universality is extended to
become an idea that also embraces all men. As such, feminism can offer
answers to broader questions of rights and freedoms in society, not merely
to those involving women. What specifically stand out are the responses the
imaginary domain and its theory of justice give to issues that arise to
non-heterosexual men and women. As she addresses problems that go beyond the
ordinarily known gender differences, Cornell connects feminism with persons
who are neither women nor heterosexuals. The political implication of that
may be an alliance among women, lesbians, and gays, with a significant
scholarly extension of a stronger link between gender theory and queer
theory. Offering such vision as genuine universal liberalism, asserting that
love is never a “second hand emotion,” is the vocation of the feminist
 This is the title of a Tina
Turner’s song. “What’s Love Got To do With It,” lyrics by Terry Britten, Private Dancer, Capitol Records, 1984.
 Other books by Drucilla
Cornell that deal with gender are: and The Imaginary Domain:
Abortion, Pornography, and Sexual Harassment (New York and
London: Routledge, 1995); Transformations: Recollective
Imagination and Sexual Difference (New York and London, :
Routledge, 1993); Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism,
Deconstruction, and the Law (New York and London: Routledge,
 Cornell, At the Heart of
Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1998), 178.
 Cornell, At the Heart of
 Joan Wallach Scott, Only
Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
 Cornell, At the Heart of
 Jacques Lacan, Escris: A
Selection (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1977); Oliver
Sacks, "The Disembodied Lady," in The Man Who Mistook His Wife
for a Hat and Other Clinical Tale (New York: Summit Books,
1970); Nancy Chodorow, Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities:
Freud and Beyond (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press,
 bell hooks, Bone Black:
Memories of Girlhood (New York: Henry Holt, 1996); Virginia
Woolf, A Room of One's Own (London: Harcourt Brace, 1929).
Seyla Benhabib looks at the construction of identity as a continuous
process of narration. She attaches it to the conversing
psychoanalytical process, in which telling and retelling the
subconscious and its subtext in the present result in unsettling but
a new understanding of the self. This is analogous to what takes
place in the imaginary domain as Cornell explores it. See Seyla
Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities: The New
Global Constellation," Signs 24 (Winter 1999), 349-350.
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of
Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990) and Bodies
that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York and
London: Routledge, 1993). Cornell had collaborated with Butler and
Benhabib. See Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and
Nancy Fraser, Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange
(New York and London: Routledge, 1995).
 Luce Irigaray, Thinking
the Difference: For a Peaceful Revolution (New York and London:
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, x.
 See also Drucilla Cornell,
"Enlightening the Enlightenment: A Response to John Brenkman,"
Critical Theory 26 (Autumn 1999), 128-139.
 John Rawls, A Theory of
Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), and
Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press,
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, 15.
 Luce Irigaray, I Love
to You: Sketch of a Possible Felicity in History (New York and
London: Routledge, 1994).
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, 21.
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, 19.
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, 23.
 Benhabib also emphasizes
the responsibility of the community to sustain the individual
similarly to what is required in psychoanalysis. For a successful
process, the fragile patient needs the analyst's support, while
working to re-establish the boundaries of his or her identity. See Benhabib, "Sexual Difference and Collective Identities," 350.
 Cornell, "Enlightening the
 Joan w. Scott, "The
Evidence of Experience," Critical Inquiry 17 (Summer 1991),
 Cornell, At the Heart
of Freedom, 54.
 See, for example, Wendy
Chapkis, Live Sex Acts: women Performing Erotic Labor (New
York and London: Routledge, 1997).
Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989);
Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and
Women's Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
 See Richard A. Posner,
The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1999).
Martha Fineman, The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family, and Other
Twentieth-Century Tragedies (New York and London: Routledge,
 Cornell, At the Heart
 Cornell relies on David
Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent
Social Problem (New York: Basic Books, 1995).
 Cornell, At the Heart
Benhabib, "Sexual Difference," 335-361.
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove
Press, 1963). Later Cornell uses Fanon's conditioning universality
with the ending of colonial rule in order in order to correct Kant's
notion of the immaturity of non-Western societies. See Cornell,
"Enlightening the Enlightenment," 136-139.
 Cornell, At the Heart
 Cornell, At the Heart
Benhabib, "Sexual Difference," 353.
 Benhabib, "Sexual
Difference," 354-356. Benhabib quotes Naomi Schor on the
universalistic feminist interest. See Schor, "French Feminism Is a
Universalism," Differences 7 (1), 15-47.
 The song line in Turner’s
song is: “What’s Love But Second Hand Emotions.” See, “What’s Love
Got To do With It”