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Extreme Depictions Of Feminism Essay

5059 words - 20 pages

Extreme Depictions of Feminism in John Irving's The World According to Garp and Catherine MacKinnon's Sexuality

In the classroom, in popular culture and in suburbia, to call someone or something 'extreme' is enough to completely eliminate his, her or its credibility. 'Extreme' has become a derogatory comment. In this paper, I will be dealing with two extreme depictions of feminism; one from John Irving's novel The World According to Garp and the other Catherine MacKinnon's essay "Sexuality." It is important to keep in mind that some have argued that the extreme views of any movement for social change are important because they push boundaries and make other voices of the movement sound more reasonable (thus gaining more support).

In my dealings both these works, I want to avoid falling into the defensive trap. While feminists are negatively portrayed in the Irving's novel as extreme, anti-male, and apocalyptic, I want to get past a knee-jerk dismissal of the novel and get at Irving's commentary on the feminist movement because I believe that it can provide valuable insights into feminism. Similarly, I will not automatically run away from MacKinnon's essay because her feminism is so radical. The rhetoric in which MacKinnon phrases her arguments is apocalyptic, and she serves here as my "real" example.

What I find most important is that 'extreme' is not automatically a dismissal. I do not want to lose track of this position because it can work as a counter-text to some of my arguments within this paper. Both of these depictions are compelling, they seduce their reader, if only momentarily, into believing their portrait of feminism. I can only speak for myself in reporting reactions to these texts. I found "Sexuality" persuasive because MacKinnon does not hesitate to point her finger at those responsible for the sexual violence that terrorizes women in all walks of life. Similarly, Irving is successful in presenting a feminist movement that I would hesitate to involve myself in.

My aim is to examine the ways in which apocalyptic discourse is generated around issues of reproductive freedom in both The World According to Garp and Catherine MacKinnon's essay "Sexuality." Specifically, I will be examining MacKinnon's characterization of men and Irving's characterization of feminism to examine what apocalypticism promotes within these representations when gender is at issue. This becomes especially useful today as women's reproductive rights are so fraught with debate and inflamed rhetoric over issues like abortion and genetic engineering. My goal is to examine how apocalypticism in both these representations of feminism can be potentially dangerous.

It is also important to stress that both MacKinnon and Irving=s versions of feminism are depictions. Much of feminist thought today does not encourage self-mutilation or anti-male sentiments. Feminism today is a very diverse discipline with a plentitude of different, sometimes...

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