One of the insights of feminist theory of the last decade has been that women are “essentially connected”, not “essentially separate”, from the rest of human life. How has this insight been supported and what are the implications in law?


Several recent feminists have undertaken the most crucial studies in psychological development for personality, moral development, child rearing, and ultimately, the very structure of major social institutions. The common theme that unites this body of work by feminists such as Nancy Chodorow, Brown Miller, Nel Noddings, Carol Gilligan and most recently, Robin West, is that women experience themselves through connections and relationships to others while men see themselves as separately identified individuals. In the view of Chodorow, these differences are the result of a childrearing system which is based on mothering, so that growing up is a process of identification and connection for a girl and separation and individuation for a boy. Miller, working as psychologist, heard women express values different from men’s: vulnerability instead of strength, and responsiveness instead of independence. Noddings and Gilligan, both professors of education, observed values of caring, responsiveness and connectedness in women.

Finally, West1  asserts that women are in some sense ‘connected’ to life and to other human beings during at least four recurrent and critical material experiences: pregnancy, heterosexual penetration, menstruation, and breastfeeding. These observations and hypotheses led to the conclusion that women tend to see themselves as affiliated and connected to the rest of human life. Although each of these writers approached their inquiry with different questions, their findings and theories are strikingly similar.

The first part of the essay discusses the details of West’s connection thesis with the classification of cultural and radical feminism. The second part will present the discussion on cultural feminism in relation to women connection to the rest of human life. The third part of this essay discusses the radical feminists’ position that women’s connection to others experienced materially in intercourse and pregnancy is the source of women’s misery, not a source of value worth celebrating. The final part will show whether the values that flow from women’s material potential for physical connection are recognized as values by the Law.

2. PART A:

2.1 The connection thesis-(West):

This claim about women’s essential connectedness to the rest of human life becomes the centrepiece of West’s article ‘Jurisprudence and Gender’. She argues that both liberal rights-based theory and critical legal theory are premised upon a definition of ‘human being’ that is inapplicable to women. Both theories regard humans as fundamentally separate from each other, but women, she claims, are not in fact physically individuated from other people. Indeed, she asserts that “perhaps the central insight of feminist theory of the last decade has been that women are ‘essentially connected’, not ‘essentially separate’, from the rest of human life, both materially through pregnancy, intercourse, and breast-feeding, and existentially, through the moral and practical life”2. This shared conception of women’s material and existential lives is addressed by her as a ‘connection thesis’.

She describes the connection thesis3 that women are actually or potentially materially connected to other human life. Men aren’t. This material fact has existential consequences. While it may be true for men that the individual is ‘epistemologically and morally prior to the collectivity,’ it is not true for women. The potential for material connection with the other defines women’s subjective, phenomenological and existential state. Women’s potential for material connection engenders pleasures and pains, values and dangers, and attractions and fears, which are entirely different from those which follow, for men, from the necessity of separation4.

She actually reformulated the connection thesis from Gilligan’s book ‘In a Different Voice’. Rather than locating the subjective experience of connection in psychology or observable disparities in moral reasoning, she seeks to ground women’s material connection to other human life. Alternatively, this is an elaboration of the feminist perspective within political, moral or legal theory more often than not begins with what Gilligan calls an ethic of care as opposed to the dominant ethic of justice and rights. This is a simplification which obscures the radical potential of Gilligan’s work, although admittedly, Gilligan herself is elusive on this point. Although she is careful to reject any definitive correlation between the two modes of reasoning, care and justice, and sexuality, she describes her project as the expansion of women’s ‘understanding of human development by using the group left out in the construction of theory to call attention to what is missing in its account’5.

West’s connection thesis has also increasingly attracted many feminists’ criticisms6. For example, radical feminists Ann Scales7 warn that ‘just as connection thesis has the potential to inspire us in historic ways, it could also become the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of our century’. In the same vein, Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell describe the coercion implicit in the connection thesis vision of the self: Precisely because to be a biological female has always been interpreted in gendered terms as dictating a certain psychosexual and cultural identity, the individual woman has always been ‘situated’ in a world of roles, expectations and social fantasies. Indeed, her individuality has been sacrificed to the ‘constitutive definitions’ of her identity as member of a family, as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife and someone’s mother. The feminine subjects have disappeared behind their social and communal persona. If unencumbered males have difficulties in recognizing those social relations constitutive of their ego identity, situated females often find it impossible to recognize their true selves amidst the constitutive roles that attach to their persons8.

2.2 The implications of connection thesis:

West in her article laid down a clear divide between cultural and radical feminism. She further refers to the Gilligan position and those identified with it as ‘cultural feminism’9. She contrasts this with ‘radical feminism’, as represented by Catharine Mackinnon and others like Andrea Dworkin. West argues that, despite the differences in position between radical and cultural feminism, their commonality is the connection thesis. In fact, both cultural and radical feminists use this ‘connection thesis’. However, the divisions between cultural and radical feminism stem from divergent accounts of the subjectivity of the potential for connection.

According to cultural feminist accounts of women’s subjectivity, women value intimacy, develop a capacity for nurturance and an ethic of care for the other with which women are connected, just as women learn to dread and fear separation from the other10. Radical feminists tell a very different story. Women’s connection, according to radical feminism, with the other is above all else invasive and intrusive. Women’s potential for material connection invites invasion into the physical integrity of their bodies, and intrusion into the existential integrity of their lives. Although women may ‘officially’ value the intimacy of connection, women ‘unofficially’ dread the intrusion it inevitably entails, and long for the individuation and independence that deliverance from that state of connection would permit11.


3.1 Cultural feminism (in general):

At the heart of the cultural feminism lies the connection thesis. The connection thesis of cultural feminism challenges the assumptions about value in every area of life. West12 describes its transformative power: Women’s art, women’s craft, women’s narrative capacity, women’s critical eye, women’s ways of knowing, and women’s heart, are all, for the cultural feminist, redefined as things to celebrate, Quilting, cultural feminism insists, is not just something women do; it is art, and should be recognized as such. Integrative knowledge is not a confused and failed attempt to come to grips with the elementary rules of deductive logic; it is a way of knowledge and should be recognized as such. Therefore, cultural feminism13 identifies women’s difference from men and celebrates it. Other feminist writers such as Gilligan14, Adrienne Rich15 and Noddings16 posit a self that is situated and relational, that views identity and moral choice as function of particular relationships and changing, contingent responsibilities.

I would now consider the crucial points of the cultural feminism that women have a sense of existential connection to other human life which men do not. That sense of connection in turn entails a way of learning, a path of moral development, an aesthetic sense, a unique experience through pregnancy, and a view of the world and of one’s place within it which sharply contrasts with men’s.

3.1.1 Source of Connection-(Biological):

The cultural feminist explanation for women’s connection is that women are more connected to life than are men because it is women who are the primary carers of young children. A female child develops her sense of identity as continuous with her carer’s, while a young boy develops a sense of identity that is distinguished from his carer’s. Rich17 briefly suggests that motherhood and being pregnant is central to women’s lives as is their natural sense of connection: I have seen massive sculpture like weavings, of jute, hemp, and wool, in which many varicolored strands are quickly visible like vines or striations; but when you come closer and try to touch this or that strand, your hand enters a dense, bristling mesh, thick with knotted and twisted filaments, some harsh and rough to the fingers, others surprisingly silky and strong. In thinking about motherhood…, I have felt a similar sensation, of elemental exploration and of complex discovery . . . . For motherhood is the great mesh in which all human relations are entangled, in which lurk our most elemental assumptions about love and power.

Motherhood is something far more than the relationship of a woman with her children. And even this relationship has been shaped long before the first child’s birth. All women are daughters of women, is this an obvious, a simple-minded statement? Or does it reach through the layers of the weaving to inner chambers only now beginning to be explored by women? It has been suggested by Margaret Mead18 that there is a deep chemical closeness between the body of a mother and her unborn female child. It has been affirmed by Chodorow19, that through an intense mother-daughters relationship women come into a deep and richer inner life than men. For heterosexual women, women tend to be more deeply attached to other women than do men.

West20 believes, implicitly if not explicitly that women raise children and hence raise girls who are more connected and nurturant, and therefore more likely to be nurturant caretakers themselves because it is women who bear children. Women are not inclined to abandon an infant they’ve carried for nine months and then delivered. If so, then women are ultimately more connected psychically, emotionally, and morally to other human beings because women, as children were raised by women and women raise children because women, uniquely, are physically and materially connected to those human beings when the human beings are foetuses and then infants. Women are more empathic to the lives of others because women are physically tied to the lives of others in a way which men are not. Women’s moral voice is one of responsibility, duty and care for others because women’s material circumstance is one of responsibility, duty and care for those who are first physically attached, then physically dependent, and then emotionally interdependent. Women think in terms of the needs of others rather than the rights of others because women materially, and then physically, and then psychically, provide for the needs of others.

 Gilligan’s central claim21 ‘In a Different Voice’ that women are more focused on relationships reflects gender verities. It is true in the sense that women’s lives are shaped by the needs of their children and their husbands-but this is just a restatement of the gender system that has traditionally defined women’s social existence in terms of their husband’s need to eliminate child-care and other responsibilities that detract from their ability to function as ideal workers.

Therefore, it is women who first took responsibility for the young, feeding and teaching and protecting them, probably led by analogy to their taking responsibility for feeding the entire group. Similarly, female animals take responsibility for creating and finding shelter, making nests, for their young and themselves; early women continued this activity, building shelters both temporary and permanent. In many societies women still perform this task. The first feeding of the young from women’s bodies may have led by analogy to responsibility for other forms of feeding to grinding and cooking the vegetables they had gathered. Male responsibility was far more limited: among many groups even today, men care for themselves, they gather for themselves, make tools for themselves and contribute minimally to the needs of the community22.

Furthermore, Stanford philosopher and cultural feminist Noddings endorse a biological and material explanation of women’s connection through mothering to the rest of human life in Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education23. Women are deeply connected with the rest of human through mothering and caring. The biological view holds that women, having given birth and entered lactation, are naturally nurturant toward their infants. The socialization view denies arguments for nature, instinct, and natural nurturance and insists that mothering is a role, something learned. Finally, the psychological view suggested by Chodorow that the tendency for girls to want to mother, and to actually engage in mothering, is the result of deep psychological processes established in close and special relationships with their own mothers24.

However, the most central and fundamental social connection seems to be that between mothering person and child. It is this connection that creates and recreates society. It is the activity of mothering that transforms biological entities into human social beings. Mothers and mothering persons produce children and empower them with language and symbolic representations. Mothers and mothering persons thus produce and create human culture.

3.1.2 Moral and psychological connection:

West25 views that the most significant aspect of the difference between men and women is the moral difference since women are more caring and responsible to others than are men. This capacity for nurturance and care dictates the moral terms in which women, distinctively, construct social relations. Women view the morality of actions against a standard of responsibility to others, rather than against a standard of rights and autonomy from others. Gilligan26, in her study of moral development, found that women tend to view a moral problem as ‘a problem of care and responsibility in relationships rather than as one of rights and rules’. When faced with the moral dilemma of whether a man should steal a drug he cannot afford to save his dying wife, Gilligan27 discovers that, while men struggle with the conflicting rights of the parties, women focus on the druggist’s ‘moral obligation to show compassion,’ ‘not on the conflict of rights but on the failure of response’. Although men and women may agree that the men ought to steal the drug, men justify it in terms of a resolution between conflicting rights of husband and druggist, and women in terms of the need for more compassion by the druggist in the face of the husband’s compassion for his wife.

Gilligan pursues these subjects in the writings of a number of social scientists-most of them men-who have taken the male world view as the norm, and have found women’s moral development to be incomplete. Re-examining these writers’ data, she finds they support another conclusion28, which I have already discussed in the above paragraph that women and men in the society tend to have distinctive views of interpersonal relationships and of the meaning of morality. In brief, she evokes two contrasting images: for men, the ladder of hierarchy; for women, the web of connection. Men tend to see human interactions as the contractual arrangements of individuals seeking positions in a hierarchy. Women, defining the very idea of self as more continuous with their human environments, tend to see the same interactions as part of ongoing, sharing connections in a network of relationships.

Thus, according to Gilligan, the moral imperative for women is an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and alleviate the real and recognizable trouble of this world. For men, the moral imperative appears rather as an injunction to respect the rights of others and thus to protect from interference the rights to life and self-fulfilment29. Cultural feminists, to their credit, have re-identified these differences as women’s strengths, rather than women’s weaknesses. Cultural feminism does not simply identify women’s differences, patriarchy too insists on women’s differences, it celebrates them.

Marilyn French30 has also begun to argue that women have a different moral voice because women are fundamentally committed to the preservation and survival of life, while men are committed to the goal of transcendence. Although French insists that this existential difference is not mandatory, the biological differences play an integral part. This difference, French states “reflects natural and material facts, and reflects our natural and pre-legal history”. Men have a fear of nature and rather than seeking to preserve it, look to rise above material elements. Due to women’s such close links to natural elements, women therefore have different moralities as they have different goals to men. Male morals are tightly linked to rigid sets of principles, rules and taboos and in order to show his manhood, he needs to hang on to them, abandoning those associated with womanhood. The morals of women are linked to survival. Life is very precious, not necessarily your own, but that of all others-plant, animals and humans, the community, the family and the children.

However, the moral differences between men and women appear very clear.  Men, abstracting human relationships from their particular contexts, define morality and justice in the vocabulary of rights-specifically, rights to be free from the interference of others31. They seek protection against aggression in abstract rules. Women distrust ‘a morality of rights and non-interference, ‘because of ‘its potential justification of indifference and unconcern’32. They define morality and justice in the language of responsibility, seeking solutions for moral problems not in impersonal abstract rules but in ‘the capacity to understand what someone else is experiencing’ and to avoid hurt to particular people in real human situations. Men, presented with moral dilemmas, tend to look for solutions in a hierarchy of rules. Women, faced with similar either/or choices, seek to widen the range of inquiry in the hope of finding solutions that preserve human relationships. If women tend to be deferential to others’ judgments, that deference is not just the product of social subordination; it also springs from a healthy moral concern for others, growing out of an inclusive sense of self33.

3.1.3 Sense of connection with intimacy, the ethic of care and the sense of self justice:

Women have a sense of existential connection to other human life which men do not. Cultural feminist Suzanna Sherry34 calls this women’s view of the world a feminine rather than feminist perspective. She summarizes the feminine perspective as one which views individuals primarily as interconnected members of a community. We have seen that Chodorow and Gilligan have concluded that women tend to have a more inter subjective sense of self than men and that the feminine perspective is therefore more other-directed. The essential difference between the male and female perspectives mirrors the fundamental difference between the modern and classical paradigms: ‘the basic feminine sense of self is connected to the world, the basic masculine sense of self is separate’35. Women thus tend to see others as extensions of themselves rather than as outsiders or competitors.

Following, Chodorow36 finds that this means that girls emerge from this period with a basis for empathy built into their primary definition of self in a way that boys do not. Girls come to experience themselves as less differentiated than boys, as more continuous with and related to the external object-world and as differently oriented to their inner object-world as well. Women are therefore capable of a degree of physical as well as psychic intimacy with the other which greatly exceeds men’s capacity. Gilligan37 explains that the fusion of identity and intimacy is clearly articulated in women’s self-descriptions. In response to the request to describe themselves, women describe a relationship, depicting their identity in the connection of future mother, present wife, adopted child, or past lover. Similarly, the standard of moral judgement that informs their assessment of self is a standard of relationship, an ethic of nurturance, responsibility, and care. In women’s descriptions, identity is defined in a context of relationship and judged by a standard of responsibility and care. Therefore, morality is seen by these women as arising from the experience of connection and conceived as a problem of inclusion rather than one of balancing claims.

West38 believes that intimacy and the ethic of care constitute the entailed values of the existential state of connection with others, just as autonomy and freedom constitute the entailed values of the existential state of separation from others for men. Because women are fundamentally connected to other human life, women value and enjoy intimacy with others. As women are connected with the rest of human life, intimacy with the other comes naturally. Caring, nurturance, and an ethic of love and responsibility for life are second nature. Autonomy or freedom from the other constitutes a value for men because it reflects an existential state of being: separate. Intimacy is a value for women because it reflects an existentially connected state of being. However, this is all the positive side of the subjective experience of connection.

She39 further recognises a down side to the subjective experience of connection. There’s danger, harm, and fear entailed by the state of connection as well as value. Whereas men fear annihilation from the separate other (and consequently have trouble achieving intimacy), women fear separation from the connected other (and consequently have trouble achieving independence). Gilligan40 makes the point succinctly: ‘Since masculinity is defined through separation while femininity is defined through attachment, male gender identity is threatened by intimacy while female gender identity is threatened by separation’. Separation, then, might be regarded as the official harm of cultural feminism. When a separate self must be asserted, women have trouble asserting it. Women’s separation from the other in adult life, and the tension between that separation and our fundamental state of connection, is felt most acutely when a woman must make choices, and when she must speak the truth. It is at those times that separation and individuation are at a premium41.

Gilligan continues that women face different sort of moral problems due to define their identity through relationships of intimacy and care. When relationships are secured by masking desire and conflict is avoided by equivocation, then confusion arises about the locus of responsibility and truth. Mary McCarthy42, describing her representation to her grandparents, explains: Whatever I told them was usually so blurred and glossed, in the effort to meet their approval . . . that except when answering a direct question, I hardly knew whether what I was saying was true or false. I really tried, or so I thought, to avoid lying, but it seemed to me that they forced it on me by the difference in their vision of things, so that I was always transposing reality for them into terms they could understand. To keep matters straight with my conscience, I shrank, whenever possible from the lie absolute, just as, from a sense of precaution, I shrank from the plain truth. Thus critical experience becomes choice, rather than intimacy, creating an encounter with self that clarifies the understanding of responsibility and truth.

Gilligan43 further elaborates that separation, and the fear of separation, can lead to real harm, especially in later life. Because women’s sense of integrity appears to be entwined with an ethic of care, so that to see themselves as women is to see themselves in a relationship of connection, the major transitions in women’s lives would seem to involve changes in the understanding and activities of care. Certainly the shift from childhood to adulthood witnesses a major redefinition of care. In the same vein, however, the events of mid-life-the menopause and changes in family and work-can alter a woman’s activities of care in ways that affect her sense of herself. If mid-life brings an end to relationships, to the sense of connection on which she relies, as well as to the activities of care through which she judges her worth, then the mourning that accompanies all life transitions can give way to the melancholia of self-deprecation and despair.


4.1 Radical feminism (in general):

According to radical feminism, women’s connection to others is experienced materially in intercourse and pregnancy but experienced existentially in all spheres of life. This is the source of women’s debasement, powerlessness, subjugation and misery, not a source of value worth celebrating. It is the cause of women’s pain, and the reason for their stunted lives. Invasion and intrusion, rather than intimacy, nurturance and care, is the ‘unofficial’ story of women’s subjective experience of connection44. Furthermore, radical feminists from a mainstream perspective, appear more separatist, and, in contrast with standard political debate, more alarming. Radical feminists appear to be more attuned to power disparities between men and women than are cultural feminists.

West’s45 arguments on the radical feminism is that modern radical feminism is unified among other things by its insistence on the invasive, oppressive, destructive implications of women’s material and existential connection to the other46. According to that description, women dread intrusion and invasion, and long for an independent, individualized, separate identity. While women may indeed ‘officially’ value intimacy, what women unofficially crave is physical privacy, physical integrity, and sexual celibacy, in a word, physical exclusivity. In the moral realm, women officially value contextual, relational, caring, moral thinking, but secretly wish that everyone would get the hell out of their lives so that they could pursue their own projects. Women loathe the intrusion that intimacy entails. In the epistemological and moral realms, while women officially value community, the web, the spinning wheel, and the weave, they privately crave solitude, self-regard, self-esteem, linear thinking, legal rights, and principled thought.

 She further noted that radical feminism of modern times begins not with the eighties critique of heterosexuality, but rather in the late sixties, with Shulamith Firestone’s denunciation of the oppressive consequences for women of the physical condition of pregnancy47. Nevertheless, radical feminism of the eighties has focused more on intercourse than on pregnancy. From the point of view of the connection thesis, what the radical feminists of the eighties find objectionable, invasive, and oppressive about heterosexual intercourse, is precisely what the radical feminists of the sixties found objectionable, invasive, and oppressive about pregnancy and motherhood. So, I will start with heterosexual intercourse, for it is intercourse, rather than pregnancy, which consumed the attention of the modern radical feminism in the eighties.

4.1.1 Connection through both intercourse and pregnancy:

Women’s potential for material connection with the other, whether through intercourse or pregnancy, constitutes an invasion upon women’s physical bodies, an intrusion upon their lives, and consequently an assault upon their existential freedom, whether or not it is also the root of their moral distinctiveness (the claim cultural feminism makes on behalf of pregnancy), or the hope of their liberation (the claim sexual liberationists make on behalf of sex)48. Both intercourse and pregnancy are literal, physical, material invasions and occupations of the body49. The fetus, like the penis, literally occupies a woman’s body. In their extremes both unwanted heterosexual intercourse and unwanted pregnancy can be life threatening experiences of physical invasion. An unwanted fetus, no less than an unwanted penis, invades a woman body, violates her physical boundaries, occupies her body and can potentially destroy her sense of self. Although the culture does not recognize them as such, the physical and existential invasions occasioned by unwanted pregnancy and intercourse are real harms. They are events women should fear. They are events which any sane person should protect herself against50. Connection through intercourse:

 With regards intercourse, according to the eighties radical critique, blurs the physical boundary between self and other, and that blurring of boundaries between self and other constitutes a profound invasion of the self’s physical integrity. That invasion of the dissolving of boundaries is something to condemn, not celebrate. Dworkin views on sexual intercourse51: Sexual intercourse is not intrinsically banal, though pop-culturemagazines52 like Esquire and Cosmopolitan would suggest that it is intense, often desperate. The internal landscape is violent upheaval, a wild and ultimately cruel disregard of human individuality,. .  no respecter of boundaries. . . . Sometimes, the skin comes off in sex. The people merge, skinless. The body loses its boundaries. . . . There is no physical distance, no self-consciousness, nothing withdrawn or private or alienated, no existence outside physical touch. The skin collapses as a boundary–it has no meaning . . . . Instead, there is necessity, nothing else–being driven, physical immersion in each other but with no experience of each other as separate entities coming together. . . . The skin is a line of demarcation, a periphery, the fence, the form, the shape, the first clue to identity in a society . . . , and, in purely physical terms, the formal precondition for being human. It is a thin veil of matter separating the outside from the inside. . . . The skin is separation, individuality, the basis for corporeal privacy53, . . . .

West54 noted in ‘Jurisprudence and Gender’ that women lose this formal precondition for being human and they lose it in intercourse. A human being has a body that is inviolate; and when it is violated, it is abused. A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse: permeable, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth-literature, science, philosophy, pornography-calls that penetration violation. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into violate the boundaries of her body. She is human but by a standard that does not include physical privacy. She is, in fact, human by a standard that precludes physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity

Following, both wanted and unwanted heterosexual intercourse is invasive, intrusive and violative, and like pregnancy it is therefore the cause of women’s oppressed, invaded, intruded, violated, and debased lives. By using West’s language55 that the penis occupies the body and ‘divides the woman’ internally in consensual intercourse no less than in rape. It pre-empts, challenges, negates, and renders impossible the maintenance of physical integrity and the formation of a unified self. The deepest unofficial story of radical feminism may be that intimacy-the official value of cultural feminism-is itself oppressive. Women secretly, unofficially, and surreptitiously long for the very individuation that cultural feminism insists women fear: the freedom, the independence, the individuality, the sense of wholeness, the confidence, the self-esteem, and the security of identity which can only come from a life, a history, a path, a voice, a sexuality, a womb, and a body of one’s own.

In summary, a woman loses the capacity for integrity in the experience of intercourse because her body-the basis of privacy and freedom in the material world for all human beings-is entered and occupied; the boundaries of her physical body are violated. What is taken from her in that act is not recoverable, and she spends her life-wanting, after all to have something-pretending that pleasure is in being reduced through intercourse to insignificance.  She learns to eroticize powerlessness and self-annihilation. The very boundaries of her own body become meaningless to her, and even worse, useless to her. The transgression of those boundaries comes to signify a sexually charged degradation into which she throws herself, having been told, convinced, that identity, for a female, is there- somewhere beyond privacy and self-respect56. Connection through pregnancy:

The original feminist argument57 for reproductive freedom centred on the definitive radical feminist insight that pregnancy, the invasion of the body by the other to which women are distinctively vulnerable, is an injury and ought to be treated as such. Pregnancy connects women with life, as the cultural feminist insists, but that connection is not something to celebrate; it is that very connection that hurts women. On this point French58 had drawn a view that women’s reproductive role-the paradigmatic experience of physical connection to nature, to life and to the other, and thus the core of women’s moral difference-is also the cause of patriarchy, primarily because of men’s fear of and contempt for nature. But her analysis sharply contrasts with Firestone’s assessment of the importance and distinctiveness of women’s reproductive role. Firestone has a radically different view. Pregnancy is indeed the paradigmatic experience of physical connection, and it is indeed the core of women’s difference. It is for that reason alone the cause of women’s oppression. Male contempt has nothing (at first) to do with it. Pregnancy itself, independent of male contempt, is invasive, dangerous and oppressive; it is an assault on the physical integrity and privacy of the body.  The strategic implication of this is both clear and clearly material. The technological separation of reproduction from the female body is the necessary condition for women’s liberation.  However, Firestone’s assessment of the women’s reproductive role parallels Marilyn French’s. Both view women’s physical connection with nature and with the other as in some sense the cause of patriarchy59.

Furthermore, West60 views that pregnancy is a dangerous, psychically consuming, existentially intrusive, and physically invasive assault upon the body which in turn leads to a dangerous, consuming, intrusive, invasive assault on the mother’s self-identity-that best captures women’s own sense of the injury and danger of pregnancy, whether or not it captures the law’s sense of what an unwanted pregnancy involves, or why women should have the right to terminate it.

She continues that the radical feminist argument for reproductive freedom appears in legal argument only inadvertently or surreptitiously, but it does on occasion appear. It appeared most recently in the phenomenological descriptions of unwanted pregnancies collated in the Thornburgh amicus brief filed by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)61. The descriptions of pregnancy collated in that peculiarly non-legal document are filled with metaphors of invasion-metaphors because women lack the vocabulary to name these harms precisely. Those descriptions contrast sharply with the joy that cultural feminists celebrate in pregnancy, childbirth and child-raising. The invasion of the self by the other emerges as a source of oppression, not a source of moral value.

5. FINAL PART:     

5.1 What does connection thesis mean in law?

By the claim that modern jurisprudence is ‘masculine’, it means, firstly, that the values that flow from women’s connection both existential and material are not recognized as values in law. The dangers attendant to that state are not recognized as dangers by the law. Therefore, the fundamental contradictions that characterize women’s lives are not reflected at any level whatsoever in contracts, torts, constitutional law, or any other field of legal doctrine. Secondly, it means to imply by the phrase ‘masculine jurisprudence’ is that both liberal and critical legal theory, which is about the relation between law and life, is about men and not women62.

5.1.1 Recognition of women’s connection in law:

Law does not value connection thesis as its official value is autonomy. The material consequence of this theoretical undervaluation of women’s values in the material world is that women are economically impoverished. The value women place through connection thesis reflects their existential and material circumstance; women will act on that value whether it is compensated or not63. But it is not. Nurturant, intimate labour is neither valued by liberal legalism nor compensated by the market economy. It is not compensated in the home and it is not compensated in the workplace-wherever women connection is, there is no compensation. Similarly, separation of the individual from her family, community, or children is not understood to be harm, and women are not protected against it. The law generally and legal doctrines in its particularity are coherent reactions to the existential dilemma that follows from the liberal’s description of the male experience of material separation from the other: the law acknowledges the danger of annihilation and the law protects the value of autonomy. Just as assuredly, the law is not a coherent reaction to the existential dilemma that follows from the material state of being connected to others, and the values and dangers attendant to that condition64. It neither recognizes nor values women’s connection to others, and neither recognizes nor protects against separation.

Furthermore, law does not recognize, in any way whatsoever, muted or unmuted, occasionally or persistently, overtly or covertly, the contradiction which characterizes women’s, but not men’s lives: while women value the connection to others they find so natural, they are endangered by the invasion and dread the intrusion in their lives which connection thesis entails, and they long for individuation and independence. Neither sexual nor fetal invasion of the self by the other is recognized as harm worth bothering with. Sexual invasion through rape is understood to be harmful, and is criminalized as such, only when it involves some other harm: today, when it is accompanied by violence that appears in a form men understand (meaning a plausible threat of annihilation); in earlier times, when it was understood as theft of another man’s property. But marital rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, simple rape, unaggravated rape, or as Susan Estrich65 wants to say ‘real rape’ are either not criminalized, or if they are, they are not punished-to do so would force a recognition of the concrete, experiential harm to identity formation that sexual invasion accomplishes.

Similarly, fetal invasion is not understood to be harmful. The argument that the right to abortion mirrors the right of self defence falls on deaf ears for a reason: the analogy is indeed flawed. The right of self defence is the right to protect the body’s security against annihilation liberally understood, not invasion. But the danger an unwanted fetus poses is not to the body’s security at all, but rather to the body’s integrity. Similarly, the woman’s fear is not that she will die, but that she will cease to be or never become a self. The danger of unwanted pregnancy is the danger of invasion by the other, not of annihilation by the other.

However, I think that one of Gilligan’s insights about women’s connection to others ‘In a Different Voice’ is highly influential in law. Therefore, it is possible to incorporate Gilligan’s insights into legal scholarship. MacKinnon66 has suggested that Gilligan’s insights achieve ‘what the special protection rule achieves in law: the affirmative rather than the negative valuation of that which has accurately distinguished women from men, by making it seem as though those attributes, with their consequences, really are somehow women’s, rather than what male supremacy has attributed to women for its own use’.

5.1.2 Women position in Jurisprudence and law:

Masculine jurisprudence is about the relation between law and life, is about men and not women. The reason for this lack of parallelism, of course, is hardly benign neglect. Rather, the distinctive values women hold, the distinctive dangers from which women suffer, and the distinctive contradictions that characterize women’s inner lives are not reflected in legal theory because legal theory is about actual, real life, enacted, legislated, adjudicated law, and women have, from law’s inception, lacked the power to make law protect, value, or seriously regard women’s experience. Jurisprudence is masculine because jurisprudence is about the relationship between human beings and the laws, and the laws are masculine both in terms of their intended beneficiary and in authorship.  Women are absent from jurisprudence because women as human beings are absent from the law’s protection: jurisprudence does not recognize women because law does not protect them. The implication for this should be obvious. It is not possible to have a genuinely ungendered jurisprudence until there is a legal doctrine that takes women’s lives as seriously as it takes men’s. There is no such legal doctrine exist. The virtual abolition of patriarchy is the necessary political condition for the creation of non-masculine feminist jurisprudence67.

In contrary, my opinion would be that there is a legal feminist theory that takes women’s lives seriously, which consists of two discrete projects. The first project is the unmasking and critiquing of the patriarchy behind purportedly ungendered law and theory, or, put differently, the uncovering of what might call ‘patriarchal jurisprudence’ from under the protective covering of jurisprudence. The primary purpose of the critique of patriarchal jurisprudence is to show that jurisprudence and legal doctrine protect and define men, not women. Its second purpose is to show how women-that is, people who value connection to others, fear separation, dread invasion, and crave individuation-have fared under a legal system which fails to value women’s connection to others, fails to protect against separation, refuses to define invasion as a harm, and refuses to acknowledge the aspirations of women for individuation and physical privacy68.

 Furthermore, I would strongly advocate to have a ‘reconstructive feminist jurisprudence’ or theory of law whose goal should be to provide descriptions of the ‘human being’ underlying feminist legal reforms that will be true to the conditions of women’s lives. This demands that law recognise the experiences of women. Of course, life experiences can be widely different between women. However, women’s experiences, particularly those connected to their bodies and sexuality, are recognised by several feminists too as being crucial to the task of developing a feminist legal theory freed from masculine interpretations of women’s situation. It is to the construction of a feminist jurisprudence, grounded in female (sexual) experience(s)69.


In summary: West’s connection thesis in general reveals that women’s potential for a material and existential connection to life entails an experiential and psychological sense of connection with other human life, which in turn entails both women’s concept of value, and women’s concept of harm. Women’s concept of value revolves around the axis of intimacy, nurturance, community, responsibility and care. For women, the creation of value, and the living of a good life, depends upon relational, contextual, nurturant and affective responses to the needs of those who are dependent and weak. Furthermore, women’s sense of connection with others determines special competencies and special vulnerabilities. Women value and have a special competency for intimacy, nurturance, and relational thinking, and a special vulnerability to and fear of isolation, separation from the other, and abandonment. With regards to harm, women’s concept of harm revolves around a fear of separation and isolation from the human community on which a woman depends, and which is dependent upon her.

On the flip side, the connection thesis is also not entirely true of women, either materially or existentially. Not all women become pregnant, and not all women are sexually penetrated. Women can go through life unconnected to other human life. Women can also go through life fundamentally unconcerned with other human life. Obviously, as the liberal feminist movement firmly established, many women can and do individuate, speak the truth, develop integrity, pursue personal projects, embody freedom, and attain an atomistic liberal individuality. Just as obviously, most women don’t. Most women are indeed forced into motherhood and heterosexuality. One reason for this is utopian blinders: women’s lack of awareness of existential choice in the face of what are felt to be biological imperatives. But that is surely not the main reason. The primary reason for the stunted nature of women’s lives is male power.

Furthermore, the connection thesis has not reflected in legal theory because legal theory is about actual, real life, enacted, legislated, adjudicated law, and women have, from law’s inception, lacked the power to make law protect, value, or seriously regard women’s experience. Clearly, legal theory is masculine, which emphasises the relationship between human beings and the laws. Women are absent from legal theory because women as human beings are absent from the law’s protection.


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