Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: A pioneer in the development of feminist legal theory, MacKinnon formulated the argument that sexual harassment should be viewed as a form of sex discrimination—an argument that later became embedded in law.
Catharine Alice MacKinnon was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1946, the daughter of George E. and Elizabeth V. (Davis) MacKinnon. George MacKinnon was a leading figure in Minnesota politics during Catharine’s childhood; he was an adviser to the Eisenhower and Nixon presidential campaigns, served as a U.S. congressman from Minnesota and as Republican nominee for governor, and was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Like her mother and her maternal grandmother, Catharine MacKinnon attended Smith College. She graduated magna cum laude in 1969 with a bachelor of arts degree in government. She went on to study at Yale University, where she did graduate work in political science before being accepted at Yale Law School, where she received her law degree in 1977. (She was awarded the Ph.D. in political science from Yale in 1987.) While at Yale, MacKinnon created the first course in the university’s women’s studies program, and was active in radical politics, working with the Black Panthers and in the campaign against the Vietnam War.
It was while still a law student that she conceived her...
(The entire section is 2236 words.)
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A law professor at the University of Michigan since 1990, MacKinnon has claimed in books such as Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women’s Equality (co-authored with Andrea Dworkin 1988), and Towards a Feminist Theory of the State (1989) that the law ought to treat pornography as a civil rights issue. In sharp contrast to the liberal view that pornography deserves constitutional protection under the First Amendment as a form of free speech, MacKinnon has argued that pornography is better identified as discriminatory action, the “graphic, sexually explicit subordination of women,” than as obscene words or images. On this basis, she has fought to pass antipornography ordinances in several U.S. cities designed to enable women to file sexual discrimination lawsuits against those involved in the distribution or production of pornographic materials. Some feminists, most notably those involved in the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force, have opposed these efforts out of concern that they have the potential to lead to the censorship of feminist speech. MacKinnon’s efforts did not meet with success in the United States, but they were influential in the 1992 Canadian court decision Butler v. The Queen, which extended the definition of “obscenity” to pornography portraying women in a degrading or dehumanizing manner.
(The entire section is 205 words.)