MacKinnon, Catharine A.
Catharine A. MacKinnon 1946-
(Full name Catharine Alice MacKinnon) American essayist, critic, editor, lecturer, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of MacKinnon's career through 2001.
Considered by many to be the central figure in modern feminist legal theory, MacKinnon broke new ground in the late 1970s by arguing that the sexual harassment of women in the workplace constitutes a form of sex discrimination in violation of existing civil rights statues. Her seminal work on the subject, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sexual Discrimination (1979), won wide acceptance in the courtroom and became an important standard for sex equality cases across the globe. MacKinnon has also written extensively on the legalities of pornography and hate speech, arguing—often in collaboration with noted feminist author Andrea Dworkin—that pornographic material should not be protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Although her work is perceived by some as polemical and divisive, most commentators assert that her arguments spark constructive debate on a variety of feminist and constitutional topics.
MacKinnon was born on October 7, 1946, to George and Elizabeth MacKinnon. She received her B.A. in government from Smith College in 1968, her J.D. from Yale University in 1977, and her Ph.D. in political science from Yale in 1987. During the 1970s, MacKinnon became involved in the women's liberation movement and began composing works of political theory supporting her opinions on women's status in society and the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. In 1975 she collaborated with Andrea Dworkin to design legal claims for sexual harassment. MacKinnon later collaborated with Dworkin to construct ordinances classifying pornography as a violation of civil rights. In 1983 MacKinnon and Dworkin drafted anti-pornography ordinances for the city of Minneapolis—which were later vetoed by the mayor—and a year later for Indianapolis. These ordinances classified sexually explicit pictures and words as a form of sexual discrimination and banned their presence in the workplace. A federal appeals court struck down the Indianapolis ordinance as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, which protects free speech. The ruling of the appeals court was later partially upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court recognized MacKinnon's theory of sexual harassment, and the Supreme Court of Canada adopted several of the legal theories she established with the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) regarding equality, hate speech, and pornography. In the early 1990s, MacKinnon began representing Muslim and Croat Bosnian women and children who had been the victims of genocidal sexual atrocities. In August 2000, due largely to MacKinnon's work, the victims received a $745 million verdict for the Serbian wartime violations. This case was the first to establish rape as a legal claim for genocide under international law. Since 1990, MacKinnon has served as a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and was named to the school's Elizabeth A. Long Chair in 1998. She has taught as a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School since 1997 and has held teaching positions at a variety of universities, including Yale, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California, Los Angeles, among others. MacKinnon continues to write on issues of feminist legal theory and frequently contributes to periodicals on the subjects of pornography, sexual harassment, and gender equality under the law.
MacKinnon's successful argument that sexual harassment is sex discrimination formed the basis for her first book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, which is still considered the definitive work on the subject. MacKinnon argues that two forms of sexual harassment exist, both of which qualify as sexual discrimination. The first of these is the “quid pro quo” form of sexual harassment, in which a supervisor ties specific rewards or punishments to an employee's acceptance or rejection of certain sexual conditions. This form of harassment was recognized by lower courts in 1976. The second form concerns “hostile” work environments, where the employee is forced to make the choice between remaining at a job where sexual harassment exists or leaving the position to escape the harassment. The hostile work environment scenario was accepted by the courts in the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson ruling, where the court acknowledged that such treatment was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. MacKinnon outlined her views on the pornography issue and responded to her opponents in Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (1987), a collection of lectures and essays, and Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality (1988), which she co-authored with Dworkin. In brief, MacKinnon defines pornography as the sexual subordination of women to men; it constitutes, reinforces, and perpetuates male dominance throughout society and is thus a form of sex-based discrimination. At its most pernicious, MacKinnon maintains, pornography requires for its making—and produces through its use—rape and other acts of sexual sadism and aggression against women as well as bigotry and hatred toward women throughout society. Outlawing pornography is thus not an issue of art or morality, but one of protecting and respecting women as equals. The essays in Feminism Unmodified also address issues of abortion, rape, women's athletics, sexual harassment, and the rights of Native American women.
In Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989), MacKinnon explores the relationship between feminism and Marxism as well as outlining a unified political/social/sexual theory of male domination. The work reconceptualizes equality from its traditional approach, focusing on sameness and difference to an analysis of dominance and subordination. Only Words (1993) tackles the issue of circumstances in which forms of expression—specifically sexually explicit words or photographs—can be considered as a form of sexual harassment and therefore banned. The essays attack the past protection of pornography by the U.S. Constitution and compare it and sexual harassment with racial discrimination and abuse. In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings (1997)—which MacKinnon co-edited with Dworkin—compiles the oral testimony of victims of pornography, presenting both sides of the debate, including pornography opponents who are social science experts and authorities on abuse and prostitution, as well as advocates of unfettered freedom of speech. MacKinnon has also published Sex Equality: Sexual Harassment (2001), a legal casebook which presents arguments supporting sexual equality issues and gay and lesbian rights, and Directions in Sexual Harassment Law (2003), which she co-edited with Reva B. Siegel.
MacKinnon has been recognized as one of the most frequently cited and influential legal writers of the past thirty years. Despite the controversy surrounding some of her opinions and published works, critics have been quick to note that MacKinnon's skill in drafting relevant legal opinions has made her a fixture in modern jurisprudence. Although many legal and political scholars and activists have lauded her work as original, provocative, and well-reasoned, others have viewed her arguments as radical, polemical, and rigid. MacKinnon's theories on pornography have garnered the most critical reaction, as many commentators consider her position too extreme. Several critics have contended that her views on pornography amount to censorship and act in clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Prominent opposition to MacKinnon's theories has included such feminist and liberal organizations as the Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force (FACT) and the American Civil Liberties Union. Yet others have applauded her courage for investigating the role of pornography in American culture as well as issues of patriarchal power in society. MacKinnon's writings on sexual harassment and sex equality issues have attracted widespread praise, with academics lauding her as an important legal scholar and a major social theorist.
Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sexual Discrimination (nonfiction) 1979
Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (essays, lectures, and criticism) 1987
Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality [with Andrea Dworkin] (nonfiction) 1988
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (essays and criticism) 1989
The Case for Women's Quality: The Federation of Woman Teachers' Associations of Ontario and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [with M. Eberts, F. Henderson, K. Lahey, S. McIntyre and E. Shilton] (nonfiction) 1991
Only Words (essays, lectures, and criticism) 1993
In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings [editor; with Andrea Dworkin] (nonfiction) 1997
Sex Equality: Sexual Harassment (nonfiction) 2001
Directions in Sexual Harassment Law [editor; with Reva B. Siegel] (nonfiction) 2003
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SOURCE: Coote, Anna. “Would You Mind?” New Statesman 98, no. 2543 (14 December 1979): 946-47.
[In the following excerpt, Coote asserts that in Sexual Harassment of Working Women, “MacKinnon's legal analysis gives us some unexpected insights into the complexities of sex discrimination; and her study of sexual harassment provides a useful discipline for examining the law.”]
It isn't easy to get people to take sexual harassment seriously as a problem that besets women at work. (‘Do you get harassed?’ ‘I should be so lucky!’) After all, what is wrong with a bit of horseplay in the office? A girl looks attractive, her boss makes a pass. He's only doing what comes naturally and it must be more fun than typing invoices …
A few years ago, feminists began to explode popular myths about rape. Two of the most persistent were that ‘women ask for it’ and ‘men can't help themselves’. Perhaps these have now been discredited in the context of rape, but they have survived as powerful ammunition against women who ‘lose their sense of humour’ and complain about sexual harassment at work. Another well-worn myth is that women must want to be sexually coerced because they fantasise about it. But as feminist writer Martha Weinman Lear has explained, that kind of wishful thinking reflects no more than a woman's desire ‘to feel free of guilt in a sexual encounter of...
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SOURCE: MacManus, Susan A. Review of Sexual Harassment of Working Women, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Political Science Quarterly 94 (winter 1980): 696-98.
[In the following review, MacManus praises Sexual Harassment of Working Women for MacKinnon's ability to present complex legal arguments in a clear and simple manner.]
In this study [Sexual Harassment of Working Women], MacKinnon answers the central legal question, “Is sexual harassment sex discrimination?” in the affirmative, basing her conclusion upon language of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
MacKinnon, a practicing attorney and a professor of women's studies at Yale University, superbly presents complex legal arguments in a manner that a nonspecialist can comprehend. Using economic, social, psychological, and legal data, she shows that “sexual harassment of women at work is sex discrimination in employment which operates to reinforce women's traditional and inferior role in the labor force” (p. 4).
The book begins with the premise that the “structure of the work world women occupy makes them systematically vulnerable to this form of abuse” (p. 4). MacKinnon cites labor force statistics as proof of women's economic and social inequality in the work world, specifically their horizontal segregation,...
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SOURCE: Russell, Diana E. H. Review of Sexual Harassment of Working Women, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Contemporary Sociology 10, no. 2 (March 1981): 321-22.
[In the following review, Russell contends that Sexual Harassment of Working Women provides valuable insight into the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.]
Sexual Harassment of Working Women is the first scholarly analysis of a pervasive and pernicious problem that has existed ever since women entered the paid workforce, but that has only recently begun to be named, talked about, and challenged in the courts.
MacKinnon began her work on this issue in 1974. At that time “no court had held that sexual harassment was sex discrimination; several had held that it was not” (p. xi). MacKinnon, a practicing attorney and a political scientist, developed the argument published here: sexual harassment in the workplace does in fact constitute unlawful sex discrimination within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the past few years, some courts have concurred with her analysis.
MacKinnon argues that there are two distinct concepts of discrimination, which she calls the “difference” approach and the “inequality” approach. The former focuses on whether different treatment of the sexes is “arbitrary” and thus illegal, or “rational” and...
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SOURCE: Mullarkey, Maureen. “Hard Cop, Soft Cop.” Nation 244, no. 21 (30 May 1987): 722-26.
[In the following review, Mullarkey derides both Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse and MacKinnon's Feminism Unmodified as sensationalistic, irrational, and polarizing attacks on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.]
Is pornography a sex aid, like a dildo, hence undeserving of protection as speech? Is it a potent political message that should be denied protection before it leads to a Haymarket riot of rapists and pedophiles? By what criteria is an image determined “degrading”? Is the pet of the month a nastier purveyor of “bad attitudes” than Calvin Klein advertisements, rock videos, Harlequin romances or the New York Post? Is Screw an unusually dangerous product, like gunpowder, which places special liabilities on its maker? What effect will more laws have on the reasons isolated men masturbate in stalls at Mr. Peepers? Will they try it with chickens after they see Leda and the Swan? If Nazis can speak in Skokie and man-haters can speak anywhere, why can misogynists not speak in Indianapolis?
Andrea Dworkin and Catharine A. MacKinnon are not interested in clarifying issues. Co-authors of the 1984 Indianapolis civic ordinance that declared pornography a form of legally actionable sex discrimination, they prefer obfuscation and shock...
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SOURCE: Hein, Hilda. “In Search of Equality.” Women's Review of Books 5, no. 1 (October 1987): 6-7.
[In the following review, Hein delineates the major thematic concerns of the essays collected in Feminism Unmodified.]
Catharine MacKinnon will be best known to readers of The Women's Review of Books for her work in feminist theory1 and, with Andrea Dworkin, for her legislative campaign against pornography. Ordinances proposed by Dworkin and MacKinnon narrowly missed becoming law in both Minneapolis and Indianapolis and, had they been approved, would have radically transformed the law around pornography. I believe that MacKinnon's most important contribution to feminism lies in this intermediate area between theory and activism. Her incisive legal scholarship and innovative interpretation of legal concepts are already beginning to have an impact upon the slowly moving tide of precedent. A dozen years ago, as MacKinnon pointed out in her earlier book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (Yale University Press, 1979), no court had held that sexual harassment is sex discrimination and several had held that it is not. Her arguments, articulated in that book and the cases she litigated, have helped to change the climate of opinion.
Feminism Unmodified is a collection of occasional essays, “engaged works,” originally delivered as speeches at law schools,...
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SOURCE: Mack, Raymond W. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Contemporary Sociology 17, no. 2 (March 1988): 148-49.
[In the following review, Mack offers a negative assessment of Feminism Unmodified.]
“Gender is an inequality of power, a social status based on who is permitted to do what to whom. Only derivatively is it a difference. Differences between the sexes do descriptively exist; being a doormat is definitely different from being a man. … Inequality comes first; differences come after” (p. 8). If you share (or are interested in) this notion of social stratification and a truly simplistic interpretation of the distribution of power in human society, this book is for you. It allows you to skip Max Weber and C. Wright Mills and go directly to “feminism stresses the indistinguishability of prostitution, marriage, and sexual harassment” (p. 59).
This book [Feminism Unmodified] consists of a congeries of speeches, mostly devoted to the law on sexual harassment, which she has devoted herself to establishing, and to the law on pornography, which she believes is in serious need of reform. The speeches are characterized by angry rhetoric; they are a joyless set. The two words with the longest lists of citations in the index are “pornography” and “rape.” The word “orgasms” appears twice in the index (“female: faking” and “male:...
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SOURCE: Whitman, Christina B. “Law and Sex.” Michigan Law Review 86, no. 6 (May 1988): 1388-403.
[In the following review, Whitman outlines MacKinnon's feminist perspective of law, calling Feminism Unmodified a “rough, powerful, important work.”]
In Feminism Unmodified, a collection of speeches given between 1981 and 1986, Catharine MacKinnon talks of law from the perspective of feminism. MacKinnon does not approach her topic as a lawyer with a uniquely legal perspective on feminism; she brings, instead, a distinctively feminist approach to law. Nor is the feminism from which she speaks grounded in the standard political theories: MacKinnon disclaims and attacks the Marxist approach to feminism, the socialist approach to feminism, and, most emphatically and repeatedly, the liberal approach to feminism that has been embraced by many lawyers in their effort to use law to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex. MacKinnon's goal is to define feminism on its own terms. That is what she means by “unmodified.” This book both exemplifies and discusses the difficulty, and the considerable success, of her project. It is a rough, powerful, important work.
MacKinnon talks about law, and about the effect upon women of trying to talk in legal language. Although she herself is, in at least some of these essays, talking to lawyers, and although lawyers typically adopt a...
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SOURCE: Bartlett, Katharine T. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Signs 13, no. 4 (summer 1988): 879-85.
[In the following review, Bartlett investigates the relationship between MacKinnon's themes in Feminism Unmodified and Susan Estrich's Real Rape.]
Catharine MacKinnon's Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law and Susan Estrich's Real Rape are two of the best recent examples of feminist legal writing.1 The authors are prominent feminist lawyers and legal theorists. They both write about the powerlessness of women and the role of the legal system in enforcing this powerlessness.
MacKinnon's Feminism Unmodified, which is a collection of speeches delivered from 1981 to 1986, serves as a comprehensive and readable summary of the critique of American society and its legal system that has established MacKinnon's reputation as one of the most original and uncompromising of contemporary feminist thinkers. MacKinnon's central theme is that the whole of society is organized hierarchically, by sex. She presents a theory of power that, like Marxism, is a “total” theory—a description of the social arrangement between men and women that is “internally coherent and internally rational and pervasive yet unjust” (49). MacKinnon takes on many topics—women's inferior status in the workplace, sexual harassment,...
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SOURCE: Hart, Vivien. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Journal of American Studies 23, no. 1 (April 1989): 147-48.
[In the following review, Hart compliments Feminism Unmodified as a “tightly-argued, consistent and provoking work of social theory.”]
MacKinnon is a feminist lawyer, first known (and widely applauded) for her role in winning recognition by American courts of sexual harassment as a legal claim. That principle was detailed and derived from her version of feminism in her first book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, published by Yale in 1979. Since then she has been known, or perhaps notorious, above all for her collaboration with Andrea Dworkin to find a new legal route to the banning of pornography.
The present volume [Feminism Unmodified] is a collection of academic lectures and public speeches in which MacKinnon updates earlier causes, reports upon and justifies her recent activities and spells out the philosophy which inspires her. Topics include the Equal Rights Amendments, the law on rape and abortion and the rights of Native American women, as well as an analysis of judgements on sexual harassment and a separate section of six speeches on pornography. In that section, MacKinnon makes her case that pornography is a form of action against women and hence a violation of their civil rights, not a form of speech...
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SOURCE: Nicholson, Linda. “A Radical's Odyssey.” Women's Review of Books 7, no. 3 (December 1989): 11-12.
[In the following review, Nicholson contends that Toward a Feminist Theory of the State exposes the strengths and weaknesses of radical feminism.]
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State was written over an eighteen-year period (parts of it have already been published), but its unity as a theoretical expression of one individual's vision is obvious. Since the chapters were written relatively independently of each other, the reader has to do a bit more work than usual to bring them together. But that they fit together as smoothly as they do must attest to something strong and consistent in Catharine MacKinnon's own intellectual odyssey.
How useful is that unity for other feminists engaged with MacKinnon in the collective project of feminism as political movement? My response to this question is mixed. This book confirms my previous impression of MacKinnon's work as an eloquent expression of a radical feminist stance, and I see many of its strengths as related to that which is most creative and insightful in radical feminism. But it also reveals for me radical feminism's limits and problems.
The first section of the book focuses on the relation of feminism and Marxism. Three of its four chapters were written in the mid 1970s, and their lack of...
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SOURCE: Kristol, Elizabeth. “Prisoners of Gender.” Commentary 89, no. 4 (April 1990): 65-8.
[In the following review, Kristol contrasts the feminist theory found in Susan Moller Okin's Justice, Gender, and the Family with MacKinnon's Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.]
For career military, civilian life can sometimes appear aimless and drab. For career feminists, life outside the academy can appear similarly bleak, offering little in the way of glamor, reputation, or moral satisfaction.
“Career feminism” is a relatively recent phenomenon. Women used to become feminists because they hoped that it would open doors to things they wanted to do—like becoming brain surgeons or lawyers or fire jumpers. They looked forward to participating fully in civilian life, and could not wait until the war was over so they could get down to serious business. But other feminists turned out to have a taste and a talent for the battle; they liked the camaraderie, the rhetoric, and the pleasure of championing a cause. When they took shelter in the universities, their transformation into career feminists was complete. The universities today are filled with such professional feminists, women whose research, writing, and scholarship revolve around the nuances of feminist theory. Until recently all they had lacked was a unifying goal, preferably one sufficiently remote as to engage them for a...
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SOURCE: Eisenstein, Zillah. Review of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. American Political Science Review 84, no. 2 (June 1990): 635-37.
[In the following review, Eisenstein argues that the essays in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State are “theoretically significant and important contributions” to feminist theory but notes flaws in MacKinnon's “homogeneous” view of male power.]
MacKinnon's book [Toward a Feminist Theory of the State] grapples with the meaning of politics and how we think about what constitutes the political in terms of sexuality itself. The first section of the book, “Feminism and Marxism,” presents published materials from the mid-1970s, which she says may seem “groping and comparatively primitive” (p. x). Anyone who has not already read these articles (which are slightly revised) will find them theoretically significant and important contributions. For those familiar with the debates between Marxism and feminism this will be a review of familiar territory. Much has changed over the past decade in this debate due to developments within feminism itself. An accounting of these developments would begin to uncover some interesting transformations that have located many socialist feminists of this earlier period outside the debate today.
The second section of the book discusses the method and...
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SOURCE: Menkel-Meadow, Carrie. Review of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Signs 16, no. 3 (spring 1991): 603-06.
[In the following review, Menkel-Meadow contrasts the feminist legal theory of Deborah L. Rhode's Justice and Gender with MacKinnon's Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.]
How has law constructed “woman”? How has feminism changed law? What contributions have legal feminism made to political feminism and to feminist theory? Is a feminist theory of the state or its rules of law possible? The authors of these books on legal feminism take on these important questions, if somewhat obliquely. MacKinnon's answers are crisp, radical, elegant, and eloquent, if also dated, essentialist, and somewhat unsatisfying. Rhode's answers are more textured, socially situated, contingent, measured, and also somewhat unsatisfying. Read as historical documents, these books capture both the exciting new theories (sexual harassment, civil rights approaches to pornography) and the old approaches (“formal” versus “special” equality, the Equal Rights Amendment) that have fueled the second wave of feminism in its legal forms. But read as efforts to provide an organizing theoretical structure for the role of law in modern feminism, both books fail to transcend the current impasses in feminist legal theory.
Perhaps, despite their very different...
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SOURCE: Farrell, Susan A. “Differentiation and Stratification: Age Groups, Class, Gender, Race, and Ethnic Groups.” Contemporary Sociology 20, no. 3 (May 1991): 350-51.
[In the following review, Farrell regards Toward a Feminist Theory of the State as a valuable study for both feminist theorists and sociologists with an interest in feminist legal theory.]
Toward a Feminist Theory of the State is Catharine MacKinnon's newest addition to her continuing project of creating feminist theory. This work in progress contains some previously published essays (the first one is derived from “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory,” which was published in Signs and has become a feminist “classic”). However, here, as in her earlier Feminism Unmodified (1987), MacKinnon not only attempts to integrate feminist theory into social theorizing on law and the state, but she allows us to participate in this project by reading her work as it develops. This reading becomes an exercise in the sociology of knowledge: how does theory develop and, more important, how does it change over time through self-reflection and criticism?
MacKinnon admits that the essays may seem contradictory in places as well as repetitive, but this is part of a work in progress. Her attempts at comparing and contrasting Marxism and feminism have been refined over time as...
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SOURCE: Meyer, Michael J. Review of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Ethics 101, no. 4 (July 1991): 881-83.
[In the following review, Meyer argues that, despite its flaws, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State is a provocative, insightful, and worthwhile addition to feminist studies.]
This [Toward a Feminist Theory of the State] is not an easy book to gauge. It is by turns insightful and obscure. It is quite interesting (even genuinely disturbing in a most thoughtful way), yet it is also, at times, rhetorical to the point that it seems to undermine what may be its very purposes. MacKinnon does have a real flair for style, and the book is also, with only a few exceptions, exhaustingly documented.
The book is divided into three main sections—(1) feminism and Marxism, (2) method, (3) the state—and closes with a summation of sorts entitled “Toward a Feminist Jurisprudence.” “Feminism and Marxism” is a thorough and probing account of “The Problem of Marxism and Feminism” (p. 3), including a feminist critique of Marxism, a Marxist critique of feminism, and concluding with an analysis of the failures at an attempted synthesis. The feminist critique of Marxism offered here is essentially a critique of Marx and Engels mainly focusing on Engels. MacKinnon then moves to delineate the boundaries between liberal feminism...
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SOURCE: Elshtain, Jean Bethke. “Feminisms and the State.” Review of Politics 53, no. 4 (fall 1991): 735-38.
[In the following review, Elshtain contrasts stylistic elements of MacKinnon's Toward a Feminist Theory of the State with Mary Lyndon Shanley's Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England.]
It is by now de riguer in feminist theory circles to repudiate what is called dichotomous reasoning. But I must begin with a stark dichotomy, for these two volumes [Toward a Feminist Theory of the State and Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England] differ as the night to the day. Where Shanley's is an exercise in meticulous scholarship, moderation, and an openness to dialogue, MacKinnon's is a torrent of proclamatory certainties.
Shanley moves in on concrete problems, seeking to unravel the complexities of changing laws governing divorce, married women's property, infanticide, protective labor legislation, child custody, wife-abuse, marital rape, and the like. MacKinnon casts her project in far more grandiose terms. Rich and complex bodies of feminist theorizing, which caution against assuming an abstract and universal point of departure, are of little interest to her. She routinely deploys, but never unpacks, such terms as idealist, materialist, justice, and equality. Each of these complex categories means precisely what...
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SOURCE: Bernick, Susan E. “The Logic of the Development of Feminism; or, Is MacKinnon to Feminism as Parmenides Is to Greek Philosophy?” Hypatia 7, no. 1 (winter 1992): 1-15.
[In the following essay, Bernick maintains that the position of MacKinnon's work in relation to radical feminism is analogous to the place of Parmenides's work in ancient Greek philosophy.]
Feminist theory is in crisis. Given the institutionalization of Women's Studies programs, the research grants funded, and the concomitant proliferation of feminist theories of all descriptions, one might be tempted to believe that any such claim must be an exaggeration at best, and perhaps even a touch hysterical. The belief that a multitude of voices is in and of itself a good thing is held as an article of faith in the religion of liberal tolerance; it is not a matter of reasoned consideration even among the politically sophisticated. While I would concur with those (both feminists and not) who assert that the feminist theory of the late 1970s and early 1980s failed to speak to the concerns of many women (both feminists and not), I would argue that (1) diversity of opinion and approach in feminist theory, as elsewhere, is not necessarily, without further explanation or comment, a good thing and (2) the particular kind of diversity that evolved in the face of the criticism of 1970s feminism was not the kind of diversity the criticism had...
(The entire section is 6516 words.)
SOURCE: MacCormick, Neil. “With Due Respect.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4686 (22 January 1993): 3-4.
[In the following review, MacCormick examines MacKinnon's feminist legal theory in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State and finds parallels between her ideas and those of Elizabeth F. Kingdom in What's Wrong with Rights?]
In the very month that saw the bitter break-up of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow amid mutual allegations of startling abuse, a yet more remarkable family lawsuit came to the boil in Florida. Gregory Kingsley sued his mother for termination of her parental rights over him, and won. Gregory was thirteen, but the court recognized him as competent to bring his action for himself in his own name. The court saw no other way of securing his legitimate interests than to let him sue for himself. The court granted his application to be adopted by his then foster-parents, who were themselves legally precluded by their position as foster-parents from taking steps to adopt Gregory. A triumph for liberal legality? A path-breaking extension of effective legal personhood into the ranks of hitherto disfranchised minors? A brave day for children's rights? Or penultimate self-parody of a litigation-junkie society, paving the way for Janet and John to sue for the Christmas Nintendo?
Well, Gregory got his rights. Shouldn't children get their rights? Shouldn't women as well, and...
(The entire section is 2643 words.)
SOURCE: Kimball, Roger. “Sex in the Twilight Zone: Catharine MacKinnon's Crusade.” New Criterion 12, no. 2 (October 1993): 11-16.
[In the following essay, Kimball summarizes MacKinnon's case against pornography, describing her arguments as obsessive and extreme as well as concluding that MacKinnon exhibits a reductive view of human behavior.]
Speaking about pornography is not like anything else. It is crazier. … It makes grown men cry and smart people stupid.
—Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified
Every idea is an incitement.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
The demand for excessive freedom is a curious thing. Beginning in wholesale rebellion against restraint, it soon sets about erecting its own restraints—often harsher and more irrational than those it intended to replace. What was meant to shatter the bonds of convention and establish liberty ends up forging a new set of tyrannous conventions, all the more noxious for being imposed in the name of freedom.
The latest access of sexual liberation is a case in point. Born in the 1960s, the movement for sexual liberation has followed a predictable trajectory. It started in naïve abandon—chanting “Down with monogamy, emotional commitment,” etc.—and proceeded quickly through...
(The entire section is 3857 words.)
SOURCE: Posner, Richard A. “Obsession.” New Republic 209, no. 16 (18 October 1993): 31-6.
[In the following review, Posner maintains that Only Words is “eloquent and forceful,” but derides the work for lacking “brevity,” “careful distinctions, scrupulous weighing of evidence and fair consideration of opposing views”]
The title of Catharine A. MacKinnon's new book is intended as an ironic commentary on the belief that pornography is “only words” and therefore, unlike sticks and stones, can never hurt anyone. There is a further irony that is unintended: Only Words is a rhetorical, rather than an analytical, production; it is only words. It is eloquent and forceful but it lacks, perhaps because of its brevity, the careful distinctions, scrupulous weighing of evidence and fair consideration of opposing views that one is entitled to expect in a work written by a professor at an eminent law school (Michigan) and published by a distinguished university press (Harvard).
The book is a verbal torrent that appeals, much like pornography itself as MacKinnon conceives it, to elemental passions (fear, disgust, anger, hatred) rather than to the rational intellect. There is no nuance, qualification, measure or sense of proportion. “You grow up with your father holding you down and covering your mouth so another man can make horrible searing pain between your legs....
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SOURCE: Dworkin, Ronald. “Women and Pornography.” New York Review of Books 40, no. 17 (21 October 1993): 36, 38, 40-2.
[In the following review, Dworkin outlines MacKinnon's arguments against pornography in Only Words, speculating on how her opinions affect national and state governments and the issue of censorship.]
People once defended free speech to protect the rights of firebrands attacking government, or dissenters resisting an established church, or radicals campaigning for unpopular political causes. Free speech was plainly worth fighting for, and it still is in many parts of the world where these rights hardly exist. But in America now, free-speech partisans find themselves defending mainly racists shouting “nigger” or Nazis carrying swastikas or—most often—men looking at pictures of naked women with their legs spread open.
Conservatives have fought to outlaw pornography in the United States for a long time: for decades the Supreme Court has tried, though without much success, to define a limited category of “obscenity” that the Constitution allows to be banned. But the campaign for outlawing all forms of pornography has been given new and fiercer form, in recent years, by the feminist movement. It might seem odd that feminists have devoted such energy to that campaign: other issues, including abortion and the fight for women's...
(The entire section is 6041 words.)
SOURCE: Scruton, Roger. “Kiss Me, Cate.” National Review 45, no. 21 (1 November 1993): 61-2.
[In the following review of Only Words, Scruton enumerates the weaknesses of MacKinnon's case against pornography and free speech and asserts that her arguments function to incite hatred against men.]
I read Only Words with horrified amazement—at the thing against which Professor MacKinnon rails, and at the manner of her railing. I knew in outline of the American culture of pornography, and was familiar from her other writings with Miss MacKinnon's hate-intoxicated style. But never had I guessed at the relation between them—the magnetic force with which pornography grips the feminist imagination, and the reckless obsession that results from this. Here, in 150 relentless pages, are the two most degrading of present-day America's sins against the spirit: pornography and misandry. Miss MacKinnon's diatribe is a vivid instance of what she condemns, a dirtying of life and love that deploys all the dehumanizing tricks of the pornographer, blocking out the soul with the hate-filled image of the body. I fully agree with her that pornography should be banned; and there is no better candidate for the bonfire than this book.
It would never have occurred to earlier generations of Americans that the Constitution could be used to forbid the expression of opinions judged “offensive”...
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SOURCE: Pasewark, Kyle A. “Who May Speak?: Amending the First Amendment.” Christian Century 110, no. 33 (17 November 1993): 1164-67.
[In the following review, Pasewark considers how MacKinnon's arguments will affect the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and asserts that Only Words “has the appearance, both in form and content, of a hastily constructed affair born more of anger, invective and deadlines than careful thought.”]
Only Words is a disturbing book—for better and for worse. For better, MacKinnon aims at the heart of an important and heated debate: what may or may not be said in the classroom, in the pulpit or on the street corner as well as what may or may not be shown on screen, written in books or depicted in the arts. In the end, however, MacKinnon contributes only more heat to this debate. In place of argument, she offers hyperbole; instead of coming to grips with her opponents' arguments, she piles up words of denunciation. If we have the right to expect more considered reflection from a full professor at a major law school, we should also expect more careful editing from a major university press—the book's endnotes should at least be numbered correctly so that they consistently correspond with the text. Only Words has the appearance, both in form and content, of a hastily constructed affair born more of anger, invective and deadlines than careful...
(The entire section is 2938 words.)
SOURCE: Tyrrell, Jr., R. Emmett. “The Worst Book of the Year.” American Spectator 27, no. 2 (February 1994): 20-1.
[In the following essay, Tyrrell argues that MacKinnon's arguments in Only Words are both “specious and sophomoric.”]
It is that joyous time of year when I and my colleagues on the J. Gordon Coogler Committee confer the Coogler laurels upon the author of that degenerate literary work that we adjudge the Worst Book of the Year. Generally the award is conferred a couple of months into the new year, for in this era of widespread higher education a stupendous number of very bad books are published. Reading them all takes a vast amount of time. In fact, reading merely one or two can be time-consuming. Some are sleep-inducing (particularly those written by the so-called professoriate) and others can leave the reader nauseated (I have in mind the dreadful stuff written by that ghastly lit set babied and cosseted at one of the Republic's idiotic writers workshops; think of Robert Coover, author of The Public Burning and Coogler laureate for 1977).
This year our job was easy. Another feminist law school prof has heaved up a semi-literate tract, and all the judges rushed to it. Years of reading bad books suggested that she would turn out true drivel, drivel beyond anything any other university professor might exhale. Surely her scholarly efforts would be a mess...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
SOURCE: Young, Cathy. “Rancorous Liaisons.” Reason 25, no. 9 (February 1994): 57-8.
[In the following review, Young asserts that, despite the “hypnotic power” of MacKinnon's prose, the central arguments in Only Words are exaggerated, “spurious,” and poorly constructed.]
A fascinating chapter in The Morning After focuses on legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon (dubbed “the anti-porn star”) as the leading exponent of the new “victim” feminism that sees sexual violation as central to the female experience. Those interested in learning more about the woman who gave us our current sexual harassment laws can turn to MacKinnon's own latest opus, the mercifully short Only Words.
A blurb from Columbia University's Patricia Williams, hailing MacKinnon as “one of the most visible and effective advocates behind this nation's attention to crimes against women,” laments that “because her brilliant writing is largely unread, she has become an ideological easy mark.” I'm afraid she's got it wrong: It's only because MacKinnon's work is largely unread that she is considered a legitimate advocate for anything.
“Brilliant” or not, MacKinnon's prose does have a certain hypnotic power. It comes from hyperbolic declarations—“I am asking you to imagine that women's reality is real”—and relentless repetition of claims which are meant...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
SOURCE: McCabe, David. “Is Pornography ‘Free Speech’?” Commonweal 121, no. 3 (11 February 1994): 22-3.
[In the following review, McCabe contends that, although there are some weaknesses in MacKinnon's reasoning in Only Words, the work is “on the whole quite persuasive in arguing that we need to rethink our approach to the pornography debate.”]
In case you haven't noticed, the old battle between pornography and community standards of decency is over; decency lost. While it is true that the Supreme Court has devised an elaborate (and largely irrelevant) test for obscenity, for the most part pornography seems to be here to stay. To no one is this fact more disturbing than University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon, the intellectual leader of what has come to be called the feminist critique of pornography. What distinguishes this critique from earlier “standards of decency” arguments is its insistence that pornography be banned because it contributes heavily to the continuing subordination and abuse of women. Through the work of writers like MacKinnon, this critique has largely succeeded in shifting the terms of the debate: no longer is it a question of liberated sexual mores confronting repressive puritanism; instead, the battle is now pitched between the pornographers' rights to free speech and the equality rights of women.
In her latest offering,...
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SOURCE: Stepp, Carl Sessions. “Fighting the First Amendment's Free Ride.” American Journalism Review 16, no. 2 (March 1994): 53.
[In the following review, Stepp lists several flaws in MacKinnon's theories on pornography and hate speech in Only Words but notes that the debate the work has inspired is ultimately important and worthwhile.]
With Only Words, Catharine MacKinnon has touched off a rousing argument about pornography and hate speech. She hasn't won it. But she has locked onto something important, serving notice that the First Amendment's free ride may be over.
Unfortunately, she delivers the message in intemperate terms certain to polarize.
“You grow up with your father holding you down … so another man can make a horrible searing pain between your legs,” she writes. “When you are older, your husband ties you to the bed and drips hot wax on your nipples. … Your doctor will not give you drugs he has addicted you to unless you suck his penis.”
That's just her opening paragraph.
MacKinnon is both a Michigan law professor and a fed-up feminist, and her language shifts between layered argumentation and furious ventilation. But the underlying idea is compelling: that words cannot be separated from actions, especially those based on sex.
MacKinnon calls into question “the extent to...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
SOURCE: Dinielli, David C. Review of Only Words, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Michigan Law Review 92, no. 6 (May 1994): 1943-52.
[In the following review, Dinielli delineates MacKinnon's feminist legal theories and addresses the critical reaction to Only Words.]
Professor Catharine MacKinnon's1 short book, Only Words, has already produced a flurry of reactions. Only a few who have reviewed the book, which sets out MacKinnon's theoretical framework for her campaign against pornography, have treated it, or MacKinnon, kindly. Most have been unabashed in their criticism. Judge Richard Posner in the New Republic, for example, labels her “reckless.”2 In the Nation, Carlin Romano closes his review, in which he invites the reader to follow along as he fantasizes raping MacKinnon,3 by calling her an “authoritarian in the guise of a progressive.”4 Ronald Dworkin's review in the New York Review of Books, while generally respectful, spells MacKinnon's first name Catherine rather than Catharine5 and includes on the opening page a caricaturized drawing of the professor with crossed arms and pursed lips, topped with a wild tornado of voluminous hair.6
Moreover, many of the criticisms reviewers have leveled are gender biased. For instance, Calvin Woodard states that the arguments...
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SOURCE: Williams, Bernard. “Drawing Lines.” London Review of Books 16, no. 9 (12 May 1994): 9-10.
[In the following review, Williams comments that the legal arguments in Only Words will be difficult for British readers to fully comprehend.]
Best known as an eloquent campaigner against pornography, Catharine MacKinnon is a lawyer—a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. Not all of this book (based on talks given at Princeton) sounds much like legal argument, and particularly when she is talking about pornography she gives a rhetorical display which may well have been breathtaking in the lecture hall. But the book [Only Words] does in fact offer a legal argument, one which is interesting, and also deeply American, in the sense that MacKinnon discusses the problems raised by pornography and also by speech that constitutes sexual or racial harassment in terms of American law and the American Constitution. MacKinnon herself does not accept those terms as presently defined, and her book is an eloquent plea to Americans to move beyond what she sees as the prejudiced limitations of current doctrine, in particular of current liberal doctrine. As a plea to Americans, it takes for granted several aspects of American discussions. Some of this a British reader may find rather bewildering.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects ‘freedom of...
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SOURCE: Golding, Sue. “Devils and Deep Blue Seas.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 305 (3 June 1994): 45.
[In the following review, Golding explores MacKinnon's concept of free speech as presented in Only Words, focusing on the question of speech versus action as it relates to pornography.]
Catharine MacKinnon is a woman who knows evil when she sees it. Her mission (and ours, should we choose to accept it) is to search out and destroy this evil; to go where no man has gone before and snuff it out at its root.
She calls this evil: pornography; though at times she interchanges it with the words “men” or “them” or “penis” or “liberals” or “postmodernists” or “violence against women” or “sexual abuse” or simply “rape”. With all the innocence of a courtroom lawyer but—oddly enough, and despite her years of legal training—without the air-tight logic of one, she pretends not to notice this blurring of distinctions, nor the facile rhetoric used to seduce when her arguments fail to attract.
Rather than obliterate, or at least contribute to the obliteration of, hatred in all its forms—including that generated from crude stereotypes of women or of men—Only Words simply exchanges one form of bigotry for another and, more infuriatingly still, names that exchange: “feminist”.
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SOURCE: McHugh, James T. “Pornography and Power.” Review of Politics 56, no. 3 (summer 1994): 596-97.
[In the following review, McHugh considers Only Words to be a valid and notable contribution to the discussion of the limits of free speech under the U.S. Constitution.]
This book [Only Words] offers a continuation of Catharine MacKinnon's earlier writings on the subject of speech, freedom of expression, and constitutional law from her unique perspective of feminist legal thought. It extends her already familiar approaches to this broad issue by challenging dominant civil libertarian attitudes regarding the relationship between women and speech. While readers might object to her apparently rigid style and equally inflexible approach, there is an important challenge presented by this book which anyone with an interest in this profound subject needs to address.
The dominant theme of this book revolves around the relationship of speech to power, and particularly to the issue of women's lack of empowerment as represented by, and inflicted through, pornographic expressions. This theme is hardly a novel one, but MacKinnon pushes it to new limits in her attempt to compel her readers to challenge prevalent attitudes within society, including attitudes shared by many feminists, regarding the distinction between erotica and pornography. At first glance, her examples (and,...
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SOURCE: Sennett, Richard. “The New Censorship.” Contemporary Sociology 23, no. 4 (July 1994): 487-91.
[In the following review, Sennett notes that while Only Words is MacKinnon's weakest work, it owes its popularity “to the assimilation of feminism into a rhetoric of aggression, sexual repression, and community building which marked the mythology of the American frontier.”]
By any measure, the United States is a violent society, marked by high rates of murder, assault, child abuse, and rape. Women suffer disproportionately from this violence. Gendered violence has thus prompted new thinking and writing about pornography, but the renewed interest in pornography's social consequences has created new confusions. Traditional, right-wing advocates of censorship have been joined by people seeking to lighten the burden of gendered violence through forbidding its representation. And old dilemmas about the very act of representing the forbidden, once framed in aesthetic terms, have reappeared as political and social issues, which has not made them any clearer.
For anyone who writes sexually explicit fiction, as I do, the sociological weight now given to representations of sexual violence can prove an artistic burden, as the new advocates of censorship indeed intend. Smutty texts are as old as literature itself. Graphic writing about the juncture of sex and violence began to...
(The entire section is 3066 words.)
SOURCE: Fraiman, Susan. “Catharine MacKinnon and the Feminist Porn Debates.” American Quarterly 47, no. 4 (December 1995): 743-49.
[In the following review, Fraiman summarizes the debate among feminists regarding pornography and highlights the strengths of MacKinnon's arguments in Only Words.]
Those of us in academe all know by know that sexuality is constructed. We also know that it may feel rather unreconstructed, even untheorizable. In spite of our training, sexuality may nevertheless seem to us irrational, unmediated, and very personal. Sometimes it seems downright natural. As Catharine MacKinnon observes, “Because of its location in intimacy, harassment that is sexual peculiarly leaves nothing between you and it: it begins in your family, your primary connections, those through which the self is developed” (60). There is, of course, another sense in which sexuality does not begin in the family as much as in the courtroom, medical treatise, or literary text, but it is equally true that we live it in the tender, psychological interstices MacKinnon describes. Given this double sense of sexuality and its representations—as both public and private—I want to preface my comments on Only Words with an anecdote that I hope will do double duty as it suggests at once my personal relationship to Catharine MacKinnon and the antipornography movement and establishes something of a...
(The entire section is 2593 words.)
SOURCE: Olson, Lester. Review of Only Words, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Quarterly Journal of Speech 82, no. 4 (November 1996): 433-35.
[In the following review, Olson presents several objections to MacKinnon's arguments in Only Words but concludes that the book will “almost certainly reconfigure the national debate over pornography, harassment, free speech, and equality.”]
Presented originally as the Christian Gauss Memorial Lectures in Criticism, Catharine MacKinnon's Only Words endeavors to reconfigure the legal treatment of harassment and pornography by developing the thesis that “the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country” (71). The book consists of three interrelated chapters. The first, “Defamation and Discrimination,” focuses upon the commonplace legal argument that in the United States pornography is protected as free speech, stressing that in this country “pornography falls presumptively into the legal category ‘speech’ at the outset through being rendered in terms of ‘content’, ‘message’, ‘emotion’, what it ‘says’, its ‘viewpoint’, its ‘ideas’” (10). She endeavors to shift the focus of the argument from what pornography says to what it does as an inherently discriminatory activity in that pornography. From this perspective pornography refers to “graphic sexually...
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SOURCE: Witt, Charlotte. “Pornography.” NWSA Journal 9, no. 2 (summer 1997): 165-74.
[In the following review, Witt places MacKinnon's Only Words within the feminist debate over pornography, contrasting her views with Nadine Strossen's Defending Pornography.]
With the Christmas release, to rave reviews, of The People vs. Larry Flynt, it seems that pro-porn philosophy, as argued by Nadine Strossen in Defending Pornography, and Avedon Carol in Nudes, Prudes, and Attitudes, is winning the culture war. The movie portrays Larry Flynt, the publisher of hard-core Hustler magazine, as a flawed but courageous defender of free speech. Frank Rich, in the New York Times calls it “the most timely and patriotic movie of the year”. Even critics, such as Ellen Goodman in the Boston Globe and Hanna Rosin in the New Republic focus on the movie's airbrushing of Flynt (in life he was fat and ugly, had five wives, and neglected his kids) rather than on feminist arguments against pornography, such as those made by Only Words, Power Surge, and The Price We Pay—as if the movie just needed a more attractive “hero” (Hugh Heffner?) and a better product (Playboy?). The invisibility of the feminist debate over pornography in reviews of The People vs. Larry Flynt makes a clear understanding of the terms of the debate all the more...
(The entire section is 3979 words.)
SOURCE: Rosen, Jeffrey. “In Defense of Gender-Blindness.” New Republic 218, no. 26 (29 June 1998): 25-35.
[In the following review, Rosen traces the development of sexual harassment law, discusses the law's recent challenges, and considers MacKinnon's impact on theories of sexual harassment.]
In February, Yale Law School sponsored a conference to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Catharine MacKinnon's Sexual Harassment of Working Women. The Paula Jones trial seemed still likely to proceed on schedule, and there was a tincture of defensiveness in the air as conference participants dismissed the growing chorus of criticism that harassment law was losing its moorings. Andrea Dworkin thoughtfully ridiculed the critics of sexual harassment law as “millions of men [who] want to have a young woman in the workplace to suck their cock.” Jane Larson knowingly declared that “more than one person may have come to orgasm in that White House closet,” and insisted that “sex harassment law benefits women who seek sex at work and those who resist.” And Frederick Schauer, the Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, dismissed as “Irivolous” concerns that current harassment law might inhibit free speech. All this certitude was a sure sign that all was not well with the cause.
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SOURCE: Olsen, Frances. “The Outsider.” American Lawyer 21, no. 11 (December 1999): 93, 153.
[In the following essay, Olsen presents an overview of MacKinnon's life and body of work.]
Not since the 1890 Harvard Law Review article by Charles Warren and Louis Brandeis initiated the cause of action for violation of privacy has an author been as closely identified with a new cause of action as Catharine MacKinnon has been with sexual harassment.
MacKinnon, who now holds a J.D. and a Ph.D. degree in political science, was a student at Yale when sexual harassment cases first arose in the 1970s. To some feminist attorneys, it seemed self-evident that quid pro quo harassment constituted sex discrimination. Hostile environment harassment, too, struck many as an obvious method of excluding or driving away women, and thus a form of sex discrimination. But a number of federal district judges, perhaps in part because they were primarily men who took male privilege for granted, accepted men's sexual overtures toward women as natural compliments, rather than as hostile discrimination. A supervisor's retaliation was seen as an understandable, if somewhat cowardly, response to an embarrassing personal rebuff. To these judges, sexual harassment was merely a personal matter. And while it was not commendable, it also was not sex discrimination. The first cases reaching federal district courts...
(The entire section is 937 words.)
SOURCE: Schaeffer, Denise. “Feminism and Liberalism Reconsidered: The Case of Catharine MacKinnon.” American Political Science Review 95, no. 3 (September 2001): 699-708.
[In the following essay, Schaeffer argues that certain aspects of MacKinnon's feminist theory must be understood within a liberal framework.]
Feminist theory has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the incompleteness of unreconstructed liberalism for addressing all aspects of human life. But the view that liberalism and feminism are incompatible has become widespread, especially among radical feminists who reject liberalism for offering women “a piece of the pie as currently and poisonously baked” (Morgan 1996, 5). When liberalism is understood as thoroughly patriarchal, feminism is understood as something separate from and beyond liberalism. The presentation of liberalism and feminism as disjunctive—indeed, as a contradiction1—raises the question of whether we have become too eager to dissociate thoroughly feminism from liberalism. Once we acknowledge the gender bias in many classical liberal tenets as originally formulated, we are left with the question of whether liberalism is simply one of “the master's tools [that] will never dismantle the master's house” (Lorde 1984).2 Does liberalism remain relevant to feminism, or does feminism require “a new process of theorizing and a new...
(The entire section is 9221 words.)
Bader, Eleanor J. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Humanist 49, no. 1 (January-February 1989): 41-2.
Bader asserts that the controversy surrounding Feminism Unmodified functions to spark debate on feminist issues.
Baer, Judith A. Review of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Journal of Politics 52, no. 3 (August 1990): 1010-13.
Baer offers a mixed assessment of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.
Bart, Pauline B. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. American Journal of Sociology 95, no. 2 (September 1989): 538-39.
Bart elucidates the unifying thematic concerns of Feminism Unmodified.
Beatt, Mark F. Review of Sexual Harassment of Working Women, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. American Journal of Sociology 87 (September 1981): 510.
Beatt argues that Sexual Harassment of Working Women represents “the first comprehensive treatment of both the social and the legal issues raised by sexual harassment.”
Brown, Wendy. Review of Feminism Unmodified, by Catharine A. MacKinnon. Political Theory 17, no. 3 (August 1989): 489-92.
Brown discusses the role of sexuality and sexual theory...
(The entire section is 536 words.)