Catharine A. MacKinnon Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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.