Monday, October 19, 2009

Catharine A. MacKinnon Speaks Out on Rape, Prostitution, and Law

[Additional material and a link to her speech was added on 20 October 2009 by me]

[photo of Catharine A. MacKinnon was found here]

Here is a link to her speech as an MP3 file:

Here are my notes taken from the speech as I was listening to it. I cannot say whether or not they are accurate transcriptions, so please don't copy and paste them as "quotes" of hers. What's in brackets was written by me.

[She begins with referencing part of the story told by Marge Piercy in her book Woman on the Edge of Time. This is among the first ten feminist books I ever read, along with Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde.]

Gender as an inequality that maps itself onto women and men.

Power is even more sexualised around the world now than it was thirty years ago.

Exposure to pornography desensitises its consumers to violence against women.

Sex-based poverty, and gender-based violence. Women have to be kept poor, some of them, must remain poor so they will be vulnerable to men who want to pay them for the kind of sex men who pay for sex want. We call such an arrangement, "consensual".

What was soft-core pornography is now mainstream entertainment in media not owned by practicing pornographers, for whom making pornography is their primary source of income.

Men are given active sexual passivity that is fed to men socially to boost their own sense of entitlement to it.

Male power is real and requires appeasement. You give men what they want in the hope that that giving will be enough to no longer be threatened and abused by men.

Children sexualise being sexually used by being sexually abused by men, usually male family members. This constitutes women's identity.

Sexually abused boys are 12% in college. My sense is that it's easily double that. About half of girls and maybe a quarter of boys, or more. In cultures where girls are kept inside at home, and boys are outside among men, those stats may be reversed.

Many serial killers, rapists, child molesters, and [misopedic] "pedophiles" were abused as boys when younger, not necessarily sexually. Raped boys might be a misogynistic and dissociated population.

Sexual abuse of children geometrically expands the incidence of sexual violence generally in the society. One male survivor can abuse many others, upwards of hundreds.

Some men identify with girls and women similarly abused. Others identify with the power of being an abuser.

Many abused children grow up to see women and men as distinct. Both sexes tend to identify their sexuality with the long-term effects of the abuse: men with being an abuser, women with being the recipients of the abuse.

Why does sexual abuse appear as it does? Sexual scripts attached to gender roles can last at least as long as the traumatic impact. This means men have their identities at stake in their expressions of power interpersonally.

Because sex it is experienced physically it is said to be natural. And extrapolated from this is that gender is natural.

"You do it, you do it, you do it, and then you become it." --Linda Boreman (survivor of many forms of abuse perpetrated by her husband/pimp, and other men, most notably in the film Deep Throat)

At this point expressing sexuality is seen as exercising freedom.

It isn't sexy unless it's unequal. Girls are defined as for sexual use, and boys as sexual users. Boys learn to despise girls, who are defined as the people to whom it is right to be sexually used. It's a crucible for society. The being that is that being is a girl. The alternative is masculinity--their way out, siding with the abusers. It is their choice whether to abuse or not.

The sexual politics of this isn't all Left and it isn't all Right. It produces a sexual politics whereby the Right is to suppress any sexuality that is equality, and the Left seeks to liberate any sexuality that is inequality.

Pornography makes this gender inequality, this sexual use and abuse, sexy.

Often we see pornography and prostitution supported liberally, as if one can be free while being socially unequal, living inside institutions of sex inequality.

I'm waiting for men to resent this--having their sexuality manipulated by this industry. That I'm weeping for their souls apparently has not inspired a [men's] movement [to end prostitution and rape].

A good many women resist knowing this reality.

One is often punished professionally and personally for not being in denial.

Psychiatry conspires to maintain sex as inequality.

This is why sexual violence is expanding. Andrea Dworkin predicted this in 1993.

This inequality of sexuality can express itself in same-gender relationships as well.

If it can't be changed, how do you explain it? Those who know gender and sex is social and not immutable. In Sweden, where the people who buy people for sex--let's call them sex predators, or users. We have been using the term "johns" because they have no name. In the Swedish law, they are criminalised along with pimps.

[me: let's call them prostitutors, or predatory purchasers of human beings who usually return what they buy when they're done with "it". Sometimes they kill what they buy.]

Giving prostituted people human rights. Mediated prostitution is pornography, prostitution shown through media.

Promotion and passage of the Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-pornography ordinance would also help. Women are not sex and are not for sale. Women, in other words, are human, in the full sense of the world. With this, gender would be so transformed as to be abolished. A solidarity among women across race, class, region could be achieved.

Which of Marge Piercy's futures will manifest? In 1976 the odds were closer to equal.

We can choose equality for real and gender as we know it.

There is a fable about a sage, who could see into the future. Two boys come to her with a bird: is the bird alive or dead? If alive, they'd kill it on the spot, if she says it's dead they let it go free.

"Oh wise one, is the bird alive or dead?" they ask.
She says, after many moments, "I don't know, I only know it's in your hands."

And here's one review of her speech, delivered at a U.S. college very recently.

Activist details sexism in world legal system
Issue date: 10/20/09 Section: News
[source may be found here]

Catherine MacKinnon, a respected and accomplished feminist, lectured about her theories on sexism in Neville Hall on Thursday evening.

"Women are in the 50 percent mark of becoming fully human," MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon said women need to overcome denial that they are being violated because of their gender. Overcoming this denial will gear women toward the path of receiving full human status in normative society, she said.

"Whenever I ask 'have you ever been raped', most women answer, 'I don't know,'" MacKinnon said.

She said many women try not to identify with the rape victims they hear about, even though they have been forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.

When MacKinnon made that point, it struck a chord with some of the female audience members.

"She made me think about my own experiences," Jenelle Lewis, '12, said. "I am one of these people it happens to and I don't say anything."

"Rape is war against women," said MacKinnon, who currently works with sexually abused Croatian and Bosnian women, said.

MacKinnon said she believes prostitution should be a sexual law and not a criminal law.

According to MacKinnon, under the criminal law, all partners involved, especially the prostitutes, are held accountable as criminals.

"I don't think everyone in prostitution should be a criminal," MacKinnon said. "They are being bought and sold for sex, as victims, it's outrageous."

She said 90 percent of prostitutes have been sexually molested as children, and are in the industry because of human trafficking, economic suppression, and are therefore victims of the industry.

MacKinnon championed for making prostitution a sexual law. According to MacKinnon, under a sexual law, the prostitutes are decriminalized and treated like the victims; instead, the people punished are the buyers and the pimps.

By lowering the buyers, "Johns," and pimps as sex offenders and raising the prostitutes' statuses as victims, sex equality can be obtained, MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon cited Sweden as having the lowest human trafficking rate because the country has adopted the notion of prosecuting the buyers and pimps.

MacKinnon said U.S. states are male institutions, socially and politically, and that is why state law is ineffective.

She said that under state law, males feel an obligation to protect their fellow males.

MacKinnon rallied for international law because she felt that the male bond is broken, and therefore males are able to prosecute more objectively.

Many people treat sex equality as a good idea and not as a statement of fact that is being ignored, MacKinnon said.

Olajede Osanyingbemi, '12, said he agreed with her in some aspects but felt that some of what she said was a bit too extreme.

"I think a lot of things are sexist, but I think it is wrong to lay the complete blame on men," he said.

When a student from Lafayette College asked how women can succeed in the legal system, MacKinnon replied: "The system isn't designed for you to succeed. You just can take any bull from anyone and always speak up when you feel violated against."

She then reflected on how she handled sexist situations during her days as a graduate student at Yale University. MacKinnon said she used to hand out a yellow card whenever she or another female was violated.

The card read: "You have just insulted a woman, this has been chemically treated, your penis will fall off."

Donasia Tillery, '11, said MacKinnon's lecture was especially meaningful to her because she was able to hear her talk about things she was unclear about.

"She is very influential," Lewis said. "After hearing her talk, I would join Break the Silence. Because I am helping on a lower level, every bit helps."

The event was sponsored by a number of campus organizations including the Women's Center, Global Studies and International Studies.

MacKinnon is noted to be one of the most highly cited legal scholars in English. She is a professor of Law at University of Michigan and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.


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