[photograph of Catharine A. MacKinnon is from here]
"I think only because it's men doing it against women that it isn't seen as a war."
[The "it" is men committing systematic violence against women, which is to say, anti-woman warfare.
"[T]he fact that the law of rape protects rapists and is written from their point of view to guarantee impunity for most rapes is officially regarded as a violation of the law of sex equality, national or international, by virtually nobody."* * *
" [...] most rapists are men and most legislators are men and most judges are men and the law of rape was created when women weren't even allowed to vote. So that means not that all the people who wrote it were rapists, but that they are a member of the group who do [rape] [...] "* * *
"We're now in a stage where people want to believe that there is equality. They'd rather deny inequality than face it down so that they can actually live it. My task is to support their belief in that equality while at the same time unmasking everything around them that is making it impossible for them actually to live in it."* * *
"I think only because it's men doing it against women that it isn't seen as a war."
[The "it" is men committing systematic violence against women, which is to say, anti-woman warfare.
-- all four quotes above are by Catharine A. MacKinnon (see them in context, below)
As a Western radical profeminist, I make it my business to read the work of socially prominent radical feminists in the West, and to know what the validity is of the outspoken, mass media critics of those feminists. What I find is that the women and men and trans people who criticise Catharine MacKinnon either A) haven't read her work, B) grossly and glaringly misread it (I mean like thinking she is "anti-sex"--that kind of complete stoopidity), or C) willfully misrepresent it. Usually it is a combination of both A and C. That MRAssholes routinely misquote her is a sign, better than any other, that they refuse to actually deal with what she DOES say, because what she DOES say is something they're too stoopid to respond to intelligently, or because they have no response to her social political critiques of Western society and its sexist and racist political platforms, other than unethical and self-serving defenses white het male supremacy. I find no exceptions to this, among MRAssholes, pornographers, pimps, and prorape legislators, probattery and pro-incest Fathers' Rights felons, and other white het male supremacist activists. Hell, they can't even spell her NAME correctly, let alone comprehend her political theories and social analysis.
Here, below, Catharine takes on the white critics, the stoopid ones who are read as if they are intelligent--the ones who have plenty of privilege and plenty of access to media, unlike most radical women of color, and unlike most white radical feminists. Let someone who opposes MacKinnon READ her and then disagree with her, and state clearly what those disagreements are, and post them as comments here. I dare you--white het male supremacist political critics and opponents--to deal with WHAT SHE DOES SAY.
What follows is from *here*.
Are women human?
In her new book [in 2006], leading feminist Catharine MacKinnon argues that women are still treated more like "things" than people. She talks to Stuart Jeffries about her war on pornography - and whether men and women can ever really connect
by Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian, Wednesday 12 April 2006
Of all the provocative passages in Catharine MacKinnon's new book Are Women Human? the following hit me hardest. She writes: "[T]he fact that the law of rape protects rapists and is written from their point of view to guarantee impunity for most rapes is officially regarded as a violation of the law of sex equality, national or international, by virtually nobody."
Are you suggesting that rape law enshrines rapists' points of view, I ask MacKinnon? "Yes, in a couple of senses. The most obvious sense is that most rapists are men and most legislators are men and most judges are men and the law of rape was created when women weren't even allowed to vote. So that means not that all the people who wrote it were rapists, but that they are a member of the group who do [rape] and who do for reasons that they share in common even with those who don't, namely masculinity and their identification with masculine norms and in particular being the people who initiate sex and being the people who socially experience themselves as being affirmed by aggressive initiation of sexual interaction." She takes a well-earned breath.
Why does MacKinnon matter? She is undeniably one of feminism's most significant figures, a ferociously tough-minded lawyer and academic who has sought to use the law to clamp down on sexual harassment and pornography. She's a bracing woman, who calls her philosophy "feminism unmodified" and thinks wimpish guff such as post-feminism does women no good at all. Many hate her for this. Camille Paglia, for instance, charges that MacKinnon and her late collaborator Andrea Dworkin are responsible for "totalitarian excesses" in sexual harassment regulations and that their "nightmarish sexual delusions" have invaded American workplaces and schools and warped their views on pornography. Naomi Wolf branded her a "victim feminist". "Victim feminism," claims Wolf, "urges women to identify with powerlessness, even at the expense of taking responsibility for the power they do possess." In The Morning After, Katie Roiphe wrote that MacKinnon had an "image of woman as child" and attacked her for allegedly portraying all women as potential victims and all men as potential predators. Others have called her a fascist proponent of sexual correctness. Some have put words in her mouth - notably the claim that she thinks all heterosexual intercourse is rape: she does not. Some think she is right and that until sex inequality is tackled legally as MacKinnon proposes, women will continue to be raped, murdered and served up as masturbation fantasies for men. I couldn't wait to meet her.
We are sitting in a 15th-floor hotel cafe overlooking London. I suffer from vertigo and so MacKinnon has kindly suggested that I sit facing her rather than the plummet to my death. But I still feel dizzy from confronting the chasm that she has opened up in the relations between men and women. If I have ever felt affirmed by aggressive initiation of sexual interaction (and I doubt this), I will not today. I'd prefer smelling salts. MacKinnon, by contrast, looks a little like Tippi Hedren and seems vexingly imperturbable and more sartorially put together in her green silk trousers and other designer duds than anyone who has just flown across the Atlantic to publicise a book has a right to be.
Doesn't what you have said, I ask weakly, make any heterosexual act problematic? "It problematises those that take place under conditions of sex inequality, yes." But they all do, don't they? Certainly, according to MacKinnon's philosophy. "In a certain structural sense. In the same way that, say, friendships between black people and white people in societies that are racist do."
Perhaps there's an innocent space, I ask hopefully, where men and women can - she interrupts: "Yes! People work it out with great difficulty. But the first step is not to deny that it's there." The "it", I presume, is sexual inequality. (Incidentally, my interrupted question would have ended "get it on in a beautiful non-patriarchal way".)
Women's inequality is the new book's great theme, and MacKinnon's lifelong cause. Each country proclaims its commitment to equality and, in her view, hardly any delivers it substantively to women. "You don't have countries saying that, 'Yes, we have sex discrimination here and we want it. We're entitled to it and we enjoy it.' You don't have them saying that; you have them doing it."
This, she argues, is because countries favour an Aristotelian notion of equality whereby likes are treated as alike and unlikes unalike. Hence gender neutrality for sex, colourblindness for race. Her simple point is that this formal equality doesn't help women. It is, instead, "an extremely smart trick".
Her self-appointed job is to expose that trick. "We're now in a stage where people want to believe that there is equality. They'd rather deny inequality than face it down so that they can actually live it. My task is to support their belief in that equality while at the same time unmasking everything around them that is making it impossible for them actually to live in it."
MacKinnon's answer to her book's title, Are Women Human? is no. She writes: "If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York's brothels? Would we be sexual and reproductive slaves? Would we be bred, worked without pay our whole lives, burned when our dowry money wasn't enough or when men tired of us, starved as widows when our husbands died (if we survived his funeral pyre)? ..."
Her list of outrages, past and present, goes on. It's a favourite, if grim, rhetorical device. It is as though averting her gaze from the worst of women's sufferings would be a betrayal, not just of murdered and living sisters, but of her own intellectual integrity and the trajectory it has taken since she was radicalised as a Yale political science grad student in the 70s. Today, a globally renowned feminist lawyer and academic who will turn 60 in October, she remains passionately faithful to her cause.
One gets little sense from reading the book that the lot of women has improved in recent decades. True, she praises Sweden for deciding in 1999 that prostitution was male violence against women and as a result criminalised the buying of sex and decriminalised the selling of sex because "gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them". Otherwise, she contends, unenlightened men still write the laws. And when, for instance, they write laws on rape they make what she believes are grotesquely sexist assumptions. "The assumption," she says, "is that women can be unequal to men economically, socially, culturally, politically, and in religion, but the moment they have sexual interactions, they are free and equal. That's the assumption - and I think it ought to be thought about, and in particular what consent then means. It means acquiescence. It means passivity. You can be semi-knocked out. You can be dead in some jurisdictions."
I almost choke on my mineral water. Dead and giving consent? "Sex with a dead body is necrophilia but it isn't regarded as rape." Oh, I see. "You can be semi-comatose, not to mention married in many places, and be regarded as consenting whenever sex takes place."
MacKinnon thinks consent in rape cases should be irrelevant. Women are so unfree that even if a woman is shown to have given consent to sex, that should never be enough to secure an acquittal. Why? "My view is that when there is force or substantially coercive circumstances between the parties, individual consent is beside the point; that if someone is forced into sex, that ought to be enough. The British common law approach has tended to be that you need both force and absence of consent. If we didn't have so much pornography in society and people actually believed women when they said they didn't consent, that would be one thing. But that isn't what we've got."
What does she mean - how does pornography affect this? "Pornography affects people's belief in rape myths. So for example if a woman says 'I didn't consent' and people have been viewing pornography, they believe rape myths and believe the woman did consent no matter what she said. That when she said no, she meant yes. When she said she didn't want to, that meant more beer. When she said she would prefer to go home, that means she's a lesbian who needs to be given a good corrective experience. Pornography promotes these rape myths and desensitises people to violence against women so that you need more violence to become sexually aroused if you're a pornography consumer. This is very well documented."
Her 1993 book, Only Words, proselytised for this view, opposing the US constitution's first amendment interpretation of pornography as protected speech. MacKinnon rather considered it hate speech, one that she and Dworkin defined as "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words", but also one with real power - notably, to cause the rape and murder of women.
It's a contentious view but if it were true, why not censor pornography? "Our approach is not to ban, but to offer a civil remedy to people who can prove they were harmed - rather than empowering the police and putting people in jail, which doesn't do any good anyway. Pornographers keep their businesses going in jail."
This has been MacKinnon's feminist approach to porn for a quarter of a century: the victims of porn need to be empowered by law to seek remedies for harm they suffered, existing male-framed laws being inadequate to the challenge.
But an opportunity to try a civil rights approach arose when MacKinnon and Dworkin were teaching a course on pornography at the University of Minnesota. They were asked to testify at a hearing to decide in which part of Minneapolis pornography could be sold. "They were asking, 'Are we going to put it over here or over there?' and we said, 'Women and children are going to be harmed wherever you put it'." So the two women instead drew up an anti-pornography law for the city whereby, as she says, "the people who are hurt should be able to hold the people who are hurting them responsible for that harm". The law defined pornography as a civil rights violation against women, and allowed women who claimed harm from pornography to sue the producers and distributors in civil court for damages. Better such remedies, argues MacKinnon, than the obscenity approach to restricting porn common in Britain and Commonwealth countries, which she derides in her book: "It cares more about whether men blush than whether women bleed."
Civil law, she says, is more effective. For example, she was asked to represent raped Bosnian and Croat women in a lawsuit against Radovan Karadzic. The result has been Kadic v Karadzic, and she is very proud of it. "We have an injunction against this man ever engaging in genocide again and people he's in contact with ever doing it again. We were also awarded $745m, which he has and our clients are entitled to. That's two forms of civil relief that actually could make a change in the situation." The important word there, surely, is "could".
She has remained, then, true to the civil remedy approach she and Dworkin devised decades ago. Could she describe her relationship with the late feminist once described as being to patriarchy what Marx was to capitalism? "You want me to sum up 30 years of my life?"
I'm intrigued by their friendship because Dworkin was clearly a catalyst and a kindred spirit - even though it is hard to imagine dungaree-clad Andrea and Nicole Farhi-adoring Catharine going clothes shopping together. How did you meet? "I read [Dworkin's book] Women Hating, admired it and called her." At the time, MacKinnon, the bright daughter of a Republican congressman from Minnesota, was working on her PhD in political science at Yale, having already studied at Yale's Law School. What did she admire? "I had read the book The Story of O in graduate school and thought that it was extremely significant politically. [The Story of O is a fantasy of female submission about a Parisian woman who is blindfolded, chained, whipped, branded, made to wear a mask, and taught to be "constantly available" for oral, vaginal, and/or anal intercourse. It has been described as the ultimate objectification of women.] It raised the question of how much of your freedom you could give away. I'd been been told by people in political science that, 'People here think you're very bright but also that you're a little bit crazy'. Then I read what Andrea Dworkin wrote about The Story of O. And basically that gave me my mind back, and I haven't lost it since."
Others have not been so sure. Some thought Dworkin and MacKinnon were a little bit crazy. They were derided, often by fellow American feminists, for in effect lining up with with the conservative right against porn. MacKinnon was attacked for her views on sexual harassment. In her first book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (1979), she argued it should be treated as a form of discrimination under the US Civil Rights Act - something the Supreme Court accepted in 1986. Camille Paglia, for instance, contended in a Time article that MacKinnon and Dworkin's fears about sexual harassment were overstated. But then her article was entitled A Call for Lustiness.
MacKinnon's lustiness or otherwise is not something she will discuss. If she has a current beau who affirms himself, as he must, by aggressive initiation of sexual interaction, she won't tell me about that. There is no chance of her discussing with me her intriguing relationship with former professor of Sanskrit Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, to whom she was engaged for years. He reportedly once described her as "God", which must have been nice. Masson had trained as a psychoanalyst and became project director of the Freud Archives, but was removed after setting out a heretical view about Freud and child abuse. According to his website, Masson now has a wife and family and writes books called Dogs Never Lie About Love, Elephants Weep and the Pig Who Sang to the Moon, about the emotional lives of animals. I may be wrong, but I don't imagine they clutter MacKinnon's night stand.
If she won't discuss her private life, then what about public assaults? MacKinnon is especially exercised by attacks from fellow feminists. "It's particularly hard to take being stabbed in the back close to home. There's always a feeling of betrayal when people of your own group oppose you. It's mainly a few elite women who benefit greatly from standing with the forces that keep women down."
Is pornography always wrong in MacKinnon's view? "If you actually think about it," she says, "what is sexual between people is, up close, not particularly visible. Therefore you have to do things to it to make it acceptable by a camera. So already there's an intrusion. Most people, when they are having an intimate experience, don't have someone hanging out with a camera there. And if there is someone hanging out with a camera, what is most intimate about that experience and most equal between the people is not accessible to that camera.
"If you've got that material being sold, there are people who are not intimate to the experience who are experiencing it. How equal is that? Your sex is being bought by somebody over there. You're now a thing in relation to people experiencing you sexually. How equal is that?"
But surely lesbian and gay porn at least eludes such criticisms? MacKinnon disagrees. "There's a good book by Christopher Kendal which studies the real content of gay male pornography and the children who are violated to make it as well as the men who are used in the industry. I recommend it." How about lesbian pornography - made for, by and about lesbians? MacKinnon says most of it is "sold in liquor stores and mostly it is men who are its consumers".
"Some of it is about a real aspiration to recapture women's sexuality for women, no doubt," she concedes. "The fact is that the materials themselves in general are about the use of women for sex and when women are being used for sex that is about a male-dominant model of sex, whether men are doing it or not. It's not biological. It's about sex roles. Anyone can play them."
The Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-porn stance has not been widely adopted. Civil libertarians dislike it, some feminists loathe it, and American courts have held that the US constitution should treat pornography as protected speech, even if it does all the harm that MacKinnon argues it does. "They've said the more harm, the more protection. Because that just shows you how effective the pornography is as speech. Brilliant! Right?"
MacKinnon believes that while her approach to constraining porn is ignored, the global industry has become far bigger business than when she first started fighting it a quarter of a century ago. It's difficult to be accurate about its size, argues Mackinnon, because so much of it is run by organised crime. It is regularly estimated at an annual $20bn (£14bn) which makes porn bigger than Hollywood. But it is likely to be significantly higher, particularly because the porn business has profited from the rise of the internet and subscription TV. In January last year US trade magazine Adult Video News estimated that the industry made $12.6bn in 2005 in the US alone and that more than $2.5bn of that was just from the internet, but these figures may well be underestimates.
"Pornographers have made common cause with the media and the legal system. This means that the industry has extended its reach even further. There's just nothing in their way. So women and children are being increasingly violated to make it and more and more of them are being abused through its use.
"Pornographers have even more control of the public space than they did before. And popular culture is increasingly adapting itself to the fact that more and more people are pornography consumers. So everything in culture has to change to respond to that or it won't succeed - it's the way capitalism works."
She sounds like a nay-sayer on the fringes of capitalism's degrading free-for-all. It is a departure from her usual posture: the marginalised voice of reason. "You are ever more the turn in the punch bowl when you say what it takes to make it, which is abuse and violation of women and children and some men. You're raining on their parade when you point out that the people around them are being treated in ever more misogynistic ways, including violent ones. People don't want to hear it because they're having too good a time."
MacKinnon's book ends with a wonderful rhetorical essay called Women's September 11. It points out that roughly the same number of women are murdered by men in the US each year as were killed in the Twin Towers (between 2,800 and 3,000). But those killings provoked no parallel war on terror.
So what does MacKinnon think should be done? She writes that violence against women "qualifies as a casus belli and a form of terrorism every bit as much as the events of September 11 do". Is she serious that violence against women should be treated as a war? "I think only because it's men doing it against women that it isn't seen as a war." I feel another twinge of vertigo.
It only occurs to me when I'm back on the ground that the war on terror may not be a good blueprint - it having been, you know, demonstrably counterproductive. Just before the interview ended, she said to me: "I have to say I have some sympathy for governments trying to address something as hard as terrorism, having attempted to address something as hard as violence against women for a long time." It would be good if MacKinnon had more success in her war than Bush and Blair have had in theirs.
Are Women Human? is published by Harvard University Press.