MacKinnon, Catharine A. 1946-

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MacKINNON, Catharine A. 1946-

PERSONAL: Born October 7, 1946; daughter of George E. and Elizabeth V. (Davis) MacKinnon. Education: Smith College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1969; Yale University, J.D., 1977, Ph.D., 1987.

ADDRESSES: Office—c/o Sandy Springer, University of Michigan Law School, 625 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215.

CAREER: Lawyer, legal scholar, educator, author, consultant to committees writing civil laws against pornography and other forms of sexual abuse and inequality, and political activist. Admitted to the bar of Connecticut State, 1978; visiting professor of law at Yale University, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Chicago—Columbia, 1980-2002; assistant professor of law at University of Minnesota, 1982-84; professor of law at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1988-90; University of Michigan School of Law, Ann Arbor, MI, professor of law then Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law, 1989—.


Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1979.

Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, Harvard University Press (Cambridge MA), 1987.

(With Andrea Dworkin) Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality, Organizing against Pornography (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.

Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1989.

Only Words, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.

(With Andrea Dworkin) In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

Sex Equality, Foundation Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(Editor, with Reva B. Siegel) Directions in Sexual Harassment Law, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2004.

Women's Lives, Men's Laws, Belknap Press of Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Author has contributed numerous articles to academic journals and popular magazines and newspapers, including the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, Tocqueville Review, and the New York Times. Also contributor to numerous legal books, including Law and Language, edited by T. Morawetz, Ashgate, 2000; Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd edition, edited by A. C. Herrmann and A. J. Stewart, Westview Press, 2001; and Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, edited by C. R. Sunstein and M. C. Nussbaum, Oxford University Press, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Catharine A. MacKinnon, a feminist author, activist, and legal scholar, ranks among the most original and controversial social theorists in the United States. MacKinnon broke new legal 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 statutes. MacKinnon's thesis, elaborated fully in her 1979 book Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, has won wide acceptance in the courtroom and become an important weapon in fighting the mistreatment of working women.

MacKinnon subsequently directed her efforts toward combating pornography. In 1983, she and her colleague, author Andrea Dworkin, helped draft an antipornography ordinance for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana. The ordinance made it possible for people who could prove harm to sue for the sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or words as a form of sex discrimination. The ordinance was supported politically and in litigation by women and men of many political persuasions, as well as by grass-roots feminist organizations, scholars, civil rights activists, lawyers, and survivors of sexual assault. The Indianapolis ordinance (and a similar law MacKinnon and Dworkin drafted for Minneapolis, Minnesota, and passed twice by the city council) was opposed, however, by some legal scholars, civil libertarians, and a few feminists, who argued that it amounted to state censorship. A federal appeals court struck down the ordinance as an unconstitutional violation of free speech, a result upheld without opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

MacKinnon outlines her views on the pornography issue and responds to opponents in Pornography and Civil Rights, which she wrote with Dworkin, in Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, a collection of speeches delivered from 1981 to 1986, and in Only Words, in 1993. In brief, the author defines pornography as the sexual subordination of women to men; argues that it constitutes, reinforces, and perpetuates male dominance throughout society and is thus a form of sex-based discrimination. MacKinnon observes that much 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. Recognizing the human rights violations caused by pornography is thus not an issue of art or morality, but one of treating women as equals.

This thesis has drawn both criticism and support across the political spectrum. Some conservatives have opposed MacKinnon's attacks on male social and sexual dominance. Among liberals are those who question a causal link between pornography and the abuse of women. MacKinnon argues that the link between pornography and sexual inequality is indisputable and refers to overwhelming empirical support. She asserts in Feminism Unmodified that pornographers act as the shock troops for male domination by making the female body into a thing for sexual use. Dehumanized and humiliated in a way that is sexualized, women also become targets of violence and discrimination, both in pornography and in other aspects of life. Hence, MacKinnon wrote, pornography—by subordinating women—is "more act-like than thought-like" and free speech concerns are misplaced. "Pornography isn't protected by the First Amendment any more than sexual harassment is," the author remarked to New York Times interviewer Tamar Lewin. "It's not a question of free speech or ideas. Pornography is a form of action."

Feminism Unmodified received varying critical responses. Nation contributor Maureen Mullarkey, for example, criticized Feminism Unmodified as relying on "slogans, false premises, half-information, sinister innuendo and ad-hoc reasoning." Expressing a highly favorable opinion in the New York Times Book Review was political philosopher Alison Jaggar, who described the book as "an unorthodox but relentlessly consistent perspective on issues fundamental to feminism" and praised it as "passionate, brilliant, [and] polemical."

MacKinnon's contributions to feminist and social theory have by no means been limited to her opposition to pornography. The speeches in Feminism Unmodified also address issues of abortion, rape, women's athletics, sexual harassment, and the rights of Native American women; and Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, published in 1989, outlines a unified political/social/sexual theory of male domination. MacKinnon reconceptualizes equality from its traditional approach focusing on sameness and difference to an analysis of dominance and subordination.

In Only Words, MacKinnon tackles the issue of circumstances in which forms of expression (specifically sexually explicit words or photographs that subordinate men or women) can be considered active. She makes her case through three passionate and exceptionally well-researched essays. The essays criticize the legal protection of pornography compared with sexual harassment and with racial discrimination and other forms of abuse that are not protected as speech, despite being words. A Kirkus Reviews critic describes MacKinnon's essays as "passionate [and] intellectually fascinating." The reviewer goes on to say that though MacKinnon's conviction sometimes causes her ideas to elide, "the ideas are original and gripping, her references are wide-ranging, her legal logic is provocative."

In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings compiles the oral testimony of victims of pornography. Cass Sunstein, reviewing this volume for Law and Philosophy, summarized its value as "an important addition for academics and for others to the pornography debate." In Harm's Way, Sunstein noted, presents both sides of the debate, including pornography opponents, social science experts, and authorities on abuse and prostitution, as well as advocates of unfettered freedom of speech.

Throughout her writings, MacKinnon attacks "liberal feminism" for limiting its objectives to helping a few women "succeed" in male terms instead of addressing the roots of male domination. She is more concerned with subverting the male-biased definitions of gender and social realities of inequality that she believes permeate society and perpetuate male supremacy in a way that damages all women and some men. MacKinnon considers issues of race and class as integral to the social/sexual equation. As a tenured professor at the University of Michigan Law School, MacKinnon is expected by observers to remain at the forefront of legal scholarship.

In 2001, MacKinnon's law school casebook Sex Equality was published. The book focuses on sexual harassment both in the work place and in education. Beginning with an examination of conventional sex equality law and theory, MacKinnon goes on to analyze the problem in context of the social and cultural environment and issues not generally encompassed within the laws concerning sex discrimination. From a discussion of the Western standards for equality based on the philosophy of Aristotle to a movement of international law away from this standard, MacKinnon probes a wide range of social and legal issues. For example, she discusses how rape is sometimes looked at as a type of torture or genocide in international law. Writing in off our backs, Carol Anne Douglas said she "was mistakenly daunted" when she saw that the publication was a casebook that included court decisions and comments. However, she noted that the author "has produced an astounding book on sex equality." Douglas also said, "This book is fascinating and incredibly valuable, a crowning achievement in MacKinnon's brilliant career as well as a great resource for the feminist movement. It should be widely read for many years, until sex equality is a reality." MacKinnon also served as coeditor with Reva B. Siegel of Directions in Sexual Harassment Law, which contains thirty-seven essays from various experts in the field of sexual harassment law and litigation. Philip Y. Blue, writing in Library Journal, noted, "As much an overview of the psychological construction of women's resistance to sexual harassment as its legal counterpart, this book forms an excellent compilation of the latest thought and research."



MacKinnon, Catharine A., Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, Harvard University Press (Cambridge MA), 1987.


Commentary, September, 1993, Carol Iannone, review of Only Words, p. 51.

Detroit Free Press, March 1, 1989.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 9, 1989.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1993, review of Only Words.

Law and Philosophy, 1997, Cass Sunstein, review of In Harms Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings, p. 177.

Library Journal, February 15, 2004, Philip Y. Blue, review of Directions in Sexual Harassment Law, p. 143.

Nation, May 30, 1987, Maureen Mullarkey, review of Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law; November 15, 1993, Carlin Romano, review of Only Words, p. 563.

New Republic, June 29, 1998, review of In Harm's Way, p. 25.

New Statesman & Society, June 3, 1994, Sue Golding, review of Only Words, p. 45.

New York Times, February 24, 1989, Tamar Lewin, "Job Offer to Feminist Scholar May Mark Turn," section B, p. 5.

New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1987, Alison Jaggar, review of Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law, p. 3.

off our backs, January-February, 2004, Carol Anne Douglas, review of Sex Equality, p. 53.

Psychology Today, September, 1987.

Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1993, review of Only Words, p. 69.

Reason, February, 1994, Cathy Young, review of Only Words, p. 57.

Time, March 10, 1986; April 17, 1989.

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MacKinnon, Catharine A. 1946-

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