October 7, 1946 |
|Institutions||University of Michigan (Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law, 1989–)
York University (Professor of Law, 1988–1989)
various universities (Visiting Professor, 1984–1988)
University of Minnesota (Assistant Professor of Law, 1982–1984)
|Alma mater||Yale University (PhD, political science, 1987)
Yale Law School (JD, 1977)
Smith College (BA, government, 1969)
MacKinnon was born in Minnesota. Her mother is Elizabeth Valentine Davis; her father, George E. MacKinnon was a lawyer, congressman (1946 to 1949), and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1969 to 1995). She has two younger brothers.
MacKinnon became the third generation of her family to attend her mother's alma mater, Smith College. She graduated in the top 2% of her class at Smith and earned a J.D. and a Ph.D. from Yale University. While at Yale Law School, she received a National Science Foundation fellowship.
MacKinnon was engaged to Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson for several years during the early 1990s, though the relationship subsequently ended. She has refused to discuss the relationship in later interviews.
MacKinnon is a highly cited legal scholar. She has frequently been a visiting professor at other universities and regularly appears in public speaking events. On February 10, 2005, MacKinnon attended the premiere of Inside Deep Throat (in which she is interviewed) and took part in a panel discussion after the film. On April 29, 2009, MacKinnon argued on the radio show Intelligence Squared U.S. for the proposition "it's wrong to pay for sex".
Ideas and activism
MacKinnon's ideas may be divided into three central—though overlapping and ongoing—areas of focus: (1) sexual harassment, (2) pornography, and (3) international work. She has also devoted attention to social and political theory and methodology.
According to an article published by Deborah Dinner in the March/April 2006 issue of Legal Affairs, MacKinnon first became interested in issues concerning sexual harassment when she heard that an administrative assistant at Cornell University resigned after being refused a transfer when she complained of her supervisor's harassing behavior, and then was denied unemployment benefits because she quit for "personal" reasons. It was at a consciousness-raising session about this and other women's workplace experiences, organized by Lin Farley as part of a Cornell class on women and work, that the term "sexual harassment" was coined.
In 1977, MacKinnon graduated from Yale Law School after having written a paper on sexual harassment for Professor Thomas I. Emerson. Two years later, MacKinnon published "Sexual Harassment of Working Women", arguing that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and any other sex discrimination prohibition. While working on "Sexual Harassment", MacKinnon shared draft copies with attorneys litigating early sexual harassment cases, including Nadine Taub, who represented Yale undergraduates in Alexander v. Yale, the first test case of MacKinnon's legal theory.
In her book, MacKinnon argued that sexual harassment is sex discrimination because the act reinforces the social inequality of women to men (see, for example, pp. 116–18, 174). She distinguishes between two types of sexual harassment (see pp. 32–42): 1) "quid pro quo", meaning sexual harassment "in which sexual compliance is exchanged, or proposed to be exchanged, for an employment opportunity (p. 32)" and 2) the type of harassment that "arises when sexual harassment is a persistent condition of work (p. 32)." In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission followed MacKinnon's framework in adopting guidelines prohibiting sexual harassment by prohibiting both quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment (see 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)).
In 1986, the Supreme Court held in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that sexual harassment may violate laws against sex discrimination. In Meritor, the Court also recognized the distinction between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile workplace harassment. In a 2002 article, MacKinnon wrote: "'Without question,' then-Justice Rehnquist wrote for a unanimous Court, 'when a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate because of the subordinate's sex, that supervisor "discriminate[s]" on the basis of sex.' The D.C. Circuit, and women, had won. A new common law rule was established."
MacKinnon's book Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination is the eighth most-cited American legal book published since 1978, according to a study published by Fred Shapiro in January 2000.
MacKinnon, along with late feminist activist Andrea Dworkin, has been active in attempting to change legal postures towards pornography by framing it as a form of sex discrimination and, more recently, a form of human trafficking. She (and Dworkin) define pornography as follows:
"We define pornography as the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and words that also includes (i) women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or (ii) women are presented as sexual objects who enjoy humiliation or pain; or (iii) women are presented as sexual objects experiencing sexual pleasure in rape, incest or other sexual assault; or (iv) women are presented as sexual objects tied up, cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or (v) women are presented in postures or positions of sexual submission, servility, or display; or (vi) women's body parts—including but not limited to vaginas, breasts, or buttocks — are exhibited such that women are reduced to those parts; or (vii) women are presented being penetrated by objects or animals; or (viii) women are presented in scenarios of degradation, humiliation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual."
MacKinnon characterizes pornography as a particularly graphic and violent means of subordinating women. In Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, she writes, “Pornography, in the feminist view, is a form of forced sex, a practice of sexual politics, and institution of gender inequality.” MacKinnon chooses a few points to focus on specifically. She depicts the sexual exploitation of women as a means of showing their inferiority by displaying them as sexual objects, things or commodities, which dehumanizes them. She argues that any display of women enjoying humiliation or pain should be a violation of the law. She writes, “Pornography contributes causally to attitudes and behaviors of violence and discrimination which define the treatment and status of half the population.” MacKinnon also highlights how pornography reduces women to their sexual body parts (vaginas, breasts, and buttocks). This is a central part of her argument of dehumanization, as women are simply seen as sex parts, i.e., objects, things, or commodities for the sexual enjoyment of men.
Obscenity laws are the ways that the liberal state has attempted to regulate pornography. MacKinnon states that the liberal state views obscenity as a form of expression under the First Amendment but MacKinnon disagrees with this view. Obscenity is concerned with morality, “good and evil, virtues and vices.” MacKinnon argues that feminism approaches pornography from a political standpoint, while the obscenity law focuses on morality. “The concerns of feminism with power and powerlessness are first political, not moral.”  MacKinnon states that obscenity is about morality, and pornography is “a political practice.” 
In 1980, Linda Boreman (who had appeared in the pornographic film Deep Throat as "Linda Lovelace") stated that her ex-husband Chuck Traynor had violently coerced her into making Deep Throat and other pornographic films. Boreman made her charges public for the press corps at a press conference, together with MacKinnon, members of Women Against Pornography, and feminist writer Andrea Dworkin offering statements in support. After the press conference, Dworkin, MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, and Boreman began discussing the possibility of using federal civil rights law to seek damages from Traynor and the makers of Deep Throat. Linda Boreman was interested but backed off after Steinem discovered that the statute of limitations for a possible suit had passed (Brownmiller 337).
MacKinnon and Dworkin, however, continued to discuss civil rights litigation as a possible approach to combatting pornography. MacKinnon opposed traditional arguments against pornography based on the idea of morality or sexual innocence, as well as the use of traditional criminal obscenity law to suppress pornography. Instead of condemning pornography for violating "community standards" of sexual decency or modesty, they characterized pornography as a form of sex discrimination and sought to give women the right to seek damages under civil rights law. “Pornography, in the feminist view is a form of forced sex, a practice of sexual politics, an institution of gender inequality” (Mackinnon 197). Pornography in turn promotes the idea of men's sexuality being dominant over women and combines dominance and submission into the natural construct of men and women in relation to each other.
In 1983, the Minneapolis city government hired MacKinnon and Dworkin to draft an antipornography civil rights ordinance as an amendment to the Minneapolis city civil rights ordinance. The amendment defined pornography as a civil rights violation against women and allowed women who claimed harm from pornography to sue the producers and distributors for damages in civil court. The law was passed twice by the Minneapolis city council but vetoed by the mayor. Another version of the ordinance passed in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1984.
This ordinance was ruled unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. MacKinnon continued to support the civil rights approach in her writing and activism, and supported anti-pornography feminists who organized later campaigns in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1985) and Bellingham, Washington (1988) to pass versions of the ordinance by voter initiative.
MacKinnon also wrote in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review in 1985:
- And as you think about the assumption of consent that follows women into pornography, look closely some time for the skinned knees, the bruises, the welts from the whippings, the scratches, the gashes. Many of them are not simulated. One relatively soft core pornography model said, "I knew the pose was right when it hurt." It certainly seems important to the audiences that the events in the pornography be real. For this reason, pornography becomes a motive for murder, as in "snuff" films in which someone is tortured to death to make a sex film. They exist."
MacKinnon represented Boreman from 1980 until Boreman's death in 2002.
Civil libertarians frequently find MacKinnon's theories objectionable (see "Criticisms" section). They have also argued that there is no evidence that sexually explicit media encourages or promotes violence against, or other measurable harm of women. One laboratory study found that possible temporary effects of pornography may dissipate over time.
In February 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada largely accepted MacKinnon's theories of equality, hate propaganda, and pornography, citing extensively from a brief she co-authored in a ruling against Manitoba pornography distributor Donald Butler.
The Butler decision was controversial; it is sometimes implied that shipments of Dworkin's book Pornography were seized by Canadian customs agents under this ruling, as well as books by Marguerite Duras and David Leavitt; the books were indeed seized by customs, but not as a consequence of Butler. Successful Butler prosecutions have been undertaken against the lesbian sadomasochistic magazine Bad Attitude, as well as the owners of a gay and lesbian bookstore for selling it. Canadian authorities have also raided an art gallery and confiscated controversial paintings depicting child abuse. Many free speech and gay rights activists allege the law is selectively enforced, targeting the LGBT community.
MacKinnon has also represented Bosnian and Croatian women against Serbs accused of genocide since 1992. She was co-counsel, representing named plaintiff S. Kadic, in the lawsuit Kadic v. Karadzic and won a jury verdict of $745 million in New York City on August 10, 2000. The lawsuit (under the United States' Alien Tort Statute) also established forced prostitution and forced impregnation as legally actionable acts of genocide. In MacKinnon’s view, traditional approaches to human rights gloss over abuses specific to women (e.g., sexual violence), both in wartime and peacetime.
MacKinnon has also worked to change laws, or their interpretation and application in Mexico, Japan, Israel, and India. In 2001 MacKinnon was named co-director of the Lawyers Alliance for Women (LAW) Project, an initiative of Equality Now, an international non-governmental organization.
MacKinnon's work largely focuses on the difference between quality of social and economic conditions for women in both the private and public spheres of life. MacKinnon believes that society fails to recognize the existing hierarchies present within it that have subordinated women in particular for such a long time that they have been perceived as natural.“Men's forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (Mackinnon, 161). The law often has a difficult time judging women’s inequalities, or simply is powerless to do so because of this distinction between private and public life. Much of the injustice that women experience occurs in intimate private settings as Mackinnon states above; legally, this puts them in a very vulnerable position. In MacKinnon's theories, the opposite of equality is not difference but hierarchy as social constructs. "Equality thus requires promoting equality of status for historically subordinated groups, dismantling group hierarchy." In MacKinnon's view, this requires a substantive approach to equality jurisprudence in its examination of hierarchy, whereas before, abstract notions of equality sufficed.
MacKinnon writes about the interrelations between theory and practice, recognizing that women's experiences have, for the most part, been ignored in both arenas. Furthermore, she uses Marxism to critique certain points in feminist theory and uses feminism to criticize Marxist theory. Mackinnon saw great hypocrisy in much of Marx’s theory due to his neglect of mentioning women's oppression in relation to class oppression. MacKinnon notes Marx's criticism of theory that treated class division as a spontaneous event that occurred naturally. Marx saw class as an unnatural status quo resulting from the ownership of the means of production while at the same time thinking of women's responsibility for child-rearing as a "natural" sex role.
MacKinnon understands epistemology as theories of knowing and politics as theories of power. She explains, "Having power means, among other things, that when someone says, 'this is how it is,' it is taken as being that way. . . . Powerlessness means that when you say 'this is how it is,' it is not taken as being that way. This makes articulating silence, perceiving the presence of absence, believing those who have been socially stripped of credibility, critically contextualizing what passes for simple fact, necessary to the epistemology of a politics of the powerless."
In 1996, Fred Shapiro calculated that "Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence", 8 Signs 635 (1983), was the 96th most cited article in law reviews even though it was published in a non-legal journal.
During the "Feminist Sex Wars" in the 1980s, feminists opposing anti-pornography stances, such as Ellen Willis and Carole Vance, began referring to themselves as "pro-sex" or "sex-positive feminists". Sex positive feminists and anti-pornography feminists have debated over the implicit and explicit meanings of these labels. Sex-positive feminists claimed that anti-pornography ordinances contrived by MacKinnon and Dworkin called for the removal, censorship, or control over sexually explicit material. The "sex wars" resulted in the feminist movement being split into two opposing camps over questions about pornography, consent, sexual freedom, and the relationship of free speech to moral and political equality.
Anti-pornography ordinances authored by MacKinnon and Dworkin in the United States sought for harm against victims, in relation to pornography, to be made actionable. Soon afterwards, obscenity laws passed in Canada (1985), and books and materials that fell under the new definition of pornography were removed. The Canadian Supreme Court decision R. v. Butler (1992), which upheld these laws, drew heavily on MacKinnon's arguments that pornography is a form of sex discrimination. MacKinnon has written in support of this trend in Canadian anti-pornography law, though at the same time, holding that Canada should abandon traditional obscenity law entirely in favor of a civil rights approach. She has also distanced herself from the selective enforcement of Canadian obscenity law against gays and lesbians, holding that anti-pornography laws should make no distinction between gay and heterosexual pornography.
- Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination. 1979. ISBN 0-300-02299-9. OCLC 3912752.
- Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. 1987. ISBN 0-674-29874-8. OCLC 157005506.
- Pornography and Civil Rights: A New Day for Women's Equality. 1988. ISBN 0-9621849-0-X. OCLC 233530845.
- Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. 1989. ISBN 0-674-89646-7. OCLC 26545325.
- Only Words. 1993. ISBN 0-674-63933-2. OCLC 28067216.
- In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. 1997. ISBN 0-674-44579-1. OCLC 37418262.
- Women's Lives, Men's Laws. 2005. ISBN 0-674-01540-1. OCLC 55494875.
- Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues. Harvard University Press. 2006. ISBN 0-674-02187-8. OCLC 62085505.
- Alexandra Stiglmayer; Catherine A. MacKinnon (1994). "Turning Rape into Pornography". Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 73–81. ISBN 0-8032-9229-5.
- Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986)
- American Booksellers Ass'n, Inc. v. Hudnut (alternate URL) 771 F.2d 323 (7th Cir. 1985), aff’d, 475 U.S. 1001 (1986)
- Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia  1 S.C.R. 143
- R. v. Keegstra,  3 S.C.R. 697 (See also James Keegstra)
- R. v. Butler,  1 S.C.R. 452
- Kadic v Karadzic Alternate URL 70 F.3rd 232 (2nd Cir. 1995), rehearing denied, 74 F.3rd 377 (2nd Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1005 (1996).
- R. A. V. v. City of St. Paul MacKinnon filed an amicus brief arguing that an anti-hate speech statute should be upheld based on an equality argument.
- Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services MacKinnon filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff, Joseph Oncale.
- Doe v. Karadzic (93 Civ. 878) (scroll down)
- Smith, Dinitia (1993-03-22). "Love is Strange: The Crusading Feminist and the Repentant Womanizer". New York 26 (12). pp. 36–43. Retrieved 2010-02-14. (cover)
- "Are women human?" by Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian, April 12, 2006.
- University of Michigan faculty biography
- Harvard webpage 2007
- ISI Highly Cited Author - Catharine A. MacKinnon
- Catharine MacKinnon 2005 Fellow of Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
- Charles McGrath, "Academic look at 'Deep Throat'", 2005-02-09 alt URL
- 'Deep Throat': When Naughty Was Nice by Tina Brown, 2005-02-10, alt URL
- Is It Wrong To Pay For Sex? 2009-04-29
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Points Against Postmodernism, 75 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 687, 687-88 (2000).
- MacKinnon, Catharine A.; Siegel, Reva I. (2004). Directions in Sexual Harassment Law. Yale University. p. 8. ISBN 0-300-09800-6.
- "A Firebrand Flickers: The legendary feminist Catharine MacKinnon spurred the law to protect women, but the next wave is tired of feeling sheltered". Legal Affairs. March 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-27.
- Frances Olsen, Feminist Theory in Grand Style, 89 Columbia Law Review 1147, 1147 & n.4 (1989) (citing Conversation with Professor Nadine Taub, attorney with Rutgers Legal Clinic who litigated early sexual harassment cases (July 1985) and MacKinnon's book at page xi).
- http://www.mcolaw.com/docs/ao_tobreakthesilence_speech.pdf This essay contains the recollections of undergraduates who worked with MacKinnon on Alexander v. Yale, who recall her personal charisma and groundbreaking legal theory.
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, "The Logic of Experience: Reflections on the Development of Sexual Harassment Law," 90 Geo. L.J. 813, 824 (2002).
- Mackinnon, Catharine (1989). Toward A Feminist Theory of The State. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard. p. 197.
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech, 20 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 1 (1985). For support for her claim that snuff films exist, MacKinnon said in footnote 61, "In the movies known as snuff films, victims sometimes are actually murdered."' 130 Cong. Rec. S13192 (daily ed. Oct. 3, 1984)(statement of Senator Specter introducing the Pornography Victims Protection Act). Information on the subject is understandably hard to get. See People v. Douglas, Felony Complaint No. NF 8300382 (Municipal Court, Orange County, Cal. Aug. 5, 1983); "'Slain Teens Needed Jobs, Tried Porn"' and "Two Accused of Murder in 'Snuff' Films", Oakland Tribune, 6 August 1983 (on file with Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review); L. Smith, The Chicken Hawks (1975)(unpublished manuscript) (on file with Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review).
- Dworkin, Ronald. "Women and Pornography", New York Review of Books 40, no. 17 (21 October 1993): 299. "no reputable study has concluded that pornography is a significant cause of sexual crime: many of them conclude, on the contrary, that the causes of violent personality lie mainly in childhood"
- Malamuth, Neil M., and Joseph Ceniti. Repeated Exposure to Violent and Nonviolent Pornography: Likelihood of Raping Ratings and Laboratory Aggression Against Women (American Psychological Association, no date), as accessed November 3, 2011, and June 16, 2013, esp. pp.  & – (portions presented in 1984).
- "Canada's Thought Police". Retrieved 2007-07-27.
- "Canadian Customs and Legal Approaches to Pornography". Retrieved 2007-07-27.
- MacKinnon, Catharine (1989). Toward A Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard. p. 161.
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989)
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech, 20 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 1, 3 & n.2 (1985)
- Fred R. Shapiro, "The Most-Cited Law Review Articles Revisited," 71 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 751 (1996)
- Carol Vance, More Pleasure, More Danger: A Decade after the Barnard Sexuality Conference, in Pleasure and Danger: Towards a Politics of Sexuality (Carol Vance, ed., 1984).
- Catharine A. MacKinnon, In Harm's Way (1997).
- Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, Statement By Catharine A. Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin regarding Canadian Customs and legal approaches to pornography (1994).
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Catharine MacKinnon|
- Faculty biography at University of Michigan – includes bibliography of journal articles by MacKinnon
- MacKinnon expertise and contact info, University of Michigan
- A bibliography of MacKinnon's works, 1999
- Biography on A&E
- Marxism, Liberalism, and Feminism: Leftist Legal Thought, New Delhi, Serials (2010), Eric Engle.
- Bookfinder.com's listing, a longer listing of her books
- "A Conversation With Catherine MacKinnon" transcript of interview by Ben Wattenberg, Think Tank, July 7, 1995.
- "Clinton Scandal: A Feminist Issue?", interview with Katha Pollitt, Linda Hirshman, and Catherine MacKinnon by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, January 26, 1998. (link to streaming RealAudio file)
- "Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee opens discussion on strengthening ‘legal backbone’ of women’s convention with general recommendation on implementation", Press Release WOM/1461, United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, July 21, 2004.
Criticism of MacKinnon
- "The Prime of Miss Kitty MacKinnon" by Susie Bright, East Bay Express, October 1993.
- "Catharine A. MacKinnon: The Rise of a Feminist Censor, 1983-1993" by Christopher M. Finan, The Media Coalition, November 1993.
- "Prof. MacKinnon an enemy of University's values" editorial by Justin Shubow, Michigan Daily, November 25, 2002.