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Interview with Catherine MacKinnon : Are Women Human ?

18 avril 2006

par The Guardian

Catherine A. MacKinnon talks with The Guardian about her soon-to-be-released book, Are Women Human ? : And Other International Dialogues.

In her new book, 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.

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. Continue reading...

On Sisyphe, April 17th, 2006.

The Guardian


Read also :

"Raunch culture and the end of feminism", The Sunday Times, May 07, 2006.

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