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A Conversation With Catherine MacKinnon

Think Tank Transcripts:Catharine MacKinnon

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MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. On this special editionof 'Think Tank,' we will be talking one on one with CatharineMacKinnon, a woman who has been both praised as one of the mostbrilliant, original, thought-provoking, and uncompromising feministtheoreticians in America and criticized as a fanatic, a zealot, afundamentalist of the new feminist religion.

Under consideration today, the modern women's movement, sexism inAmerica and pornography. A conversation with Catharine MacKinnon,this week on 'Think Tank.'

Catharine MacKinnon is a professor of law at the University ofMichigan. She has taught at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and theUniversity of Chicago. She has been at the forefront of sex equalityissues, having helped develop the legal definitions of sexualharassment in America and in Canada. She is the author of severalbooks, including 'Toward a Feminist Theory of the State,' and mostrecently, the controversial book 'Only Words,' a scathing critique ofpornography which asks, 'How many women's bodies have to stack upeven to register against male profit and pleasure presented as FirstAmendment principle?'

Catharine MacKinnon, perhaps you could begin by describing exactlywhat that means: 'How many women's bodies have to stack up even toregister against male profit and pleasure presented as FirstAmendment principle?'

MS. MacKINNON: Well, the pornography industry is an industry oftrafficking women, and it's covered up as a form of speech, and itdefended as therefore a First Amendment right. So the ways in whichwomen are hurt by it begin with the women in it who are beingprostituted through it and are typically gotten into it either aschildren or through a whole range of coercive means, all the way fromphysical force through economic coercion to being victims of sexualabuse, typically as children, and a whole range of means, and thenexploited in it.

The materials that are made through that abuse and exploitationthat feed on it, that is to say, a lot of the women are being rapedin the materials even when they aren't being presented as beingraped, that --

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, now wait a minute. Let's --

MS. MacKINNON: That product is then used by a whole range ofconsumers --

MR. WATTENBERG: We'd better --

MS. MacKINNON: -- who then mass produce that abuse through anotherrange of various means.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let's go back to pornography and then we'll comeback to rape. Would you define pornography as you see it?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, Andrea Dworkin and I -- she's my colleague --define pornography as the sexually -- a practice of sex inequality,and defined as the sexually explicit subordination of women throughpictures and words that also includes a list of other very specificactivities. In other words, it's defined in terms of what it actuallydoes. It subordinates women as well as being a sexually explicitmedium. There are other media that subordinate women but are notsexually explicit, and therefore don't have the same effects.

MR. WATTENBERG: Does 'Penthouse' magazine qualify as pornography?

MS. MacKINNON: Overwhelmingly so.

MR. WATTENBERG: What about --

MS. MacKINNON: Not every single thing in it, but mostly.

MR. WATTENBERG: 'Playboy'?

MS. MacKINNON: As to whether it's sexually explicit or not, someof it is and some of it isn't.

MR. WATTENBERG: It has to -- by your definition, as I understoodwhat you said, it has to be more than sexually explicit. It has toput a woman or one of the partners in a subordinate role. In otherwords, if you have a picture of a man and a woman enjoyingthemselves, both, in sex, is that pornography?

MS. MacKINNON: It depends if it's sexually explicit and also whatcan be shown as to whether it subordinates women or not. For example,they can be shown to be enjoying themselves, as in the film 'DeepThroat,' where Linda so-called Lovelace was shown to be enjoyingherself. She was, as she puts it, being raped. That is, she says,'Every time someone watches that film, they're watching me beingraped.' She was abducted, she was coerced, she had a gun at her head,she was beaten, lives of her family were threatened, and so on. Soshe is shown --

MR. WATTENBERG: Are you saying --

MS. MacKINNON: -- enjoying herself, but she is actually --

MR. WATTENBERG: Are you saying --

MS. MacKINNON: -- being raped.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are you saying that the so-called normal, let'ssay soft-porn movie, that people pay $7.95 for in some of the finesthotels in the world, that the women there have a gun to their headand --

MS. MacKINNON: What I'm saying is you don't know whether they door not, and the main reason is --

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, there are a lot of things I don't know.

MS. MacKINNON: No. Well, you really don't know because I know alot of those women and I know that they did, but the reason like noneof us is really in a position to know is because they have no legalrights.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now, why don't they have legal rights? I mean, weare -- I mean, they can -- if they're threatened violently, they cansue, they can call the police. There are a lot of things they can do.

MS. MacKINNON: Right. You're talking about someone who will thenbe considered a prostitute calling the police. She's considered acriminal whether she's coerced or not.

And the materials that are then made as a result of what's beingdone to these women are themselves a massive profit-making industrywhich is itself protected by the First Amendment. So it's an industryof exploitation called 'use her and run,' so they use them until theyuse them up or are done using them or they die for various reasons orjust disappear from the face of the earth, and move on. Meantime, thematerials -- there is a tremendous material incentive to do thisbecause there is billions of dollars a year made doing it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. So what is, then, your definition of rape?Does this -- is this always a violent confrontation with a mansubordinating a woman against her will? Is that what we're talkingabout?

MS. MacKINNON: That's generally what people think of it as. Ithink, though, there are forms of force that involve authority,power, where something can be rape, but it isn't always violent atthat moment. But there's always an element of force and dominationgoing on in it and there is -- in which a sexual interaction iscoerced without the person who is having it wanting to have the sex.

MR. WATTENBERG: How would you propose to restrict the sale ofpornography?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed a legalapproach that makes it possible for anyone who can prove that theyare hurt by it to bring a legal action against the people that theyprove are hurting them. So that allows for five different specificlegal claims, one for coercion into pornography, such as I describedLinda so-called Lovelace could bring against the people who coercedher into those materials and everyone who profited down the foodchain from this use of her. So that would be an action for coercioninto pornography by the woman who can prove she was coerced.

MR. WATTENBERG: But suppose a woman did a porno film voluntarily-- there was no gun to her head, got paid for it, and had a royaltycoming from each time it was shown for profit. Would you, A, regardthat as pornography, and would you make that illegal?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, the product itself, no matter what theconditions of production are, do -- those products do produce a wholeseries of harms to other women. And it has been those women thatwould be able to bring legal claims for being hurt by thepornographers if they could prove it.

And so in that kind of a situation, were it possible, the womancould bring a legal claim not only against the specific rapists, butagainst the producers of the film that caused the rape if the courtwere to find that was indeed a direct cause of that rape, and thenstop that film from being shown because if it caused the rape by oneperson, it will cause the rape -- cause rapes by other people.

MR. WATTENBERG: How does your position on this differ from that ofthe religious conservatives, like Reverend Wildman and others, whoare in favor of censoring pornographic material?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, it mainly differs because they don't supportour arguments. That is, they don't support our work and don't agreewith it. We don't --

MR. WATTENBERG: You go further than they do?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, I don't know exactly what you would say about-- I mean, we go further because our approach would actually beeffective in doing something about it. Their approach is obscenitylaw, which has been in effect since 1973 and has done nothing, whilethe pornography industry has somewhere between doubled and tripled insize.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let us move on to the more general state offeminism today, and I want to read you something that Mrs. DanQuayle, Marilyn Quayle, read at the 1992 Republican convention inHouston, which caused a great deal of consternation, and get yourreaction to it.

Mrs. Quayle said, 'I sometimes think that the liberals are alwaysso angry because they believed the grandiose promises of theliberation movement. They're disappointed because most women do notwish to be liberated from their essential natures as women. Most ofus love being mothers or wives, which gives our lives a richness thatfew men or women get from professional accomplishments alone, nor hasit made for a better society to liberate men from their obligationsas husbands or fathers.' MS. MacKINNON: Well, I'm not a liberal, so Idon't -- and I think she may be right in her analysis of, you know,that response or not. I think as to the substance of what she'ssaying about the liberation movement, if she's referring to thewomen's movement, which she appears to be, that there's a realmis-impression that what the women's movement is about is decidingthat what freedom for women constitutes is wholly and exclusivelyengaging in what had been male roles before that time.

In other words, women being mothers is something that the women'smovement has sought to allow without punishment. In other words, it'sthe punishments that come with being women and with being incommitted relationships with men that the women's movementoverwhelmingly has sought to address, not to make it impossible forpeople to make those choices, but to make those choices and stillhave a full human life, which includes being able to work in --

MR. WATTENBERG: Are you saying that --

MS. MacKINNON: -- in fulfilling ways.

MR. WATTENBERG: -- the women's movement, particularly as it wasbeing brought to the public in its earlier years particularly, didnot scorn the idea of women staying home and having babies and beinga homemaker, a housewife and bringing up children, and regarding thatas a fulfilled way of life? You are saying that was never in thedeck?

MS. MacKINNON: I think some people gave off that attitude,although a lot of women didn't -- who were in the movement didn'tfeel that. But I think that that came across because of the fact thatthat was the role that women were forced into. Therefore it madeimpossible to conceive of it as a choice. If it were a role that wasequally available to men as to women, for example, then it would besomething that wasn't forced on you based on gender, while at thesame time, other options such as, you know, earning a living orfulfilling yourself in a whole range of ways, which are like 95percent of the kinds of things that are done in society, which areoutside of the home and give you a larger life, were being precludedto women on the basis of sex. And it was the attempt to get access tothat, not to shut down this other aspect of life.

In other words, it was an attempt not to have women confined tothat --

MR. WATTENBERG: I understand.

MS. MacKINNON: -- to break those limitations.

MR. WATTENBERG: But do you think that a woman who opts to behousewife, homemaker, whatever you want to call it, to have severalchildren and be in charge of rearing them and running a household, isthat, as far as you're concerned, an equally fine choice to a womanwho decides to go out and make a career in advertising?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, it sure can be. It's a lucky choice if it'savailable to her since very few women have that economic option. Veryfew. It's also a risky choice because --

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I -- I mean, now, I know something about thedemographics of that. I mean, when you --

MS. MacKINNON: -- if she's relying on a man, she can lose it likethat.

MR. WATTENBERG: If she -- excuse me?

MS. MacKINNON: I say it's also a risky choice. You know, since ifshe -- you know, if she's making that and is relying on a man thatshe's with to support her and all the children, it's something shecould lose in a flash.

MR. WATTENBERG: So you're saying it's hard and it's risky, butit's okay.

MS. MacKINNON: I'm not into making moral judgments about women'schoices. It's just not something I do. I mean, the structure ofsociety is such that women are told still, systematically, that thatis how a woman is fulfilled, that she doesn't need anything else, sheshouldn't do anything else, her horizons shouldn't encompass anythingelse, and they should be limited to that.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, now you --

MS. MacKINNON: Now, you're asking me if, given those forces andpressures, if I think that's a fine choice. Well, I think it's achoice, you know, that is pressured to a considerable extent. I can'ttell you if it's free or not, but I do know that it's part of the wayinequality works, that there are a lot of women who are doing it whodon't experience it as free. Now, just if that number of women wereable to make wider choices plus economically --

MR. WATTENBERG: But there are a lot of women -- by what you justsaid --

MS. MacKINNON: -- they weren't being discriminated against, thatwould be an improvement.

MR. WATTENBERG: But you just said that a lot of women who areworking are -- also do not have a free choice. They have to work.

MS. MacKINNON: They are being discriminated against --

MR. WATTENBERG: Look, there are a lot of men who have to work --

MS. MacKINNON: -- as well.

MR. WATTENBERG: Like most men have to work. Otherwise nobody eats--

MS. MacKINNON: Right.

MR. WATTENBERG: -- the men, the women, the children. And most --most -- I mean, people have to do something on this earth. I mean,why does that --

MS. MacKINNON: We could discuss --

MR. WATTENBERG: -- why does that imply an inequality or asubordination or a --

MS. MacKINNON: We could -- in itself, it doesn't. We could discusscapitalism, but I would like to at the moment --

MR. WATTENBERG: We should do that someday.

MS. MacKINNON: -- yes -- at the moment discuss sexism and thesex-differential ways that an otherwise exploitative system works. Inother words, you have a sex differential here such that women mostlyhave to work more than they did before for those other reasons, andare in a position to be paid far less for doing far less rewardingwork, work that is regarded as at the bottom of the social status andvalue hierarchy, and, you know, with fewer rewards of all kinds.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now we're moving --

MS. MacKINNON: And that's what happens in --

MR. WATTENBERG: Now we are moving into an area where I think --

MS. MacKINNON: -- outside the home.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now we're moving into an area where I think I doknow something about it. June O'Neill, who is now the director of theCongressional Budget Office and a very fine economist, has done aseries of studies over the years showing the rewards from jobs forwomen and men. And when she corrects for education, time on the job,time off the job, all of these variables, she finds that far fromthat 59 percent of male income, or 63 percent or 68 percent, it'sabout -- it's over 90 percent, what women fully equally qualified tomen are earning.

MS. MacKINNON: I don't -- the studies that I have seen don'tsupport that.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, well, we disagree on a lot of studies, and,I mean, there are a lot of studies floating around out there, as youknow.

MS. MacKINNON: Well, I do know that there are some equally goodstudies perhaps on this subject. There are not equally good studieson the subject of pornography that show anything to the contrary towhat I said.

But as to this, what I was talking about -- in other words, you'retalking about once you make --I'll accept the representation of theassumptions that are made in the study that you presented, and onceyou make that, you're talking about an essential elite of women. Thatis, once women are fully comparable to men, there aren't very manywomen there anymore.

MR. WATTENBERG: No, no. These are of counterpart groups.

MS. MacKINNON: No, I know.

MR. WATTENBERG: Women high school graduates versus men high schoolgraduates; women college graduates versus men high school [sic]graduates.

MS. MacKINNON: I see.

MS. MacKINNON: High school graduates who have been on the job 10years, 20 years without interruption.

MS. MacKINNON: Okay. Well, the data I've seen is flatly contraryto that.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, all right. Let me ask you a question. Yousaid you're not a liberal before.

MS. MacKINNON: That's true.

MR. WATTENBERG: What are you?

MS. MacKINNON: A feminist.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are most feminists liberals?


MR. WATTENBERG: But you are not one of them?

MS. MacKINNON: Correct.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are most liberals feminists?

MS. MacKINNON: Probably not, but increasingly so.

MR. WATTENBERG: Why -- how is it that most liberals are -- mostfeminists are liberals, but you're not? And I'm -- I mean, I'mgetting confused.

MS. MacKINNON: Well, I think --

MR. WATTENBERG: But I mean, what do you have against liberalism?



MS. MacKINNON: This is the subject of my book, 'Toward a FeministTheory of the State.'


MS. MacKINNON: Yeah. Well, I have -- what I have against sort ofpolitics as it exists is the male supremacy built into it, and that'strue on the right in certain ways, on the left in other ways. And youknow, liberalism being a species of left as well as a large traditionwith much to recommend it, I have a lot against it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Was there male supremacy in the 1980s in Englandwhen Mrs. Thatcher was prime minister?


MR. WATTENBERG: So that doesn't count? Is there -- you are makingthe case that there is male supremacy when 53, 54 percent of thevotes are female?


MR. WATTENBERG: That -- are those 53 or 54 percent of theelectorate who vote and elect our elected leaders, they just don'tquite get it that they are being subordinated and discriminatedagainst and made unequal, and don't vote the right way?

MS. MacKINNON: A lot of them understand it and a good many of themdo vote the right way, but voting doesn't determine social power. Imean, there's a million other ways. You can vote any way you want andstill get raped.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, but I mean, wait a minute. Rape -- you know,we keep coming back to this. Rape is against the law. Rape is avulgar, terrible, murderous crime. I mean, who says that anybody --

MS. MacKINNON: And women -- and what women know about it --

MR. WATTENBERG: Who says that anybody is saying rape is okay?

MS. MacKINNON: It is not taken seriously in this society.

MR. WATTENBERG: Oh, that's just not true. I mean --

MS. MacKINNON: I mean, I'm glad that you take it so seriously, butI think it would behoove you to realize --

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, do you think that people --

MS. MacKINNON: -- that the society you live in does not.

MR. WATTENBERG: -- that people who are husbands and fathers andbrothers don't take rape seriously?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, not only don't they, but the incest figuressuggest that they participate in it to a considerable degree.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I don't want to have another statisticalargument, but why don't you --

MS. MacKINNON: It's not a statistical argument.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, how much incest is there in the UnitedStates?

MS. MacKINNON: Well, there's a tremendous amount.

MR. WATTENBERG: How do you come down on this sort of dichotomy ofequity feminists versus gender feminists?

MS. MacKINNON: I don't think I understand the distinction.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, let -- let me see if I can explain it toyou. The equity feminists are saying, whatever isn't fair in life forwomen -- if women are kept out of certain jobs because they are womenor can't get into school because they are women, et cetera, etcetera, the whole general women's liberation movement.

MS. MacKINNON: Or, for example, do even better in school than menin spite of the fact that they are treated differentially to theirdetriment.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, fine, but that that's what they areinterested in, that everyone --that women get a fair shot at what'sgoing on.

The gender feminists, as -- at least as some of the equityfeminists -- as Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia describedit on this program, the gender feminists are saying, in a sense, thatmen are the enemy, that men are at fault for subjugating women, andthat the gender feminists say there is an ongoing war between thesexes, that women have been losing it, and that's the essence of theargument.

MS. MacKINNON: It's just a -- it's a phony distinction. I thinkit's about the extent to which one wants to -- if you want to subjectyourself to abuse by actually saying who's doing what to whom in theequity problem you point out, that actually, for the most part, menare treating women unequally and are benefiting from it. I guess thatgets you called a gender feminist.

MR. WATTENBERG: Do men also discriminate against other men? Imean, there are people who --

MS. MacKINNON: Based on race, you bet they do.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, how about just --

MS. MacKINNON: And based on class and a lot of other things.

MR. WATTENBERG: How about based on rank?


MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, you have a chief executive officer, youhave the president of the company, you have the vice president.

MS. MacKINNON: Yeah. And who do you suppose set up society likethat?

MR. WATTENBERG: Men and --

MS. MacKINNON: Uh-huh.

MR. WATTENBERG: Men and women formed it to --

MS. MacKINNON: Women had nothing to do with it.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, let me get to that. You say --

MS. MacKINNON: Nobody asked us.

MR. WATTENBERG: You really think not?

MS. MacKINNON: I think not.

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, even in a democracy where -- 'you' -- Imean, you're getting me into this role of men versus women, but wherewomen have a majority of the votes, where a majority of women votedRepublican, for Newt Gingrich and his friends last fall, you aresaying that they have no control over this society?

MS. MacKINNON: First of all, most women didn't vote, but that'salso true for most men.

MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, but most men didn't vote.

MS. MacKINNON: Okay, I'm just saying, first of all --

MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, you know, that is an irrelevant point. Imean --

MS. MacKINNON: No, it isn't irrelevant.

MR. WATTENBERG: Well, in off-year congressional elections, mostpeople don't vote.

MS. MacKINNON: I know.

MR. WATTENBERG: That's a fact, I'm sorry.

MS. MacKINNON: But what is not irrelevant --

MR. WATTENBERG: It was an unusually large turnout, by the way, formen and women.

MS. MacKINNON: Well, but what's not irrelevant is that there maybe different reasons why men and women do the same things which havesomething to do with gender. You can't just say, 'Oh, men do that,women do that, therefore gender has nothing to do with it.' That'sworth considering.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Now, there has been a lot of --

MS. MacKINNON: But I would like to address women votingconservative.

MR. WATTENBERG: Right. MS. MacKINNON: Which is, I think there aregender-based reasons why women do that that have to do with theexistence of inequality in society. They don't mean that there is noinequality. They mean that one response to inequality among women isconservatism, indeed is being right-wing. It has to do with anattempt to find an authority that's really going to work because ofyour own sense of powerlessness and your belief that -- and yourcommitment to the system that you've been raised in in which you seeyou have no real choices.

And it was in some ways reflected in that quotation by MarilynQuayle. That is, give us the benefit of the deal we made. And youknow, that's kind of the world view that is emerging from there.Andrea Dworkin wrote a brilliant book called 'Right-Wing Women,' thatadvances this argument.

MR. WATTENBERG: So a feminist can vote for Newt Gingrich and itmakes a lot of sense?

MS. MacKINNON: I say it does. I say there are -- I mean, I havewhat I consider to be feminist reasons that make that make sense tome. And it isn't the same thing as saying that they don't know theirsituation. It's a direct response to their situation. I woulddisagree with it, I think, as a response to their situation, but Ithink it makes real sense.

MR. WATTENBERG: Thank you very much for joining us, ProfessorCatharine MacKinnon.

MS. MacKINNON: Thank you.

MR. WATTENBERG: And thank you. We enjoy hearing from our audiencevery much. Please send your comments toNew River Media, 1150 17thStreet, NW, Washington, DC, 20036. Or we can be reached via E-mail atThinkTV@aolcom. For Think Tank, I'm Ben Wattenberg.

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