Transcript of March 21 Interview with

Catharine MacKinnon

Edited for readability

Nickname - Message
<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 14:54) Welcome to a live interview with Catharine MacKinnon! The first few questions will be posed by Prof. Rosenfeld. Feel free to comment after each question and answer. If you would like to ask Catharine MacKinnon a question, please email it to
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 14:55) By way of introduction, Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon is the foremother of feminist legal theory. Her first book, The Sexual Harassment of Working Women, was published in 1979. She made sexual harassment from a legal theory to address a problem of sex discrimination previously unrecognized--into a legal entitlement that women now have when we enter the workplace. In all areas of women's rights, she has been an undaunted, articulate, powerful and controversial force to be reckoned with. She has done more for women's rights than any other living person, in my opinion, and she is, by my lights, the most brilliant person alive. I am honoted to have her here today. So let's all welcome Professor MacKinnon!
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 14:58) For the first question, how do you think the web can be used as a tool, educational, instructive and of course, collaboratively, to influence change in the notions of women's equality?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 14:58) The web can break down women's isolation and make connections possible, which has tremendous organizing potential for a group that is in many respects so segregated as well as so huge. There is no substitute for what happens in face-to-face contact though. This is more how it can help effectuate equality than change notions of it. I'd be interested in your thoughts about what different notion of equality the web might promote -- it seems to me a very democratic instrument, or potentially so, and democracy is the old equality idea. I'm pretty excited about the idea of voting online, and think it might well boost women's participation even more than men's, given the restrictions on women's lives. Whatever voting can do, that would help. If women ever got, in real life, to the edge of existing notions of equality, we'd be in good shape to create new ones.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:04) You're right, the internet does have enormous potential for creating democratic fora and for connecting people. This cybercourse has been a good example of that -- at the end of it, we'll all have over 300 other contacts around the world of people who care about stopping violence against women.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:05) Question : Should Internet regulations focus on intimidating or threatening behavior in general or is there something special about the threat of a man against a woman? Should the internet regulate all intimidating speech? Where should we draw the line?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:06) I don't see how the net raises any different questions about threats or intimidation than any other medium does. Threats by men against women are realistic in any medium. Nothing about the net much changes it, does it? Do you think existing law on these subjects is inadequate to the net, or that it should be exempted from them? If existing law were taken as "the line," we could talk further about where it falls short, or overreaches, in your view and mine, on or offline.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:08) I think that the difference in threats over the internet has to do with the annonymous identity that people assume and that people can assume over the internet. It's quite different from having the face to face contact, as you referred to above, when you go into a movie store and rent some violent pornography. We can talk about that later
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:09) What is your response to Vicki Shultz's argument calling for a change in the paradigm of sexual harassment law so as not to focus on the sexual advances of the man to the woman, but concentrating instead on the interference with a woman's ability to succeed in the workplace? In what ways does this obscure the importance of the sanctity of a woman's inner sexual privacy -- or does that idea in turn objectify women and put us back into the white virgin cages of past centuries?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:11) From its inception, and throughout its development, sexual harassment law has addressed eliminating this barrier to women's success at work. Since there is a major body of case law that targets gender-specific barriers to women's workplace advancement, including through gender harassment whether or not sexual, the question is whether the problem Vicki Schultz addresses in fact exists. I'm not sure I see what you're getting at in the second sentence. Are you suggesting that Vicki Schultz's work ignores the injury to "the sanctity of a woman's inner sexual privacy" but that trying to protect that is regressive? I wouldn't call the right not to be raped at work either about reinstituting a "white virgin cage" or respecting "woman's inner sexual privacy." I'd call it not having to be sexually violated to make a living. The opposite of that is a hostile environment, and by the way, this example is Mechelle Vinson's case, the one that established that cause of action, and she is African American.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:15) In the best possible world, how would you regulate pornography on the internet?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:17) Can we confine ourselves to the world we're in? Pornography on the internet is no different from pornography anywhere else, it just has a particular trajectory of access, as they all do. The civil rights law Andrea Dworkin and I wrote, which would permit anyone who can prove they are hurt in a number of specific ways through pornography, would address the real harms of pornography on the internet, and everywhere else. It can and should be passed in this world, which is neither the best nor the only possible world.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:19) Does the internet pose special challenges to people trying to fight against violence against women? Where should we concentrate our efforts?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:20) The internet poses some interesting but small and solveable problems of who can be held responsible for violations through it as a medium. They are no different in kind from tracking down the pimps' shell corporations, through which they shuffle to make their millions in the regular pornography business and the other forms in which they traffic in women and children. They are just specific to this medium. I think we should concentrate our efforts on stopping pimps wherever anyone has access to the means to stop them. People should concentrate their efforts ANYWHERE. At the moment, there are almost no efforts, concentrated or otherwise, and people do not intend to make them. In other words, for me, this is not an academic question.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:23) Interesting points. The way you phrase it makes it seem like the internet could actually be a really powerful tool to find pornographers and pimps and prosecute them. The net makes great paper trails. And, people seem to get sufficiently outraged when people use their work computers to load child pornography, etc. Last year, the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School was dismissed (or resigned gracefully) after it was found that he had downloaded pornography from the internet.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:27) For the next question, what do you think of the Department of Justice's declination to take the Jake Baker case up to the Supreeme Court? Would a bad ruling on this case be worse than the 6th Circuit decision standing? Do you think the Supreme Court would have perceived it as a threat?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:28) I think the Department of Justice was very wrong not to petition for cert. in Jake Baker. There seems to be a notion that what goes on in pornography is, by definition, fantasy, even when the threat is real and realistic, and, if it was anything but sexual, would clearly fall within the law prohibition threats. In fact, the Baker pornography is a lot more clearly criminal under existing federal standards than a lot of other things that HAVE been found by courts to be illegally threatening. This notion that pornography is a law unto itself, an exception to every law we have for everything else, is specially protected, violates women's right to equal protection of the laws. I think it highly likely that the Supreme Court would have found that what Jake Baker did had no First Amendment protection. In its flight from the First Amendment, and ruling instead on equally baseless statutory grounds, the 6th Circuit tacitly admitted as much. The interesting question is why the Department of Justice caved. Their prosecutors brought the case; their prosecutors appealed it. Why did what was a threat then, cease to be a threat, when they had to hang their faces out in front of a position that took seriously what the materials did to women in front of the really big boys? Of course, a bad ruling by the Supreme Court, would be worse than the Sixth Circuit decision standing, but not by much, since no one will bring a case like this ever again probably now, and I also don't think that it would have lost.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:35) Somehow it's encouraging to hear you say you think we would have won. You did tremendous work on the case on behalf of the plaintiff, Jane Doe. For those of you who don't know, Professor MacKinnon represented the plaintiff, the young woman who was named in the violent pornographic story by Baker. She wrote the amicus (friend of the court) brief on behalf of the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault. You can read it online at <>. I agree with you that it was inconsistent for the feds to consider the criminal acts to constitute a threat at the trial court and the appeals court, but not want to go all the way on it. My review of the threat law found no case even close to as threatening as the Baker case. It was absolutely terrifying to any woman who read it, not to mention how traumatizing it must have been to the victim. The case also would have been a good one in which to illustrate the harms of violent pornography. It was an extreme example -- I'm still shocked that it got thrown out by the circuit and appeals courts. I wonder if the case was brought now if the result would have been different now that the internet proliferates our lives.
<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:43) Here's a question from a student: What are you currently working on for publication? For court? For fun?

<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:43) For publication, my project of the last 20 years, almost exclusively for the last four years, is my legal casebook, Sex Equality. It's theoretical and practical, comparative and international, but centers on U.S. law on the status and relations of women and men. It will be about 1500 pages of small type, most of it writing by me, also tightly edited case excerpts and commentaries. I'm working on the chapter on Trafficking in Women now, with two sections, the first Prostitution, the second Pornography. That's the end!

Other articles about to come out are one on postmodernism in the Chicago-Kent Symposium called "Unfinished Feminist Business," an irresistible title (I mean, what feminist business is finished?); one on the problems of class litigation in human rights cases drawn from my work with Bosnian women, in Nova Law Review; and an opinion in Brown v. Board of Education (merely 45 years too late!) for a book edited by Jack Balkin called What Brown Should Have Said (he picks nine justices, we write our opinions, it was a trip). I'm also writing something short on privacy that is really about jurisdiction, that will be published in French.

Longer term, I'm putting together a 20 year collection of published and unpublished work for Harvard University Press called Women's Lives, Men's Laws, finishing a collection of essays on sexual harassment from a conference a Yale a while back, and writing about the pornography of murder.

Court activities include my Bosnian litigation in New York, some confidential things I wish I could talk about with you, some legislation in the same category, and some potential litigation not yet filed in other countries as well as here, same confidentiality; and endless advice to women litigants who are being ignored or messed over by the legal system. Sorry I can't tell you more. The problem is not only confidentiality but stigma as well as security. Since the pornography work, I draw flies.

For fun, I'm imagining what life without this casebook might be like. Really, I'm so buried under it, all I can do is shovel away in the salt mines 14 hours a day. I look out of the window periodically. A really big break is taking a shower. When it's done, everything will be fun.

Thanks for asking!

<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:53) Oh my! You're completely amazing! And for those of you out there, I can attest personally that the textbook will be fantastic -- a real breakthrough. I'm looking forward to using it as my teaching materials for whatever I teach next. I think the idea of Unfinished Feminist Business is an interesting one. I think we've made so much progress, but then I sometimes question how much of it is real. For example, orders of protection given to domestic violence victims are engrained now in our legal system and our expectations of how the system might help battered women. But we know that these orders don't do a lot to protect battered women, so we clearly have unfinished business in this regard.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 15:59) Bear with us, as we sift through the questions you have sent! Thanks for all of your interesting and thought-provoking questions and commetns! After Professor MacKinnon answers a few more questions, we can stay on line here and chat with you all. So think of discussion questions!
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:02) Question from a student: What do you say to young people who are not convinced that either sexual harassment or sexual assault should concern them? These young people also seem to be unwilling to seriously contemplate the social constructive aspect of gender in relationship to these issues.

<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:03) I'm afraid that all we really have to do is wait. If they haven't been sexually abused yet, they will be, most of them. If that has happened to them, and they are not convinced they should be concerned about it, the problem with them is no different than it has always been with women. Which is, taking their own oppression seriously. Which is one part believing you are worth not being treated as you have been, and one part believing that you can stop it. So really there are two answers to your question. 1. to those who haven't had this happen, either what happens to other women matters to them or it doesn't, and if this hasn't happened, the horrible truth is, it very likely will. and 2. to those who have had this happen, you ARE worth more than what has been done to you, no matter how it feels, and we CAN stop this. We really don't have much choice but to try.

To your question about social construction, most people aren't willing to look at why they think what they think. Only when they have a problem they can't solve, or are unusually curious or self-reflective, do they. Gender gives a lot of people, boys as well as girls, a lot of pain. Including sexually. So they are motivated to find out why it has to be so narrow, rigid, punitive, vicious, and violent. Finding themselves at odds with society without an explanation is being up the creek without a paddle. Seeing how society sets up this setup is a very big paddle.

<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:09) Here is another student question: The United States, while professing to be a pro-feminist nation, in actuality violates the standard set by the international human rights community for the treatment of women. More specifically, it is my belief that while many other countries may continue to harbor practices detrimental to women (FGM, etc.), many positive steps have at least been taken by the international legal community to address these practices. Quite the opposite, the US continues to rest on a reputation of being pro-women rights, yet we continue to possess archaic laws that do not allow for the prosecution of rape, DV, etc.
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:12) This is totally right and perceptive. Pornography, for example, is a traditional cultural practice that mutilates at least as many women in the US as other practices that we profess to find shocking, shocking elsewhere. And it's a constitutional right. Also, the US floods the world with pornography, a major form of cultural imperialism, into the open arms of men in other countries, violating women there in ways that violate their human rights. And all the cultural relativists defend it. The United States doesn't even adopt most of the international conventions that would make it possible to have the US live up to international standards HERE, while posturing virtuously over everyone else.
<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:15) Here is another question from one of our teaching fellows. I have heard as a criticism of the legislation against porn written by you and Dworkin that it is dangerous because it would probably be most successfully used against feminist writings (they would be the first to be attacked) and because we would be joining forces with and adding power to the religious right, who would also like to get rid of porn, although for different reasons. What do you think?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:17) Joanna: this is a PR canard spread by the pornographers to scare liberals and people who don't know how law works. The religious right has never supported the law Andrea Dworkin and I wrote. It is a sex equality law. Sex equality is not high on their agenda. you may have noticed; they have notived; the lemmings who publish what PR firms give them seem not to have noticed. I suspect that the ACLU would make sure that feminist writings like In Harm's Way, the Pornography Civil Rights Hearings with very explicit testimony about abuse through pornography, edited by Andrea Dworkin and me and published by the Harvard University Press (after 15 years of suppression by publishers), were sued immediately under our law. They would have to make that prophesy come true. But the fact is, that material doesn't get anyone raped, it doesn't subordinate anyone, so it is not covered by the law. It would be a nuisance suit. The definition of pornography requires that the materials actually SUBORDINATE women (or whoever) to be actionable. They could not prove that these feminist materials do that. That doesn't mean that materials can't be pornography and also purport to be feminist, but that's another subject. The pimps spent over a million dollars one year to get everyone to think what you asked about. Also, the religious right, I don't think actually wants to get rid of pornography. They have a lot of power. They could, if they wanted to. I think that they, indistinguishably from other male-dominated groups, use it, want it, and like it. Unlike other male-dominated groups, they just want to SAY how much they hate it in public. It's all posturing.
<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:24) Here is the final student question: Has anyone considered the Baker case to fall in the category of "Hate Crimes Against Women"?

<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:25) I think it does. Pornography is misogynst to the core. It's hard to make it clear to people that what they think of as being love is actually hatred, but hostility to one's human status is hateful.

<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:26) AMEN! It's been such a battle to get people to understand gender based violence as having to do with hate when it seems to be so deeply engrained in "intimate" partner relationships. Now, one more question from teaching fellow Claire Prestel.
<MelissaBaily> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:28) Here is the question: Professor MacKinnon, do you worry about the quality of support systems and networks on the internet? I found when doing research for this course that there are really a lot of sub-par materials out there on the web, things that might contribute to the dearth of quality woman-focused media. The article in the NY Times magazine, Wasteland of One's Own,, talks about some of the problems with mass-market woman-directed media. It's all about lipstick, etc. and even when it's not, I feel a lot of the web sites I looked at encourage stereotypes about women as the only caring sensitive ones; women care about each other and about people but men don't/can't, etc.
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:31) Claire: Sure there's a lot of junk on the net, but the amazing thing about it is that it's unedited. I think the dearth of quality in woman-focused media is about underestimating the audience and requiring that power be sucked up to before money is laid out. The net doesn't need to be run by money, and doesn't have to underestimate the audience either. i recommend the websites set up by the activist Nikki Craft under various acronyms including Always Causing Legal Unrest (ACLU), which are very high quality. The net is a place where we CAN do alternative speech, unlike all the other places controlled by power where more speech is fallacy and a palliative.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:34) Okay, here's my last question... What do you think about the term "postfeminism"? Does it annoy you as much as it does me?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:35) We went from prefeminist to postfeminist so fast it makes my head swim. This is just a gambit to locate things in time in such a way that we never get change. It used to be what we wanted was unprecedented and so far ahead of the curve that no one could understand it. Now it's passe. WHEN was the time when these same people were FOR it? When we GOT what we're supposed to be past? I'll be postfeminist in postpatriarchy.
<Chark> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:36) clapping :)
<pgb> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:36) APPLAUSE
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:37) Okay, a couple very quick ones. Here's a follow up question: Given what Prof. MacKinnon has just said about all the work she's doing and how daunting it can seem, how does she keep going? Especially when everyone else seems to think all feminist business really is 'finished.' It's hard sometimes to always feel like your fighting an irresistable tide. How does she do it so well and tirelessly!
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:38) I don't know if anyone honestly knows the answer to this question about themselves, but I do know some things that make a difference for me. Hearing from women that the work matters in their lives gives me back something that makes it possible to keep going. Also, working with survivors, people who don't lie about what was done to them and what it took from them, make it impossible to stop. I think people put a lot of energy into stopping feelings that are unpleasant and uncomfortable for them. I don't. I feel them. I learn. Then I do something about it. Denial is exhausting. Not doing it gives one a tremendous amount of energy. I recommend it.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:40) Again, you are an absolute inpiration to this world. The last question, really, though we could go on, is: Speaking of the Supreme Court, what are your comments on the Brzonkala case? Specifically, what political action would you recommend if the civil right to be free from gender motivated violence is stricken down?
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:42) Brzonkala is our civil war. It's where we fight over our place in the union, and our status in civil society. If we lose, we have to think seriously about what to do. I think we are going to win.
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:43) Thank you so much for your time. We so appreciate your efforts and your insights are, as always, inspirational. Thanks to all of the student and teaching fellow participants. Without your comments, questions and feedback, this would not have been possible. We hope that you got a lot out of this educational experience.
<CatharineMacKinnon> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:45) I greatly appreciate the quality of the exchange and I look forward to continuing it in other ways.
<DawnMarron> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:45) applause, applause (while standing)
<Chark> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:45) standing clapping :)
<SRyan> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:46) clapping loudly standin
<Jackie> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:46) standing, whistling, and stomping feet! Thanks again
<pgb> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:46) Clappnig while rushing to leave to pick up child ... and thanks also to Prof. Rosenfeld and teaching fellows.
<jackrosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:46) You (C.M.) have to copyright "Postfeminist in PostPatriarchy"- it says so much about where our focus is and where it should be.
<Jackie> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:47) Yes... thank you!
<Chark> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:47) Thank you all for this wonderful experience , the first of its kind :)
<DianeRosenfeld> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:47) The transcript of this session willbe posted and available through out series site. Also, some answers to other questions will be answered and posted.
<SRyan> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:47) Oh, that's great, I missed the first part. Thank you
<Jackie> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:41) Keep up the WONDERFUL work!
<pgb> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:41) get a web site
<SRyan> (Tue, March 21, 2000 at 16:44) This was great! Thanks

Additional Answers to Student Questions

Question. Due to the recent laws for equal pay for women, how is this really going to happen? We women still make .75 to every $1 a man makes, especially in the Information Technology arena. What are the pro's and con's of this new law...

MacKinnon. Tina: If they took the money they plan to spend on this initiative and spread it around to all the women who make the least money, it would do more for women's income than what the program is going to do. Look, until they deal with the fact that women are not paid equally for work in "women's jobs," which most women are doing, work that creates just as much value as "men's jobs," the problem of equal pay is going nowhere. Other places that have instituted comparable worth laws have raised women's pay dramatically, REALLY dramatically. Anything else is window dressing. Also, their figure of 75 cents is not realistic for most women, who make a lot less than that on the male dollar. Also, the real value of the male dollar has dropped, so women's comparative share of a shrinking real value has improved, but that doesn't mean they are getting any more, the men they are being compared with are just getting less.

Question. I happened to read a new excerpts from a new book about the biological history of RAPE. Do you think there is any validity to the thesis that rape is biologically-based behavior, and can be best countered by chemical castration?

MacKinnon. No, I don't. I think it is factually wrong and results in counterproductive and inhuman responses. It plays off the social ideology that male sexuality is uncontrollable, which it isn't. Many men manage to control themselves and have nothing wrong with their testosterone and are not underevolved. I'll go further. I think that the reason people argue that rape is biological is because of the social ideology that sexual behavior is biological. Which I also think is factually wrong. If it's for biological reproduction, I don't know what all this sexual abuse of children, use of prostitutes, homosexuality, and use of pornography are about. None of that is intended to spread anyone's gene pool, and most of it can't. (The foregoing is not a moral list: I'm FOR homosexuality, and against the other things on that list. It's an empirical list.) Chemical castration has been tried on child molesters; there may be work I haven't seen, but from what I have seen, it doesn't work. They just use bottles. This idea that the problem of rape has something to do with the male body is vicious and sexist; at best, it puts all the blame on the wrong body part. I'm afraid we are going to have to deal with how the entire society sexualizes power, makes forcing sex on someone with less power sexy. Bodies are simple. That's difficult.


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