Is Catharine McKinnon Human?

The Guardian has a long article and interview with radical feminist Catharine McKinnon. Those of you over the age of 25 will remember her as the Robin to Andrea Dworkin’s Batman during the anti-porn wars of the 1980s.

(Actually, that metaphor creates some seriously disturbing images, but I’ll go with it anyway.)

McKinnon has released a new book called “Are Women Human?” and in it she goes on fighting her own version of the good fight for women everywhere.


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What struck me when reading this article is that it’s very hard to get into her headspace. She talks about men and women and rape and porn and it’s like listening to an alien describing a whole other planet. Some of her logic is inscrutable to me and a lot of her arguments seem to exist in a dimension where reality doesn’t get in the way.

Take, for example, her suggestion that current rape laws favour the rapist because most rapists are men, and the politicians and judges are mostly men and therefore guilty by association. I’m sure that makes sense somewhere. Perhaps in the universe of the flying spaghetti monster.

Naturally I paid most attention to her comments on porn. I was curious to see if she had anything new to say. Sadly, it’s the same old, same old.

And I had to laugh at this:

But surely lesbian and gay porn at least eludes such criticisms? MacKinnon disagrees. “There’s a good book by Christopher Kendal which studies the real content of gay male pornography and the children who are violated to make it as well as the men who are used in the industry. I recommend it.” How about lesbian pornography – made for, by and about lesbians? MacKinnon says most of it is “sold in liquor stores and mostly it is men who are its consumers”.

Quite the offhanded and factually incorrect dismissal, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure there are many gay guys who would be offended by the suggestion that they’re all pedophiles. And the lesbian comment suggests that in Catharine’s world, one’s work is valued according to where it’s sold and who reads it. Rest assured, McKinnon’s book won’t be coming to a liquor store near you…

And, you will note. Porn for straight women made by women doesn’t even get on the radar. Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies.

One of the things I found frustrating about reading that article is that sometimes, just sometimes, McKinnon hints at something that I could agree with. It seems that some of her book targets offenses against women in the third world, like dowry burnings and the illegal sex trade. These are important feminist issues. The problem, I think, is that McKinnon wants to filter everything through her world view wherein women are always the victims and men are always the aggressors.

The fact remains. We have McKinnon to thank when young women say “Oh no, I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men.”