MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. On this special edition of Think Tank, we will be talking one on one with Catharine MacKinnon, a woman who has been both praised as one of the most brilliant, original, thought-provoking, and uncompromising feminist theoreticians in America and criticized as a fanatic, a zealot, a fundamentalist of the new feminist religion.
Under consideration today, the modern women's movement, sexism in America and pornography. A conversation with Catharine MacKinnon, this week on Think Tank.
Catharine MacKinnon is a professor of law at the University of Michigan. She has taught at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. She has been at the forefront of sex equality issues, having helped develop the legal definitions of sexual harassment in America and in Canada. She is the author of several books, including Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, and most recently, the controversial book Only Words, a scathing critique of pornography which asks, "How many women's bodies have to stack up even to register against male profit and pleasure presented as First Amendment principle?"
Catharine MacKinnon, perhaps you could begin by describing exactly what that means: "How many women's bodies have to stack up even to register against male profit and pleasure presented as First Amendment principle?"
MS. MacKINNON: Well, the pornography industry is an industry of trafficking women, and it's covered up as a form of speech, and it's defended as therefore a First Amendment right. So the ways in which women are hurt by it begin with the women in it who are being prostituted through it and are typically gotten into it either as children or through a whole range of coercive means, all the way from physical force through economic coercion to being victims of sexual abuse, typically as children, and a whole range of means, and then exploited in it.
The materials that are made through that abuse and exploitation that feeds on it, that is to say, a lot of the women are being raped in the materials even when they aren't being presented as being raped, that --
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, now wait a minute. Let's --
MS. MacKINNON: That product is then used by a whole range of consumers --
MR. WATTENBERG: We'd better --
MS. MacKINNON: -- who then mass produce that abuse through another range of various means.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let's go back to pornography and then we'll come back 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 through pictures and words that also includes a list of other very specific activities. In other words, it's defined in terms of what it actually does. It subordinates women as well as being a sexually explicit medium. There are other media that subordinate women but are not sexually 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, some of it is and some of it isn't.
MR. WATTENBERG: It has to -- by your definition, as I understood what you said, it has to be more than sexually explicit. It has to put a woman or one of the partners in a subordinate role. In other words, if you have a picture of a man and a woman enjoying themselves, both, in sex, is that pornography?
MS. MacKINNON: It depends if it's sexually explicit and also what can be shown as to whether it subordinates women or not. For example, they can be shown to be enjoying themselves, as in the film Deep Throat, where Linda so-called Lovelace was shown to be enjoying herself. She was, as she puts it, being raped. That is, she says, "Every time someone watches that film, they're watching me being raped." 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. So she 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's say soft-porn movie, that people pay $7.95 for in some of the finest hotels in the world, that the women there have a gun to their head and --
MS. MacKINNON: What I'm saying is you don't know whether they do or 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 a lot of those women and I know that they did, but the reason like none of us is really in a position to know is because they have no legal rights.
MR. WATTENBERG: Now, why don't they have legal rights? I mean, we are -- I mean, they can -- if they're threatened violently, they can sue, they can call the police. There are a lot of things they can do.
MS. MacKINNON: Right. You're talking about someone who will then be considered a prostitute calling the police. She's considered a criminal whether she's coerced or not.
And the materials that are then made as a result of what's being done to these women are themselves a massive profit-making industry which is itself protected by the First Amendment. So it's an industry of exploitation called "use her and run," so they use them until they use them up or are done using them or they die for various reasons or just disappear from the face of the earth, and move on. Meantime, the materials -- there is a tremendous material incentive to do this because 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 man subordinating a woman against her will? Is that what we're talking about?
MS. MacKINNON: That's generally what people think of it as. I think, though, there are forms of force that involve authority, power, where something can be rape, but it isn't always violent at that moment. But there's always an element of force and domination going on in it and there is -- in which a sexual interaction is coerced without the person who is having it wanting to have the sex.
MR. WATTENBERG: How would you propose to restrict the sale of pornography?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed a legal approach that makes it possible for anyone who can prove that they are hurt by it to bring a legal action against the people that they prove are hurting them. So that allows for five different specific legal claims, one for coercion into pornography, such as I described Linda so-called Lovelace could bring against the people who coerced her into those materials and everyone who profited down the foodchain from this use of her. So that would be an action for coercion into 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 royalty coming from each time it was shown for profit. Would you, A, regard that as pornography, and would you make that illegal?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, the product itself, no matter what the conditions of production are, do -- those products do produce a whole series of harms to other women. And it has been those women that would be able to bring legal claims for being hurt by the pornographers if they could prove it.
And so in that kind of a situation, were it possible, the woman could bring a legal claim not only against the specific rapists, but against the producers of the film that caused the rape if the court were to find that was indeed a direct cause of that rape, and then stop that film from being shown because if it caused the rape by one person, it will cause the rape -- cause rapes by other people.
MR. WATTENBERG: How does your position on this differ from that of the religious conservatives, like Reverend Wildman and others, who are in favor of censoring pornographic material?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, it mainly differs because they don't support our arguments. That is, they don't support our work and don't agree with 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 be effective in doing something about it. Their approach is obscenity law, which has been in effect since 1973 and has done nothing, while the pornography industry has somewhere between doubled and tripled in size.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let us move on to the more general state of feminism today, and I want to read you something that Mrs. Dan Quayle, Marilyn Quayle, read at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston, which caused a great deal of consternation, and get your reaction to it.
Mrs. Quayle said, "I sometimes think that the liberals are always so angry because they believed the grandiose promises of the liberation movement. They're disappointed because most women do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women. Most of us love being mothers or wives, which gives our lives a richness that few men or women get from professional accomplishments alone, nor has it made for a better society to liberate men from their obligations as husbands or fathers."
MS. MacKINNON: Well, I'm not a liberal, so I don'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's saying about the liberation movement, if she's referring to the women's movement, which she appears to be, that there's a real mis-impression that what the women's movement is about is deciding that what freedom for women constitutes is wholly and exclusively engaging in what had been male roles before that time.
In other words, women being mothers is something that the women's movement has sought to allow without punishment. In other words, it's the punishments that come with being women and with being in committed relationships with men that the women's movement overwhelmingly has sought to address, not to make it impossible for people to make those choices, but to make those choices and still have 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 was being brought to the public in its earlier years particularly, did not scorn the idea of women staying home and having babies and being a homemaker, a housewife and bringing up children, and regarding that as a fulfilled way of life? You are saying that was never in the deck?
MS. MacKINNON: I think some people gave off that attitude, although a lot of women didn't -- who were in the movement didn't feel that. But I think that that came across because of the fact that that was the role that women were forced into. Therefore it made impossible to conceive of it as a choice. If it were a role that was equally available to men as to women, for example, then it would be something that wasn't forced on you based on gender, while at the same time, other options such as, you know, earning a living or fulfilling yourself in a whole range of ways, which are like 95 percent of the kinds of things that are done in society, which are outside of the home and give you a larger life, were being precluded to women on the basis of sex. And it was the attempt to get access to that, not to shut down this other aspect of life.
In other words, it was an attempt not to have women confined to that --
MR. WATTENBERG: I understand.
MS. MacKINNON: -- to break those limitations.
MR. WATTENBERG: But do you think that a woman who opts to be housewife, homemaker, whatever you want to call it, to have several children and be in charge of rearing them and running a household, is that, as far as you're concerned, an equally fine choice to a woman who decides to go out and make a career in advertising?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, it sure can be. It's a lucky choice if it's available to her since very few women have that economic option. Very few. It's also a risky choice because --
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I -- I mean, now, I know something about the demographics of that. I mean, when you --
MS. MacKINNON: -- if she's relying on a man, she can lose it like that.
MR. WATTENBERG: If she -- excuse me?
MS. MacKINNON: I say it's also a risky choice. You know, since if she -- you know, if she's making that and is relying on a man that she's with to support her and all the children, it's something she could lose in a flash.
MR. WATTENBERG: So you're saying it's hard and it's risky, but it's okay.
MS. MacKINNON: I'm not into making moral judgments about women's choices. It's just not something I do. I mean, the structure of society is such that women are told still, systematically, that that is how a woman is fulfilled, that she doesn't need anything else, she shouldn't do anything else, her horizons shouldn't encompass anything else, and they should be limited to that.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, now you --
MS. MacKINNON: Now, you're asking me if, given those forces and pressures, if I think that's a fine choice. Well, I think it's a choice, you know, that is pressured to a considerable extent. I can't tell you if it's free or not, but I do know that it's part of the way inequality works, that there are a lot of women who are doing it who don't experience it as free. Now, just if that number of women were able to make wider choices plus economically --
MR. WATTENBERG: But there are a lot of women -- by what you just said --
MS. MacKINNON: -- they weren't being discriminated against, that would be an improvement.
MR. WATTENBERG: But you just said that a lot of women who are working 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 a subordination or a --
MS. MacKINNON: We could -- in itself, it doesn't. We could discuss capitalism, but I would like to at the moment --
MR. WATTENBERG: We should do that someday.
MS. MacKINNON: -- yes -- at the moment discuss sexism and the sex-differential ways that an otherwise exploitative system works. In other words, you have a sex differential here such that women mostly have to work more than they did before for those other reasons, and are in a position to be paid far less for doing far less rewarding work, work that is regarded as at the bottom of the social status and value 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 do know something about it. June O'Neill, who is now the director of the Congressional Budget Office and a very fine economist, has done a series of studies over the years showing the rewards from jobs for women and men. And when she corrects for education, time on the job, time off the job, all of these variables, she finds that far from that 59 percent of male income, or 63 percent or 68 percent, it's about -- it's over 90 percent, what women fully equally qualified to men are earning.
MS. MacKINNON: I don't -- the studies that I have seen don't support 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 you know.
MS. MacKINNON: Well, I do know that there are some equally good studies perhaps on this subject. There are not equally good studies on the subject of pornography that show anything to the contrary to what I said.
But as to this, what I was talking about -- in other words, you're talking about once you make -- I'll accept the representation of the assumptions that are made in the study that you presented, and once you make that, you're talking about an essential elite of women. That is, once women are fully comparable to men, there aren't very many women 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 school graduates; women college graduates versus men high school [sic] graduates.
MS. MacKINNON: I see.
MS. MacKINNON: High school graduates who have been on the job 10 years, 20 years without interruption.
MS. MacKINNON: Okay. Well, the data I've seen is flatly contrary to that.
MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, all right. Let me ask you a question. You said 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?
MS. MacKINNON: Yes.
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 -- most feminists are liberals, but you're not? And I'm -- I mean, I'm getting confused.
MS. MacKINNON: Well, I think --
MR. WATTENBERG: But I mean, what do you have against liberalism?
MS. MacKINNON: Ah.
MR. WATTENBERG: Ah.
MS. MacKINNON: This is the subject of my book, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.
MR. WATTENBERG: Uh-huh.
MS. MacKINNON: Yeah. Well, I have -- what I have against sort of politics as it exists is the male supremacy built into it, and that's true on the right in certain ways, on the left in other ways. And you know, liberalism being a species of left as well as a large tradition with much to recommend it, I have a lot against it.
MR. WATTENBERG: Was there male supremacy in the 1980s in England when Mrs. Thatcher was prime minister?
MS. MacKINNON: Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: So that doesn't count? Is there -- you are making the case that there is male supremacy when 53, 54 percent of the votes are female?
MS. MacKINNON: Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: That -- are those 53 or 54 percent of the electorate who vote and elect our elected leaders, they just don't quite get it that they are being subordinated and discriminated against and made unequal, and don't vote the right way?
MS. MacKINNON: A lot of them understand it and a good many of them do vote the right way, but voting doesn't determine social power. I mean, there's a million other ways. You can vote any way you want and still 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 a vulgar, 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, but I 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 and brothers don't take rape seriously?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, not only don't they, but the incest figures suggest that they participate in it to a considerable degree.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I don't want to have another statistical argument, but why don't you --
MS. MacKINNON: It's not a statistical argument.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, how much incest is there in the United States?
MS. MacKINNON: Well, there's a tremendous amount.
MR. WATTENBERG: How do you come down on this sort of dichotomy of equity 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 to you. The equity feminists are saying, whatever isn't fair in life for women -- if women are kept out of certain jobs because they are women or can't get into school because they are women, et cetera, et cetera, the whole general women's liberation movement.
MS. MacKINNON: Or, for example, do even better in school than men in spite of the fact that they are treated differently to their detriment.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, fine, but that's what they are interested in, that everyone -- that women get a fair shot at what's going on.
The gender feminists, as -- at least as some of the equity feminists -- as Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia described it on this program, the gender feminists are saying, in a sense, that men are the enemy, that men are at fault for subjugating women, and that the gender feminists say there is an ongoing war between the sexes, that women have been losing it, and that's the essence of the argument.
MS. MacKINNON: It's just a -- it's a phony distinction. I think it's about the extent to which one wants to -- if you want to subject yourself to abuse by actually saying who's doing what to whom in the equity problem you point out, that actually, for the most part, men are treating women unequally and are benefiting from it. I guess that gets you called a gender feminist.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do men also discriminate against other men? I mean, 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?
MS. MacKINNON: Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, you have a chief executive officer, you have the president of the company, you have the vice president.
MS. MacKINNON: Yeah. And who do you suppose set up society like that?
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' -- I mean, you're getting me into this role of men versus women, but where women have a majority of the votes, where a majority of women voted Republican, for Newt Gingrich and his friends last fall, you are saying that they have no control over this society?
MS. MacKINNON: First of all, most women didn't vote, but that's also 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. I mean --
MS. MacKINNON: No, it isn't irrelevant.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, in off-year congressional elections, most people 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, for men and women.
MS. MacKINNON: Well, but what's not irrelevant is that there may be different reasons why men and women do the same things which have something 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's worth considering.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Now, there has been a lot of --
MS. MacKINNON: But I would like to address women voting conservative.
MR. WATTENBERG: Right.
MS. MacKINNON: Which is, I think there are gender-based reasons why women do that, that have to do with the existence of inequality in society. They don't mean that there is no inequality. They mean that one response to inequality among women is conservatism, indeed is being right-wing. It has to do with an attempt to find an authority that's really going to work because of your own sense of powerlessness and your belief that -- and your commitment to the system that you've been raised in in which you see you have no real choices.
And it was in some ways reflected in that quotation by Marilyn Quayle. That is, give us the benefit of the deal we made. And you know, that's kind of the world view that is emerging from there. Andrea Dworkin wrote a brilliant book called Right-Wing Women, that advances this argument.
MR. WATTENBERG: So a feminist can vote for Newt Gingrich and it makes a lot of sense?
MS. MacKINNON: I say it does. I say there are -- I mean, I have what I consider to be feminist reasons that make that make sense to me. And it isn't the same thing as saying that they don't know their situation. It's a direct response to their situation. I would disagree with it, I think, as a response to their situation, but I think it makes real sense.
MR. WATTENBERG: Thank you very much for joining us, Professor Catharine MacKinnon.
MS. MacKINNON: Thank you.
©Copyright 2003 Think Tank. All rights reserved.